“irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms”.
Ironically, that is not a view that I share. I fundamental disagree with it, because I believe that we should increase the funding of the NHS in real terms. [ Interruption. ] I do not care how much the right hon. Gentleman says it; if he looks at the—
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if one cares to read it, real-terms spending increases in each year in the English NHS. Ironically, it also shows such increases in Northern Ireland and Scotland, but if we look at the red parts of the chart, we can see that there are certainly no increases in Labour-controlled Wales.
Andy Burnham: The Minister says that the Government are providing real-terms increases, but he does not take into account inflation or the £1 billion transfer to social care. Will he accept the figures that I have here? They are the total departmental expenditure limits published by the Treasury in July 2011. They show that, in 2009-10, £102 billion was spent on the NHS. The figure for 2010-11 was £101 billion. I invite him to tell me that those figures are not correct.
Mr Burns: The right hon. Gentleman told us that, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he understood figures, so he will understand, as I do, that “real terms” means an increase over and above inflation—
It is the gross domestic product deflator that determines how one increases in real terms the funding of the NHS. The right hon. Gentleman has once again scored an own goal in reading out those figures, because they are based on the Labour Government’s spending for the year in which they were leaving power.
We are increasing funding for the NHS in real terms over this Parliament, and stripping out unnecessary bureaucracy to focus precious resources on the front line and not the back office. So in place of management-led primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, we are introducing clinically led clinical commissioning groups, to put money and power in the hands of front-line doctors and nurses. That is why we are driving through the plans to make the NHS more efficient by focusing on prevention, on innovation, on productivity and on driving up the quality of care. A fact that Labour Members appear rapidly to have forgotten is that better care is very often less expensive care, and less expensive care means there is more money to spend on the health service.
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Mr Burns: In Torbay, for example, by enhancing the role of the discharge co-ordinator across health and social care, the average length of stay in hospital has been cut by more than 10%, freeing up nurses to spend more time on patient care.
Mr Burns: In Yorkshire and the Humber, the ambulance service gives PCTs a monthly list of their top 10 most frequent callers. These people are then given intensive personalised help, including the use of modern telemedicine to monitor their vital signs. The result is better care for patients as well as—
Mr Barron: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you know, I took part in this debate and I asked the Minister a question and requested him to answer it in his winding-up speech. Yet he will not even acknowledge that I spoke in the debate. Is there anything you can do, Mr Deputy Speaker, to help Back Benchers keep the Executive in check?
Mr Burns: Did I hear the right hon. Gentleman’s point, Mr Deputy Speaker? I heard it about three times in Committee and I heard it on Report; I replied each time, as well as writing to the right hon. Gentleman. He does not like the answer, so there is no point in taking the intervention again.
As I was saying, in Yorkshire and the Humber the ambulance service gives PCTs—[Interruption.] I know I have already said it, but there was so much disruption and noise that Labour Members did not hear it. In Yorkshire and the Humber, the ambulance service gives PCTs a monthly list of their top 10 most frequent callers so that they can talk to them and help them in future, saving money and staff time that can be concentrated elsewhere.
Mr Burns: The result is better care for patients and, for this group, a 80% fall in unplanned admissions, a 20% reduction in bed days and a halving of ambulance journeys. That means better care for patients and better value for the taxpayer.
Mr Burns: Just as Labour Members are wrong about NHS funding, they are also wrong about the Bill. [Interruption.] The Bill focuses on the most important thing for patients—the outcome of the treatment they need either to cure them or to stabilise their long-term conditions. Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals—[Interruption.]
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Mr Burns: Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are being empowered to take decisions and to design the innovative, integrated services that will best serve the interests of their patients, with a resolute focus on outcomes. The NHS outcomes framework, and the growing number of National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence quality standards will mean that patients and clinicians will be able to see clearly just how good individual providers—even individual consultant teams—are performing and then demand the treatment that they deserve.
In the short time since this Government have been elected, care for patients has improved significantly in many areas. For example, MRSA down; C. difficile, down; mixed-sex accommodation, massively down; more doctors, fewer managers; more patients with an NHS dentist; more cancer screening; the cancer drugs fund; the new 111 urgent care service; more money; less bureaucracy; and a far brighter future for the national health service. The motion before us is devoid of reality and it was backed up by a number of speeches that were divorced from the real world. Its claims are false, its premises unsound. For those reasons, I urge the House to reject it.
The House divided:
Ayes 228, Noes 307.
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas
Anderson, Mr David
Bailey, Mr Adrian
Bain, Mr William
Barron, rh Mr Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Dame Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr Joe
Betts, Mr Clive
Blunkett, rh Mr David
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben
Brown, rh Mr Nicholas
Brown, Mr Russell
Buck, Ms Karen
Burnham, rh Andy
Byrne, rh Mr Liam
Campbell, Mr Alan
Campbell, Mr Ronnie
Chapman, Mrs Jenny
Cooper, rh Yvette
Crausby, Mr David
Cunningham, Mr Jim
Darling, rh Mr Alistair
David, Mr Wayne
Davidson, Mr Ian
De Piero, Gloria
Denham, rh Mr John
Dobson, rh Frank
Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.
Donohoe, Mr Brian H.
Doran, Mr Frank
Eagle, Ms Angela
Field, rh Mr Frank
Flint, rh Caroline
Francis, Dr Hywel
Glindon, Mrs Mary
Godsiff, Mr Roger
Goggins, rh Paul
Hain, rh Mr Peter
Hamilton, Mr David
Hanson, rh Mr David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr Tom
Havard, Mr Dai
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr Stephen
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon
Hood, Mr Jim
Howarth, rh Mr George
James, Mrs Siân C.
Johnson, rh Alan
Jones, Mr Kevan
Jones, Susan Elan
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Khan, rh Sadiq
Lammy, rh Mr David
Lewis, Mr Ivan
Love, Mr Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr Denis
McCann, Mr Michael
McFadden, rh Mr Pat
McGuire, rh Mrs Anne
McKenzie, Mr Iain
Meacher, rh Mr Michael
Meale, Sir Alan
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Moon, Mrs Madeleine
Morris, Grahame M.
Mudie, Mr George
Murphy, rh Mr Jim
Murphy, rh Paul
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick
Reed, Mr Jamie
Riordan, Mrs Linda
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey
Roy, Mr Frank
Ruddock, rh Joan
Sharma, Mr Virendra
Sheerman, Mr Barry
Skinner, Mr Dennis
Slaughter, Mr Andy
Smith, rh Mr Andrew
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Thomas, Mr Gareth
Timms, rh Stephen
Umunna, Mr Chuka
Vaz, rh Keith
Watts, Mr Dave
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Winnick, Mr David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr Shaun
Wright, Mr Iain
Tellers for the Ayes:
Jonathan Ashworth and
Amess, Mr David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr James
Bacon, Mr Richard
Baron, Mr John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr Henry
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr Brian
Blunt, Mr Crispin
Bone, Mr Peter
Brady, Mr Graham
Brake, rh Tom
Brazier, Mr Julian
Brine, Mr Steve
Browne, Mr Jeremy
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burns, rh Mr Simon
Burrowes, Mr David
Cable, rh Vince
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Cash, Mr William
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clappison, Mr James
Clark, rh Greg
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Cox, Mr Geoffrey
Davey, Mr Edward
Davies, David T. C.
de Bois, Nick
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain
Dunne, Mr Philip
Ellwood, Mr Tobias
Evennett, Mr David
Foster, rh Mr Don
Fox, rh Dr Liam
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Gale, Mr Roger
Garnier, Mr Edward
Gauke, Mr David
Gibb, Mr Nick
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Grant, Mrs Helen
Gray, Mr James
Grayling, rh Chris
Greening, rh Justine
Gyimah, Mr Sam
Harper, Mr Mark
Hayes, Mr John
Heath, Mr David
Herbert, rh Nick
Hoban, Mr Mark
Hollobone, Mr Philip
Holloway, Mr Adam
Hughes, rh Simon
Huhne, rh Chris
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy
Huppert, Dr Julian
Hurd, Mr Nick
Jackson, Mr Stewart
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Jones, Mr David
Jones, Mr Marcus
Kennedy, rh Mr Charles
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lansley, rh Mr Andrew
Laws, rh Mr David
Leigh, Mr Edward
Lewis, Dr Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian
Lidington, rh Mr David
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Morris, Anne Marie
Mundell, rh David
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Newmark, Mr Brooks
Nuttall, Mr David
O'Brien, Mr Stephen
Offord, Mr Matthew
Paice, rh Mr James
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Prisk, Mr Mark
Raab, Mr Dominic
Randall, rh Mr John
Redwood, rh Mr John
Reid, Mr Alan
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Robertson, Mr Laurence
Ruffley, Mr David
Sanders, Mr Adrian
Scott, Mr Lee
Shapps, rh Grant
Shepherd, Mr Richard
Simpson, Mr Keith
Smith, Miss Chloe
Soames, rh Nicholas
Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline
Spencer, Mr Mark
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Mr Gary
Stuart, Mr Graham
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond
Syms, Mr Robert
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter
Timpson, Mr Edward
Turner, Mr Andrew
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Vaizey, Mr Edward
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa
Walker, Mr Charles
Wallace, Mr Ben
Walter, Mr Robert
Ward, Mr David
Whittingdale, Mr John
Willetts, rh Mr David
Williams, Mr Mark
Wilson, Mr Rob
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:
Bill Wiggin and
Mr Shailesh Vara
Question accordingly negatived.
