12 May 2006 : Column 599

12 May 2006 : Column 599

House of Commons

Friday 12 May 2006

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair]

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 83.
Division No. 230]
[9.34 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Andrew Dismore andJim Sheridan

Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Anderson, Mr. David
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Barker, Gregory
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barrett, John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Brown, Lyn
Butler, Ms Dawn
Caton, Mr. Martin
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clark, Greg
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dobson, rh Frank
Duddridge, James
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Gidley, Sandra
Goodman, Helen
Gove, Michael
Griffith, Nia
Hammond, Mr. Philip

Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hendry, Charles
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heyes, David
Hillier, Meg
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Hughes, rh Beverley
Huhne, Chris
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Lynne
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Lamb, Norman
Leech, Mr. John
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
McCabe, Steve
McKechin, Ann
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Moore, Mr. Michael
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Norris, Dan
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pugh, John
Russell, Bob
Seabeck, Alison
Selous, Andrew
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, Sir Robert
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stunell, Andrew
Swinson, Jo
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waltho, Lynda
Watts, Mr. Dave
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Willetts, Mr. David
Wright, Jeremy
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Hamilton and
Ms Karen Buck
Question accordingly negatived.
12 May 2006 : Column 600
9.44 am

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has asked me to apologise to the House on his behalf for his inability to be here today to resume his Third Reading speech. As some hon. Members may know, he has not been very well over the past few days. Indeed, he has been under the weather, but he assures us that it has nothing to do with climate change.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not sure whether that is a matter for the Chair or not, but I am sure that we all wish the right hon. Gentleman well; his presence will be greatly missed this Friday.

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Orders of the Day

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [17 March], That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Question again proposed.

9.45 am

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): I am sure that we all miss my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and wish him well in his speedy recovery.

I rise to support the Bill. It is commendable and long overdue, and most people who believe in the need to address climate change can support it. I welcome the language used by the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the “Today” programme this morning. He said that at the heart of the Government is a series of Ministers who are all committed to addressing climate change. That is very welcome language, but the difficulty that we Opposition Members have is that such language has been used for many years—the real issue is delivery. We must focus on delivery and if the Bill goes some way toward achieving that, it will be very welcome. The truth is that that issue should have been addressed in the last energy review, some three years ago. The review was a complete cop-out, however, because the various divisions within the Labour party were unable to agree on the central issues of the day. They could see an election coming, so they parked the issue and as a result, for three years absolutely no progress has been made.

I point out in particular to the Minister for Energy, who is in his place, that his energy review has to find a way to finance new power generation plants. For the first time, we will have a completely new series of power generation plants built by the private sector. Be they nuclear, gas, oil, coal or clean technology plants, the finance will have to come from the private sector. However, there is no framework in place to give the private sector the confidence to build, invest in and deliver the power generation that we want. Producing such a framework is a pressing issue for the Minister to consider in his review.

So far as I can see, no new power generation is going on whatsoever outside the renewable energy sector, for the simple reason that the payback on a large power station could take 15 to 20 years to realise. An investor will not invest unless he can see that he can get a return on his money; he has to have some assurance that he will see a return before building a power station that, hopefully, will reduce emissions. That is a fundamental policy issue, and I hope that the Minister will take account of it in his energy review.

My final point, which the Minister and I have discussed before, concerns co-firing. Co-firing is the process by which a biofuel is put into the mix and burned in, say, a coal-fired power station. Such biofuel qualifies as a renewable energy. Under current rules, however, co-firing is to be phased out. To be fair, the Minister has said that he will review that policy. I wish him well in doing so, because the net effect of phasing
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out co-firing will be an increase in carbon dioxide emissions, not a decrease, and at a time when we are all committed to reducing CO2 emissions. Moreover, I urge the Minister to restore the cap, set currently at10 per cent., to its original level of 25 per cent. That way, we can achieve a much better energy mix.

All those points are important. I will not go on any longer, as there are plenty of people here today who want to put in their two penny-worth. I wish the Bill well and give it my full support.

