Paul Flynn (NewportWest) (Lab):
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what support his Department plans to provide to the development of the proposed tidal lagoon project near Newport.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey):
I can confirm that the Government have announced that we are entering into a negotiation on a contract for difference for the Swansea bay lagoon to decide whether the project is affordable and represents value for money. I am strongly in favour of a tidal programme across the UK, subject to the usual planning permissions and to the lessons from the first project or projects being learned. Given that planning permissions are site-specific, the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot give a view on the Newport project.
The belated recognition by the Government of the enormous advantages of tidal power is very welcome. They should examine what has been taking place for the past 50 years at La Rance in Brittany, where the cheapest electricity in the world is being generated. Will the Secretary of State look at the other schemes? The schemes at Newport are far better value than the Swansea scheme. However, we all give a warm welcome to the Government’s recognition that tidal power is a British, eternal, clean, non-carbon and entirely predictable energy source.
I think this is the first time that the hon. Gentleman and I have been in agreement on energy policy, so I would like to mark the occasion. He is right that tidal lagoon power presents a huge opportunity for this country. The Department is looking at it in detail. I hope that it will produce not only the clean energy that we need, but the green jobs that are so important in many parts of the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) is claiming the credit for most of the Secretary of State’s answer. I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the prospects for tidal power in the Severn estuary. When does the Minister expect the strike price to be agreed, which will help to spur the full commercialisation of the sector? Does he share the concern of organisations such as Citizens Advice that the current strike price for tidal lagoon power is more expensive than that for any major green energy project to date?
The negotiations with the Tidal Lagoon Power company are bilateral, so they will set the strike price over months and we cannot give an exact timetable on how long they will take. I read the CAB report, but it was not as informed as it might have been. The first tidal lagoon power plant, which will be the world’s first, is likely to be a bit more expensive, just as when the UK had the first offshore wind farm it was a bit more expensive. Unless we invest in new technologies, we will not get the costs down. We have seen the costs of solar tumble. We have seen the costs of offshore wind tumble. We have seen the costs of onshore wind tumble. That has only happened because we have invested in new technology. That is the way that Britain—a world leader—should go.
Urgent Question on Barts Health NHS Trust being placed into special measures.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
It has been very disappointing that the Minister, for whom I have a very high regard, has dealt with this disgrace with a crudely political response. Does she not agree that an important element in the recovery of all patients is for them to have faith in their doctors and in the health service? No Government have done more than this one to undermine confidence in the health service throughout the nation. Does she not feel that great damage is being done by making the greatest political achievement of the past 100 years—the national health service—a political football to be knocked about by parties and by undermining that faith in the health service? That is something that the public will not forget and will never forgive.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s basic premise—not at all. In fact, recently, people’s satisfaction with the NHS has gone up. What he says is a slur on our hard-working clinicians, who respond so magnificently to the pressures in our system. This Government have backed them with money and support. I just do not recognise the picture the hon. Gentleman paints.
Business Question to the Leader of the House
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
The Leader of the House will be remembered in Wales as one of the most agreeable alien governor-generals we have had, in a period when he had the great good fortune to meet the wonderful Welsh woman who was to become his wife. Can he add further lustre to his reputation today by looking at a profoundly anti-democratic measure that was blocked by several voices last night? It would remove from the local authorities their powers to control drilling and the dumping of toxic waste, including nuclear waste, in their country. Would it not be an affront to democracy if that measure passed through the House on a deferred decision by a thinly attended House? Should the measure not now be withdrawn, for consideration by the next Parliament?
I am grateful for the nearest thing to a ringing endorsement from the hon. Gentleman. I have fond memories of being Welsh Secretary. The Prime Minister who appointed me to that role, Sir John Major, asked me to take Wales to my heart. When, a year later, I married my private secretary, he said, “I think you are taking this a little bit too literally now.” Of course I have been deeply fond of Wales ever since.
On the measure the hon. Gentleman refers to, we must follow the procedures with all matters before the House, including the large number of orders in the remaining few days of the Parliament, so I cannot offer him an additional debate, but he will be able, as ever, to use every possible procedure of this House—he is very skilled at that—to make his views known. I am sure he will continue to do so on that matter.
Debate on newspapers
I do not think that this debate will make the headlines, but if it does its headline will be, “No MP criticises his local paper 50 days before an election”. [Laughter.]
Does my hon. Friend share my alarm at being told, on a previous occasion when we discussed this very topic, that journalists were afraid to mention it in their local paper? They had been intimidated. Does he agree that that is utterly disgraceful?
I agree very much. I will tell a story about my local paper, I will play the game as well and say what I think about them. When I was first elected to this place, it was in spite of the local paper. The then editor made it clear to me many times. This was in 1987. It did an editorial on each constituency and recommended that its readers vote Labour in four constituencies, but when it came to my constituency, which was the only one that could possibly change hands, it invited and urged its readers to vote Conservative. The editor told me that that was because of a conversation that took place. Of course, local newspapers are subject to the same pressures as others.
I do prize my local paper for what it did last Friday, when it printed a tribute to a local politician who just died at the age of 92. He was a wonderful man, radicalised by the second world war to be a pacifist and peacemonger for the rest of his life. He was a great visionary and an accomplished poet who, as a councillor, valued the permanent treasure of the city, Tredegar house, which he ensured was preserved in its best form as well as the Transporter bridge, is a wonderful piece of engineering that people wanted to destroy. He leaves a legacy to the city that is precious but forgotten. However, one of the journalists at the local paper, the South Wales Argus, did a tender, perceptive tribute—it was not just an obituary—that saw the fine qualities of Glyn Cleaves.
I am also grateful to the Leicester Mercury. I wrote a biography of one of our former colleagues, David Taylor. Of course, there is no interest in that nationally—there will not be anything in The Guardian about that—but he was a model, devoted MP. The Leicester Mercury was kind in giving that great coverage, which his family and admirers greatly enjoyed.
Local newspapers cover an area covered by no one else and I agree with everything that has been said about them. The Argus has had a long tradition. We went through a bad patch a while ago when printing, which had been done in Newport for more than 150 years, suddenly disappeared. We have compensation for that now in that one of the hubs referred to is in Newport. I understand the criticism of doing sub-editing from a distance, because that has problems, but 40 badly needed jobs have been created in Newport mainly because of that hub. There is a certain amount of rough justice involved in that.
The paper is more optimistic than has been heard in many of the comments made today. It claims, quite accurately, that more people are reading it than for many years because of the numbers coming online. Certainly there has been a serious loss in paper sales, but the online presence is powerful. That must be accepted.
It is clear that advertising has been eaten away from local newspapers. So much basic advertising for property, jobs and public notices has gone and, sadly, it will not come back to them. We have a crisis but, as everyone has said, local newspapers perform an irreplaceable service for democracy. We have a gap between national publicity for the great events that go on and the publicity given to what is done in local government and by the various other people who are responsible for their local communities.
We must say to this Government and the next Government that something must be done. We cannot talk about subsidies for local newspapers. We do not want them to be dependent on money from elsewhere, because that might affect their independence, as we have seen with other organs in the past.
In Wales we have a particular problem, because national newspapers are dominated by the political agenda. For four days running, the Daily Mail had page 1 leads about the state of the health service in Wales. In no way were those front-page leads attributable to news values; they were purely political propaganda that did a great deal of damage by undermining the faith and trust that people have in the health service and their doctors, which is a crucial part of recovery and therapy. That campaign was completely irresponsible, but, sadly, the Daily Mail may be far more influential than all the local newspapers put together.
Local newspapers would not dare to give such a distorted view of the health service. Of course, health services throughout the United Kingdom have problems, but we know that the Nuffield Foundation, which looked into that, said that there are strengths and weaknesses everywhere. We know that the strengths of the health service in Wales include the fact that a cancer patient in Wales is likely to live longer than one in England. Also, there has been less use of the private finance initiative in Wales, thanks to the wisdom of the Welsh Assembly, and there will be fewer problems in future. However, the way in which the health service has been used by the national press—by these greatly influential bodies—has been a disgrace. Local papers certainly would not get away with that; they would be brought to book.
Local newspapers have to continue to provide the quality service that we have had for years. It is up to them to find a mechanism to do so, which may be a subscription system—people who value their paper might have to pay directly for it. However, the Government have a responsibility to come up with a formula through which local papers can survive, thrive and do the valuable the job that only they can do, but do it in a manner that keeps their independence and integrity