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Steve Rotheram: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I should like some clarification from you because I do not know the answer to this question. When two of my constituents went through the Cromwell Green security check area, they were searched and photographed, obviously, but then a piece of paper they had with them—a pensions petition signed by the staff of Four Oaks primary school—was taken from them. When they asked why, they were told it was a security risk. Can you clarify what might have been meant by a piece of paper being a security risk? Were staff frightened that somebody might get a paper cut?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for having given advance notice of his intention to raise it. I have a fertile imagination but it is stretched to the limits by an attempt to discover what on earth could be the problem here. The hon. Gentleman and others will know that some items are considered out of order for bringing into the House, but I cannot imagine why this would fall into that category. I think it only right to say that I will have a conversation and look into the matter. I know that the staff of the House always do their best, but my instant reaction is that I cannot imagine why it should have caused offence. Moreover, I cannot, off the top of my head, credit the idea that constituents of the hon. Gentleman’s coming to the House would cause offence.
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Environmental Protection and Green Growth
That this House believes that the UK risks being left behind in its attempts to attract global investment in environmental technologies; agrees with the British Retail Consortium that the recent Waste Review is a disappointment; further agrees with the Nature Check report by 29 environmental charities that the Government has failed to deliver its environmental goals; condemns the Government’s 27 per cent. cut in flood defence investment from £354 million to £259 million a year; calls on the Government to adopt Labour’s five point plan for jobs and growth and bring forward spending on rural infrastructure projects for flood defences and rural broadband; further calls on the Government to raise the UK recycling target to 70 per cent. by 2025 to create an additional 50,000 jobs; and believes the Government should ensure mandatory carbon emissions reporting for all large UK companies to kick-start green jobs and growth.
May I begin by expressing Opposition Members’ regret that the Environment Secretary is unable to join us for the debate? I understand she is giving evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but it is a very short walk from the Grimond room in Portcullis House to the Chamber and I hope that we have the opportunity to debate these issues with her at a future date. I would certainly look forward to that.
Dr Coffey: My understanding is that the motion was tabled only last night, so the Government would have known only today that the attendance of the Secretary of State might be wanted, whereas her arrangements with the Select Committee were made some time ago.
Mary Creagh: It is at the Minister’s discretion whether she appears in the Chamber. She could have been informed this morning about an urgent question and would have had to appear before the House. The motion was tabled last night at about 5 o’clock, so she has had almost 24 hours to prepare her speech. I am sure that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), has been beavering away on his remarks.
Let me start by taking the House back to 2006 and a fresh-faced Leader of the then Opposition visiting the Arctic circle. We all remember the Prime Minister hugging a husky, as well as “Vote blue, go green”. The Tory manifesto told us,
“That is why we have put green issues back at the heart of our politics and that is why they will be at the heart of our government.”
Several megatonnes of carbon dioxide and hot air were emitted by a variety of Conservative MPs confessing their green damascene conversion. In opposition, going green was an essential part of detoxifying the Tory brand, but in the 18 short months that the Government have been in power we have seen progress stall on the environment. As their disastrous economic policies take hold, with confidence failing, unemployment and inflation rising and growth flatlining, the green talk has not been matched by green action.
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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had a disastrous settlement in the comprehensive spending review—the second-biggest spending cut of any Department—taking £2 billion in cash out of the environment over the next four years. The Secretary of State was bounced into a disastrous plan to raise £100 million by selling England’s forests, and we await the review of the Bishop of Liverpool, Bishop James Jones. [ Interruption. ] I am glad to see that the parliamentary private secretary is distributing lines to take from the Government. It is always good to see the briefing machine in action. We hope the brief has been printed on Forest Stewardship Council paper.
DEFRA published its “Mainstreaming sustainable development” strategy in February—just seven pages to cut across the whole of Government. Its sustainable development programme board has not met since December last year and the sustainable development policy working group has not met since November. We got those answers in June 2011, so we can see that sustainable development is clearly no longer at the heart of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“I passionately believe going green is both a moral and economic imperative.”
“We’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”
Our Labour Government were the greenest Government, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who makes a welcome return to our team, for the progress that he made on the environment when he was a Minister.
David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I note the comment, “Our Labour Government were the greenest Government”. We were 25th out of the 27 countries in the EU for renewables production in 2009-10. Is that what the hon. Lady means by “the greenest Government”?
Mary Creagh: We on the Labour Benches have always protected the environment, whether by setting up the national parks or introducing the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the Climate Change Act 2008. These show our green leadership. Will the Chancellor’s comments and the spat with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change enhance or reduce our leadership on these issues in Europe?
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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the hon. Lady think a little humility might be in order, given that when we take into account the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, under Labour’s three terms of office, greenhouse gas emissions rose, rather than fell?
Today we see open warfare breaking out between Government Departments over mixed messages to UK plc, with the headline in The Independent, “Osborne’s anti-green agenda splits Coalition” and today the speech from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and snub to the Chancellor to cheers from a business audience. The only people who benefit from such Cabinet warfare are the climate sceptics at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, who want us to do less.
Our motion today expresses our concern at this internecine warfare and proposes three steps that the Department can take now to restore business confidence in the green agenda: bringing forward infrastructure spending on flood defence and broadband, as suggested in Labour’s five-point plan for growth; committing to mandatory carbon reporting to stimulate green innovation; and higher waste targets to drive private sector job creation. I shall address each of those in turn.
Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): I represent a flood-hit constituency in the Severn valley. We had serious floods in 1998, 2000 and 2007. Since May 2010, Pershore, Powick, Uckinghall, Kempsey and two schemes in Upton-upon-Severn have been started or completed, compared with the record under the hon. Lady’s Government, where we got one scheme in 13 years.
Mary Creagh: That is an honourable intervention from the hon. Lady. I think it was The Guardian that reported that around 500 flood defence schemes are currently in abeyance. I am keen to hear from the Minister about the future of those schemes.
In the last two years of the Labour Government, spending on flood defences rose by 33%. We know that flooding and other extreme weather events are likely to increase with global warming. We saw only yesterday the devastation that floods can cause, and I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families of the angler who was swept into the sea at Redcar and the two people who died in Ireland. We saw the heartache and the huge cost of flooding in Cornwall and Cumbria in 2009 and in Yorkshire and Gloucestershire in 2007. In this country 5 million homes are at risk from flooding.
In opposition, the Prime Minister called for extra funding for the flood defences budget—hear, hear. Under Labour the budget rose, but the Under-Secretary has cut spending on this essential part of our infrastructure from £354 million in 2010 to just £259 million this year and every year until 2015, which is a 27% cut. Nearly £500 million has been taken out of flood defences.
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Communities at risk from flooding need a strong advocate arguing their case at the heart of Government. The Environment Agency tells us that the cost-benefit ratio of all flood defence schemes means that for every £1 we put in we get £8 back. That is money saved on public safety by the Home Office, on lost hours in the NHS, on disruption to transport and on the cost to the Department for Communities and Local Government of clean-up and re-housing people.
The Environment Agency has told us that many of the flood schemes have been deferred indefinitely, but the Minister says that they have merely been postponed, so we hope that he will clarify that today. We call on him to bring forward the planned flood defence investment to create the private sector construction and engineering employment that the country needs and to ensure that towns and cities that need flood protection get it as soon as possible.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend say something about the effect of the cuts in flood defences? Constituents in areas that have been flooded are having difficulty in obtaining insurance. With the statement of principles running out in 2013, what will be the effects of that?
Mary Creagh: My hon. Friend, as usual, makes an excellent point. She has spoken eloquently and at length about the flood insurance deserts that have resulted from the chilling effect of the cuts. One of the key recommendations of the Pitt review, which followed the 2007 floods and affected my constituency of Wakefield, was that flood defence spending should rise by more than inflation every year. With inflation at 5%, that would mean an increase of more than 5% this year.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): This is not a party political question. The Scots argue strongly that one of the best ways to deal with flooding is not to allow construction on flood plains. Will the shadow Minister acknowledge that one of the real errors of the past 15 years has been our construction policy, rather than the amount of money put into flood defences?
Mary Creagh: It was our pleasure. I know that Carlisle also suffered terribly. We cannot stop all development. The Thames Gateway development is happening on areas that are also potentially flood plains, but we must ensure that there is a joined-up strategy across Government and that the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Treasury and the Home Office look at the real costs of flooding. At the moment insurers pay out, but it is not in their interests to stop flood events, because ultimately it is the reinsurers who pay the costs. We need to drill down and get a true account from across Government of the costs of flood events.
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Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Apart from the fact that we have £2.1 billion prepared for flood defences, does the hon. Lady agree that it is quite right that in my constituency, which was affected by the floods to which she referred, proper consultation is going on with the Environment Agency to deal with the Severn estuary and that a timely imposition of action is much better than something that is rushed? Furthermore, does that not show the importance of localism in such considerations?
Mary Creagh: It is clear that localism is absolutely vital and local communities should be able to have a say on developments in their area, but I am not clear how that links in with the Government’s national planning policy framework, which has undefined “sustainable development” at its heart. No one can say what “sustainable development” is.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I am not sure whether I should thank the hon. Lady personally for any flood defences that have been built in my constituency over the past 13 years, but I will certainly do so if it allows me to continue my intervention, which expands on the point that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) made. Do Labour Members agree that we need to tighten planning policy, particularly in relation to empowering the Environment Agency and giving it a veto in areas of flood risk and on flood plains?