9.49 am

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on introducing the Bill and on successfully piloting it to Third Reading. It is clear that much time and erudition has gone into the Bill, which addresses a concern of vital importance to local communities and our nation as a whole.

As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I declare a special interest in the Bill. It is good to see that some points that had been for only theoretic discussion are now ready for implementation. It will also delight thousands of my constituents who have raised with me the threat of climate change on the doorstep, in letters and e-mails and at local meetings. I am more than happy to represent their concerns here today not just because I share them, but to make real decisions in order to act against that man-made danger.

In my speech, I shall address two very important points that are included in this Bill. First, I wish to talk about microgeneration. Then I will come to the parts of the Bill tackling sustainable housing, inserted after Second Reading in November, namely clauses 12 to 14. Microgeneration has a particular relevance to the fight for a sustainable energy policy. That is particularlytrue of section 4, which covers national targets. Microgeneration has been sadly neglected in public discourse, which tends to favour the big projects of renewable energy like wind farms, large solar panels and hydroelectric plants. However, microgeneration has the potential to contribute not just to people’s energy needs, but to the way in which a community perceives and interacts with our power generation process.

In the Committee’s recent report, called “Keeping the Lights on: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change”, we stated that our electricity generating network was based on a relatively small number of large generating plants situated in remote locations.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that it is all very well setting targets, but if the Government do not take the decisions to give us the chance of hitting them, it is a completely pointless exercise? Is not that what has happenedwith the target to cut carbon dioxide emissions by20 per cent.?

Ms Barlow: The right hon. Gentleman makes avalid point. However, the targets for cutting carbon emissions are still there and the Government are doing all that they can to reach them.

The Committee found that electricity losses on the UK grid system are in the order of 10 per cent., while the efficiency of coal power stations can be as low as
12 May 2006 : Column 603
35 per cent. We suggested that there should be more intelligent solutions. Flows of electricity could be in both directions, depending on local demand. The Committee suggested that microgeneration offered potentially huge improvements in energy efficiency, particularly in the case of combined heat and power.

Another recent report by the Sustainable Consumption Round Table produced some pertinent findings. For example, microgeneration vastly increases people’s awareness of the entire energy production and consumption chain. The result of that awareness is that people tend to become much more concerned not only with the production of energy, but with the conservational aspects, and that is surely a good thing. It would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of those educational side effects of microgeneration. It is surely a regret of many hon. Members that successive Governments have been unable to instil into the public consciousness the urgent need for energy conservation, and the fact that individuals really can make a difference.

I acknowledge the significant contribution ofthe co-operative movement to developing and implementing the technology in many innovative ways that will surely benefit our society as we learn more about the potential of those systems. Microgeneration eradicates the gulf between energy producers and consumers, and that can only be a good thing, as today most people have no idea at all where their energy comes from. In an age when Governments around the world and every significant scientific body are urging a shift in energy production techniques to safeguard our very existence, that is simply unacceptable.

Given all those benefits, the Committee came to the conclusion that support from the Government was not overwhelming. We found that the technology was reasonably well developed and only needed to be scaled up to industrial production in order to reduce unit costs. Investment was needed, as well as physical and regulatory issues surrounding installation.

Yes, there has been progress: the Energy Act 2004 put an obligation on the Government to come up with a microgeneration strategy. The Department of Trade and Industry published a microgeneration strategy a few weeks ago. In his Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer committed a further£50 million to the low carbon building programme for offices and social housing.

Obviously, I welcome those initiatives as good steps in the right direction, but there is still a lot more to be done, and I have to agree with my colleagues on the Committee who complained about a lack of urgency on the Government’s side, especially when it comes to private housing. The Bill’s provisions for national microgeneration targets are therefore the best way forward. I am not a great fan of targets, but in this case I see no alternative that would provoke the scale and swiftness of response—

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I know that the hon. Lady plays a distinguished part in the proceedings of the Committee, and she is right about the importance of the contribution that individuals can make. What contribution can the Government make with their estate? Some recent disturbing figures have
12 May 2006 : Column 604
shown that the Government, who have a huge buying potential that could transform the market, are not pulling their weight in terms of installing combined heat and power or micropower systems in their own buildings.

