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Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend will be aware of aviations growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and elsewhere. In Scotland, however, the Liberal Democrat Minister for Transport, supported by other parties, is busily giving big subsidies to airlines to encourage even more flights and cheaper air travel. Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Executive how consistent that policy is with commitments by the UK Government and, indeed, by the Scottish Executive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? .
David Cairns: My hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue. Aviation does contribute to carbon emissions and global warming. That is why we have long argued that it should be within the EU emissions trading scheme. It is important for politicians to show leadership and consistency. Each of us who is a Scottish Member accepts that we fly more often than the average citizen and more often than is altogether good for the planet, but it is important that we are consistent. It ill becomes politicians to declare one day that they will not take any non-essential flights, and the next day to catch a flight down from Aberdeen to London to go to the BAFTAs. Perhaps that is just jealousy because I have never been invited to the BAFTAs, but the Deputy First Minister should show a little more personal consistency.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Is the Minister aware of the statement at the Globe climate change forum in Washington two weeks ago, to which American legislators signed up, that there was a need for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions of between 450 and 550 parts per million? That represents a complete turnaround of attitude in the United States towards climate change, and a great opportunity for Scotland to export energy technologies that will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What is he doing to ensure that Scotland has a full partner role, and in particular that the energy technologies institute comes to Scotland, with a key location in Aberdeen?
On the right hon. Gentlemans first point, he is entirely right to highlight a misconception about the issue in the United States. Some of the most progressive work to develop renewable technologies is happening in the individual states, such as California. I was in Texas in the summer, where I saw the largest wind farm that I have ever seenwell over 1,000 turbines, in Texas of all places. In individual states, a great deal of progress is being made, but the right hon. Gentleman is correct. So much of the technology has been developed and nurtured in Scotland, and we have put in place a system of subsidies, both in grants and in
the renewable obligations certificate, that has brought those technologies on. We have spoken about the very good case that he has made for the technologies institute to come to Aberdeen. I agree that an extremely strong case has been made, and I sincerely hope that Aberdeen will be successful. Of course, other places are bidding and a value for money exercise must be carried out to ensure that we get the very best result.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): To date, 140 applications, totalling £306,000, for funding under the low carbon buildings programme have been approved in Scotland.
Mr. Dunne: I assume, therefore, that when it reopens on Thursday, the scheme will run out in Scotland within hours, as it is anticipated that it will do in England. When the scheme was launched by the Chancellor in the Budget last year, it was a flagship programme for microgeneration. By June, the Minister for Science and Innovation described it as
a significant demonstration of Government commitment,
David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman is clearly ignorant of the Scottish Executives Scottish community and householder renewables initiative which, together with the low carbon buildings programme, has given more than £7 million worth of grants. It has been a very successful scheme in Scotland. On my visit to Argyll and the islands I saw some of the work that is being done as a result of the initiatives being rolled out. We all share a common aim to encourage microgeneration, which we can do through the planning system. We must encourage more efficient use of energy in homes, which we do through the building regulations programme. Those are devolved matters, but the Administration in Edinburgh is working closely with the Government to achieve those aims.
Mr. Alexander: I find myself in full agreement with my hon. Friend. The record levels of employment, the low levels of inflation and the sustained growth that has been achieved by the Scottish economy in recent years make a powerful case that we are stronger together and would be weaker apart.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Given that when they are asked, the favoured option of the Scottish people is neither independence nor the status quo, but for more powers to be given to the Scottish Parliament, why is the Secretary of State so blinkered as to maintain that the current settlement is the end of the road?
Mr. Alexander: Of course, we take a strong interest in the views of the Scottish people, but it is important to recognise the importance of consistency in political debate. The hon. Lady wrote in the last issue of The House Magazine that she was in favour of a further constitutional convention, but her erstwhile leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), who is two places along from her on the Front Bench, has said:
There is always a temptation in human nature, where new institutions are concerned, to be drawn towards pulling up the roots just to see how the plant is growing.
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree, as a staunch devolutionist, that devolution is a process, not an end product, and that within the settlement, which is extremely successful, there is the right for discussions to take place if that is desired by the Scottish Parliament, but now is not the time?
Mr. Alexander: Flexibility has always been contained within the Scotland Act 1998, section 32 of which contains powers to facilitate exactly that flexibility. That pragmatic recognition is fundamentally different from a view that says that now is the point at which to tear up the devolution settlement, eight years into what most people judge to have been a highly successful development for the people of Scotland.
David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): Is not the real issue as regards the powers of the Scottish Parliament the way in which they have been exercised over the past eight years by the Lib-Lab pact that has run the Scottish Executive? I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that the people of Scotland do not want any more constitutional wranglingthey want delivery, not divorceand that the only way to do that is to elect more Conservative MSPs.
Mr. Alexander: It seems that the corpse is twitching. I have for many years struggled to understand how the Scottish Conservatives managed to drive their numbers quite so low; they may surpass themselves once again on 3 May.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): We are assessing bids for unitary status against all the criteria specified in our invitation. We will have regard to all information available, including the results of local polls, when assessing against the criteria. Any change must be supported by a broad cross-section of stakeholders and partners.
Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the Minister for that reply. Despite the fact that every single Labour councillor in Shrewsbury voted against my constituents having the opportunity of having a referendum, we have had it, and the great men and women of Shrewsbury voted overwhelmingly against proposals for a unitary authority. Nearly 30,000 of them turned out to participate in the ballot, nearly 70 per cent. of whom voted to reject this outrageous unitary authority. Will he give me the assurance that he will respect the wishes of the people of Shrewsbury?
Conservative-led Shropshire county council has put in a proposal to move towards a unitary authority. As I said in my original answer, all the information available, including the results of local polls, will be taken into account in judging against the criteria.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am sure that the residents of County Durham will be very interested in the Ministers response on Shrewsbury. Could he remind the House of the key criteria on which bids for unitary status, such as the excellent bid that has come in from Durham county council, will be judged, in the interests of local people?
Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The major criterion is financial affordability in respect of the council tax payer and of the time envelope of five years through which costs must be met. Proposals must be self-financing. Proposals based on strong leadership are important, as are neighbourhood proposals, which will ensure that local people are involved in councils. A broad cross-section of support is important as well.
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill currently before Parliament explicitly requires the Secretary of State to consult any person with an interest in restructuring. Her predecessor, the Deputy Prime Minister, went as far as to set out a mechanism for consulting when he said that
if you want to have a unitary, then you can have a ballot.
Will the Minister therefore accept that the responsibility to organise referendums rests with the Secretary of State? If he would like a hand, I am sure that the great men and women of Shrewsbury would oblige.
Mr. Woolas: The campaign that has now been taken up by the hon. Lady from the Front Bench in support of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) ignores the fact that the Governments proposals are devolutionary. It is not up to the Secretary of State or me to determine the method of consultation; it is up to councils. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would want to heal the wounds that are clearly gaping in the Conservative party in Shrewsbury. I wish all the people of Shropshire the best.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): Rural areas face particular pressures on affordable housing, which is why we set up the Affordable Rural Housing Commission. We have already implemented several of its recommendations and are looking further into others as part of the spending review. The hon. Gentleman and I are due to meet tomorrow to discuss this further. I apologise for the fact that the meeting had to be rearranged from last week.
Andrew George: In the past 40 years, housing stock in Cornwall has more than doubledin fact, Cornwall has grown rather faster than almost anywhere else in the countryyet the housing problems of local people have worsened significantly. Indeed, last year, five times as many properties were sold to second home buyers as to first time buyers in my constituency. When will the Government give Cornwall and places elsewhere the planning and other powers necessary to ensure that local families stand a chance of getting a decent affordable home of their own?
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have made some changes as part of our new planning for housing guidance to make it easier to build more affordable homes in rural areas. We are also giving the west Cornwall housing market area a more than 70 per cent. increase in funding for affordable housing as part of the current round. He knows that there are, of course, difficulties with second homes that are specific to some areasincluding his, I knowbut not to all. I am happy to discuss it further with him tomorrow.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): If we decide to build new public sector housing in rural areas but it is sold on under the right to buy or an equity sharing agreement, will my hon. Friend consider returning the homes to the original providers, ensuring that we can retain them in the public sector?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend might be aware that there are particular provisions for rural areas, including rural exception sites and additional safeguards and protections around the right to buy, which we believe are important. It can often be harder to replace housing that is lost in rural areas, where social housing is needed. As part of our response to the John Hills review, and as part of the spending review, we are looking further into what more we can do to support new social housing.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): On the devolution of planning powers, which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) raised, will the Minister explain why the proposed planning gain supplement is going to be imposed on Wales, when planning is already devolved and existing section 106 arrangements are already producing major benefits in respect of affordable housing in rural areas? What is the point in having devolution if the Government choose to ignore it?
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman says that section 106 agreements are raising funding for affordable housingand they certainly are. We believe that more funding could be raised to support affordable housing and infrastructure from the increases in land value that arise when planning permission is granted. We think it right to look into finding more ways of raising funding and we have to recognise that the need for affordable housing and new infrastructure exists right across the country and in every part of the country. That is why the Treasury is looking into proposals for a planning gain supplement from which resources would indeed be devolved to the areas in which they were raised.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): We have narrowed the gap between our most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country in the crucial areas of worklessness, health, crime and education. By 2008, more than £5.4 billion will have been spent in neighbourhood renewal funding, which supports innovative projects in those communities.
Barbara Keeley: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I want to raise a point on the measures outlined in the Hills report. The average annual income in Little Hulton ward in my constituency is £10,000 less than the national average and £6,000 less than the Salford average. It has poor educational achievement and substantial health inequalities, with life expectancy being seven years less than in a ward just down the road. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the suggestions in the Hills report to develop more mixed communities and to improve the income mix of estates and other areas will enable new initiatives to benefit wards such as Little Hulton?
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