Mary Creagh: We cannot allow all development to be killed off, but I agree that there is no point building and selling homes that are not sustainable, and that will be uninsurable, un-mortgageable and unfit for human habitation if they are hit by successive flood events.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): With a reduction in the flood defence budget to pre-Pitt levels, does my hon. Friend agree that, in getting the deficit down, there is confusion between revenue spending and capital investment? Surely, capital investment means building up assets to protect people’s homes and businesses, but all the Government are doing is playing Russian roulette with people’s lives and futures.
Mary Creagh: That is a very good point, and there is also a direct impact on construction and engineering jobs, which are flatlining. For the record, by the way, may I make it clear that I was not requesting any personal thanks? All thanks should be directed to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, who is sitting next to me.
Labour is the party of jobs and growth not just in cities, but in towns and villages throughout this great country of ours. We are standing up for fairness in the countryside, as yesterday’s debate about the Agricultural Wages Board showed.
Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned Carlisle. The terrible floods that occurred in my constituency in 2009 created havoc and devastation, and led to the loss of life of a very brave police officer. Carlisle, on whose flood defences £30 million had been spent, was not flooded, but the estimate of the damage that would have occurred without those defences is between £70-odd million and £80 million. Surely, these cuts are only short-term savings.
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Mary Creagh: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I read in Hansard the debates he had last year on the issue. The floods were devastating, and he played a huge leadership role in his community, bringing it together in the very difficult months that followed, when without a bridge it was split by the river.
We want strong rural communities where rural businesses can sell their goods and services direct and file their accounts over the internet, and where families have the same opportunities as people in towns and cities. In government, Labour promised universal rural broadband by 2012 and universal high-speed broadband by 2015, yet this Government have said that universal broadband will come only in 2015, and only as long as cash-strapped councils, which have also seen their budgets cut by one third, stump up half the money.
Broadband is essential if we are to tackle the social and financial exclusion that many in the countryside face. Speeding up rural broadband should not be part of a plan B; it should have been in the Government’s plan A. So, we call on them to speed up spending on this 21st century infrastructure in order to stimulate growth and private sector jobs in rural economies.
Let me turn to carbon reporting. In January 2010, several Tory and Lib Dem Members wrote to Labour’s then Business Secretary, calling for mandatory carbon reporting. They included the current Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), and the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker), for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey)—all now Ministers. In that letter, they said:
“There will be further economic benefits, accelerating the development of the low carbon economy and giving the City the backing it needs to become the world leader in carbon accounting and reporting.”
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I know that the Labour party has an obsession with carbon emissions, and indeed the Climate Change Act 2008 was evidence of that, but the motion is about job creation. Carbon reduction has led to an increase in consumer and business electricity prices, and to energy-intensive industries relocating outside the United Kingdom, with the British Air Transport Association saying only last week, “If we continue down this road it will affect the aviation industry’s competitiveness,” so will the hon. Lady explain how that fits with job creation?
Mary Creagh: It is not a matter of either/or. Unlike the Government, far-sighted companies have realised that reporting environmental impact helps them to reduce their costs, to improve their production processes, and drives innovation in products and services. That is where we were a leader in the green economy.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op):
Does my hon. Friend share my concern and frustration that, on carbon reporting, proposals to display energy certificates were made in the Energy Bill Committee? That was called for by many large companies that want reporting of carbon emissions. We were frustrated because, despite saying before they came to government that they supported such a measure, Government Members
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did not do so in Committee, even though the proposal came from a Conservative Member, who had then to vote against it when we pressed it to a Division.
David Mowat: Does the hon. Lady believe that if we had had more carbon reporting in the past 13 years we would now be higher than 25th of the 27 EU countries in terms of renewables? For the avoidance of doubt, and so that the House is aware, the two countries that we were ahead of in renewables in 2010 were Malta and Luxembourg.
Mary Creagh: We have leadership in offshore wind, and that was restated by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change today. I was at a business breakfast meeting with representatives of several large manufacturers of regeneration technology, and they said that the most important thing they want from the Government is certainty. I am not sure that climate change was at the top of our agenda 13 years ago, but we have realised over time that it is already factored in and that we will have changing climate over the next 50 years, so we must do something now if we are to preserve and conserve the earth’s resources. We have only one planet.
David Mowat: I agree with everything that the shadow Secretary of State has said, but I am concerned that after 13 years of the previous Government we were 25th of 27 countries, beating only Malta and Luxembourg.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend should ignore the campaign against having an environmental agenda, because it is not against business. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills visited David Brown Gear Systems in Huddersfield—I am the Member of Parliament for Huddersfield, although many people from Colne Valley also work there. We are now specialising in offshore wind power, which is providing jobs and high technology. There is real money in the environment, but the Government are retreating from their green agenda.
I must tell the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) that a green company in my constituency, Logicor, manufactures a product called a green plug, and has business angel backing to roll it out nationally and internationally. The plug fits to an iron or other appliance, and automatically turns it off after 15 or 20 minutes if someone leaves the room and forgets to do so. It has been shown that that can reduce carbon emissions in the home by about 50%. The company’s research demonstrated that what we all fail to switch off most often is our computer printer. I share that with the House and the nation for those who wish do their bit on climate change.
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Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): There is an opportunity to promote jobs and growth in the green sector by cutting the rate of VAT to 5%. As my hon. Friend will be aware, there are several anomalies in this area. For example, installing heating controls attract a reduced rate of 5%, but replacing an old boiler with a modern, energy-efficient one does not. This is surely an opportunity to boost the economy and small business.
Luciana Berger: I am not sure where the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) got his figures from. Every year, Pew Environment Group brings out a report that measures countries’ investment in clean tech and renewables. It shows that in 2009, under a Labour Government, we were fifth in the world, and in one year alone, we have dropped to 13th—the largest drop of any G20 country, by 70%—as a result of the policy uncertainty under this Government and the lack of investment forthcoming. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about that drop and how it might impact?
David Mowat: The shadow Minister is very generous and I thank her for giving way for absolutely the last time. I got my figures from an EU website, so they are in the public domain. We are 25th out of 27, the two countries that we beat are Malta and Luxembourg, and that is a matter of public record.
Mary Creagh: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has been reading the useful publications from the European Union. I do not know which way he voted on Monday, but I am sure that that will be noted by the Whips. [ Interruption. ] Well, he is using the European Union to back up his argument, and that is very good news.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend remember, as I do, the amount of opposition from Tories and Lib Dems to all applications for wind farms in their areas? Our Government would have made much greater progress—I can say that as a Minister who was there at the time—had it not been for such opposition to developing renewables.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s role in government. Obviously, the decisions that we made in government paved the way for Mitsubishi and Siemens to think about relocating here. We do not want to drive energy-intensive industries or jobs overseas, because in many cases such industries are contributing directly to green development—for example, the steel that is pressed for offshore wind turbines that are manufactured in the UK. Companies in these industries want transparency so that there is a level playing field, showcasing the best and exchanging
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knowledge so that they can reduce their costs and their environmental impact. We pay tribute to the companies that have already done that work.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I represent the seat that holds the birthplace of industry, and, some would therefore argue, the birthplace of global warming. These things are probably best done locally. Some local authorities have incredibly good partnerships with businesses. My hon. Friend will be aware that Ricoh, the technology company, has its European headquarters in my constituency. It is a fairly energy-intensive company, but it puts over 90% of its waste product back into the industrial process, internally or with partners. That is an example of where an energy-intensive business can do a lot for the environment as well.
Mary Creagh: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for that contribution. I agree that it is very important that these companies now look through the whole of their manufacturing processes. I will deal with the role of waste in a moment.
In July this year, the Aldersgate Group, a collection of charities with large companies such as BT, PepsiCo and Microsoft, commissioned a report that provided an independent analysis of the impact assessment produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on mandatory carbon reporting. Taking just one of the options—option 3—Aldersgate found that DEFRA had overestimated the total costs by up to £4.6 billion and underestimated the benefits by £980 million. It said that DEFRA’s impact assessment had ignored wider behavioural change, product and service innovation and other strategic advantages from carbon reporting. It also states that DEFRA underestimates the benefits to companies over time, because the DEFRA model assumes that once companies have reduced their emissions in year one, they will not reduce them again over the following nine years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) said, large companies such as Ricoh and Tata get very good consultants in every year to see how they can drive down their costs and environmental impact.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I know that the hon. Lady will acknowledge that these are complicated issues. I want to turn her attention to the food industry. Under her Government, the amount of food that this country imported rose exponentially. The carbon footprint of importing food, for example beef from Brazil or asparagus from water-stressed Mexico, is enormous.
Mary Creagh: That is a very good point. I wonder whether the Minister will say something about Labour’s “Food 2030” strategy, which looked at food security both nationally and internationally, on which the Department has been eloquently silent since the Government came to power.
To return to carbon reporting, I cannot help but wonder whether the Department is deliberately inflating costs and reducing benefits as part of a go-slow on these areas. We know that that go-slow is driven by the climate change sceptics at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. When can we expect the results of the Department’s consultations? What are the Minister’s plans to help companies whose biggest environmental impact is not carbon-related, but water consumption, as in the case of the food industry, the amount of waste they send to landfill or the natural resources that they consume?
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The Government can drive green innovation in the food industry, our largest manufacturing sector, by using public procurement as they are the UK’s largest buyer. DEFRA is charged with overseeing the Government’s buying standards on sustainable food. Recent figures show that just 11% of Department for Work and Pensions food is sourced to UK animal welfare standards. In today’s Farmers Weekly, there is the extraordinary spectacle of a DEFRA Minister slamming his own Department for not meeting higher food standards, instead of standing up and taking responsibility for the poor performance. It was not like that when my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore was in government. I suppose that he wanted to get his criticism in before mine today. That is no way to treat the nation’s civil servants.
