Mr. Harper: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I am afraid that my background is based rather more on the finance and economics of the argument. I am not an expert on engineering and technical mattersI know that some hon. Members areso I probably will not dwell on those scenarios. I want to focus on the economic costs and the alternative ways to deal with climate change. Many hon. Members have referred to a view of the debate that is shared on both sides of the House. Everyone accepts that climate change is happening and causing a problem, but there is not universal consensus about the best way to deal with it and the way to do so most economically.
Before my right hon. Friend intervened, I was making a point about the different options that are open to the Government. I look forward to the Minister's remarks in response to the debate about the Government's policy and the way that they have analysed their different options and the most cost-effective ways to address climate change. Certainly, their lordships' conclusion in their report:
Government energy policy has been touched on at some length. When questioning the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst touched on the potential for micro-generation in dealing with our total energy capacity. The hon. Gentleman said that people have estimated that micro-generation could achieve up to 10 per cent. of generation capacity, although he would not necessarily go as high as that. My concern is that trends are developing, particularly with nuclear energy and its decommissioning
Mr. Harper: Just before we were very valuably interrupted, I was touching on Government energy policy. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith said that he would not go as far as to suggest that 10 per cent. of our energy capacity should come from micro-generation, but a number of us are concerned by what will happen to our other generating capacity. No doubt, the Minister for Energy will comment on that. Something like 23 per cent. of our energy needs are supplied by nuclear power and many in the House will know that that figure will fall tremendously over the next 20 years.
Those outside the House, particularly the younger members of the community to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) drew attention and who have taken part in community micro-generation and driven up renewable energy generation in this country, will be disappointed if fossil fuel generation comes in to fill the gap because decisions are not taken about the renewal of our nuclear capacity. That would negate all the work that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith suggests that we do. I hope that the Minister will comment on where the Government's review of energy policy has reached and when he might bring forward to the House thoughts on where the Government stand, particularly on their plans for nuclear generation and whether they see that as having a role. The cross-party Committee that drew up their lordships report said:
The only technical point that I shall make relates to something that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said. Many Members have drawn attention to the range of technology solutions that are referred to in the Lords Committee's report. Table 8 on page 46 contains a whole list of emission-reducing technologies that Professor Dennis Anderson of Imperial college, London, has put together. It refers to a whole range of things, including the biofuels that have been mentioned by hon. Members and the photovoltaic solutions that are possible in micro-generation. The report says:
It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the breadth of energy solutions that the Government are considering. What contribution does he think that micro-generation could make to our total energy requirement and how does the cost of that compare with other solutions?
Is my hon. Friend convinced that the costings of all the alternative methods of producing energy, such as the building and maintenance of windmills and the production of photovoltaic cells and their disposal after their working life, have been fully considered? Does he believe that the analysis of their lordships or of others takes full account of the whole-life
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cost of various types of energy production and, not least, the costs of their environmental disposal at the end of life?
Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. I do not think that that has been done. One of the concerns that their lordships raise comes down to the public's scepticism about politicians. If we do not run through all the solutions, include all the costs and have a full and frank discussion with the public about the costs of climate change and of dealing with it, their lordships argue:
Their lordships refer briefly to the fuel protests in 1999 and 2000 as an illustration of what happens and how sensitive the public are to even relatively modest increases in the cost of energy. I hope that the Minister will give us an idea of how the Government see the costs of energy panning out over the next few years and how the proposals in the Bill might impact on that.
Having dwelt for a few moments on climate change and the thoughts of their lordships, I now want to turn to the Bill and make a couple of comments about it. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) referred to targets in his speech and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst asked him whether a strategy of having targets and reports had been very effective. I am a little more sceptical than the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith about the likely success of such a strategy.
That just asks the Prime Minister to lay before the House a report, even though, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has suggested, the Government are past masters at producing reports, documents, working parties and all sorts of other groups. When difficult decisions need to be taken in local government, we know that they set up a report under an eminent person. When the report is produced and a tricky decision is neededI am sure that decisions on climate change will be the sameyet another report under the same eminent person is commissioned and the issue is kicked into the long grass. Just asking the Prime Minister to produce a report without imposing any further duties on him is an excuse to lay before the House lots of documents and hot air, with not much progress being made towards the targets.
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that that part of the Bill had caught my eye. I wonder what would happen if the report said that no progress had been made. If we were lucky, we might be
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given a debate in the House, although we certainly would not have a vote because the Government do not like debates with votes any more. Has my hon. Friend speculated about what might happen if these rather tediously frequent reports ended up saying that very little had happened at all?