Ms Barlow: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Committee—which he chaired until his recent promotion, on which I congratulate him—has done a lot of research on that issue and the evidence suggests that we should put more effort into combined heat and power, especially in new buildings. The regulation in place at the moment amounts to guidelines, and it would have a huge impact if they were to be made compulsory.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I have spoken to the House Builders Association, and it would not object if planning legislation were to require that insulation be fitted as houses are constructed, as long as it is a fair, competitive market. We could argue for a much higher standard to be laid down by planning authorities, if we give the lead here and in the Scottish Parliament. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Ms Barlow: We accepted evidence from several house building organisations. They are willing to put such provisions into practice, but purchasers appear to prefer to put their money into facilities such as power showers, which are themselves damaging to the environment.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): My constituency has a major school building programme. Will the Bill cover the installation of microgeneration in schools in my constituency and across the country?

Ms Barlow: The Bill does address the issue, butit would only assist my hon. Friend in promotingthe installation of microgeneration, not make it compulsory.

I was also pleased that many of the propositions put forward in a private Member’s Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) have been transferred to this Bill. I believe that we have a huge untapped resource for reducing carbon emissions from residential homes. I am talking not about symbolic gestures like installing a windmill on the roof, but about a serious approach that tackles the opportunities for installing microgeneration facilities and solar panels, complemented by better insulation and energy conservation measures. That is why I support the Bill’s proposition to oblige the Government to report regularly on progress in promoting energy efficiency in homes.

Once again, I draw the attention of the House toa report published by the Environmental Audit Committee, in which we examine sustainable housing. The new homes due to be built are welcome, and I fully support the Government’s plans; no one will deny that there is great housing need, especially in the south-east. However, the construction of more than 1 millionnew homes in five years is a once-in-a-generation
12 May 2006 : Column 605
opportunity to implement new standards for environmentally friendly residential dwellings.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that it is not environmentally sustainable for all those new homes to be built on back gardens, as is the case owing to the current definition of gardens as brownfield sites?

Ms Barlow: In my constituency, not all new homes are built in back gardens.

In the report, the Committee expressed concern that houses have already been constructed and will continue to be built without sufficient regard to strong environmental standards. We believe that too much reliance has been put on developers’ good sense to do the right thing of their own volition. The report spoke of a fundamental lack of urgency in the Government’s approach to ensuring that new housing and new communities are truly sustainable. Although I believe that the Government are sincere in their commitment to better environmental standards, they cannot be left to chance and voluntary or private initiative. I reinforce the Committee’s conclusion that it is for the Government to provide strong leadership for developers and for local authorities.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Barlow: I am anxious to make progress.

We need clear guidance to introduce strong standards for sustainable homes. Even when that is achieved, there will be a yet bigger challenge—improving existing housing stock. The Budget contains many measures to tackle climate change at local level and to promote energy-efficient homes, but all those individual initiatives cannot compensate for lack of policy to promote better insulation of private homes and replace an overhaul of the building regulations for existing housing stock and new construction projects.

The Bill requires the Government to promote the availability of microgeneration in new homes. I commend the measures to encourage local authorities to contribute to energy efficiency. My local authority, Brighton and Hove city council, has already started many initiatives, but I will describe only a few. Since October 2003, the main council buildings have been serviced by electricity from 100 per cent. renewable sources. Yesterday, the local authority carbon management programme was launched, in conjunction with the Carbon Trust, through which the council will undertake an extensive audit of all its activities and services and the carbon emissions associated with them, and then take action to reduce them. Today, the council’s climate change action plan will be published, containing 100 actions to raise awareness of climate change.

I could mention many more ideas being pursued by my local authority, but as many Members want to take part in the debate, I shall not. All those initiatives show that local authorities are ready to take responsibility and to make their contribution.

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