Waste is big business. The sector employs 142,000 people and has a turnover of £11 billion. There are companies that collect waste, treat it and turn it into new resources and energy for the nation, as in the case of Ricoh that was cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I commend to my hon. Friend the partnership between the Labour-led Greater Manchester waste disposal authority and Viridor Laing, which has invested £630 million into new high-tech mechanical separation facilities, including one near the edge of my constituency in Bredbury in the seat of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). The partnership’s aim is to compost 50% of waste and to reduce by 75% the waste that goes from Greater Manchester households to landfill.
Mary Creagh: I pay tribute to that scheme, because it has created certainty not just for the council, but for employment in the area and it will drive down the council’s waste emissions. Biodegradable material decomposing in landfill generates 40% of the UK’s methane emissions and 3% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. In government, Labour trebled household recycling from 11% to 40% with schemes such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend.
The Government’s recent waste review was a missed opportunity to boost recycling and create new green jobs. It was overshadowed by the in-fighting over weekly bin collections between the Secretary of State for chicken tikka masala and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Andrew George: Does the shadow Secretary of State accept that a weakness in the motion and in her waste policy is that they are based purely on measuring recycling levels? Surely it would be better to measure the success of policies such as those in the waste review using increases in waste, rather than in recycling, because it is theoretically possible for recycling and landfill to increase at the same time.
Mary Creagh: I am sure that would be a great idea in a perfect world, but we are living in the real world and need to comply with the EU waste framework directive so as not to incur huge EU infraction fines. I will come on to what that means.
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2025. That leaves England with the weakest recycling target in the UK, which is the target for the UK as a whole to meet the bare legal European minimum of 50% by 2020. There is a bitter irony in that, because the more the devolved nations achieve, the less England will have to deliver to reach the UK target. House of Commons Library research conducted for my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) shows that if the devolved nations meet their targets, England will need to recycle only 47.6% of waste by 2020 to meet its target.
Last week I visited the Rexam can manufacturing plant in Wakefield. Rexam works continually to develop its environmental performance, focusing on objectives including reducing the consumption of resources—I think that was the point that the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) was making. Over the past year, the plant has reduced its gas consumption by a quarter and its electricity consumption by 30%. The cans, which are ones that we all drink out of, such as Coca-Cola cans, are manufactured to a width of 97 microns, the width of two human hairs. That is another little fact that I can share with the House.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that supermarkets have a role to play in reducing waste, by reducing food packaging, by not encouraging people to throw away food on unrealistic sell-by dates, and by supporting projects such as FoodCycle, of which I have recently become a patron? That project takes unused food from supermarkets to community cafés and helps to feed people who would be unable to feed themselves. Does she agree that that is an absolutely brilliant project, and that supermarkets ought to be doing more to support it?
Mary Creagh: I do indeed, and I know that many of them are doing that. I have had a debate with the Co-operative about its naked cucumbers. [Interruption.] I pay tribute to charities that are working to recycle unwanted food.
Zac Goldsmith: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way on the subject of inappropriate vegetables. I believe that up to 40% of fruit and veg is thrown away before it even reaches the shop. Does that not imply that the supermarkets should be doing a lot more to counter the perverse incentive on producers to provide superficially perfect but no more valuable produce? Should we not address that?
Supermarkets do encourage shoppers with deals that may not be as cheap as they first appear, such as buy one, get one free. However, people are now shopping much more carefully. We are hearing from supermarkets about the re-emergence of the cash shopper. People are coming in with a certain amount in their
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purse or wallet to spend, and not going over their budget at all. They are being much more careful about what they buy and what they consume or throw away.
Of course, all food that is not consumed is a waste. It is a waste of water and of the carbon used in the logistics and transportation. However, there is some necessary food waste, such as apple peelings and banana skins, and we have to ensure that such waste is dealt with. Packaging businesses are taking action on the environment, so I feel the Government are really out of touch on the issue.
Last week, 29 environmental charities published their “Nature Check” report, which showed that the Government were meeting just two of the 16 coalition environmental targets. Across the country, people who voted blue have started to question the Government’s environmental record. How can they abolish Labour’s regional housing targets and then change the planning system so that councils are left in chaos and confusion and local communities are left out of the mix? How can a Government who have cut £2 billion from the environment budget deliver a better environment, and how can a Government who believe in a small state and are anti-regulation deliver environmental progress for people and our planet?
Next year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth summit, whose agreements were signed by the last Tory Government, and the 31st anniversary of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I hope that the louring figures of the Chancellor and the Minister for the Cabinet Office will not prevent the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from celebrating those landmark successes.
In Labour’s vision for a green economy, value and growth will be maximised, and natural assets will be managed sustainably. It will be supported by a thriving low-carbon and environmental goods and services sector; environmental damage will be reduced; and a skilled work force will ensure that we innovate and keep our global competitive edge.
In the coming autumn statement, we need a comprehensive green growth strategy from the Chancellor. Governments around the world are attracting investment in environmental technologies and the UK economy risks being left behind, but I am afraid that he has sapped green business confidence in the UK as a leader in climate change technology. Once again, he has shown that he is out of touch with business and driven by dogma. I urge the House to support the Opposition motion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): May I thank the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) for tabling this motion? I could not have wanted a better form of words in order to extol the virtues of this Government and to point out the manifest failings of the previous one. If I had a better handle on the usual channels, as I think they are called, I might have got a member of the Backbench Business Committee to produce just such a motion, because it allows me to discuss some of the excellent things that we are doing to make this the greenest Government ever.
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I start by apologising on behalf of the Secretary of State for the fact that she is not here. I know that many members of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would have liked to be here too. However, there is a courtesy, which the Secretary of State feels very strongly, which says that Select Committees are very important for holding Ministers to account. We took that view in opposition, and now we are in government we intend to ensure that we make ourselves available when Select Committees wish to question us at length.
With her customary generosity of spirit and her sunny nature, the hon. Member for Wakefield made a number of points about the Government, but perhaps failed to mention some of the good things. I hope she and the House will forgive me if I comment on the wording of the motion and on where we are moving forward. On environmental technologies, the hon. Lady did not feel the urge to mention the £3 billion that has been invested through the green investment bank, and she felt unable to talk about the vast amounts that that will generate in the private sector, or about the 26 million homes that will benefit from the green deal, which is the largest retrofit of infrastructure in our homes to benefit those on low incomes and make us a greener country.
The hon. Lady did not talk about the fourth carbon budget, which so many groups recognised and praised us for achieving, or about Ian Cheshire of the Kingfisher Group, who will be leading business opportunities for green growth. In this financial year alone, £1.7 billion has been invested in environmental technologies, creating 9,000 jobs all over the country.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The Minister is acutely aware of how devastated east Yorkshire was by flooding in 2007. One of the most worrying aspects of the Labour party manifesto was a promise to cut capital spending by 50%. Will he assure us that flood protection will get the required investment, and that this Government are committed to flood protection in a way that the Labour party were not before the last election?
Richard Benyon: Before the election, the previous Chancellor announced that there would be a 50% cut in DEFRA’s capital spend. If Labour had won that election, it might have said that it would not cut flood protection, but in that case, what would it have cut? The hon. Member for Wakefield used the tired old argument that if we are to compare apples with apples, we must compare this Government with the last two years of the previous one. However, in this four years, there is an 8% cut compared with the previous four years. Bearing in mind the cuts across the Government and the appalling legacy that we were left, we have made flooding an absolute priority.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for giving way so early on. Will he correct the supposition of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) that the previous Government said anything about cutting flood defence spending? We did not say that. I shall put that on the record again. The Minister is right that we would have to find the cuts somewhere, but we never indicated that they would come from flood defence, because of the impact that would have on people’s businesses, homes and, potentially, lives.
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Richard Benyon: The hon. Gentleman forgets that a 50% cut in capital spending has to come from somewhere. I entirely accept that he might have said there would have been no cut to flood defence spending if Labour had won the election, but nobody believes that it would have survived in its entirety.
The hon. Lady talked about waste and recycling. It is reasonable for an Opposition to push a Government in certain directions, but they cannot just pluck a recycling target of 70% from the air, even though I would certainly aspire to such a target. However, recycling targets on their own are not a measure of how well a Government are doing. Instead, it is vital that we consider the matter in the round and that we push waste issues up the hierarchy. We cannot simply imagine a day when we could move to 70% recycling without getting the industry working properly with us to ensure that there are markets for recyclates and that we have an absolute plan, which is what we have done through our waste initiative.
Joan Ruddock: I remind the Minister that, in 2003, a private Member’s Bill that I introduced and which became an Act, imposed on local authorities a mandatory duty to recycle at least two waste streams, with a deadline of December 2010. What action did he take on the small minority of local authorities that did not comply last year?
Richard Benyon: I shall get back to the right hon. Lady. [Interruption.] I am sure she understands that this is not an area of my brief, but the responsibility of my noble Friend Lord Taylor. However, I shall certainly get an answer to the right hon. Lady’s question.
Mary Creagh: I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. The five or six matters that he outlined at the beginning of his speech were not DEFRA issues; they come under the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I am glad that he has been joined by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). Does he support his hon. Friend’s proposal to introduce mandatory carbon reporting as soon as possible?
