Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Very skilful.

Mr. Stunell: The Conservative Front-Bench spokesman suggests that that is skilful, but I always commend a Government who are listening. I always want more listening, especially to the solutions that I am offering, which is exactly what I want to come on to.

If the Government are serious about meeting and exceeding their Kyoto targets, they must give some long-term signals to the energy industry. First, they must take the renewables obligation beyond its plateau in 2010 and continue the annual 1 per cent. escalator. I talked to the Renewable Power Association earlier this week. It said that bankers and financiers are looking at 2010 and saying, "If we advance you money, how do we know that there will still be a demand for the product beyond 2010?" That is undermining the value of the renewable obligation certificates. We need to take account of that. I hope that the Minister will come to the House soon and say that he will go with the renewables obligation beyond 2010.

We need to simplify the rules for the generation of energy offshore. People have talked about wind, but I hope that in due course wave and tidal will be issues for electricity generation, too. They will be greatly inhibited if we do not tackle some of the bureaucratic and interdepartmental fumbling.

Will the Minister tell us when precisely he will put the social and environmental guidelines for the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets in the post? Drafted they have been, posted they have not.

Mr. Wilson: This morning.

Mr. Stunell: That is excellent news. I talked to the director of Ofgem earlier this week. He was looking at his post every morning, so I am delighted to hear that, and I will study the guidelines with great interest. When the Minister set up Ofgem, he gave it a specific market-orientated remit. To achieve some of the environmental outputs that he seeks to achieve, Ofgem needs more specific guidance that would allow it to take account of that factor more completely.

20 Jun 2002 : Column 466

We need more investment in research, although I concede freely that it has been increased significantly, but investment too in pilot projects and the development of near-market technologies. I hope that the Minister will not mind me mentioning a pet hobby horse of mine: the vexed issue of two-way meters. The aim is to have about 3,000 properties equipped with voltaic roofs by 2005, yet there is a major bottleneck in respect of whether, at the small scale, it is possible to resell surplus product to the grid. The development of two-way meters is one way forward.

I have suggested some things that can and should be done on energy policy—things that, on the whole, are not likely to cost the Treasury a great deal of money. I want to move on to conservation and efficiency.

Richard Ottaway: Before the hon. Gentleman moves off what he thinks should be done, what is the Liberal Democrats' policy on nuclear power?

Mr. Stunell: I am happy to address that issue. Indeed, if I had time, I would read out the two booklets that I have written on the topic. The Liberal Democrats' view is that our existing nuclear capacity should be retained for as long as it is safe and economical to do so, but that it should not be replaced by a further generation of nuclear power. The gap should be filled by two things: first, a greatly increased effort at conservation and efficient use of energy; and secondly, an energy mix.

I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about the importance of conservation and efficiency. I am sure that he recognises that it is the one area where it is very difficult to get market-led developments, because those who supply energy do not have any incentive to supply less of it. It is difficult to make them the drivers for conservation projects and for developing efficient use of energy by the end user.

I know that a number of signals, such as taxation signals are in place but some regulatory decisions need to be made as well. We are toughening up building regulations, but they need to be tougher still. We are still nowhere near the Scandinavian level of requirements for energy efficiency. If the majority of our homes could be solar heated for the majority of the year, we would save a great deal of money. I hear from people that they have a gas-heated home or an oil-heated home, but nearly all of us have a solar heated home for three or four months of the year when we do not have our central heating on. By extending that free period of solar heating, much could be gained in terms of energy and carbon dioxide emissions.

We need tougher regulation of the efficiency of domestic appliances of all sorts. I find it unsatisfactory—to put it in very politely—that a domestic appliance made by a German manufacturer is deliberately fitted with a more stupid electronic chip when it comes here. Germany has regulations that require the efficient use of fuel in products such as dish washers and washing machines. Its regulations are substantially stiffer than those in this country. That small step could be taken quickly by the Government and would make a substantial impact over the life cycle of such machines.

A couple of years ago, another private Member's Bill failed to complete its passage through the House. It would have meant that, at the time of sale, each house had to have an energy MOT, so to speak, with its particulars of

20 Jun 2002 : Column 467

sale. All sorts of signals can be sent for the discerning consumer to take account of. At practically nil cost either to industry or to the consumer, the Government could require certain standards to be in place.

Ms Shipley: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but does he think that the discerning consumer will be sufficient, or might there have to be a rather larger stick than that?

Mr. Stunell: On domestic appliances, it is clear that the way ahead is to regulate and require certain standards to be provided. Just as we expect safety standards to be met as a matter of legal necessity, so we should require environmental standards to be met. The building of new houses is controlled by regulations. The buying and selling of houses is properly left to the market, although if the hon. Lady has suggestions that she would like me to take into account, I would be happy to hear from her on another occasion.

On ways of changing perceptions and moving things on, the Home Energy Conservation Bill, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), moves the argument on. I hope that the Government will find time to accommodate that Bill.

On conservation and efficiency, a recent survey said that the consumption of energy by Government offices was 82 per cent. higher per square metre than that of equivalent commercial offices. The Minister may want to comment on that and suggest how he is approaching other Departments to improve the efficiency with which they consume energy.

I want to say where we should be in 2050. We should look at the direction in which we wish to go, examine what total energy needs will be at that time and balance them by tackling efficiency and the conservation of resources, and by looking at the resources that we use to provide energy.

The Minister—and, indeed, all hon. Members—accept that we need diversity, security, economy and sustainability. Some of those things are best achieved through the liberalisation of markets and the operation of market forces at an international, as well as a domestic, level. Others require direct intervention by Governments and through international agreements.

It is clear that, by 2050, world supplies of oil will be steeply in decline, and gas will soon face such a decline. Perhaps there is a future for nuclear waste—[Laughter.] I meant to say perhaps there is a future for nuclear power, but there is indeed a future for nuclear waste: about 100,000 years-worth. I have made it clear that I do not particularly want the nuclear option to be kept open, but if the Minister wants to do so it is absolutely vital that he tell the House what progress the Government intend to make on dealing with nuclear waste. If, in 2050, the majority of nuclear waste—admittedly, it has already been created—is still sitting in ponds at Sellafield or is dotted around the country at the sites of decommissioned nuclear power stations, the scope for building another generation of such stations will be as limited then as it is now.

Bob Spink: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that replacing nuclear with nuclear would increase the

20 Jun 2002 : Column 468

total amount of nuclear waste that this country has to deal with by between just 5 and 10 per cent? Waste is therefore a problem that we must manage regardless of the nuclear-for-nuclear replacement question.

Mr. Stunell: The hon. Gentleman must recognise that we are here in this Chamber today because of our democratic system. He must face the fact that, unless that system is totally overridden in order to impose a new nuclear industry on this country, and until the issue of nuclear waste is resolved in the long term to the public's satisfaction, it will be almost impossible to develop a second generation of nuclear power. [Interruption.] I am not inviting the hon. Gentleman to agree with me; I am stating my opinion, which is viable in the context of the outside world.

Mr. Hayes: There is surely a paradox in the hon. Gentleman's argument. He said that the transfer of emphasis to renewable energy sources is very unlikely to be dealt with locally, and can be addressed only through national and international agreement. Yet in answer to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), he said that the democratic process—presumably, he is including the local democratic process—should not be overridden. It seems that he wants to override that process in respect of renewable energy, but not of nuclear energy.

Next Section

IndexHome Page