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Malcolm Wicks: I was not aware of that, because, unlike some, I like to spend some time in my constituency on Fridays. I always feel that that is part of
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my duty. I am sometimes teased at meetings when I am reminded that I am the seventh Minister for Energy in eight years. I do not want to comment on that, but it shows the Government's dedication to renewables.

Tackling climate change is a priority for the Government and, I detect, a key priority for all of us, or certainly most of us, in the House. The Prime Minister and others, too, have said that it is the greatest challenge facing the world today. While politicians often wax lyrical that their chosen subject is the biggest challenge, in terms of the evidence climate change claims the dubious crown of being the biggest challenge facing the world today.

Our record on addressing the levels of harmful emissions that contribute to climate change is good. We are on track to meet our Kyoto protocol commitments, with emissions of all greenhouse gases projected to be approaching 20 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010. However, we recognise that there is much more to do to meet our more ambitious target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. That is a challenge. Through the current review of the climate change programme, we are evaluating existing measures to reduce emissions and assessing new options for getting back on track to meet our ambitious target.

Mr. Harper: If, as the Minister and the Government's chief scientific adviser have said, climate change is the most important challenge facing the world, will the Minister explain why these measures, which he has just said are valuable and well thought out, have had to be introduced by a Back-Bench Member rather than by Her Majesty's Government?

Malcolm Wicks: This House has a great tradition—I cited my own modest contribution to it—of making societal progress through the contribution of Back Benchers, and that has to be good for Parliament. However, I believe that the Government have a good record on micro-power, not least the work to meet our target of 10 per cent. of electricity coming from renewables overall by 2010.

Mr. Hurd rose—

Malcolm Wicks: Obviously, I need to give way once or twice but most of us are anxious to make some progress on moving towards a judgment on this important Bill.

Mr. Hurd: I know that the Minister wants to get on, but he acknowledged the challenge of the 2010 CO 2 reduction target. Will he take the opportunity to confirm that the Government will neither drop nor seek to adjust that target in the climate change review?

Malcolm Wicks: Our Kyoto obligations are absolutely clear. Indeed, our own targets are absolutely clear and we are committed to them.

Micro-generation, as we have discovered, is a generic term for a suite of technologies that allow for the production of heat and electricity in close proximity to communities and to the consumer.
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Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Will the Minister give way?

Malcolm Wicks: Yes, because I was able to get out a whole sentence of my speech and it would be extremely churlish of me, given that I have a reached a full stop, not to stop momentarily.

Jo Swinson: I welcome the opportunity to put on record my support for the Bill, particularly its provisions on micro-generation. Does the Minister agree that, by generating their own electricity at home, people will understand how much energy they use and that that will motivate them to reduce their energy use, which is key to reducing emissions overall?

Malcolm Wicks: That is an important point. I shall touch on that briefly in a few moments.

When we talk about micro-generation, we are talking about a range of technologies: solar power to heat water and produce electricity; harnessing the wind through individual micro-wind turbines; and using the earth's heat to heat our homes through ground source heat pumps. Energy efficiency involves a closely related family of measures, including, as was confirmed today, the thatched cottage, and it was useful to be reminded of that important example by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). We have an array of technologies that can make a significant contribution to our long-term targets for reducing carbon emissions. By exploiting our own natural resources, increased levels of micro-generation would reduce our reliance on imported fuel and contribute towards our objective of secure energy supplies. That issue requires more debate in the months to come, and I think that we shall achieve more debate.

The Government have long recognised the potential of micro-generation, which is why I announced only last week a £30 million low-carbon buildings programme to support these technologies. In announcing the details, I was anxious to bridge any gap in funding that was of concern to the industry. That brings total Government funding for micro-generation installations to £83 million since 2002. Creating a sustainable market for those technologies will not be done solely through capital grant programmes, which is why we are developing a strategy for the promotion of micro-generation technologies to remove some of the wider barriers preventing widespread take-up.

Mr. Heath: Will the Minister touch on the point that I raised with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) about the concern among people who use micro-generation water turbines that they could be brought within the compass of the non-domestic rate? Can he allay their fears?

Malcolm Wicks: My understanding is that business rate valuations do include renewable energy installations, but that business can benefit from the financial gains associated with renewable obligation certificates and levy exemption certificates. [Interruption.] On the domestic side—no, householders' own micro-generation would not make those individuals or households eligible for business rate. That is an important clarification.
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One important theme has been raised by one or two colleagues, such as the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith). Many people watching their television screens and hearing about global warming could be forgiven—although I am saying that they should not be—for thinking that the future of the planet is by definition an issue for big people, such as presidents and prime ministers, and big institutions, such as the UN, the G8 and the rest. Of course it is an issue for those big players, but what my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East said is also important. He was once my Secretary of State, and I am rather in the habit of agreeing with him, so I am happy to agree with him on this important point. To use his phrase, this is about thinking globally and acting locally.

When an individual or a community organisation—a school, a church or a community centre—starts to invest in photovoltaics, say, or a micro wind turbine, they are not only making a contribution to their own energy supply but sending out a signal that they are taking responsibility. All of us as individuals—that would certainly be the case for us in the House—are more part of the problem of the misuse of carbon than the solution, but micro-generation enables us, locally and as individuals, to start becoming part of the solution.

Now I shall turn to some of the details of the Bill.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD) rose—

Malcolm Wicks: I shall give way one more time, and then make some progress.

Martin Horwood: I would like to add my support for the Bill. Does the Minister agree that one of the barriers to popular participation in the technology is the cost, and that one of the valuable aspects of the Bill, as with the biofuels initiative this week, is that it will give a boost to the market, which will bring down the cost of these technologies and make them more affordable for more people?

Malcolm Wicks: That is right. The technologies are at the stage where television was, perhaps, in the first few months of production. Clearly, with growing popularity, there are economies of scale and cost reductions. If the Bill is passed by both Houses, that will show the will of Parliament, which in itself will make an important impact.

Before I turn to specifics, let me make it clear that the Government support the key principles that underpin the Bill, but that we have concerns about some of the detail. However, if my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith accepts the changes that I propose, I will be happy to work with him—although I do not know where he is at the moment. [Interruption.] Oh, there he is. I wish to be his friend; I do not know why he is hiding from me. I shall be happy to work with him to get the Bill on to the statute book. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Before we have too many "Hear, hears", let me go into the detail.

Clause 2 gives the Prime Minister a duty to table an annual report on progress towards meeting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The UK already has
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an existing requirement to submit data to the EU on greenhouse gas emissions annually, so ensuring that the report is laid before Parliament would not be problematic. Indeed, we welcome the idea.

Although the Government see no problem with the general thrust of the clause, however, we would not support a final version that required the Prime Minister, rather than a Secretary of State, to table the report—and we do not believe that there is a need for a resolution approving the report.

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