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12 May 2006 : Column 620

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I appreciate that it is not the hon. Lady’s fault that she has been led astray, but perhaps she can come back to the Bill.

Helen Goodman: Ultimately, climate change is a justice issue between the rich and the poor and between us and future generations. As the great economist Amartya Sen said, we should not abuse the environment to the detriment of future generations

I hope that all hon. Members will support the Bill.

10.57 am

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I offer our condolences to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). It is sad that, due to tragic circumstances, he cannot be here to see his Bill progress. Both parties strongly support the Bill as an important step forward on tackling climate change.

It is true that the UK Government have set targets on climate change under Kyoto, but they have slipped somewhat. The Scottish Parliament has set somewhat more ambitious targets. It is important that we have cross-party consensus on climate change, and we must start by recognising that climate change exists and that it is a man-made problem—even getting there would be an important step forward.

I was pleased that earlier this year, five Opposition parties got together to announce common principles on climate change and to recognise those basic points. That was important because although it is all very well for us to agree, when we get into the cut and thrust of an election campaign, such agreements often break down because it is politically expedient to attack a Member’s support for a wind farm, higher fuel duty, or anything else in their constituency. That affects all parties, so we need to agree common aims and not use the matter as a political football. All too often, a Government come up with an idea to tackle climate change, but if their policy is changed at the next general election when another Government come in, we will have no long-term stability on tackling climate change, which we all must seriously examine.

There will be disagreements. The current energy review may recommend new nuclear power stations. There are some who argue that such stations can help to deal with climate change. I strongly oppose that approach. However, it is a legitimate argument about a particular issue. My view is that the use of nuclear power is putting one problem in place of another. There is no solution to dealing with nuclear waste, as shown by the recent Quorum report. However, there are many things that we can do. Wind, for example, seems to cause so many problems, and we are not confined to wave energy.

Mr. Sarwar: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a strong advocate of renewable energy. Applications are submitted to local authorities and there are pressures from local communities. Planning permission is not granted and then the matter goes to the Scottish Executive. The process takes a long time. A greater problem stems from the hon. Gentleman’s party
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activists. What is his message to them when a planning application is made to a local authority?

Mr. Weir: The hon. Gentleman has given a graphic demonstration of the problem. There are communities throughout the country which, sometimes for good reasons, oppose particular developments. These are cross-party matters. Labour party members, Tory party members, some of my party members and even some Liberals will oppose specific developments. That is understandable. We are lacking an overall review of what we need. The Scottish Affairs Committee, on which I and the hon. Gentleman served, made that point, which was included in the Committee’s report. We said that we needed an audit to set out the energy sources that were available. We said also that we needed an overall view of what was needed. The Scottish Executive have been under a great deal of pressure to take that approach in respect of wind farms. There is a massive number of wind farm applications, and far too many given the number that are needed. Whenever there is an application there is chaos in the local community. We need an overarching view of what is needed and where these developments go. That would be an important way forward.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a proper and effective planning process for wind farm applications? Without that, we will be left in the dark about what is intended. There is no systematic approach and theend result is frustration for communities and local authorities.

Mr. Weir: That is correct. The issue is not confined to wind power.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) made a good case for coal. Scotland and the rest of the UK have huge coal reserves. There is, of course, the problem of emissions. However, there are technologies available for carbon capture and carbon sequestration. However, the coal industry needs a clear signal from the Government that it has a future and that there will be investment in such technology to ensure that we can use Scottish coal and UK coal.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we can talk as much as we like about the potential of new technologies and new alternatives? Access to research grant goes through framework 6 from Europe or the Department of Trade and Industry, and is an incredibly complex and slow process. That being so, the market will not be stimulated to produce new technologies. We can all agree in the House that we want them but they will not be delivered by the universities and research bodies.

Mr. Weir: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I think that the Government need to give a signal. We all expect the energy review to give a signal for nuclear power, but there needs also to be a signal for coal. What will the Government do to help the UK in future?

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Agriculture has gone through some pretty bad times in recent years. There is huge potential in biomass energy generation, and a mixture with coal. That could give a boost to the farming industry in areas such as the one that I represent. It is an interest that I have pursued. The process is beginning to happen. E.ON, for example, has proposed a biomass generator in Dumfries, I think. There needs to be a signal that this approach has a future. That needs to be on a cross-party basis. We must try to come to an agreement on how we go forward. The Bill is important in that respect, and it has cross-party support.

Anne Milton: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the public, industries and those undertaking research want a signal, that signal will have been given today? There has been a sensible and intelligent debate. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman was talking about. It has been a cross-party debate. If we want to tackle climate change and other environmental issues, the only way is to proceed with cross-party support.

Mr. Weir: The hon. Lady is right. As I have said, it is easy in this place to talk and reach agreement on a cross-party basis. The problem is leaving this place continuing to agree on a cross-party basis on what needs to be done. Until we can get past our political problems with that, we will not make progress.