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) for his intervention on flood defences. We are talking about an 8% reduction in spending. That is the fair comparison. I know that the hon. Member for Wakefield was being flippant, but it identifies a problem in her party—that people do not have to thank her or her hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for money spent on flood defences. This is taxpayers’ money, and it is vital that that taxpayers’ money is spent in the best possible way. We want to ensure that, over the next few years, we spend taxpayers’ money in the most effective way, because, as the hon. Lady correctly pointed out, we get a good return on taxpayers’ money if it is spent in the right way.
Our new partnership funding scheme will see the taxpayers’ pound going further. We are seeing efficiencies in the Environment Agency that mean that more houses and properties will be protected; and when we take our indicative list forward next year, I hope that many hon. Members’ constituencies will benefit from new schemes with new partnership funding that will bring benefits to those communities.
Tony Cunningham: I am not going to make a party political point; I want to look forward rather than backwards. Will the hon. Gentleman visit my constituency? Next month is the second anniversary of the devastating floods. If he agrees to come, he will get some criticism about the maintenance of rivers and streams, and so on, but he will also see for himself some of the superb work that local people have done.
Richard Benyon: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have huge respect for the leadership that he showed at the time of the floods and for the work that he has done since to push me and my Department in various ways to improve the resilience of that community against flooding. I would be delighted to visit. I would also like to consult him on the development work that we are doing to create new internal drainage boards in the area to deal with precisely the issues that he has raised. I hope that we can ensure better flood resilience in future.
Mary Creagh: What I said was certainly not meant to sound arrogant; it was a debating point, made in jest to the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), about the fact that his community had benefited from flood defences, yet he is now part of a Government who are cutting off those defences. Let me challenge the Minister again on the figures. He talks about an 8% cut to DEFRA spending, but can he name another area of Government accounting where spending has been calculated over the previous four years, instead of taking a baseline year which was the last year that Labour was in government? His figure of 8% is based on four years of previous spending compared with four years of future spending. No other Department is doing that; it is an example of funny DEFRA maths.
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preceding a general election with how it would behave now, when the Opposition have announced to the House how much they would have reduced spending. It is a tired old canard to keep up this talk about spending. She would be much better off looking forward and recognising that the new regime and policies that we are introducing will have a good effect.
The important point that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) made about insurance is something that exercises us greatly. We hope to make an announcement in the near future about how we will take forward the statement of principles after it concludes in 2013.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned the Environment Agency earlier. I wonder whether he shares my concern about its failure to take action in my constituency against the discharge of raw sewage into a local brook and on to farmland. It has instead suggested a policy of co-operation and education with the group responsible for that behaviour. Will he agree to take an interest in this matter and resolve it quickly so that proper environmental protection is ensured?
Richard Benyon: I shall certainly look at that situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is vital that we take action to clean up rivers. We have put £92 million more into the budget to try to improve the quality of the water in our rivers. Anybody who is polluting should be penalised, and that is what the Environment Agency is for.
Rory Stewart: In fact, we have not experienced capital cuts in Cumbria; rather, the Environment Agency is being considerably more flexible than it was six or nine months ago, responding to communities and clearing out gravel. The progress is good under the current Government; I would like to put that on the record.
Richard Benyon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. The new partnership scheme will end the problem of communities failing, year after year, to get just above the line needed for their schemes to go ahead. There will now be clarity in the system, so that people can see exactly where they are on the scale and what needs to be geared up, by whatever means, for their scheme to get above the line.
May I express my admiration, in a perverse way, for the nerve of the hon. Member for Wakefield for mentioning the word “broadband” in the motion and in her speech? That is masterful chutzpah. I could ridicule her for it, but part of me secretly admires it from somebody in a party that did so little in government. This country was at the bottom of every conceivable league table, and the previous Government had a scheme that involved raising huge amounts of money from some kind of telephone tax that nobody thought would work. This Government have made the issue an absolute priority.
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The hon. Lady is right to make broadband an issue in a green debate. Broadband allows people to work and learn from home, which reduces congestion. The Government also believe that this is a social inclusion issue, however. Broadband will assist people who are old, ill, mentally ill, out of work or on a low income, particularly those who live in remote communities, out of all proportion to any other factor in their lives. It is therefore absolutely right to include it in this debate, and I am very happy to talk about the investment that we are making, including the £530 million that is being spent through Broadband Delivery UK and the £20 million that has been geared up from DEFRA’s funds for the hard-to-reach in our most rural communities, as well as the £150 million recently announced by the Chancellor to assist the roll-out of mobile 4G access, which can provide coverage for broadband on mobile phone networks. That is also very good news.
The hon. Lady also made some interesting points about the five-point plan for growth and jobs, but it would simply add to the scale of debt. How can we deal with the debt problem by adding to it? Nothing should add to our debt. The shadow Chancellor’s five-point plan would not be a way of gearing up jobs and growth in the green economy or in any other. As in so many areas, Labour Members have absolutely no credibility when they talk about the economy.
Kelvin Hopkins: Spending more, particularly in labour-intensive areas such as those we are debating today, would generate far more, through the multiplier effect, than the original investment, which we would get back through taxation.
Richard Benyon: I do not want to get into a long economic debate, but the hon. Gentleman is right in one sense. Green growth, if we do it right, could create jobs. I am afraid that I do not agree with the suggestion by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) that this is an entirely binary issue involving either growth or the environment. The Government firmly believe that the two go together, and our policies reflect that.
The Government have an ambitious programme to protect and enhance our natural environment. Given the unprecedented financial difficulties, we cannot simply pull the financial levers to deliver change. Instead, we are committed to leading by example, being the greenest Government ever, mainstreaming sustainable development and enabling the value of the natural environment and biodiversity to be reflected when decisions are made. In the past 17 months, we have made good progress. We have a strong track record of environmental leadership, at home and internationally. We have published the national eco-system assessment, the first analysis of the benefits that the UK’s natural environment provides to society and to our continuing economic prosperity. This is ground-breaking research from over 500 UK scientists and economists, and the UK is the world leader in this regard.
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We have published the cross-government natural environment White Paper, the first in 20 years. It seeks to put the value of nature at the heart of our decision making in Government, local communities and businesses, properly valuing the economic and social benefits of a healthy natural environment while continuing to recognise nature’s intrinsic value. It set out 92 commitments, and we published an update on progress earlier this month. This has made us a world leader in this field.
Kerry McCarthy: The Minister has just mentioned the natural environment White Paper. What does he think of the criticism of the White Paper, and of the “England Biodiversity Strategy: Biodiversity 2020”, by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which stated recently that
“both are singularly lacking in implementation plans”,
“we need more than fine words, we need a clear delivery plan and we need it soon”?
Richard Benyon: I think the hon. Lady shows a churlishness that is not in her character. She is usually among the most generous of Members. May I suggest that she looks at the natural environment White Paper and its 92 commitments and understands how we are valuing nature as part of how government works. I am happy to quote the recent remarks of the Chancellor who said:
“we need to know what the problem is before we can set about finding a solution. Better and fuller information is a crucial…step towards promoting environmental sustainability.”
He was talking about accounting for sustainability, and getting natural capital hardwired into Government at every level has been a crucial part of taking forward this work through the natural environment White Paper, which I commend to hon. Members.
Andrew George: May I interpret the last intervention as a constructive contribution, indicating that the Labour party wishes to engage with the issue of biodiversity? Biodiversity standards fell during the 13 years of the last Government. All the parties need to work on the biodiversity strategy and, indeed, on the natural environment White Paper and attempt to improve those standards. That is what I believe all the parties should be doing in the forthcoming year.
Richard Benyon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Let me say with absolute clarity that we want to reverse the decline of biodiversity in this country, not just because we value nature in its esoteric sense, but because we value it in its economic sense as well. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are working with organisations like the RSPB and many others to try to ensure that the strategies we have brought forward are effective and workable. The indicators suggest that, with the right commitment, we can achieve this.
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Mr Sheerman: The Minister will know that Members of all parties care very much about the environment. I know we sometimes play games of point scoring, but one thing that the Minister should be very cautious about today is mentioning the name of the Chancellor. Members of all parties are worried about his recent remarks, as he seems to be undermining the green agenda that many of us thought was refreshing. The Minister, not us, brought up the point about the Chancellor.
Richard Benyon: I urge the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect on this subject, to look at exactly what the Chancellor is doing. He should look at the £3 billion that the Treasury has invested in the green investment bank and at the commitment we have made on a whole range of other issues. I can assure him that if he did, his concerns would be allayed.
Zac Goldsmith: Learning how to value ecosystems is a prerequisite for tackling the loss of biodiversity and the environmental crisis generally. I am not often accused by colleagues of sycophancy, but I do want to say that the work in the natural environment White Paper puts us ahead of almost any other country in the world. It is work that should be absolutely commended and celebrated across the board.
Gavin Shuker: The Minister is extremely generous in allowing interventions. I was initially trying to be well behaved and not to intervene on him, but I would like to echo the comment that the natural environment White Paper is fine in and of itself. There will be consensus about biodiversity—an issue about which I believe the Minister feels strongly—across the House. The key issue, however, is resource. There are many environmental and local groups applying to get funding to do the things that are set out in the White Paper, but only £7.5 million has been put behind it.
Richard Benyon: The hon. Gentleman is talking about our nature improvement areas, and I would be happy to talk further to him about them and about the level of our ambition, which exceeds that of the previous Government. There is no money left, as someone once said when he left a note in a desk. I have to remind the hon. Gentleman of that, but we have made biodiversity and reversing its decline an absolute priority—both for this Department and the Government.
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We will shortly publish our White Paper on water, which will set out how we want to reform the water industry and address the need for resilience to drought and climate change. A few weeks ago I stood on the bed of the River Kennet, which was as dry as the carpet in the Chamber. It is one of the “rivers on the edge” identified by the World Wildlife fund and is one of the most precious ecosystems in the south of England, although there are many more. Many Members represent constituencies where there are serious concerns about the decline of river quality. We will explain in the water White Paper how we seek to address the problem. We will consider not just the narrow issues involved in that particular stretch of water, but the entire catchment. We will take account of the calls on water, the loss of water from those precious ecosystems, and how we can manage the situation in future.
We are implementing the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which was mentioned earlier, and creating new marine conservation zones around our coast. Let me tell those who talk of the checklist that may have found its way into the motion that that item is flagged as a red, and is very much ongoing. We are adhering to the timetable that was set by the hon. Member for Ogmore when he was a Minister. We are determined to complete the task, and to create an ecologically coherent network of conservation zones around our coast.
Paul Flynn: It is a question that involves all the devolved Assemblies, especially the Welsh Assembly, where all parties are enthusiastic about marine development, but are hamstrung by restrictions that prevent them from organising even pilot projects in Pembrokeshire without the say-so of the national Government. Is it not time that the Government put their devotion to localism into action, and allowed the Assemblies to implement robust environmental policies?
Richard Benyon: I am afraid that I simply do not recognise that situation. We met Ministers from the devolved Assemblies this week, and discussed the way in which we are approaching the management of our seas and other policies, in the context of Europe but also nationally. I have worked closely with those Ministers, but I have heard none of them suggest that our parliamentary activities are limiting their ability to control their own environments.
We have also successfully defended the moratorium on commercial whaling. Many may not consider that to be a massive issue, but our constituents certainly do, and I think that the House should recognise the excellent work done by DEFRA officials. I bear the scars on my back from attending two meetings of the International Whaling Commission, and the fact that the British Government have led in making that organisation fit for
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the 21st century is to our credit. We have contributed £100 million to protect international forests, and the Secretary of State is working closely with Brazil to secure the best use of those funds. As we build on the wonderful achievements made in Nagoya we see real benefits, and Britain’s standing in regard to those and other issues in the international forum has been enhanced in recent months.
The Government’s economic policy objective is to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries. The Treasury is committed to that, and has made important progress on a range of green initiatives. It has fulfilled the Government’s commitment to introducing a carbon price floor—a world first—as the basis of an innovative and economically ambitious green policy. This year’s Budget outlined the Government’s commitment to green investment, making £3 billion available for the green investment bank over the next four years. That will provide a lever for £15 billion of private investment in green technologies, a fact that was tragically missing from the speech of the hon. Member for Wakefield.
Nicholas Soames: I apologise to the House and to the Minister for asking to intervene when I have only just arrived. I hope that the House will forgive me. I have been at a meeting of the 1922 Committee.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has been doing. May I ask him to cast a particular eye over the very serious environmental problem of the gross over-extraction of water from rivers in general and in particular from chalk streams, which are waters of international renown and importance in this country? Will he tell us what level of extraction he considers acceptable?
Richard Benyon: I have already said that we will address that in the near future in the water White Paper. We are determined to comply with directives, because that is what we all have to do, but we are also more ambitious, in that we want our aquatic environment to be restored. That legacy will be difficult to achieve, but we can achieve it. We can secure huge improvements in biodiversity and ecosystems by just making some changes. It is not easy to change abstraction when large numbers of people rely on the water in question for their daily lives, but this can be done, and it will be done under this Government.
David Wright: What discussions has the Minister had with Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers about the use of grey water produced in urban environments? That is of key importance. The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) made a good point about the level of water abstraction in the UK, but what we are not very good at—whereas other countries in the European Union and around the world are good at this—is using grey water in the built environment and recycling it.
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Richard Benyon: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are determined to address this issue from both ends of the pipe, as it were. We must look not only at abstraction and how we can incentivise water companies to share water with neighbouring companies, but at how we can incentivise and encourage individuals and households. A recent “Panorama” programme showed what can be achieved by households; by doing just a few things, they can reduce the amount of water they use and protect the environment.
Richard Benyon: We are consulting DCLG colleagues on that and a variety of different issues. I recently visited the Building Research Establishment at Watford. Amazing work is being done there on grey-water systems and how households can use much less water. We want to take those ideas forward, and we will keep the House informed as we do so.
Mr Graham Stuart: On the green investment bank, may I point out that the largest manufacturing area outside London is Yorkshire? A quarter of the nation’s energy is produced in Yorkshire. Yorkshire stands ready—manufacturers, councillors, universities—to work with the green investment bank. Will the Minister give us more details of what exactly it will be doing, and what role Yorkshire can play in making sure we take forward the green revolution?
Richard Benyon: My experience in this House is that Yorkshire MPs believe that life starts and finishes in Yorkshire, and I am sure the green investment bank will find a way of investing in my hon. Friend’s constituency—and elsewhere. We will come to the House with more details in the near future.
We were talking earlier about whether the concepts of green and growth were complementary or at odds with each other. We firmly believe they are complementary. The environment is an economic issue. Better management of natural resources is a financial and environmental opportunity. That is recognised by the Government and leading businesses. The waste review and the natural environment White Paper underline that by putting resource efficiency and the natural environment at the heart of economic growth.
Broader initiatives either already delivered or in the pipeline include electricity market reform, the renewable heat incentive and the green deal, which is the largest retrofit project. The Government also have an initiative, “Enabling the transition to a green economy”, which is being led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DECC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It brings together under one heading all of our ambitions and plans for moving towards a green economy.
To help in that, we have set up the Green Economy Council, chaired by the Secretaries of State for BIS, DEFRA and DECC, which brings together more than 20 business leaders from leading businesses and business groups ranging from Ford to Waitrose. It provides an open forum for business to work with Government to address the challenges of creating the green economy and to facilitate growth opportunities.
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I wish to highlight two ways in which we are hard-wiring natural capital across government, and I referred to that in passing earlier. We are working with the Office for National Statistics to include natural capital in the UK environmental accounts. We are also setting up a natural capital committee—an independent advisory committee reporting to the Economic Affairs Committee—to provide expert advice on the state of England’s natural capital. We will be advertising for a chair and members this year.
That develops one of the key objectives put forward by GLOBE International—my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) are such able vice-chairmen for that organisation. We are also establishing a business-led ecosystems market taskforce to review the opportunities for UK business from expanding green goods, services, products, investment vehicles and markets, which value and protect nature’s services.
I shall now move on to more specific issues. Earlier this year, we published our waste review, which is a comprehensive look at prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal, aiming for a zero-waste economy. It provides a broader picture than recycling targets and sets us on a path towards a greener, more innovative economy that values waste as a resource and an opportunity for jobs.
Joan Ruddock: May I make a suggestion to the Minister? He will know that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is going to make millions of pounds available to local authorities to return to weekly collections, which they departed from in order to boost recycling. As the Minister will know, food is one of the main issues to deal with, so why does he not make representations to the Communities Secretary to say that money should be provided to those local authorities, such as my local Lewisham council, that have weekly collections but could expand, if they had the money, into food collections? That would have enormous benefits, including job creation.
Richard Benyon: The right hon. Lady is right to say that there are huge benefits if we get this right. We are working not only to deal with food waste—to encourage people to buy less and to waste less food—but to make sure that what waste food there is can be used in a constructive way. That is why our policies on anaerobic digestion have huge potential, not just for a municipal approach to this issue, but, for example, for the farming industry as a way of diversifying its business. So I assure her that we are talking, and will continue to talk, to people right across government to ensure a joined-up approach. I respect her knowledge on this matter.
I spoke earlier about broadband, but I wish to emphasise that it is an absolute priority for this Government, as it will make the difference to our rural community. Our economy will be enhanced in a sustainable way for the future when we are able to have creative industries operating in remote parts of the country.
We expect to be able to deliver better flood and coastal erosion protection to 145,000 households by March 2015. Despite spending reductions, no schemes have been cancelled. That is an important point for the hon. Member for Wakefield to understand. We expect to spend at least £2.1 billion on tackling flooding and coastal erosion over the next four years. We expect to
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spend this money better than it has been in the past and to do so in an open way, where local communities can really see how it is operating.
On mandatory carbon reporting for companies, we have consulted widely over the summer on whether we should introduce regulations in this area. We need to be clear that these regulations are the best way forward, and the Secretary of State will announce the outcome to the House this autumn.
To conclude, the Government are proud of what we have achieved thus far. We have been in government for only 17 months and there is a huge amount to achieve, but I am certain that we can achieve it. I ask the House not to support the motion, because I believe that what I have told the House this afternoon has shown that we are ambitious for more and that we can achieve enormous benefits for our economy by thinking in terms of the environment and the economy together. We hope to do that as we move forward.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): We have heard a lot of words in the past 35 minutes, but, frankly, not a lot of substance. Being green is very fashionable these days and has been for some time. The Conservative party even changed the colour of its logo to green from blue, but if the verdict of many voluntary groups is correct, perhaps the party will have to change it back to blue again before long. At one point in my election campaign I stood at hustings that had been called by a group of charities and pressure groups on environmental issues and I was struck by how dull it was because there was apparently very little divergence of opinion.
