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25 Oct 2004 : Column 1208

Wind Farms

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I inform hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister and has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. Hon. Members who are not staying for this debate should leave the Chamber as quickly and quietly as possible.

7.16 pm

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): I beg to move,

I am delighted that the Conservative party has been able to devote half its Opposition day today, at the start of energy efficiency week, to this vital subject. In the next few minutes, I intend to expose the serious flaws in the Government's policy on renewable energy and to set out the Conservative party's approach. The alluring task of analysing the inconsistencies in the Liberal Democrat position I will reluctantly leave to my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I envy him that chance, and as a trailer for his excellent winding-up speech later this evening, let me simply say that the muddle that the Liberal Democrats are in on this issue is at least as hilarious as it is on many others—hilarious if it was not such a disgrace. I will examine the Government's approach to renewable energy and wind farms in particular in the context of the international debate on climate change and the Government's overall energy policy.

On climate change, I am very happy to confirm that the Conservative party accepts the scientific evidence both that the climate is changing and that it is highly probable that one of the causes of that change is human activity. Indeed, I am proud that a Conservative Prime Minister—Baroness Thatcher—was the first Head of Government of any major country in the world to take the threat of climate change seriously. My own close interest in the subject began when I was a Minister of State at the Department of the Environment in 1993, with responsibility for environmental issues. Since then, the scientific evidence has become more compelling. I commend the Government on their role in helping to secure the Kyoto agreement, but it is very worrying that, after seven years of Labour Government, carbon dioxide emissions in Britain are rising, not falling.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that a large number of the environmental leaders who, when he was a Minister of State, condemned the then Conservative Government for their attitude have now recognised that the Kyoto targets are unattainable, particularly in this country, without the use of nuclear energy?
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Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the fact that, on present Government policy, it is extremely unlikely that Britain will honour its commitments under the Kyoto treaty. The targets that the Government have set will not be achieved without a significant and urgent change in their policy—that, of course, includes energy policy.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman say precisely what the Conservative party's policy on nuclear generation is? Does he propose that new stations be built and, if so, over what time scale and by whom?

Mr. Yeo: I will set aside the hon. Gentleman's cheek in posing a question that his Prime Minister has refused to answer for the past seven and a half years; we are no nearer to having any clue as to what the Government's approach is to this vital issue, even though they have been in charge for all that time. They have access to all the information and, quite apart from our environmental commitments, the decision about how to achieve security of energy supply in Britain is urgent, as I shall set out.

However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair request, and I am happy to accede to it. It is clear that nuclear power scores in terms of climate change because there are no carbon dioxide emissions. That is a huge plus point for nuclear power. I have listened with interest to the debates between the proponents and the opponents of nuclear power. It is up to its proponents, who are quite vociferous, to make the case, and in particular to address two legitimate concerns—first, the environmental concern about the waste issue, and, secondly, whether on strict financial criteria nuclear power is economically viable. If the proponents could address those two concerns to my satisfaction, I would have no other anxieties about nuclear power.

It seems likely that the Prime Minister will continue to duck this decision. If I were to have any role in taking the decision within the first year of a Conservative Government, I would make sure that we had a time-limited review so that people knew that that first year was the period during which they had to make the case for nuclear power.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk) (Con): My hon. Friend has pointed out the Prime Minister's reluctance to put his cards on the table with regard to the Government's policy on nuclear energy. Does he agree that there is a similar reluctance on the part of the Chancellor to put his cards on the table with regard to encouraging biofuels, and does he think that that is regrettable?

Mr. Yeo: My right hon. Friend anticipates a point that I shall come on to shortly. She is right that biofuels could make an important contribution to tackling climate change, but they are currently handicapped in doing so by the timid approach that the Government have adopted. They have given a small duty cut, but that is not enough to kick-start the market for biofuels.

There is a problem of critical mass with all such alternatives. It is no good having an alternative that accounts for 0.1 per cent. of the market. To get a market
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going, there has to be a sufficient mass of activity, and in the case of biofuels that momentum will be created—with a lot of other advantages, which I shall mention shortly—only if the Government are a lot bolder in their approach to cutting duty rates.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has attacked the Prime Minister on where he stands—or, in this case, does not stand. Where does the hon. Gentleman stand on the figures and targets that the Government have set? Would he back them up, and if so, how would he do that?

Mr. Yeo: That is a helpful intervention; I was about to come on to that point. There are many other issues on which I would attack the Prime Minister but, unfortunately, you might consider them outside the remit of this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Conservative party endorses not only the Kyoto targets, but the more demanding ones that the Government have set for Britain. However, it would be helpful if we did not jump from a target that is 10 or 15 years hence to one for 2050; a series of intermediate steps would make the very long-term targets more credible, but that may be a point of detail.

What is clear is that none of these targets will be achieved unless policy is changed, and not just policy on renewable energy. Transport policy must be changed and energy efficiency must be given much greater priority, to mention just a couple of the important areas where far more urgency is needed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) highlighted that last month in a powerful and wide-ranging speech on this subject.

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