Although I am not an engineer, I believe that we currently have primarily a pull strategy. We pull energy through the national grid into our local communities. As we pull it over long distances, the
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longer the distance, the more energy we lose in the pipeline or channel. A micro-generation strategy, which is based in a local community, becomes more of a push strategy. Any surplus energy is pushed away from the core. It is therefore likely that any surplus will be held in a relatively small area. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point about cost, but micro-generation is a far more efficient form of energy production.
Mr. Harper: I am grateful for that point. The hon. Member for Lewes also dealt with energy efficiency in his remarks. I know the difference between the national transmission network, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned, and the local distribution network. I am simply considering the physical infrastructure and the mechanics of dealing with a large number of people who are trying to sell their electricity back to the grid. I wonder about the practicalities.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is conscious of the cost and accounting aspect of the measure. Has he considered whether the complex system and network that is being envisaged will be able to take account of depreciation and maintenance of all the micro-generating plants and how that might be factored into the realistic cost of producing energy? Does he share my suspicion that, up to now, everybody has somehow assumed that it is a free good?
Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. One of the key points about the Bill is that, for it to work, consumers must be able to offset some of their energy costs with the revenue that they get from producing surplus electricity and selling it back to electricity companies. That works only if some of the costs involved are not borne by those consumers. If, consequently, we load lots of costs on to electricity companies, which they have to pass on to other consumers, some consumers might be a little more entrepreneurial than others, participate in the excellent local schemes and thus benefitthe hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith said that six to 10 million homes might benefit from the measure. However, those who do not participate may find that the cost of their electricity increases. That would not help to alleviate fuel poverty, which is one of the Bill's aims.
Mr. Newmark: Notwithstanding the excellent point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made, I remind my hon. Friend that maintenance is a cash item whereas depreciation is a non-cash item. We must take that into account when we consider helping to alleviate pensioner poverty and so on.
Mr. Forth: Is the assumption being made that the individual home owner would own the capital micro-generating equipment? If people had ownership and responsibility for maintaining it, the depreciation point is relevant and would kick in.
I want to consider growing the market for the sort of technology that we are considering. Several hon. Members received an excellent document, which included photographs of the hon. Members for Edinburgh, North and Leith and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead). The document, which is entitled, "Micro Power Nov 2005" from the Micropower Council, includes a joint statement by several companies that manufacture such technology. I am always a little suspicious when a group of business people gets together to make joint statements. I believe that Adam Smith said that we should beware when a group of business people gets together because it is probably not for the benefit of the public as a whole.
It is a little unusual for Labour Members to be willing to give protected markets and guaranteed returns to business people who can then invest substantial sums at no risk. If the technologies are so promising, it is surprising that an entrepreneurial business sector has not already taken a risk, made some investments, perhaps in marketing, and persuaded people of the promise of the technology. I am surprised that the market has not already taken off in that way.
I am a little concerned about the requirement on heating fuel suppliers to demonstrate that a proportion of the fuel that they supply is from a renewable source. In rural areas, such as the one in which I live, fuel can be purchased from a very small supplier. It is unreasonable that that requirement impacts on all suppliers, however small, and forces them to diversify into the supply of renewable energy. I counsel caution in applying that provision too widely.
Since I was elected to Parliament, I have heard a number of Members speak about their postbags and the amount of correspondence that they have received on various issues. Some of those claims, particularly over the past few days, have worried me somewhat, as their postbags have clearly not borne any relation to mine. It is therefore with some relief that I can speak on an issue that really has captured the imagination of residents in Cheadle, and I certainly have a postbag to prove it.
I want to praise all those who have been involved in the various campaigns to promote this and the accompanying Bill. As a local councillor in Stockport, I have already been able to support both Bills at a local level, with the backing of all parties there. Similarly effective information and publicity campaigns have been conducted up and down the country in the run-up to this debate.