Parts of the Bill do not apply to Scotland. Separate legislation is passing through the Scottish Parliament, and that reflects many of the provisions in the Bill that do not apply to Scotland. During the passage of the Bill one good change was made by the Minister in respect of the charging regime for renewable energy on the islands off the Scottish coast. He did not go as far as I would like. There have been many debates about changes in the mainland and offshore. I will not rehearse those arguments. I am sure that the Minister will not delight me by making the announcement that I would seek. I live in hope that some day he might do so.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) made an extremely good point about the report from Energy Action Scotland. It was an excellent report. There are difficulties with energy in rural areas. In my constituency, many houses in rural areas still have old-style oil-fired central heating. It is an expensive way to heat a house. We need to tackle the problem. As has been said, there is a difficulty with alternative sources.

We face increasing energy costs, something which pushes many people into fuel poverty. That is the reason for the increase in fuel poverty over recent years. Action needs to be taken. On many occasions, I have raised the issue of prepayment meters. Often, the poorest in society are discriminated against by energy companies. Again, that is an issue that the Government must consider.

There is the complexity of new technologies, particularly with new-style boilers. Another problem is the cost of new technology. It is all very well telling someone that he or she needs a combined heat and power boiler, but such technology must be available at an affordable price so that people will invest in it. In that way, we will ensure that we reduce consumption.

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I was interested in what the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) said about natural insulation. Will we all be asked to put on another jumper in the winter? The hon. Lady did not go quite that far. I was interested also by her remarks about televisions in the House. In my five years in this place, I have faithfully switched off my television every night. I have not yet been carted off by the Serjeant at Arms. Perhaps I will be at the end of the debate.

We all have an individual responsibility to reduce our energy consumption. We must be serious and have a cross-party agreement. It is imperative that we adhere to it outside the House. I urge everyone to support the Bill. Let us give it a fair wind and a good start.

11.9 am

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to put on record my support for the Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for successfully steering the Bill through the parliamentary process thus far. I extend my sympathy to him and to his family at this time.

Reacting powerfully to climate change is essential if we are to meet the challenge of cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. It is necessary to expand the availability and development and, one would hope, ultimately the use of renewable energy sources as the major means of our energy supply.

I am fortunate in having a research centre in my constituency at the university of Durham, which concentrates on enabling renewable energy to make a full contribution to society and to the environment. It undertakes fundamental research into renewable energy technologies, including solar and photovoltaic research and wind and wave energy. Critically, in respect of the Bill, it also undertakes research into the technology that underpins microgeneration. I should like to say in passing that the north-east is ideally placed to lead the UK development of the production of renewables, as wind and waves are in plentiful supply there.

If the Government are to meet their long-term targets of reducing CO2 emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050, and of producing 10 per cent. of our electricity supply from renewables by 2010, it is essential that we make renewable sources, including microgeneration, more efficient, to bring down their costs and give them a wider application. The Bill will play an important part in contributing measures that will help the Government to achieve those targets.

It is worth highlighting the fact that the use of microgeneration is important if we are to encourage individual householders, small groups of households and communities to adopt an energy supply based on micro-renewables. All the clauses in the Bill are very welcome, and especially those relating to permitted development and to support for community energy schemes, as they will help to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and assist us to meet our targets. Critically, the measures will empower individuals and communities by giving them the tools to get directly involved in the use of renewable energy sources. Many people are very keen to find out what they can do personally to use energy more efficiently
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in their homes. Clauses 7 to 10 are important in encouraging that, and in helping to cut the fuel bills of those who install and use microgeneration systems by making them more efficient and more widely available.

The use of micro-combined heat and power could also contribute to ending fuel poverty. Clause 21 will require the Secretary of State to consider what steps he considers appropriate to promote the use of heat produced from renewable sources. I hope that this measure will help to stimulate the demand for renewable heat produced by solar, thermal or photovoltaic sources.

Ms Butler: Does my hon. Friend agree that clause 21 is vital for developing a low-carbon economy in the UK? It will help to raise awareness of what individuals can do to achieve that aim.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: I agree with my hon. Friend. One of my reasons for highlighting that clause is that I believe that it is essential in helping us to develop a low-carbon economy. We need to take the opportunity to make the use of renewable fuel for power and heat more widely available.

The Bill could contribute to sustaining a secure energy supply for the UK. Recent reports from Sussex and Southampton universities and Imperial College London suggest that micro-renewables hold great promise, provided that the uneven playing field on which they are fighting is removed. So promoting the use of microgeneration using renewables will require some Government intervention and up-front investment. The Bill is also important in reducing the barriers to promoting microgeneration, especially at local level.