Of course, what matters is not what one says but what one does in practice, and I put it to the Minister that he could be more ambitious. For example, even on the simple issue of recycling targets, Scotland and Wales both have more ambitious targets than his Department. In Scotland, the target is to reach 60% by 2020 and 70% by 2025. I believe that if we do not have targets, we will not be inspired to make the effort. A lot has been said about targets by the Conservative party and it has become almost a mantra, or a statement as though it is a fact, that targets are somehow a bad thing. We hear far too much about how bad top-down targets are supposed to be, but targets have proven to be extremely effective in pushing people into reaching the ends they say they want. Without targets those ends might not be reached. It is disappointing that the examples set by Scotland and Wales are not being followed in the rest of the country. There is a knock-on effect for jobs and economic growth, because the kind of relatively small-scale industry that we all say we want can be built up on the back of better recycling.
Another thing we have heard an awful lot about from the Government is the notion of nudge theory and how important it is to nudge people in a particular direction. However, I cannot understand how nudging people to revert to weekly bin collections, as my right hon. Friend
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the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) has mentioned, can be a nudge in the right direction. It must surely be a nudge in the wrong direction. There should be financial support for better reuse and recycling. I do not want to say that recycling is the only thing because it is important to reuse and I would love it if industries here were encouraged to reuse bottles, for example, as happens in many European countries, rather than our simply smashing them into the recycling bin, fun though that is for children in particular. If we do not put investment in, rather than doing the opposite, we will be heading in the wrong direction.
I did not really hear from the Minister what the Government plan to do about mandatory carbon reporting. We have had consultation, despite the fact that the parties in the coalition Government seemed very keen on carbon reporting when they were in opposition, and we have heard that there is going to be some sort of statement in the autumn. In my part of the world, although perhaps not in the warmer south-east, autumn is rapidly running out and it would be helpful to know what the Government’s real thinking is on this.
Another thing that worries many Opposition Members and people out in the country is the Government’s dedication to things such as the red tape challenge. People worry that the concentration on that approach means that many very important regulations, which are needed, will be done away with. Government Front Benchers are shaking their heads but why take that approach and why make such a big thing of it? It is interesting that whenever anything goes wrong people call for more regulation, not less; we should not be throwing away very valuable environmental regulations.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I am a little troubled by the idea that the Opposition are presenting their policies to be quite so idyllic. My experience as a Cumbrian MP is that when one looks at a village such as Bampton in my constituency, what one sees is neglect. The past 10 years have seen, if I look to the left, that we suddenly have inedible grass on our hillside because the stocking levels have become too low. We have cows dying unnecessarily of bovine TB. We have an absence of affordable housing in our villages because of rigid planning regulations, and we have worse mobile coverage in Cumbria than in Kabul and extremely ineffective broadband coverage.
In every single respect, the problem—this goes to the heart of the motion—has not been a lack of cash. The problem with the policies pursued has been that they have been too centralised in London, too inflexible and too black and white, and they have failed correctly to engage with communities and businesses.
Mary Creagh: I saw an interesting article a couple of weeks ago in Farmers Guardian or Farmers Weekly, which I read assiduously, about bovine TB. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that bovine TB in his area is not endemic in the badger population, and that it has come from the movement and transmission of cattle?
Rory Stewart: I shall take up that point, as it illustrates the four aspects that I identified. What we need and what the Government are providing is more courage, which goes to bovine TB, more work with communities, more ability to confront vested interests and more creativity.
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On courage with respect to bovine TB, what is the fundamental problem with bovine TB in Cumbria? It is not badgers, as the hon. Lady says. It is that for 13 years the previous Government were not prepared to talk honestly to farmers about the fact that the TB getting into our herds is coming from cattle movement. The answer should come from a better attitude towards movement and linked holdings, and a better attitude towards post-movement testing. Scotland has shown the example. We should have had the courage in areas such as Cumbria, which are still safe and where TB is not endemic, to have effectively moved that border south.
That leads to the second element—working with communities. Again, the solution to the lack of affordable housing in our area, the solution to planning in our area, and the solution to renewable energy, particularly hydro-generation, lies in working much more flexibly with communities. We have just built 22 affordable homes in a rural area by allowing the community of Crosby Ravensworth to do its own planning. We are doing barn conversions up and down the east side of Cumbria by listening to communities who want houses for farmers’ children and have been unable to provide them because of rigid centralised planning regulations.
There has been a failure to confront vested interests—a failure to confront supermarkets over contracts, a failure to confront supermarkets over planning, and sometimes a failure to confront certain elements and lobbies within the farming interests, which connects to the issue of bovine TB. The solution is not only to engage with communities and not only to be more courageous, but to be more creative, which brings us to broadband and mobile telephone coverage.
Mr Graham Stuart: There is another problem—the direct and, I suggest, deliberate skewing of Government funding to urban areas in the name of deprivation, and away from rural areas. The average grant per head in rural areas is 50% less than in urban areas at the end of 10 years of Labour, average incomes are lower and the average council tax is 100% higher. People are poorer, they pay more and get less, and that needs to be put right.
Rory Stewart: I agree, but to continue to develop the point, it is not simply a matter of cash. The point is creativity. On broadband, the problem with the Cornish project implemented by the previous Government with enormous generosity was its inflexibility—£100 million spent on a region with half the surface area of Cumbria. Were we to try to pursue broadband on that basis, we would spend £42 billion in this country, instead of which, by using communities that are prepared to dig their own trenches and to waive wayleaves, and by pushing commercial providers to innovate in their technical delivery, whether it is cellular delivery, a point-to-point microwave link or a fibre optic cable, means that in Cumbria, with any luck, and touching wood, we should be able to achieve results at least as good as those in Cornwall for about a quarter of the price.
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coverage obligation, providing £150 million—not a very large amount—for building more masts and, most importantly, confronting the producer interest, meaning the mobile phone companies, which used to be their stock in trade, and compelling them to provide the coverage that they are reluctant to provide outside urban areas, we should now be able to achieve coverage of 98% to 99%.
The economic benefit of all that to rural areas would be immense. There would be a GDP benefit to small businesses and health and education benefits for remote rural areas. All the health, prosperity and vigour that that would bring those communities would allow the delivery of exactly the environmental projects that the Opposition hold so dear. Prosperous and vibrant rural communities will allow farmers, who are often the people in whom we vest responsibility for the environmental projects, to deliver them.
In conclusion, the fundamental mistake in the Opposition’s motion is not their objectives or what they feel ought to be done, but the methods they propose. I am afraid that those methods are dependent on a large deployment of cash, which is what I call the Cornwall approach. Instead, I believe that this Government have brought, as I am proud to see in rural Cumbria, the right focus on communities, the right creativity and the right ability to confront and to show courage, which hopefully means that the next time I look out of my window in my constituency, when I return there tomorrow, I will see affordable housing being built, broadband going into the ground, mobile coverage emerging, healthier cows and a more prosperous farming community that can support all the environmental targets we hold dear.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I am pleased that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) has drawn attention to the supermarkets, because I am disturbed by the fact that the Government have failed to listen to the concerns of farmers and consumer groups, who want the groceries code adjudicator to have sufficient powers to tackle any abuses by major retailers. The Government have already delayed Labour’s plans for a supermarket ombudsman, and it now looks like a groceries code adjudicator will not be in place until 2013 at the earliest, about which some of my constituents are very concerned. If we addressed the problem of packaging and waste in supermarkets, and if supermarkets were as efficient as industries such as the steel industry in avoiding waste and recycling materials such as grey water, our situation would be much more sustainable.
Kelvin Hopkins: I very much support the idea of a supermarket ombudsman. Would the ombudsman also look at how supermarkets use their purchasing power to force down producer prices, particularly in British agriculture, and use the savings to inflate their profits rather than passing them on to consumers?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Those are the concerns that a Government who are attempting to be the greenest Government ever should be addressing. Sadly, this Tory Government are out of touch on the environment. The rows over planning, the forest sell-off, a 27% cut in flood defence investment, delays to the water White Paper and a complete lack of
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ambition on recycling, which the Minister seemed almost proud of, show that the Government are behind the curve on environmental protection and green growth. Their claim to be the greenest Government ever has unravelled in just 18 months. The Tories have a plan for cuts, but no plan for the environment. DEFRA cannot even ban wild animals from circuses, which is not a great deal to ask.
Mr Graham Stuart: I know that beneath the new Whip’s bluster there is a decent, honourable and reasonable person. One of the most pleasant aspects of the Minister’s speech today was that he did not once seek to describe or excoriate the performance of the previous Labour Government, which he barely talked about. He focused almost entirely on this Government’s policies. I ask the hon. Gentleman to throw away the Labour Whip’s handbook, despite his new job, and to be positive by talking about what can be done, rather than focusing endlessly on this negative stuff.
Nic Dakin: I thank the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great regard. He has added “excoriate” to “prescient” and “canard” in the lexicon that we are being treated to this afternoon, but I fear that he was listening to a different speech from that which I heard.
Twenty-nine leading conservation charities, in their “Nature Check” analysis published this month, have criticised the Government for failing to show leadership on the natural environment. In their fair and balanced conclusion, they say:
“Whilst the Coalition has done well as a champion for the natural environment on the international stage”—
“at home its commitment to being the ‘greenest Government ever’ is in danger of being undermined. This assessment raises profound questions over the Government’s ability and willingness to deliver its green commitments, let alone to set out a long-term, coherent strategy to reverse biodiversity decline by 2020 and meet the needs of the natural environment alongside economy recovery.”
“43% of priority habitat and 31% of priority habitats in England are declining; 304 species in England were red-listed in 2007, because of severe decline (more than 50% loss over 25 years) more would be added by an audit today; and less than 37% of SSSIs in England…are in a favourable condition.”
Business wants certainty to invest in green jobs and new technology, yet this Tory Government are failing to provide the certainty that industry needs—[Hon. Members: “Coalition.”] I tend to think of the coalition as a Conservative Government. That is what we see all the time when Members go through the Lobbies.
