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Charles Hendry: The hon. Gentleman says that there are too many to choose from, but he could not come up with one during the debate. The second problem that he had was with clarifying his partys nuclear policy. The Liberal Democrats say, No nuclear power here, but yes, please, well import as much as we can through the interconnector from France. It is a fundamentally hypocritical position. They do not want nuclear power here but are happy to use cheap French nuclear power and leave the French to deal with decommissioning and waste disposal.
The key issue in this debate is whether it is right to give the European Union greater powers to determine energy flows in times of crisis. It is a question not of interpretation of the treaty but of a fundamental and genuine difference of opinion. The change suggested is to allow the Council of Ministers the power to divert energy supplies from one country to another if it deemed it necessary in a time of crisis, and because the issue would be decided under QMV the country concerned would not be able to resist the change. It is quite legitimate for some to argue that that is the right thing to do, but overwhelmingly we Opposition Members fundamentally disagree, and that alone is a ground for a referendum.
I ask Government Members not to misinterpret us. We are not saying that the United Kingdom Government should not help other countries that are facing an energy crisiswe have a great history as a generous nation that carries out its international responsibilities wellbut it should be up to our Government and other sovereign Governments acting independently to decide whether it is right to give other countries that help. We should not be forced to do so. When my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee asked the Secretary of State to clarify the circumstances in which that might happen, the Secretary of State could not do so. He basically said, Somebody will give you an answer on that later. So much for line-by-line scrutiny. It is simply not happening in this debate.
Ours is not a selfish little England position; we believe that it is right for every country to have the relevant powers. That works both ways. Two years ago, when this country was short of gasand just after the Minister for Energy said that we were awash with gaswe discovered that France was not, as we had hoped, exporting gas through the interconnector, as it is legally obliged to keep a certain amount of gas in storage for its own domestic use. Under the treaty, France could be obliged to overrule its national laws and export gas even if it does not wish to do so. It would be interesting to see that issue at the heart of a French referendum.
The treatys approach will penalise countries that have invested in long-term energy security. We in this country are belatedly making the investment needed to improve our gas securitywe are investing in new pipelines, liquefied natural gas facilities and better gas storage facilitiesbut it would be quite wrong for our gas supplies to be diverted to support another country that had not taken such responsible measures unless our Government had the absolute right to decide whether to allow it.
During this debate, there has been much discussion about what will happen and could happen. Whenever the Minister for Europe has been in the Chamber, he
has scoffed from the Front Bench every time the word could has been used, but it is quite right that we in this House should look at what could happen under the treaty. The reason many people in this country are so disillusioned with the European Union is that they are constantly told that each treaty and new measure means one thing, but they then discover a little while down the line that it means a whole lot of other things that they were never told about. It is therefore quite right for our debate to focus on the powers that the treaty could confer. We have no legal definition of a crisis or of solidarity. The British people need to know that under the treaty, our economic security could be put at risk to solve an energy problem elsewhere in the European Union.
The other big issue in this debate is liberalisation. I agree with the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) that the further measures proposed in the treaty are not necessary to take forward the liberalisation of European energy markets. The Secretary of State has not given us any evidence that the European Union does not currently have the power to move forwards with liberalisation. After years of no progress, we are now seeing at least some progress on the uncompetitive practices in use elsewhere in Europe. It seems bizarre that we should need a new treaty just when the European Union is beginning to show that it has real teeth.
The treaty moves us in the wrong direction. It will remove the reference to undistorted competition, just because that suits France. It is to the shame of our Ministers that we have given in to demands arising purely from the narrow, nationalistic interest of one other country involved.
So let us be clear: we want energy security; we want to cut carbon and we want a realistic price on carbon; we want a growth in renewables; and we want more done on fuel poverty. As we move through the Energy Bill, we will be taking the lead on those issues, and I hope that the Government will respond to the amendment that we tabled.
The Secretary of State said in his opening speech that we are out of touch. It is strange that he says so, when we are pushing for exactly the same changes as Ministers previously called for. Let us put the matter to the test. Let us see whether we or the Government are out of touch. Let us put it to a referendum.
Malcolm Wicks: I really enjoyed the debate, and it is a pity that it must end so soon. From time to time I felt that I had stumbled into the Eurosceptic Tory class of 93, 94 and 95. I hope that the divided class will have more frequent reunions.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I shall not ask the Minister to withdraw that remark, but we should bear in mind that expressions that might just be allowable in parliamentary language are not allowable as a matter of taste.
Mr. Lilley: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I had not even heard his reference to my parentage and I am not the least bit concerned about it. I just remarked that when he thought he was hearing Eurosceptic arguments, he was hearing the arguments that his own Government have been putting forward during the negotiations on the treaty.