The role of local authorities and parish councils outlined in clause 3 will be important if we are to enable individuals and communities to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. Many local authorities are involved in regeneration schemes involving the building of new houses and office blocks, and it is important that they take the lead in ensuring that those buildings are as energy efficient as possible. We must also bring parish councils back on board, because they are the best placed bodies to respond to local demand andto promote schemes locally so that individuals can become involved directly.

There is a great deal in the Bill to be welcomed if we are to take climate change seriously, and I hope that the House will support it today.

11.14 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I, too, rise to support the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on his tenacity in building consensuson it. However, the House should be honest in acknowledging that it is a quite modest measure. It will certainly not transform the landscape of domestic climate change policy. For that, we need to look to the bigger beasts: the outcome of the energy review that the Minister is conducting and, critically, the decision taken on the national allocation to the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme this summer. A recent report by the National Audit Office to the
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Environmental Audit Committee highlighted the latter as the policy decision that would have the greatest impact on carbon emissions reduction in the short term. Those will be the real tests of the appetite of the Government and the House for reducing carbon in our economy.

The Bill is welcome, however, because it takes a small, positive step in the direction of promoting greater accountability to the House on the progress made in tracking carbon through the economy and the progress of the Government in reducing it, as the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) rightly pointed out. A second important step will beto force central Government—and, to a lesserextent, local government—to think more about microgeneration and energy efficiency.

The increase in accountability will be hugely important, because the lack of accountability is undermining the effectiveness of the international process to reduce carbon. Many countries will not meet their Kyoto targets, yet they will suffer very few penalties for that failure. This country probably will meet its Kyoto targets, although, as the Government now acknowledge, there are significant doubts about the 2010 target, and there is complete uncertainty about the 2050 target. It is very difficult for the House and all other interested parties to get to grips with the reality of how carbon tracks through the economy, and with the probability of success for the various policy measures that the Government are implementing. That makes it difficult for us to hold the Governmentto account.

The desire for greater accountability, transparency and rigour in the review process underlies the cross-party consensus—on the Conservative Benches, at least—in suggesting the creation of an independent body, which could add tremendous value to the ability of the House to understand what is really happening with emissions and to assess the probability of success in meeting the longer-term targets. I suspect that that would have a much greater impact than the measures introduced in the Bill, but I welcome what is on offer today.

I echo the sentiments on microgeneration expressed by the hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow), with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Environmental Audit Committee. Microgeneration has the potential to play three important roles at a time when energy policy must necessarily shift from focusing only on the cost of energy to considering the more complex set of issues with which the Minister is wrestling, including security of supply and the impact on climate.

The sources of energy and technology that we are considering under the banner of microgeneration will have three important benefits. The first is reducing carbon. The second is reducing the waste of energy in our system. It was pointed out in Committee and in the debate that, if we are to believe the reports, two thirds of our energy is wasted between the point of production and the point of consumption. If it is true, that statistic ought to be a matter of considerable concern to the House in a new energy age in which security of supply, efficiency and affordability will
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become increasingly pressing issues. The third benefit, as the hon. Member for Hove pointed out, is that microgeneration will bring people closer to their source of energy. The evidence is that, where that happens, it is successful in changing attitudes to demand and to energy conservation.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd: I am happy to give way to a fellow member of the Environmental Audit Committee.

Colin Challen: I indeed have the pleasure of serving with the hon. Gentleman on the Environmental Audit Committee. Is there not a fourth benefit that arises from some of the other benefits that he mentioned: reducing fuel poverty? He said that £5 billion-worth of domestic energy is wasted each year. Surely, if some of that money was saved, it could be put into fuel poverty measures, making life better for everybody.

Mr. Hurd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making an extremely valuable point that I had not thought of.

The point that I was trying to make is about the importance of energy efficiency to this debate, because it is surely the low-hanging fruit in climate change policy at a time when concerns about the costs attached to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change are a drag on the international process, not least in the United States. Like other economies, it is concerned about the implications for economic competitiveness. Rigorous pursuit of greater energy efficiency in producing, distributing and conserving energy must be the ultimate win-win approach to ensuring that we reduce carbon emissions and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of our economies.

I welcome the Bill, but I want to conclude myspeech by expressing one regret, which is aboutthe cautiousness with which it engages local government—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) pressed vigorously in Committee. He was right that the Bill raises an interesting debate about centralism versus localism, which the Minister enjoyed in Committee, but the fact that recycling is arguably the one green activity that has been successfully transformed from a niche activity to a mainstream one has come about because local authorities have played a critical role in making it easy for people to do—they have made it simple for people to do the right thing. I see an opportunity for local government to perform a similar role in the space that we are discussing.

We have heard both in the Chamber and in Committee about beacons of excellence. We have heard today about Brighton and Braintree, and Croydon was mentioned in Committee. If the Government are not prepared to engage more with local government on the Bill, they should be doing more to promote best practice across the country. I hope that the House,and certainly Opposition Members, will hold the Government to account on that opportunity.

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