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I do not think anyone would suggest in their wildest moments that the UK has not been setting an example. The point is that that example is not being followed by even our friends in Europe, let alone further afield, so is it wise that we should be legislating to encourage the desecration of our townscapes, landscapes and ruralscapes, with a lot of windmills as a gesture towards dealing with the problem of climate change?
Would we not be much better off ensuring that we preserved our environmentthe built environmentand the landscape environmentfor future generations in a similar form?
My concern about the Bill, which I ventilated during the discussion of the microgeneration strategy, is that public opinion is being softened up to relax planning controls over windmills, in the name of the necessityof our contributing to reducing global warming. Unfortunately, the Chinese have other ideas. When the Government implement parts of this Billif it ever becomes lawI hope that they will put this policy in context, and will not try to dupe the general public into thinking that they have to put up with the desecration of our countryside in the name of addressing climate change.
The figures that I quoted earlierI modestly say that they are unarguableshow in stark terms that the Bill is utterly irrelevant to global climate change, yet it threatens to cause a lot of damage to our treasured urban and rural landscape. I hope that we will have a chance later today to debate the Bill dealing with town gardens, which provides another way of addressing a problem that this Government are making substantially worse.
The Bill before us also threatens to impose a substantial economic burden on electricity producers by forcing them to buy back surplus microgenerated electricity at an uneconomic price. Electricity producers already provide a service in this regard, in that they allow householders to install microgeneration equipment, which they will buy back, but at a price that is economic to them. E.ON UK, for example, whose representatives I met not long ago, does just that. However, the Bill could result in the electricity industry being required to buy back microgenerated electricity at an uneconomic price, which, as economists, we all know will result in extra costs being imposed on all consumers, including, ironically, those in fuel poverty.
Mr. Chope: Exactlythe Bill does not set the price, but it enables the Government to do so, which is my worry. The microgeneration industrys argument is that at the moment, the market is insufficiently active and needs a bit more subsidyin other words, taxpayers money to prop it up. If the Minister assures us in his closing remarks that no such subsidy, or cross-subsidy, will go into the microgeneration buy-back, I shall be delighted, but I shall also be extremely surprised. My understanding is that the Bills whole purpose is to facilitate cross-subsidy of, and taxpayer subsidy of, the microgeneration industry. So the Bill could add to the cost burden on those who are least able to bear it. I hope that the Government can allay my concerns in this regard.
I turn to one or two specific issues arising from the Bill. Clause 10, which was clause 9 before Third ReadingI am glad that the Bill was reprinted
following its amendmentdeals with an issue that we debated at length on Report: permitted development rights. I am pleased to say that the Minister at the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), wrote to me on 10 May, saying that concern had been expressed on 17 March that this clause might allow the installation of very large structures, such as 50 kW wind turbines, in peoples back gardens.
The Bill requires the Secretary of State to form a view as to what provision should be made in secondary legislation to further facilitate the installation of microgeneration equipment by removing unnecessary planning controls. The aim will also be to ensure that planning authorities and householders have a clearer idea of the situations in which microgeneration equipment can be installed without the need for a planning application.
In conducting the review ODPM will consider carefully the impacts of possible changes. We want to ensure that sufficient control is retained over permitted development to protect the reasonable interests of neighbours, the environment andthe wider community. We will, therefore, have regard toamenity considerations for the permitted development of microgeneration technology, including the impact on visual appearance, and the implications of any potential nuisance, such as noise, vibration and flicker.
Consideration will also be paid to how permitted development limits should be varied for development in sensitive locations including National Parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and conservation areas, works affecting listed buildings and their setting, and developments in Green Belts. A key part of the review will be a full public consultation on what might be permitted. Once responses...have been considered the Secretary of State will report to Parliament on the recommendations of the review and set out any proposals for change.
The other specific issue that I wished to raise is the time limit for prosecutions in clause 13. I mentioned earlier my hope that the other place would amend the Bill, and I had clause 13 specifically in mind. The clause would allow prosecutions for contravention of certain building regulations to be started within two years, beginning on the day on which the offence was committed. It would also allow the relevant date for assessing that to mean
the date on which evidence sufficient to justify the proceedings comes to the knowledge of the person commencing the proceedings.
evidence is to be regarded for the purposes of subsection (4) above
as sufficient to justify the proceedings if in the opinion of the proper officer or an authorised officer it is sufficient to justify the proceedings.
