Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Fair Trade (Belize)

5. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): What action her Department is taking in relation to the objectives of the Fairtrade movement, with particular reference to Belize. [163437]

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The Government are committed to supporting the objectives of the Fairtrade movement. Fairtrade fortnight was a great success. Some 6,000 events took place across the UK raising awareness of the issue. In broader terms, the Government have provided £500,000 to assist the Fairtrade objectives.

As to Belize, the Government have provided £225,000 to support cocoa farmers from the Toledo region, one of the poorest areas of the country. It has enabled the Toledo cocoa growers association to expand the production of its cocoa products and increase its exports overseas.

Mr. Dalyell : Deeply impressed as I have been by inaugural meetings of small groups such as the one in the Linlithgow borough or larger groups such as the one at the university of Edinburgh, I still want to ask what the Department of Trade and Industry can do to enlarge the Fairtrade market. I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about Belize.

Mr. O'Brien: Fairtrade is an enormously important way of enabling disadvantaged producer groups in developing countries to receive a minimum price above that offered by mainstream markets. The price includes a premium to be used for community development projects. We have been trying to work with the Fairtrade movement to increase awareness of the benefits that that brings. Stimulating awareness of the wider problems is also important.

We can welcome the fact that Fairtrade coffee producers have about 8 per cent. of the market; but frankly, if we really want to resolve the trading problems of developing countries, the Doha development agenda is crucial. Fairtrade is an important initiative: we strongly support it and have invested some resources in it, but the most effective way of helping developing countries must be through the World Trade Organisation and proper international agreements.

25 Mar 2004 : Column 1049

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Is Belize one of the countries covered by the extraordinary suggestion by the European Trade Commissioner that import controls should be imposed on countries that he says have different cultural values? When such nonsensical protectionist stuff comes out of the European Commission, why do the Government not condemn it?

Mr. O'Brien: We have always made it clear that we want markets to be open and fair. Throughout the WTO process and the Doha development agenda, Pascal Lamy has always made it clear that the aim is to achieve an agreement that progressively opens markets, encourages trade and lifts people out poverty. Both he and the British Government have made it very clear that we will promote those open markets.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that there is widespread public support for the Government's policy in respect of Doha, but he will recognise also that Belize and many other countries benefit from fair trade. Should we not congratulate the co-operative movement, which has played such a key part in this country in promoting Fairtrade products?

Mr. O'Brien: I entirely agree. We welcome the Co-op's recently announced initiative to double the size of its range of Fairtrade products by the end of 2004. That is a great initiative, and the Co-op is leading the way. We hope that other supermarket chains and businesses will follow suit.

Renewable Energy

6. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If she will make a statement on the level of transmission access charges levied on renewable energy providers in the north of Scotland. [163438]

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): Scottish and Southern Energy currently levies charges for all generators to access the transmission system, through its subsidiary Scottish Hydro-Electricity Transmission Ltd. The new BETTA arrangements in the Energy Bill will create a Great Britain-wide market, in which transmission charges will be the responsibility of the National Grid Company.

Mr. Carmichael : I thank the Minister for that answer, and commend him for some of the Government amendments to the Energy Bill in the other place. They will clip Ofgem's wings in respect of charging for transmission and access, and that is very welcome. What assessment has he made of the proposals by many members of the Scottish renewables forum that access charges should be capped instead of being subject to a rebate system? Does he agree that that would have the benefit of being much simpler and much less bureaucratic?

Mr. Timms: I agree that there is huge opportunity for renewable energy in the north of Scotland and the highlands and islands, and I have also been very impressed by the very strong public support for it. Our clear view is that we should not put that potential at

25 Mar 2004 : Column 1050

risk with a charging scheme that would make electricity generation uneconomic, or which would threaten it. That is why we have tabled the amendments to the Energy Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The scheme sets a threshold, above which we will be able to apply a discount. That leaves open the possibility that a cap could be imposed if there is a 100 per cent. discount on the portion above the threshold. However, that will depend on the analysis that we will carry out to determine what is needed to ensure that we retain and realise the potential offered by the north of Scotland.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East) (Lab): Given the importance that the Government attach to renewable energy, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to spend a lot more on research and development to meet our targets in the future? Recently, Sir David King has floated the idea of establishing a UK research centre to demonstrate our strong commitment to renewables in the future. Does he agree with that?