We had good speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), and the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), and a kind of Eurosceptic vignette, if I may use that term in the House, from the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper).
The hon. Member for Esher and Walton challenged me to speak positively about the Lisbon treaty. I do speak and think positively about it, and I do so in general terms. I sometimes think we miss the wood for the trees in such debates. My parents generation witnessed all the horrors of a divided Europe in the second world war. My grandparents generation witnessed all the horrors and the mass murders on both sides of the first world war. I am pleased to be part of a generation that is discussing, albeit occasionally dryly, important matters such as climate change and energy, and how we can make a contribution in Britain and in Europe. I am very positive about the new Europe and Britains role in it, and about the Lisbon treaty.
Let us remind ourselves of the energy mix across the EU. Oil accounts for some 38 per cent. of energy supplies, gas 24 per cent., coal and other solid fuels some 18 per cent., nuclear 14 per cent., and renewables 6 per cent. and rising. Within that overall picture, the mix varies considerably by country. We have heard about France, where perhaps 80 per cent. of electricity comes from nuclear, whereas in Austria none comes from nuclear. Most of Cypruss energy comes from oil, most of Polands from coal. That is why the member state has to take charge of the energy mix in its own national community.
We have heard about the increasing importance of imports. In 2004 approximately 50 per cent. of EU energy was imported, but by 2030 the figure could be as high as 65 per cent. That signifies one of the challenges. We have an increasing reliance on imports in a world where energy prices are likely to remain relatively high
and where fossil fuel reserves are concentrated in relatively few regions of the world, including the middle east and Russia.
There is the urgent need to tackle climate change; EU countries share that objective not only with each other, but with the rest of the world. For those reasons, during the UK presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2005, we put forward a plan to create a common EU energy policy, including the establishment of a common European power grid, co-operation on gas storage, exchange of information about security of supply and a strengthening of climate change policies. I shall quote another Prime Minister, this time within the bounds of propriety. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said at the time:
It is important that energy policy is something that we work on together as a European Union.
He was right. The House is well aware of our recent decision on nuclear power, our commitment to a major expansion of offshore wind power and the passage of Bills on energy planning and climate change. However, whatever action we take at home, it is surely obvious that we can achieve the most, in this interdependent and highly competitive world, when we act together with our international partners.
Let us not pretend that it will all be easy. It would be naive to expect major players in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries or Russia to come to the negotiating table wearing kid gloves. The EU must be ready to speak, and speak strongly, with one voice on energy policy. That is not only in Europes interest, but in Britains best interest. We need the enlarged EU of 27 countries to be able to work effectively and efficiently to draw a line under debates about institutional reform and move on to dealing with the great issues of the day, including energy. The treaty of Lisbon will make that possible, and we should welcome it.
I move on to the issue of oil stocks, which involve an important obligation. We are obliged to hold stocks of oil in case of severe disruption of oil supplies. That mirrors our international obligations under the International Energy Agency, of which the US, Canada, Japan and Australia are also members. The Nice treaty changed the voting on any directive concluded under that article from unanimous to qualified majority voting. It is important to emphasise that the Lisbon treaty makes no change to that.
On the obligations to release stocks in case of severe disruption to supply, I should say that the last time that that was required was during hurricane Katrina, when the UK rightly led, under our chairmanship of the IEA governing board, in helping our friends in the United States. That was done under consensus. A number of fearful hares have run on this, so I emphasise that we have never taken action through the EU on that issue. On both times when it has been necessary, action was taken through the IEA.
We have heard a little about article 176A of the Lisbon treaty today. It provides for the EU to help manage the functioning of integrated European energy markets and ensure security of supply. However, it does not seek to move control of any nations energy resources to the European Union. The hon. Gentleman asked what was new about the treaty. I shall quote a passage that is newand clear, important and reassuring:
Such measures shall not affect a Member States right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply.
We face critical issues and we certainly need to look forward and not go back. There are critical issues about the liberalisation of our energy markets, in respect of which the UK has led the charge, and about radical moves to a low-carbon economy, the development of renewables, progress towards clean coal, and carbon capture and storage. We are looking forward; unfortunately, many Conservative Members, although not all, are rapidly pushing the rewind button of European history. What Labour seeks to build is a modern Europe fit for the 21st century. The Conservatives, sadly, are building a squalid coalition against the treaty with, among others, the Dutch Party for the Animals. Unfortunately we have to leave them there for the time being while we, the British people and the British Government, get on with the job of confirming the treaty. It is good for Britain, and it is good for Europe.
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