That is a dangerous precedent, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst(Mr. Forth) expressed his concerns to the shadow
Attorney-General, he said that he had not previously been aware of it, but he also thought that it was a matter for concern. I hope that that concern will be articulated in the other place and result in amendment of the Bill.
One of the advantages of the changes in procedure is that we will have the opportunity to consider Lords amendments to private Members Bills in October, which should allow this Bill to be considered in depth in the other place. If the Minister wishes to try to justify the draconian powers in clause 13, let him. The Bill is based on a fallacy, or at least an unproven hypothesis. We cannot lightly dismiss the views of a host of international scientists who are not self-serving like the scientists of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, who consider only their own model, which is based on various hypotheses. It is rather as if we were to say that the Treasury economic model must be right because it was produced by the Treasury, when we know very well that on many occasions the Treasury model has turned out to be wrong.
Many other scientists, who are not involved with that self-serving organisation, have looked independently at the data and reached different conclusions about the impact of man-made contributions to climate change and about the consequences of global warming. It is disappointing that the Bills main purpose is based on a fallacy.
As a result of the debate, I hope that many more people will make the sort of challenge that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said that he had received during the general election campaign. They will wake up to what is happening and realise how certain pressure groups are trying to use climate change to delude the public and justify new regulations and burdens on our people, resulting in deprivation of liberty. Many people are involved in that sinister process, and many who should know better are being caught up by it.
There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is generally adopted.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I am sorry that the debate has finished on that rather disconsolate note. I could not disagree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on these issues, but he has every right to air them. It always does one good to hear ones views tested by argument, so perhaps he has performed a service in that regard.
The debate has been constructive and we have seen the House of Commons at its best, with some insightful speeches from both sides of the Chamber. If I had to pick out only one thing from them, it would be the welcome emerging cross-party consensusnot a love-in but a challenge to each other to go further, to
drop our preconceptions and think outside our party boxes when tackling climate change. That has to be a good thing.
There is widespread concern across the House about the need to mainstream many of the new technologies that are still in their infancy but which clearly have much to offer us in tackling the effects of climate change and steering us away from a carbon economy. In particular, there is widespread support for microgeneration, which offers huge potential, but if we are to realise that decentralised vision of electricity generation, we will need to do much more than adopting the measures in the Bill. We shall need to look in more detail at the remit of Ofgem. We shall need to look at easing restrictions on private wire systems, such as happened in Woking, and at making the renewables obligation more sympathetic to smaller generators and consumers. All those things are very important and very much within the purview of the forthcoming energy review, which, I hope, will not just be a mono-focus exercise on the nuclear industry, but go much wider than that.
As I said, there have been many excellent contributions, which started with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), who pointed out that the Governments language is very supportive of the Bill, but that they will be judged on their action and how they implement it if it passes on to the statute book, following its passage through the House of Lords. He also raised concerns about the energy sector, with the need for a clearer framework for attracting the long-term investment from the private sector that is crucial in combating climate change.
The hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow), who is not in her place now, and who is a distinguished member of the Environmental Audit Committee, also pointed out the huge benefits of microgeneration and CHP. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) spoke of the impact of climate change on natural habitats. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) made an impassioned plea for a new generation of clean coal, threw down a challenge to find effective clean-coal solutions and offered up the possibility of the greater use of carbon sequestration technology.
My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree(Mr. Newmark) rightly championed the pioneering scheme of Braintree district council, which offers council rebates for those householders who install cavity-wall insulation and other energy-saving measures. I very much hope that that initiative will be taken up not just by Conservative councils around the country, but by all councils, as it seems to be an excellent way in which just a small amount of money can trigger widespread changes in behaviour. Energy efficiency is practical and makes good economic sense.
Martin Horwood: The speech to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred also made a slightly erroneous reference in terms of Wokings excellent environmental record by describing it as a Conservative council. Is he aware that the largest party on Woking borough council is made up of Liberal Democrats, and that they are the most recent party to hold majority control?