There was much progress under the Labour Government, but there is still much more to make, and that is the challenge for a new Government—to pick the baton up and take the race forward. I am afraid that the Conservatives, however, threaten much of the progress that Labour made on green growth, sustainable
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development and the environment. They have left a trail of broken green promises. Since the time of the huskies, we have had almost a “For Sale” sign up over many of our natural assets, and support for public access and enjoyment of the countryside has weakened. Things to which people should have a right are challenged and are in danger because of this Government’s position.
Labour created two new national parks, which is great witness of Labour’s commitment. The Tories, on the other hand, have cut funding by 28.5%, meaning that visitor centres will close, parking charges will rise and nature trails will be left unkempt. This is a serious time for the environment, so it is time for the Government to step up to the plate and deliver for it, both in this country and internationally.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and vigorously to oppose this motion. I am delighted to see so many Opposition Back Benchers in the Chamber—three times more at its start than there were for the entire NHS debate. This is a welcome conversion, given that when elections to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee were held, not a single Labour Back Bencher put themselves forward for it until later rounds.
I want to focus on recycling. I pop up every now and again when Opposition Front Benchers talk about it, and it frustrates me, because we can have as much aspiration as we like. I would love to lose 7 stone, and I did once before, but it does not mean anything if I do not actually deliver. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) referred to recycling rates, which rose from 11% at the start of her Government to 40%. Let us have some Top Trumps in our recycling rates. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who is no longer in her place, introduced a private Member’s Bill. The recycling rate for her council is 16.8%. In Wakefield it is 39.1%. In Ogmore, which is split between two councils, it is 33.5% in Bridgend and 36.9% in Rhondda. They are all Labour councils. In Luton it is 35.8% and in East Lothian is it 35.4%. The figures get better when we move to the shadow Department of Energy and Climate Change team. In the shadow Secretary of State’s constituency the recycling rate is 27.5%, In the shadow Minister’s constituency in Liverpool, it is 25.4%. In South Lanarkshire it is 40.1%—[ Interruption. ]
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) asks whether there is a point to those figures. Yes, there is, because I am about to read out the recycling rates for Conservative-controlled councils, which actually deliver. The figures that I gave had in common the fact that they are mainly Labour-controlled, apart from one, which is a Scottish National party coalition.
The rate in my council in 2010 was 51.8%, which leapt to 60.7% in the following six months. In Waveney, which the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) will visit on Friday—I am sure he will have a nice time there—it is 53.2%, so perhaps he will learn about the three-bin scheme that has been introduced to ensure that there are weekly food collections. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford should be aware that she can apply to the Department for Communities and Local Government fund to ensure that those collections continue.
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Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Lady claims that Waveney is a Tory area. At the moment it has a Conservative MP, but it had a splendid Labour MP for the previous 14 years, and it currently has a hung council, which is effectively Labour-controlled.
Dr Coffey: The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. My point is that aspirational targets may be set by the Government, but councils deliver. Waveney was Conservative-controlled when making that change, and is still Conservative-controlled.
Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): Ipswich, which until May was run by a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, achieved more in the five years of coalition control in raising recycling rates than during nearly 30 years before that when it was Labour-controlled.
Dr Coffey: My hon. Friend and neighbour is absolutely right. I will continue with the Top Trumps challenge, and turn to those on the Conservative Front Bench. In Solihull the recycling rate is 40.7%; in South Cambridgeshire it is 53.6%. West Berkshire has the lowest rate of the areas represented by the Department’s Ministers, but it is still 40.2%. In the constituency of the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) it is 43.1%. I forgot to mention Edinburgh, East where the rate is 31.5%.
There is no point in a lot of hot air about aspirational targets if local councils do not deliver. We encourage our councils to get on with the programmes, to be innovative locally, and to ensure that they happen. Conservative Members are proud to go back to our councils and to talk about recycling rates of 60%, but on the other side of the Thames, where MPs are championing recycling, their councils are delivering very little.
Dr Coffey: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He makes a good point, and the answer is absolutely not. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) referred to nudge activity, but incentivising people to do the right thing has worked. The punitive measures proposed by the previous Government did not have that effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) spoke eloquently about rural broadband and ambitions. We all recall the 3G auction, when £22 billion was raised. If half of that had been used, we would have had fibre optics to every house in the country 10 years ago. That is the kind of ambition that we need, and will have, with this Government, who put their money where their mouth is with the £530 million to be spent within the next four years. The Minister may not have recalled that DEFRA also set aside a smaller,
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£20 million fund to enable communities, especially rural communities, to access broadband now and not necessarily wait until the 2015 target date.
Other Members have talked about the green investment bank and the capital cuts. I accept that, as the hon. Member for Ogmore said, the Labour Government did not commit specifically to a reduction in flood defence spending. However, Labour Members who were Members in the previous Parliament voted in the 2010 Budget for a 50% cut in capital spending. It is correct, as the hon. Gentleman said, that they had not specified where that cut would take place, but nor had they set out a comprehensive spending review. That lack of transparency is one of the reasons the previous Government were thrown out of office fairly decisively.
I have not yet mentioned my favourite topic—coastal erosion. I am delighted to say that since the Minister came to my constituency and pulled people together, local environment agencies, Natural England and communities have been working together to ensure that, with community contributions, we have funded coastal defences in Thorpeness and the scheme in Felixstowe, and we are now enjoying the benefits of that. I am very proud to be on the Government side of the House, and I will vote most strongly against the motion.
Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I want to focus on three aspects of the motion: the sell-off of forests, which, despite the Government’s U-turn and nice warm words, is still going ahead, including in my constituency; the Government’s nonsensical approach to waste; and the broken promises to communities up and down the country on flood defences.
My constituency, like that of my neighbour, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is a large rural constituency with many lowland and upland farms. It has two areas of outstanding natural beauty, and many acres of moorland and forest. What DEFRA does matters to people in my constituency, and so does what DEFRA does not do. In the countryside, we have had, in effect, 18 wasted months and a trail of broken promises. First, we had the proposal to sell off forests. Despite the Government’s U-turns and all the nice warm words that were said in this House, the Government are still planning to sell off 40,000 hectares of land over the next four years, some of it in my constituency. Ministers got away with it last time, but they will not do so this time. On Monday night, I listened to many impassioned speeches by Conservative Members saying, “I have to vote for this EU referendum because my constituents have been in touch with me and told me that I need to.” Their constituents got in touch with them in droves in response to the sell-off forests, and yet it is still happening.
I accept that the mess that now exists around waste is not really of DEFRA’s making, but lies at the door of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—a man who seems to be obsessed with little other than bin collections. The Government have failed to set ambitious targets for recycling in England, and—this is a capital offence—they have stopped Labour’s ban on wood going to landfill, saying that they will think about it again in 2012. Frankly, that is not good enough. I live in the former Derwentside district council area, which is now part of Durham county unitary
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authority, and we left weekly bin collections behind years ago. There was a lot of upset at the time—people do not like change—but if Durham county council tried to reintroduce weekly bin collections now, people would be incredibly unhappy.
I have three bins—one for waste; one for recycling, which gets emptied fortnightly; and one for garden waste, which is collected monthly—and guess what, I do not have rats and vermin skulking around my bins. My neighbours and I recycle everything we can, and we are proud of our recycling. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) gave us a long list of councils and their actual recycling levels as opposed to the targets. None of us in this House is responsible for that, but I am responsible for my own recycling and the waste that is produced in my house.
Dr Thérèse Coffey: I understand that the hon. Lady and I cannot control the recycling rates of our councils, but it seems odd that people always complain to the Government when it is councils that deliver that service. My challenge is that we must encourage our councils to recycle as much as they can.
Pat Glass: I absolutely agree with that, but it ultimately comes down to us. I do not want weekly bin collections to be restored and nor do any of my neighbours. They are a waste of time and of our natural resources. There is virtually nothing in my waste bin; almost everything goes into the recycling bin. If I can do it, so can everybody else.
Caroline Lucas: Does the hon. Lady agree that although recycling is important, it is third on the so-called waste hierarchy? Reusing resources and reducing the number of resources that we use in the first place are also critical. On those matters, we need Government action as well as local authority action.
On flood defences, I know that DEFRA has taken a massive 30% cut and that some of that has been passed on to flood defence schemes. The Government have rejected the Pitt report on improving flood defences and have cancelled major schemes that were scheduled to take place in towns and cities such as York, Leeds and Morpeth in Northumberland. That will cause massive concern not only for people who have suffered from flooding in the past, but for anyone who lives in a city or town that had hoped to be included in the flood defence scheme. We all acknowledge—even the Government acknowledge—that the flood risk is growing and that flooding will affect more communities across the country in the future.
In the summer, I was visited in my constituency surgery by constituents who live halfway down Blackhill bank in Consett. They came to see me about flooding. Anyone who knows Consett will know that it is 885 feet above sea level. According to Wikipedia, it is the second highest town in the country. We have never had flooding in places such as Consett before. Those people told me that it is not only water that comes through their house,
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but black water—sewage. It can take up to two years for home owners and businesses to get back into their properties.
Despite that, flood defence schemes have been cut. That means that many home owners and businesses will no longer be able to get insurance when Labour’s agreement with the insurance industry runs out in 2013, because that agreement was based on continued Government investment in flood defences, not on cuts.
The Government’s strategy on the environment is simply not working. It is not supporting the countryside, it is not delivering for the majority of people in this country, and it will leave communities that are vulnerable to flooding to fend for themselves.