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Standing Committee Debates
Sustainable Energy Bill

Sustainable Energy Bill

Standing Committee C

Wednesday 18 June 2003

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Sustainable Energy Bill

8.55 am

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I beg to move,

    That the Order of the Committee [11 June] be amended by the substitution of ''at a date and time to be fixed by the Chairman'' for ''Thursday 19 June at 2.30 pm''.

I welcome the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services to the Committee. Having worked with him on information technology and e-commerce issues, I know how hard working he is. I am sure that he will take in his usual stride the addition of energy to his portfolio.

I want to put on record my thanks to the previous Minister for Energy and Construction for his work on the Bill in the last two or three months. In my discussions with him, he was always helpful and tried to find a way forward.

Many members of the Committee will want to know why we are not in a position to make progress this morning. Having moved to adjourn debate last week, I had hoped that we would be tabling amendments that would allow us to make progress today. We have agreement on most of the amendments to be tabled, but there are one or two cases where the wording, particularly in the definition of terms such as combined heat and power, needs to be tweaked. Hopefully, I will be tabling those amendments tomorrow.

Lawyers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs say that there is a constitutional problem with the wording of an amendment to clause 2. I do not believe that there is a problem, and I am prepared to suggest alternative wording. However, DEFRA lawyers have identified a problem, and another day or so of discussion about that may lead to a resolution. That is why I want to amend the sittings motion.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the progress that he has made. However, I know that private Member's Bills occasionally disappear, without ever making it into the open, so in the interests of clarity and open government, would it be possible for the hon. Gentleman to publish and circulate among Committee members the details of what he has been able to achieve in negotiation with the Department of Trade and Industry? In the, hopefully, unlikely event that the Bill falls, there will then be a public record of the progress that the hon. Gentleman has been able to achieve. We will also be able to see for ourselves the hurdle that DEFRA has put in the Bill's way which, hopefully, will not be a stumbling block.

Brian White: I hope that later today I will be in a position to state an agreed way forward on that matter. I certainly hope to be able to table all the other amendments today.

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There will be discussions later today about the problem of the wording, which relates to the legal definition of what is devolved. The White Paper covers the whole of the United Kingdom, whereas clause 2 refers only to England. The discussion is about finding a form of words for that definition that allows the Secretary of State to take action only in England. My advice from parliamentary counsel suggests a way forward, but DEFRA lawyers say that there is a problem. I am sure that we can find a way round that; it is not insurmountable. If, however, we cannot, I will suggest a version based on the advice that I have received from parliamentary counsel. I am optimistic that we will make progress—but then I always am.

I commend the amended sittings motion to the Committee. If we can table amendments tomorrow, I hope that we can resume our consideration next Tuesday. That will avoid the need for you, Mr. Illsley, to decide whether to accept starred amendments.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Here we are at what is, in my opinion, a fairly ungodly hour, but it may simply seem early to others. I am rather surprised not to see the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) here because I nearly ran him down on my bicycle as I came here this morning, and that was before 8.30.

It seems a pity that we are taking this route, and it is rather mystifying. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who I briefly shadowed, is a man, and was a Minister, greatly committed to a proper, decent sustainable energy policy, and I take my hat off to him for that. I thought that the story about the points of order that he related in his last speech in the Committee last week was one of the funniest things that I have heard, and I shall use it myself.

I welcome the new Minister to this portfolio. I have been shadowing him for some time. I know of his enormous knowledge about broadband and his problems with his colleagues about the Post Office, and I look forward to seeing how he handles energy. I am sure that it will be with great dexterity, but perhaps not with much success. We are in a bizarre situation in which this botched reshuffle—we can all admit that it is botched, including the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, who will come and tell us so later today—is having quite an impact on the progress of legislation in the House.

Yesterday, I was on a Standing Committee dealing with employment regulations. It has to be said that the Minister on that Committee had been dealt what I described as a hostile pass. He had absolutely no idea what he was doing, and it was not his fault because he had only just been given the portfolio. The Sustainable Energy Bill is important, and to face this change suddenly is not helpful. We could have had a smoother transition.

Turning to the amended sittings motion, I think that the Government have to decide—and the new Minister has to pick this up running—whether they want the Bill. Time is running out; the parliamentary year does not go on for ever. There is already quite a

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backlog on Fridays for Report stage and Third Reading. To put it candidly, if the Government want the Bill, they have to get their act together, table agreed amendments and get them made.

The Conservative party supports sustainable energy, in general terms, and I have a long history of doing so. We want the Bill to pass through the House. We support the target that we set down of 5 GW of energy capacity from CHP by 2000; we have not yet reached that. We support the Government's target of 10 GW of capacity from CHP by 2010, but the chances of reaching it are tiny. We support the Government's targets in their 1997 and 2001 manifestos of 10 per cent. of energy from renewables by 2010 and 20 per cent. by 2020. The Bill is partly about getting that, and it is about having sensible targets that can be reached. I hope that the Minister will be able to suggest, tomorrow or whenever it may be, some way in which we can make progress on the Bill without all this shilly-shallying and messing around. This is the second sitting of the Committee to be adjourned and, as I said, time is running out.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I join my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) in expressing some concern about the delay, but I know that it is perfectly understandable, and I am grateful for the explanation given by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White).

I join my hon. Friend and the promoter of the Bill in paying tribute to the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North. I hope that it was not something that we said to him last week that caused him to leave ministerial circles.

I must confess that I feel a little thwarted this morning because it just so happens that this is Waterloo day, but more importantly for me, it was on this day 33 years ago that I was first elected a Member of Parliament. I thought of using the occasion to make a great state-of-the-nation speech, but, rather like my political career, that intention has been somewhat thwarted.

I want to pick up the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East on one point. Towards the end of his speech he mentioned next Tuesday. I thought that the sittings motion referred to us meeting at 2.30 pm on Thursday. If it is necessary for the Committee to meet next week, I will not be here because I am required, if that is not a pompous phrase, to attend the Council of Europe Assembly in Strasbourg, so I apologise in advance. I hope that the Committee stage can be completed tomorrow.

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East for his generous words. I am delighted to be in this position. I want to echo the tributes paid by members of the Committee to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North. I was in Aberdeen yesterday, and it is already clear to me from my discussions with people in the energy industry and those who are concerned about sustainable energy that my hon. Friend was held in extremely high regard and will be a tough act to follow. [Interruption.]

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The Chairman: Order. May I tell the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) that he is not allowed to pass notes to and from the Public Gallery?

Mr. Timms: I congratulate the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) on attaining 33 years as a Member. I am grateful to him for informing us of that, and it is nice to be able to pay tribute to him.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I am grateful to the Minister, and I genuinely and sincerely welcome him to his new, very important post. For the record, I must say that I have not been here for 33 years. There was an unfortunate gap between 1974 and 1979 when, to use a phrase, I was temporarily resting.

Mr. Timms: And greatly missed.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East for the constructive way in which he has led the work on this important Bill. My predecessor briefed the DTI ministerial team about it and made clear the importance that he attached to it. I want to proceed with the Government's work on it with a similar recognition of its importance. I hope that it will be possible to achieve the successful outcome for which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East is working. That is certainly my aim. I welcome the sense that I have already picked up from our brief discussion that there is general support in the Committee for the Bill's intentions.

I thank the hon. Member for Blaby for his, on the whole, generous words of welcome. He said that the Conservative party supports sustainable energy in general terms. I am not sure what the caveats are, but no doubt that will quickly become clear.


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