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Mr. Weir: Is the Minister prepared to accept that the Bill does not commit him to the renewable fuel obligation, but merely gives him the opportunity to bring it in? If the Bill is passed and he decides in his wisdom—as he should—that the renewable fuel obligation is necessary, he will have the power to bring it in without further legislation. Will he not reconsider on that point?

Malcolm Wicks: We can discuss that in Committee, as much of the Bill needs to be discussed.

It has been brought to my attention that when we were discussing whether the Prime Minister himself or the Secretary of State should table the report, I referred to my own Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It is evidence of the fact that we are so joined at the hip on these issues that I should, of course, have referred to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Frankly, we DTI Ministers are so often in and out of DEFRA that I sometimes forget which Department I am a member of—such is the extraordinary joined-up-ness of this Administration.

Hon. Members will be aware that my Department has been in the process of reviewing the renewables obligation. Some measures included in the preliminary consultation, and now the statutory consultation, require primary legislation to be tabled. They are aimed at making it easier for micro-generators to benefit from the obligation. They will make it easier for agents to handle much of the administrative process on behalf of householders who wish to claim renewable obligation certificates for the electricity that they generate. They will also remove the need for micro-generators to have a sale-and-buyback agreement in place with their electricity supplier before they can claim their obligation certificates, which are known, in the jargon, as ROCs. That will help to make the whole process a lot smoother. The Bill seems an appropriate piece of legislation in which the Government can make those changes at the earliest opportunity.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I fully support this excellent Bill, but will my hon. Friend undertake to hold close discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about its progress and any developments?

Malcolm Wicks: Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith will also hold such discussions.

Mr. Harper: Will the Minister give way?

Hon. Members: No!

Malcolm Wicks: Well, very briefly.
 
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Mr. Harper: I am a little confused about whether the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) supported the Bill in the form promoted by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) or as filleted by the Minister.

Malcolm Wicks: Yes. There is a difference between effective parliamentary scrutiny and speaking for the sake of it.

Another issue subject to recent consultation is the adjustment of transmission charges for renewable generators in the north of Scotland. In March, we announced our intention to use the power in the Energy Act 2004 to make such adjustments with respect to renewable generators in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. Since then, I have had an opportunity to consider these matters with many hon. Members and a welcome chance to visit delegations from those islands. As things stand, the power in the Energy Act enables us only to adjust charges until 2014, but the long lead time for developing projects on the islands mean that they will not be in operation until early in the next decade and would derive only minimal benefit from a scheme ending in 2014. Extending the scheme to 2024 would provide additional support to island projects and bring environmental and economic benefits to those important island communities. The Bill once again provides an opening to make the required legislative change at the earliest opportunity, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith is in accord with that.

Mr. Carmichael: I welcome most warmly the announcement that the Minister has just made, which will make a significant difference to the development of renewable projects in the island communities. If we have a successful and happy conclusion to the Bill, which I certainly hope for, may I urge on him an early imposition of that power?

Malcolm Wicks: That will be subject to the will of the House and the other place, but I also hope that that will happen.

I wish to say a quick word about the application of the Bill to the devolved Administrations, which I know my hon. Friend has been considering. As it stands, aspects of the Bill legislate for Scotland in devolved policy areas or impact on functions exercised by Ministers of the Scottish Executive. My hon. Friend will have discussions on the issues, but if he does not secure agreement amendments will be required in Committee to exclude Scotland from the provisions of the Bill where necessary. I am sure that that will not happen. It would be curious if a Bill introduced by a Scottish MP would benefit Croydon but not his constituency, and I suspect that he will be able to reach agreement on the issues. That is a matter for him, but we will do our best to help.

In conclusion, the Government are pleased to offer overall support, subject to the caveats that I have outlined. We see an opportunity for the Bill to include further clauses that would help to tackle climate change and energy supply. We look forward to working with my hon. Friend and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
 
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12.16 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I confess that I was minded to seek to divide the House on this Bill because I have grave reservations about it, as I will explain. However, having heard what the Minister said, I do not think that that will be necessary at this stage. I would be content for the Bill to receive a Second Reading as it will be important for the Committee to give thought to what the Minister has said—it certainly attracted me—and we can spend productive time on Report and then decide whether to let the Bill make further progress.

However, the House would not expect me to allow this opportunity to pass without making a few remarks about aspects of climate change. I take as my texts today a letter from the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, the report by the excellent Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords and the excellent work by Mr. Bjorn Lomborg, "The Sceptical Environmentalist", which I highly recommend to hon. Members. I shall first set the scenario—a much loved word by environmentalists—for the debate and then move on to some consideration of the Bill. I shall touch briefly on mitigation versus adaptation, multilateral versus unilateral action, developed versus developing countries, and the role of technology in the response to climate change.

I shall start with an excellent letter, which I received in reply to one that I had written on behalf of a constituent, from the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, joined at the hip as he is to the Minister in his place today. They are undoubtedly inseparable. The letter mainly concentrates on the effects of climate change on sea levels. The first thing that caught my eye was the statement:

In many ways, that statement encapsulates the problem that we face as we discuss climate change and its possible impact. A range of possibility between 26 cm and 86 cm may not sound very much, but it is a crucial difference for all of us, especially those living in coastal and low-lying areas, to say nothing of those living in countries such as the Maldives, which I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting on behalf of the House just last year. That range of possibility should give us all pause for thought. I shall return to that theme later.

One of the great problems of rushing like Gadarene swine to support anything labelled global warming, climate change or emissions is that so much uncertainty surrounds the analysis. We should be extremely cautious about rushing towards solutions such as those proposed in the Bill. That is why I welcomed the Minister for Energy's rather more cautious approach. Although it is fashionable in such Bills—generated, as they usually are, by rather narrow single-interest groups—to try to solve many problems by legislation and to try to pin the Government of the day down to the certainties that many people want, the reality, as the Minister pointed out, is that life simply is not like that. It is certainly not like that when we start with such a wide range of possibilities in the analysis, before we can even consider the solutions.
 
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The letter referred to Greenland ice sheet melt, stating that

That strikes me as an extraordinarily long perspective, even for this Government. Many boasts are made about long-term targets, but I should be extremely impressed if we were adopting targets with a 3,000-year perspective. The Minister continued, a little more percipiently, that

although he noted that it was unlikely to occur in the next 200 years. We must bear such time perspectives in mind as we talk about relatively ready solutions to what are deemed to be their causes.

I shall return to those arguments when I touch on the comparisons that we must take into account between the developed and the developing world. As I shall say later, it is one thing to make arguments about the solutions to such alleged problems as emissions and carbon dioxide in the context of our society, our relative wealth and the sort of sacrifice that we might have to make in our standard of living, or indeed in our economic growth; but it is quite another thing when we try to impose the same solutions on the developing world, where people have much less scope, in terms of either economic growth or standards of living, to deal with the problems.


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