Gregory Barker: I am aware that Woking has a long history of no overall control and that the leadership
has ebbed and flowed between the Conservatives and the Liberals, and I stand corrected.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) made a thoughtful and wide-ranging speech and drew attention not only to the colder climate in Scotland, which necessitates much more heating, but to the limited access to gas, particularly in rural areas, and many other factors that make homes in Scotland particularly hard to heat. She rightly drew our attention to the menace of electrical appliances left on stand-by.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke(Mrs. Miller), who made a particularly powerful, lengthy and compelling speech, reminded us that climate change is an issue that we must all address. I am grateful to her for supporting my amendment, which will empower local authorities to consider both energy efficiency and microgeneration when discharging their functions, particularly in relation to planning. She is absolutely right: we must be more ambitious in reducing demand for electricity in new-build houses.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) played a thoughtful and positive part in the Standing Committee on the Bill and rightly pointed out that, on a per capita basis, we are a very significant emitter of global CO2 and that we must therefore play a global leadership role.
The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), who spoke for the Scottish National party, made a passionate and hard-hitting defence of the cross-party consensus on climate change. He and his party are a very important part of that agreement and helped pioneer that consensus, which we need to strengthen and develop. I welcome his profoundly sensible comments. It is just a shame that, to date, we have yet to welcome the Labour party into that consensus, but I am ever hopeful.
The hon. Member for City of Durham(Dr. Blackman-Woods) made a fine speech, and I found myself nodding vigorously. She is absolutely right to say that we must promote microgeneration to the mass market, to bring down costs and to make those technologies mainstream. I am grateful for her support for the amendment that I succeeded in making to the Bill, which now provides parish councils with the power to promote community energy schemes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, made an impressive and thoughtful speech about the measures in the Bill and in the energy review, and the need for transparency and rigour in auditing progress if the Bill is enacted. He pointed out the tremendous potential of microgeneration both to reduce fuel poverty and to promote renewables, energy efficiency and a culture of responsibility among consumers. The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), too, made a thoughtful speech in support of microgeneration and the need to do more to encourage the rapid expansion of the industry.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) spoke at length about the potential of microgeneration, but he misconstrued my comments last week about quality-of-life issues. I was trying to make the point that we cannot just see climate change
through the narrow prism of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or a single Government Department. The policy review instigated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney(Mr. Cameron), which is being conducted with the able assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood, is considering quality-of-life issues and the different implications of climate changeit does not just focus on narrow departmental functions. The hon. Member for Cheltenham was right that the lead must come from the private sector, and that we must not rely just on small amounts of money dripping from the Chancellor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), in a forceful and articulate speech, reminded us all of the power of technology to fight CO2 emissions, giving a practical example from High Brooms. I, too, have recently installed solar panels on my house, and I was fascinated to hear about his constituents experience. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) rightly raised the closure of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Monks Wood in his constituency. He is not just a doughty champion of his constituents interests but of the cause of excellence in research, particularly on the impact of climate change on UK ecosystems. The closure of that laboratory is a huge step backwards in our understanding of the impact of climate change on UK biodiversity.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) reminded us of the impact of climate change not just on the UK but on Africa, and our responsibility to take global leadership, particularly through the United Nations. It is not surprising, given his championing of climate change issues, that at the general election there was a well deserved swing in his favour. He spoke, too, about the tremendous pioneering work at Woking. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) drew our attention to the need for consensus. He highlighted the fact that politics makes for strange bedfellows, as the grand coalition on climate change has drawn in both the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and Donald Rumsfeldnot a combination that one often sees. He weighed up the scientific evidence in a splendid prebuttal of the arguments that were to be made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and made a compelling case for microgeneration, not just to fight climate change but to enhance the UK security of supply, which is a serious consideration in long-term energy issues.
It is sad that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) is not here to participate in our debate. He showed enormous skill, patience and tenacity in the way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House. I have found him not just professional but a joy to work with during the rollercoaster ride that the Bill has sometimes enjoyed through the House of Commons. It is a great tribute to him that the Bill is now approaching the end of its Third Reading. I send him our condolences on the sad loss that his family have suffered.
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