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Points of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any request from the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement to the House about the availability of Herceptin on the NHS? Many women across the country will have believed from previous statements from the Secretary of State that the drug would be available on the NHS, but today's court judgment makes it clear that the law and the Department of Health's policy is that its availability should be subject to a postcode lottery.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman applied for an urgent question on this matter. I refused, and I gave no reason. I do not expect the argument to be pursued through a point of order. However, I remind him that there is health debate tomorrow, and he will be quite entitled to raise this very serious matter then.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice and specific help. What can be done to stop the growing contempt that Government Departments display to hon. Members, with information that should be supplied to us in the form of written answers being given to journalists first? On 31 January, I submitted a priority, named-day written question about a constituency private finance initiative scheme. I received a holding answer. Yesterday, 11 working days later, I rang up the relevant Minister's office. The staff there were very helpful and provided me with my answer in the evening. You can imagine my amazement that it took so long to receive that reply, notwithstanding what it says in "Erskine May", and when I discovered that on Monday—the day before I received my answer—a journalist from the local Essex Chronicle had telephoned the Department of Health's press department, and asked exactly the same question. The answer was e-mailed to him on Monday afternoon, but I did not get a reply from the Minister to the same question until Tuesday. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I think that that is a gross abuse. What can you do, as the defender of Back Benchers' rights, to stop such abuses?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. I am very angry that information should have been given to a journalist before it was given to an hon. Member. The journalists in the House of Commons Press Gallery are looked after very well. They are given a great deal of information and have access to debates, the Order Paper and to statements, but they do not have rights before an hon. Member. That should be respected by Ministers and their Departments. I shall investigate this matter.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.


 
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Energy

12.35 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I beg to move,

The Bill is intended as a contribution to the energy review and to climate change policy. It is only a ten-minute Bill so it cannot carry the full story on its face, but it relates to a series of measures that, if enacted, would deliver the aspirations of the 2003 energy White Paper and more, and render the building of a new fleet of nuclear reactors superfluous.

It is posited that by 2020 there will be a serious "generation gap" caused by a combination of generating plant closures, failure to achieve sufficient energy savings through increased energy efficiency, failure to reduce the demand for electricity and an insufficient deployment of renewable energy to fill the gap. There is a powerful lobby that draws the conclusion that the logical response is to build new nuclear stations to fill the generating gap and add to reductions in carbon emissions.

The Bill challenges those assumptions—first, that energy savings will not deliver enough and, secondly, that renewables cannot fill the gap. Both of those statements would probably be true if we continued with business as usual, but if we took firm action the outcome for both energy demand reduction and deployment of renewables could be dramatically different. Thus the theme of the Bill is that energy savings of 40 per cent. by 2020 are achievable, and renewable deployment of more than 20 per cent. by 2020 is achievable, given the right policy framework.

The centrepiece of the Bill is the creation of a new body, the renewable energy authority, with the remit of co-ordinating and driving all aspects of policy relating to the research and development and especially the deployment of renewable energy and amelioration of climate change. It would assume many of the current functions of the Department of Trade and Industry and those of some other bodies. It would drive the renewables option as effectively as the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority drove nuclear power in Britain after the war. It would be dedicated to overcoming all the many obstacles that at present impede the progress of renewables.

The REA would undertake resource surveys of the uniquely rich marine energy resource around the UK coast, identifying prospective sites for generators and conducting environmental impact assessments. The REA would be empowered to license the sites to appropriate developers for the installation of generation equipment. The REA would have a co-ordinating role in ensuring the availability of appropriate grid access to those sites.

The REA would be accountable to Parliament through a Secretary of State for Energy—I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy appreciates that I have promoted him, and I am glad to see him in his place—and it would be funded from carbon tax revenue as set out in the proposed fiscal measures that I will come to.
 
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The planning and consenting regime both on and offshore needs reform and changes to the Town and Country Planning and Electricity Acts would flow from this Bill and would need to be reflected in the coming marine Bill. I propose that the REA should consider all applications for renewable generation, of an appropriate minimum capacity of, say, 50 MW and grid alterations exceeding 120 kV, and if judged to be suitable those would be "qualifying applications" for a streamlined and simplified planning and consenting procedure operating to a strict time scale.

The time from notification of outline planning to a decision would be nine months and the Secretary of State would make the decision if the relevant authority failed to deliver it in that time. In some cases, the Secretary of State would be the relevant authority, but the same time frame would apply.

Another large obstacle for renewables is the current configuration of the transmission grid and the protracted time involved in any major alterations. In addition to the planning aspects of grid restructuring, there would be duties on grid operators such that on receiving consent for installations for a generating plant the grid system operator nearest to the generator would be required to undertake a grid connection and any necessary reinforcement work to a time scale agreed with the generator, but not normally longer than a year. The grid system operator should provide priority access to the grid for renewable plant connected to it whenever it is generating, and should be under an obligation to buy the output of such plant. Those provisions reflect the German renewable energy Act. Grid system operators would be able to recoup their contractually agreed costs for providing grid access through transmission charges, agreed by Ofgem in consultation with the REA and the Secretary of State.

There are considerable market constraints, even for proven renewables such as offshore wind, and especially for the nascent marine technologies of wave and tidal stream power, as they have not yet had the time in development or the large-scale deployment to achieve the benefits from economies of scale to get their generating costs down to commercially competitive levels. They thus need more support in the market than the current ROC—renewable obligations certificate—regime can provide. Even the relatively mature offshore wind process needs the help of capital grants. The REA would be expected to oversee support arrangements to give investors confidence, and the revenue needed for that support would come from a carbon tax, which I shall describe.

I also propose a raft of measures to improve energy efficiency, which include a requirement for houses in multiple occupation to meet a minimum energy rating—the standard assessment procedure rating—to qualify for registration, and the prohibition of the sale and use
 
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of patio heaters. That probably sounds like a trifling and killjoy measure, but patio heaters account for 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year—as much as is saved through the changes in vehicle taxation. Their use of energy is entirely profligate and is simply directly to heat the atmosphere.

We need to enact the European Union directive on the energy performance of buildings. The only measures on energy conservation that Parliament has enacted have been through private Members' legislation or the application of EU directives. We have failed to address the matter properly in the past.

To fund the REA and provide market support arrangements without recourse to the Treasury, several fiscal measures are proposed for consideration, the central of which is a carbon tax. It has the support of the Royal Society, the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology and the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. Coupling the carrot of carbon tax credits with the stick of a carbon tax will provide a method of incentivising the market for newer renewables. It would operate by charging carbon dioxide emitting generators on their output and using the revenue not only to fund the REA but also to provide carbon tax credits for newer renewable generating technologies, to help to give them market pull. Increasing the cost of carbon will also be an incentive for investment in carbon capture and storage. We could also take further measures to encourage the use of biofuels.

The UK has missed an enormous opportunity by not exploiting combined heat and power. The comparison between the thermal efficiency of Scandinavian countries and subsequent lower carbon dioxide emissions and the position in the UK is staggering. I advocate the establishment of a CHP obligation alongside the renewables obligation and the newly imposed transport fuels obligation.

My 10 minutes are quickly running out. I have been able to refer only to a few elements of my proposals, but they are intended as a sincere contribution to the energy review and I am confident that if they were enacted we would achieve what we need in terms of our energy policy and climate change.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Desmond Turner, Colin Challen, Mr. David Chaytor, Robert Key, Dr. Ian Gibson, Joan Walley, David Lepper, Helen Goodman and Mr. David Amess.


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