9 Mar 2006 : Column 927

House of Commons

Thursday 9 March 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock


The unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker having been announced, The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

1. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What mechanisms are in place to monitor the accuracy of published figures of greenhouse gas emissions for measuring progress against climate change targets; and if she will make a statement. [57019]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The figures used to monitor progress towards the UK's climate change targets are published annually in the UK's greenhouse gas inventory. The inventory is subject to annual independent scientific peer review by a team of specialists organised by the secretariat of the UN framework convention on climate change. The inventory also contains internal quality assurance and quality control procedures, in line with international guidance prepared by the intergovernmental panel on climate change.

Mr. Mackay: Has the well publicised row between the Secretary of State's Department and the Department of Trade and Industry, which concerned the measurement of baseline greenhouse gas emissions, been satisfactorily resolved yet?

Margaret Beckett: There is no row. I do not row with my colleagues. If I understood him correctly, the right hon. Gentleman was asking about the baseline emissions, which are a matter for technical assessment and scientific advice.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend recall that my private Member's Bill includes a specific requirement in respect of Government reporting on greenhouse gas emissions that would deal with some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay)? Does she agree that one of the best things that he or anyone else concerned with this matter could do would
9 Mar 2006 : Column 928
be to be here at 9.30 tomorrow morning to support my Bill? I am glad to say that it enjoys support from the Government and across the House.

Margaret Beckett: I congratulate my hon. Friend, on his Bill and on his sales pitch.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The data show very clearly that carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 2.9 per cent. since the Government came to power. Moreover, the Secretary of State will know that environmental taxes peaked at 3.6 per cent. of gross domestic product in 1999, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, but that the latest figures show that they have slipped to 3 per cent. Does she think that there may be some connection between falling environmental taxes, which are now lower as a share of GDP even than when the Government came into office, and the record of failure on emissions?

Margaret Beckett: First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I am sure that he will find the subject fascinating and enjoyable, as we all do. I do not agree with the basic premise of his question—that CO 2 levels have risen because of changes in the impact of taxation. In fact, the rise has much more to do with the impact of fuel prices on the choices of fuel made by power generators. We very much regret that impact and, although the most recent figures suggest that it might not have been as severe between 2003 and 2004 as we had anticipated, we completely accept that we have to get the rise under control. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman of one further fact that undermines the point that he made: all five EU countries whose emissions are lower than they were in 1990 recorded an increase in CO 2 emissions in the period to which he referred.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In respect of emission reductions, is there any reason to doubt the validity of the 2003 Energy White Paper? It argued that energy efficiency was the safest and cleanest way to manage carbon reductions.

Margaret Beckett: No, I do not think that there is any reason to doubt that judgment. Energy efficiency can be a very powerful tool. For historical reasons of under-investment over many decades in this country, it is available to us to a greater degree than is the case with the many other European countries that up to now have been able to deliver higher levels of energy efficiency. However, my hon. Friend will know that the investment put in by this Government, not least through the warm front programme, means that we are beginning to make inroads in that respect.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): Some Opposition Members wish that the Secretary of State would have rather more rows with the DTI. Her Department says that, on current trends, we will cut carbon emissions by 13 per cent. by 2010, but the DTI says that the cut will amount to only 10 per cent. Are DEFRA and the DTI working on different sets of data and predictive models, and which figure is right?

Margaret Beckett: The latest figures predict a cut of about 10 per cent., but the two Departments are not
9 Mar 2006 : Column 929
working on different models. Figures and assessments are being revised all the time, as information comes in. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wishes that I would have more rows with my colleagues, but I find that that does not help me to get my own way, which is what I like to do.

Mr. Ainsworth: We are very supportive of the right hon. Lady getting her own way, and hope that she is successful. We know that relations with the DTI are difficult, but how is she getting on with monitoring the accuracy of the data used by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor? Is she aware of research that shows that the ODPM's efforts to predict greenhouse gas emissions from new housing are completely flawed because they are based on data that are 25 years out of date? What discussions did she have with the Treasury about the accuracy of published figures on greenhouse gas emissions before the Chancellor aborted the operating and financial review? That decision has wasted millions of pounds, angered responsible business leaders and underlined yet again that, although she may be serious about climate change, the Government as a whole cannot be trusted on the issue.

Margaret Beckett: With respect, that question muddles together several issues. It is true that the operating and financial review is not going ahead, but there remain requirements on companies to report on environmental standards under other legislation, which is partly why it was decided that there was no need to have two different sets of reasons for reporting. As for the validity of data from other Departments, I understand that the hon. Gentleman's party is now saying that it wants us all to be on the same page and move in the same direction on such issues. That is good, and I welcome that. However, the issue is not the data—whether they are as good as they should be or could be improved—but what we actually do about them. That is something on which I would like to see greater agreement.

Warm Front Scheme

2. Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the development of the warm front scheme. [57020]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): The warm front scheme has assisted more than 1 million households since June 2000 and now provides central heating to all eligible households. It was announced in the 2005 pre-Budget report that an additional £250 million would be made available to the scheme.

Ms Johnson: In view of the steep increases in domestic energy bills, does my hon. Friend agree that a further improvement to the scheme, which would help those most likely to be in fuel poverty, would be to replace the warm front scheme's current maximum grant arrangements with a system based on an average grant? Such a system is already in place in Scotland and it ensures that low income households are not required to make any contribution to the cost of the work in their homes.
9 Mar 2006 : Column 930

Jim Knight: I am grateful for the interest that my hon. Friend shows in the scheme and I note that the warm front scheme has assisted more than 2,785 of her constituents in its present form. The extra money that was announced by the Chancellor in the pre-Budget report will obviously go some way towards alleviating some of the effect of increases in fuel prices, and we continue to review the scheme to ensure that it is working well to achieve our aim of ending fuel poverty.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Does the Minister accept that there are two problems with the warm front scheme, which prevent it from helping more people in more ways? The first is that the warm front grant is often used to pay for insulation, which should be provided free of charge by energy suppliers under the energy efficiency commitment scheme. The second is that warm front contractors often charge substantially more than other local contractors would—in some cases, more than £1,000 more. Will he look into those two problems and resolve them?

Jim Knight: I can certainly look into those problems, but I would like to pay tribute to the Eaga Partnership, a successful social enterprise that carries out that work for us. I certainly welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in the scheme, especially as his party, when in government, denied that fuel poverty even existed.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that an extension of the warm front campaign that could link energy from waste with district heating could transform our energy supplies? Is it not time that the Liberal Democrats, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth realised that the scientific arguments for energy from waste are compelling and stopped their knee-jerk reactions to those important questions? Let us have an energy from waste programme that really works.

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend will know that we are looking at energy from waste as part of our waste review. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment will bear those comments in mind.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Paul McIntyre, the head of the energy strategy unit, has said:

Does the Minister agree?

Jim Knight: We accept that the 2010 target is an ambitious one, but we obviously welcome the additional £250 million that was pledged by the Chancellor for the 2005–08 period. Those resources will be necessary for us to meet our target, to which we remain committed, of ending fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010, and eliminating it for all households by 2016.

Next Section IndexHome Page