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The technology involved in micro-generation offers a wide range of opportunities to contribute to what is arguably the most important of all global challenges. On thermal heating, household wind turbines, and fuel cellsto name just some of the technologies availablethe Bill can make a real impact through the encouragement that its measures offer householders.
It is not just the technology that appeals to me. There is plenty of evidence in my constituency that the public take their responsibilities to the environment very seriously. That is why the local authority that covers my constituency has the highest levels of household recycling of any metropolitan authority, and it is why the constituents to whom I speak are eager to do even more to conserve energy and protect the environment. The measures in the Bill would tap into the enthusiasm and commitment of the public in a positive way, and in a way that simply does not exist at present. The Bill offers carrots to the public and sticks to the Government, because it is clear that this Government and Governments across the world need to move more quickly on this most important matter.
Even those who believe that climate change is an enormous conspiracy theorywhich I most certainly do notand that global warming is neither a serious issue nor a major threat to us all, should think of all those utility bills dropping on the doormat. At a time of rising fuel prices, it would not be overstating the case to say that we have never needed such a Bill so much.
There are compelling reasons to support this Bill on so many counts that it should satisfy those of all political persuasions and of none. The Bill combines the economic, scientific and moral case for environmentalism in a way that I believe really can reverse those negative trends that pose such a threat to us. The Bill is truly worthy of support from all sides.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I am keen to see this and the other Bill to be presented today progress. As we have had some long speeches today, I merely want to record my support for the Bill. I hope that we can move to the Front-Bench speeches and make some progress.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): We have had some supportive and positive interventions from the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Salisbury (Robert Key), and an important point was made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) about the cost of setting up micro-generation. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) also made an important point about the Government framework. What a joy it has been for the second time this week to have so much consensus on both sides in the House. I hope that the Minister will refer at some stage to the gap in funding for the Clear Skies project, to which I shall return later.
We heard a good speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), who emphasised the importance of the issue and the fact that
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the Bill enables people to go out and help themselves, which is an important principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) was very supportive, and spoke about young people and the success generated by local initiative.
My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), who was also supportive of the Bill, made a considerable contribution. He spoke about economics and his concerns about the potential total energy capacity from micro-generation, which was most helpful, and the Government's favouritism for wind energy, which is a concern across the country. He also asked whether the Prime Minister would announce his failures, about which we must be sceptical. As for bringing him to the House to explain one of his party's policies, that is something that he does not currently have to do.
All in all, there were some extremely helpful and positive contributions from Conservative Members, and some questions which I hope that the Minister will answer. Conservatives have always supported promoting the environment, since Rio in 1992. We welcome proposals designed to improve the environment, and we welcome much of this private Member's Bill. I am grateful that these matters are being discussed on the Floor of the House.
The Bill contains some beneficial measures to help combat climate change. Clause 2 makes provision for the Prime Minister to make an annual report. That will help with transparency and Government accountability. Back in 2000, the Prime Minister announced,
This year, he used his presidency of the G8 to place climate change at the forefront of the agenda. At the Labour party conference in September, we heard the Prime Minister again pledging to formulate an energy policy some time next year.
There has been lots of talk, but not much effective action. Despite the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, the Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003 and the energy White Paper of February 2003, carbon dioxide, pre-eminent among greenhouse gases, has increased since 1997 by 4.7 per cent. Since the introduction in 2001of the climate change levy, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have seen greenhouse gas emissions increase. The Kyoto protocol requires us to ensure that our greenhouse gas emissions are 12.5 per cent. below 1990 levels. Considering that the Prime Minister is the Head of Government, his high profile and the importance that he attaches to climate change, it is only right and proper that he should present to the House the annual report on greenhouse gas emissions and his Government's policy.
Clause 2 will make it easier for Parliament to scrutinise the Government, and serve to make the Government more transparent and the Prime Minister more accountable to Parliament. As I said a few moments ago, the Prime Minister currently has no obligation to explain policies to the House. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) has sensibly
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included provisions for micro-generation, which is a technology that Conservative Members would like to see advanced. Section 82(1)(a) of the Energy Act 2004 states: