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House of Commons

Friday 11 November 2005

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair]

Orders of the Day

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

I shall begin by declaring an interest. The Sustainable Energy Partnership has provided me with support in the preparation and development of the Bill. I also thank the 40 or more organisations, too numerous to name, that have given their backing to the Bill.

Hon. Members across the House will know that climate change is probably the biggest issue we face in the world today. I do not propose to repeat the arguments and facts that are well known to Members across the Chamber. Although most Members and, increasingly, the general public recognise the extent of the problem we face in tackling climate change and many want to do something about it, I have often found that there is increasing defeatism about climate change precisely because it is such a big issue. People sometimes feel resigned to the idea that things will get worse and believe that as individuals they can do little about it. It is important to show them that they can do something and that, although it is essential to get action from Governments and at an international level, individuals can do something to help tackle climate change.

My Bill seeks to link the action taken by the national Government and at an international level with the actions that can be taken by individual citizens—measures that, taken together, can make a significant contribution to reducing emissions and tackling climate change. The Bill is basically about seeking to engage and recruit the public—individuals, families and communities—in that effort.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so soon. Does he agree that local authorities have a vital role to play? Some of them, including, I am sorry to say, my own district council, think that if there is a climate change problem, it has to do with sunspots and nothing to do with the intervention of man. Therefore, they are reluctant to
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support the Bill, a consequence of which will be increased expenditure by local councils. What would he say to my district council? How could he prove to it that there is a link, which it is not sure about, between mankind's intervention, rather than sunspots, and the climate change problem?

Mark Lazarowicz: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman can persuade his district council about the reality more easily than I can, but my Bill will certainly place responsibilities on local authorities, so that they cannot escape from recognising that link and cannot fail to do something about it.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is not part of the problem with the climate change debate that those of us who want action to be taken on environmental issues are depressed by the Government's record, because the fact is that carbon dioxide emissions were falling before they came to power and have been rising since?

Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Gentleman makes a party political point, which he is entitled to do. I think that this Government's record in seeking to tackle climate change has been excellent, but I want us to work on an all-party basis on practical issues that can take the issue forward. I suggest that he concentrate on that aspect of the Bill today, rather than on other agendas.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the almost unique aspect of micro-generation is that it can give individuals responsibility to produce energy in their own homes? For example, they can have photovoltaic cells producing energy on the roof of their house. Virtually all traditional forms of energy production rely on large power stations many miles away from people's homes.

Mark Lazarowicz: Indeed. Had I waited a little longer to give way to my hon. Friend, I might have come to that particular section of my speech, which will now be somewhat shorter as a result. However, he makes a valuable point. Micro-generation, which is at the heart of the Bill, is simply the generation of energy—heat or   electricity—by individual householders or small groups of householders. That can of course include photovoltaic installations, micro-combined heat and power systems, micro-wind, heat pumps, solar thermal systems, fuel cells and micro-hydro systems. A range of systems can be installed in individual homes making it possible for individual householders or groups of householders to generate their own energy.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mark Lazarowicz: I shall give way in a second if my hon. Friends will allow me to make a little progress.

The key point to bear in mind is that micro-generation has immense potential. It is not an activity that needs to be restricted to the select few or that applies only to certain parts of the country. The estimates from the most reputable scientific sources suggest that between 6 million and 10 million homes across the UK could be involved in micro-generation of some form. Clearly, for some communities and households, some technologies will be better than
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others, but if we look at the whole package, micro-generation can make a major contribution to the country's energy needs.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the housing market renewal programme taking place throughout the country gives the Government a wonderful opportunity to ensure that what he is talking about is at the heart of new building, and the building of sustainable communities?

Mark Lazarowicz: I agree absolutely. One of the advantages of micro-generation is that as well as contributing to the country's energy needs, it can help to tackle fuel poverty. If houses can produce their own energy and make maximum use of energy efficiency and energy conservation devices, people on low incomes will gain more from that. Particularly in rural areas, where houses are not linked to the grid, micro-generation has a real part to play—although that also applies to the larger urban areas, of course.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): It would be helpful for the House if the hon. Gentleman could put this in context. Has he made any estimate of the contribution that micro-generation, even at the top end of his estimate—the 10 million homes—would make to total energy generation in this country? That figure would help us to put the idea in perspective.

Mark Lazarowicz: The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are a whole range of estimates, but it has been suggested that the proportion could be as high as 10 per cent. I am not sure whether I would go as far as that, but micro-generation can certainly make a substantial contribution to the country's energy needs.

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned rural areas. Does he see a role for parish and town councils in bringing communities together to try to develop micro-generation schemes?

Mark Lazarowicz: Indeed I do. Part of my Bill deals with the promotion of what is described as "community energy". I shall come to that part later, and I hope that it will meet some of my hon. Friend's concerns.

Micro-generation and micro-power types of technology have clear economic and environmental advantages, but the market is small, which makes it less viable than it should be for households that wish to take advantage of that technology to do so, and for companies to invest in the technology necessary to manufacture micro-power units. The problem is that the installation costs of micro-generation can be quite high, and the payback period is relatively long. That makes micro-generation a niche product, available only to the better-off—although even now, prices are coming down.

Opinion across the industry and in the non-governmental organisations is that we need to get into a virtuous circle, in which prices come down so that the market increases in size, which would lead to further reductions in the price of the product so that we can really take advantage of the potential of micro-generation.

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