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Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): My right hon. Friend makes the valid point that if we are to report on emissions, we need to be certain about what we are trying to achieve. A problem with noise monitoring near Heathrow, for instance, is deciding whether to measure average levels or peaks and troughs. We need to know what we want to understand from our information before we spend a lot of money on collecting it.
There is that and more. Time lines would be involved as well. At what times of day might the emissions occur, or during which seasons of the year? What extraneous factors might be causing variations on a daily, hourly or seasonal basis? All those considerations are relevant, but the trouble with the way
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in which the Bill tries to deal with them is that they tend to be glossed over. That is why I have reservations about the Bill. We would not know how such issues would be dealt with until the regulations underpinning the Bill emerged, were it ever to become an Act.
I am sure that the Minister has already given some thought to another question that may arise in Committee, for all I know. Have we any idea of the likely thrust or breadth of the regulations that would be required to underpin these rather wide provisions, or of how effective they might be? I shall leave the Minister to ponder that. He need not present his 10-point plan now, but the issues will inevitably prove to be relevant.
Wisely, in my view, the Minister did what the Treasury bade him do, and said "Not on your life" when it came to clause 3. The clause seeks to do that worst of all possible thingsto dictate to the Chancellor of the Exchequer what he must do and how he must respond. I should have thought that even the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith would have been a bit wary of doing that, but he has been very bold, stating:
That constitutes an unwarranted intrusion on the Treasury's freedom of action, and its imperial position in the Government. No wonder the Minister told his hon. Friend that the clause would disappear silently into the night and the fastnesses of the Committee, and had no chance of re-emerging in any form. The Chancellor's hand cannot be tied in that way in an Act of Parliament. Such action would be ridiculous. I rather agree with the Minister that we cannot allow this sort of attempt to tell the Chancellor what he will or will not do.
That is not to say that the Chancellor may not from year to year, joined at the hip as he is with his colleagues not just at the Department of Trade and Industry but, as we now learn, at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsI do not know how many hips there are in the Government.
Of course, it would be open to the relevant Departments to persuade the Chancellor from time to time to take such measures as he deemed were efficacious in promoting the aims of the Bill. That would be a normal process of government. All these fancy reports, were they to be produced, might have an influence on the Chancellor of the day. There is nothing wrong with that, but for the Bill to seek to pre-empt the Chancellor, of all people, is entirely wrong-headed.
the aims of the Bill. What does that phrase mean? I wonder whether these shady interest groups lie behind that sort of thing. They probably played a large part in
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drafting this Bill and no doubt they sent endless postcards to hapless MPs. It could not possibly be them, could it? However, is the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith seriously suggesting that the Chancellor is going to have to consult self-appointed interest groups that have an interest in
whatever that may mean? I can just imagine the Chancellor grovelling to some interest group, saying, "I hope that I have pleased you in doing what I am going to do and persuaded you that we are doing everything we can to enhance the UK contribution."
Then we come on to good old micro-generation, the trendy word of the moment. This has been the day for micro-generation. If nothing else, this debate has brought micro-generation blinking into the sunlightwith the photovoltaic effects that go with it, no doubt. I have no problem with that. As a concept, I am sure that it is perfectly good. Many right hon. and hon. Members have praised micro-generation as a concept, saying what a wonderful contribution it would make, but my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) raised some practical and important questions about how that new mechanism would work. I wanted to add one or two of my own, while endorsing what he said.
I worry about the implications for planning, safety and other related issues when one starts to talk about the possibility of household and even of community-based generation systems, because they can, in different ways, have important implications. What bothers me is that, under the Bill, we would have to make significant changes to our planning regime and possibly to the health and safety regime. Are we content that individual householders will have sufficient knowledge or experience to manage the technologies and the potential hazards of micro-generation in their own properties? That bothers me. There has been much encouraging but, frankly, rather loose talk about how wonderful these technologies are, where they will take us and what they will do. I am not personally satisfied that any of those questions have been raised, never mind answered.
It goes back to the question that I asked the promoter of the Bill. He was very honest, as typically he is, when I asked him whether he had made any estimate of the proportion of our total national energy needs that may be provided by micro-generation. I think that he said that the upper limit would be 10 per cent. I suspect that the lower limit would be a fraction of that. There is nothing wrong with that. In its place, it would be valuable no doubt, but when we are talking about a contribution of that limited nature, we are duty bound to look at the possible negative effects, particularly when talking about households, private property, children and other vulnerable people, who may not be able to handle what would be required in making such a contribution. Therefore, there are a lot of serious doubts about that, which have not been addressed or answered at all.
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That raises a number of interesting questions, especially when we look at the definition of micro-generation, and the sort of energy sources that, as I understand it, it includes. They are: biomass, biofuels, fuel cells, photovoltaics, water including waves and tides, wind, solar power, geothermal power, combined heat and power, and so on. I am intrigued as to how we would reasonably target the contribution that each of those would be expected to make in the context of micro-generation, and even more intrigued as to what steps the Secretary of State would be likely to take to secure that those targets were met.
Targets have already been mentioned in passing today, and I think that there is a growing cynicism about targets as a technique. Let me say immediately that I am not suggesting that the Government of whom I was proud and privileged to be a member did not do the targeting thing as well. We didand we usually regretted it, I suspect. But it is the present Government who, since 1997, have been particularly prone to setting targets.
The fundamental question about targets is: if we set them too high and fail to meet them, what do we doconfess failure or reduce the target? There are a number of examples of that. And if we set them too low and exceed them, what was the point of them anyway? I question what role targeting has to play in important areas of public policy.
Here is a perfect example. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith seems to be serious about targeting each and every one of those rather obscure and esoteric headings that I listed, and making some judgment about what they could or should be, why the target has not been met, and what the Secretary of State is supposed to do about it. What is the Secretary of State supposed to dopass another law making the targets mandatory? Introduce fiscal incentives? Introduce penalties for not doing the right thing? I have no idea; nor, I suspect in my heart of hearts, has the promoter of the Bill. I suspect that he does not have much idea of what that would really mean, case by case, on the ground, for each of those elements.
Now we come to local targets for micro-generation. We are getting down to local level, community level, or whatever you want to call it, and we are introducing further complications in the process. Perhaps understandably, it is has been realised that there is not much point in trying to deal with such matters at national level, given the huge variations within this very small nation of ours.
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The islands of Scotland were mentioned earlier, and the contribution that they could make. The Minister responded favourably and encouragingly to that idea, I thought, and seemed to please some of our colleagues from that part of the country. But how different that is from East Anglia and the west country, the south-east of England and the Isle of Wight. There is a strong case to be made for breaking the strategy down into local or regional areas, looking at their performance and their needs, and at the effect that different climates have on wind generation, solar power or whatever. I have no objection to that as such.
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