Mr. Timms: I agree very much with my hon. Friend about the importance of R and D in achieving our targets. We aim to get 10 per cent. of our electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and we want to double that by 2020. I am sure that my hon. Friend was encouraged, as was I, by what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the Budget about the 10-year strategy and about public support for the centrality of science and innovation in the nation's economic strategy. I shall certainly be very keen to talk to Sir David King about his proposals, and my Department works very closely with the Government's chief scientist. However, there is no doubt that publicly supported R and D is one of the major keys to bringing about the changes that we need.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Minister said that there were huge opportunities for renewable energy in the north of Scotland. Can he justify the Government's complete obsession with wind farms? They are a danger not only to birds, but to human health and the environment generally. Will he confirm that there is an estimated cost of £2 billion for each wind farm to enter into the grid and that the electricity cannot enter the grid and be transmitted without ghastly, dangerous, overhead lines?

Mr. Timms: The hon. Lady is wrong on a number of points. Certainly wind is currently the most cost effective of the renewable energy technologies available, so the current renewables obligation mechanism is bringing forward a welcome increase in wind energy capacity. However, we are also supporting the development of other technologies. It is important that every proposal should be put through a proper planning process, as each of them is. The hon. Lady will know that there is a serious threat to birds and wildlife generally from the development of climate change. We need to ensure that we change our energy economy to address that. That is why the World Wildlife Fund recently called on the Government to increase their targets for renewable energy.

25 Mar 2004 : Column 1051

Wind Turbine Farms

8. Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): What discussions she has held with other Government Departments concerning the allocation of sites for the development of offshore wind turbine farms. [163440]

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): The recent award of site leases for offshore wind farms was made by the Crown Estate working with the Department for Trade and Industry. The lease awards exercise closely involved other Departments, including the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport.

Dr. Whitehead : I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree about the importance of the development of offshore wind farms in ensuring that our renewable targets are achieved. Has he entered into a dialogue with the Ministry of Defence about its concerns about radar and wind turbines at sea? If so, is he willing to ask the Ministry of Defence for an open exchange of information so that those issues can be resolved, rather than the guessing game which appears to be going on now concerning whether MOD radar is a problem for offshore wind farms? Is he willing to resolve those issues speedily so that the developments can proceed?

Mr. Timms: I agree with my hon. Friend and welcome his strong support in this House and elsewhere for the development of renewable energy. I certainly am in dialogue with the MOD about its concerns, which I understand and which are proper. I agree that it is important that those concerns should be addressed and I am confident that they can be. This morning the MOD laid some objections to the offshore wind farms in round two. We shall certainly work closely with it to resolve those issues. I agree also with my hon. Friend's point about the need for openness so that everyone can see the way forward.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): Against the background of the increasing resistance, of which I know the Minister is aware, by local communities, environmentalists, animal and bird welfare organisations and our armed forces to wind farms in some of our most treasured natural environments, both onshore and offshore where the Chamber of Shipping continues to raise serious concerns; and given the intermittent nature of wind-derived energy, however desirable as a renewable source but which will only ever be a relatively small contributory element to the United Kingdom's overall energy supplies, will the Minister who carries the ultimate responsibility for keeping the lights on now give an undertaking to the House that his Government's taxpayer-subsidised push for wind is not at the expense of the UK's medium to long-term safe, secure, competitively affordable mix of energy supplies from gas, oil and coal, or as the Minister has said, at the expense of ruling out new nuclear power?

25 Mar 2004 : Column 1052

Mr. Timms: The development of a substantial renewable energy generating sector will make an important contribution to security of supply. A diverse range of sources is needed and renewable electricity can only help.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) (Lab): When the Minister considers the many offshore sites, will he encourage the applicants at Tween bridges in my constituency to move to an offshore site so that Thorne moors, a site of special scientific interest, will be not blighted by huge, ugly structures that work only 30 per cent. of the time?

Mr. Timms: I am aware of the concerns in my hon. Friend's area, which will be fully considered in the planning process. Development of onshore and offshore wind energy generating capacity is needed and there is clear evidence across the country of overwhelming public support for moving in that direction. We cannot go on burning more coal and oil; renewable energy is required as well.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Minister must recognise that not everybody loves those wretched, inefficient wind turbines. I prefer them offshore to onshore but when they are close to the coast, will the Minister ensure that discussions are held with local residents about the impact on tourism and water sports—and on birdlife? A Californian experiment showed that a considerable number of birds, including rare breeds, were dying. If a small part of the subsidy for wind energy were spent on energy conservation, more energy would be saved than is produced by the wretched wind turbines.

Mr. Timms: As I have said, there is strong public support throughout the country for the development of renewable energy. The recent round two offshore wind energy announcement included a coastal exclusion zone from 8 km to 13 km—particularly to protect birds, inshore fishing and other interests. A careful assessment will be made of every project's impact. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that wind power will make an important and substantial contribution to meeting the demand for electricity—not least in addressing the terrible problems and threats posed by climate change.

Next Section

IndexHome Page