Previous Section Index Home Page

I urge the Minister to consider these representations. As other hon. Members have pointed out, these targets are very strict and will be difficult to meet. We should
3 Jun 2008 : Column 709
all recognise that, but unless we get the system right we have no chance of meeting them. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) is right to say that wind power is only one part of the picture. We all recognise that, and we must have a suite of different renewables if we are to have any chance of meeting the targets.

7.38 pm

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): The one Post-it note that I want to mention in this contribution, which will necessarily be very short, is attached to the memorandum of explanation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its reference to the fact that the EU has decided that if there is an international agreement on climate change, the target for reducing carbon emissions will rise from 20 per cent. by 2020 to 30 per cent. by 2020. I hope that that agreement will be signed in Copenhagen next year, which suggests that the targets for renewable energy’s contribution to reducing our CO2 emissions may have to be revised in little more than 18 months’ time if they are to make a contribution to the increased target.

If that is the case, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will put a Post-it note in his red box to ask his civil servants to start thinking about plan B. They have clearly not paid as serious attention as one might hope to plan A, and we have heard that under the current plans we will struggle to get to a 5 per cent. renewable energy contribution by 2020. Going to 15 per cent. will be even tougher. I do not think that the way to approach that is to say that we will introduce more flexible mechanisms, seek renewable trading certificates and so on. We need to start investing seriously in our economy, as the Germans and Danes have done. There are problems in the delivery of wind turbines because Siemens in Germany and Vestas in Denmark simply cannot keep up with demand. Why do we not have our own wind turbine industry on a massive scale, employing hundreds of thousands of people, as is the case in Germany with the renewables industry?

We can do it if we want to. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who said that we should not have punitive measures. We need those punitive measures to drive along the aspirations that we have not seriously tried to fulfil in the past.

7.40 pm

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I shall be exceptionally brief, and I thank the Minister for his indulgence. I have three quick points. First, will he clarify whether these will be binding national targets, as the Commission makes it clear that they will be? What will be the sanctions if they are breached, or if we fail to meet them? Can we predict what action the European Court of Justice is likely to take if we fail to meet those targets?

Secondly, may I press the Minister again on renewable heat? Paragraph 20 of the preamble talks about exempting those in households from

3 Jun 2008 : Column 710

In my view, the big gains available to the UK in terms of renewable energy come from renewable domestic heat. They cannot be measured for target purposes, which calls the targets into question, but the big gains in climate change and energy security and supply will come from such things as solar thermal power for water heating.

Thirdly, in his explanatory memorandum, on page 355 of the documents, the Minister stated:

When he last came before the Select Committee that I chair, he gave some interesting figures for what he thinks the increases in electricity generation will be. Will he confirm that 35 or 40 per cent. will be required? I repeat the question that I put earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry): is this target achievable? Are we signing up to something that we know, in our heart of hearts, we cannot reach?

7.42 pm

Malcolm Wicks: Yes, it is an achievable target. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) said, we are setting ourselves interim targets for climate change and carbon reductions through the Climate Change Bill. I thought that that was a very neat answer to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who rather implied that we were not setting ourselves interim targets. After all, the overall focus has to be on carbon reduction, and renewables are an important means to that end.

May I clarify a point, as I may have misled the House—

Sir Robert Smith: Will the Minister give way?

Malcolm Wicks: No. I may have misled the House when I started talking about combined heat and power. Let me confirm that the target is for renewable energy, including heat, electricity and transport. I did not mean to be rude to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), but I am conscious that I have only about five minutes left. I ask him to forgive me.

There are too many pessimists in the House on these matters. Let me give hon. Members some figures to show where we are with onshore and offshore wind provision. We now have about 2.5 GW of wind power in operation, 1.3 GW being built, 5.3 GW consented and 9.69 GW in planning. Those are quite formidable figures and I do not think it helps anyone to talk down this emerging British industry. The hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) quoted a figure of 70 GW of wind power. We will consult on that and look at estimates, but the advice that I have received is that that figure is likely to be a significant overestimate.

We have discussed European comparisons, as we do on these occasions. Some hon. Members should look carefully at this. Renewable energy accounted for 8.4 per cent. of all EU energy in 2005, which was an increase of just 1.5 per cent. of the share 10 years earlier. That suggests that we are not in a situation
3 Jun 2008 : Column 711
where some countries are moving ahead at a rapid speed during the 10-year period that the hon. Member for Northavon focused on. The increase was just 1.5 per cent. That suggests to me that the challenge is for all member states. When we look across the piece at the huge concentrations of renewable energy, we find that they are often in places where there are hydro resources. Hon. Members need just to look at the figures and they will see that that is true. Others include biomass resources, including the use of wood stoves. There is a challenge for the whole industry.

I was asked about costs. The renewable energy strategy will say more, but our initial research suggests that the cost to the UK of meeting a 15 per cent. target could be about £5 billion a year by 2020. We have to be mindful of the costs at a time when energy costs are high. They will fluctuate, but the days of low-cost energy are over. We therefore need to be mindful of a cost-effective way of meeting our targets.

I quite understand the points that have been raised about the transmission access review. It is important to developers to get a suitable connection when they are ready. I do not think that they are so interested in getting a preference. Indeed, in terms of balancing the grid as we go forward with more renewables, we simply could not give all preference to renewables. We need to look at the issues about balance very carefully.

I was asked whether article 15 would not permit us to have stricter sustainability standards than prescribed in the directive. We will press for the directive to include sustainability standards that cover the same range of issues as our renewable transport fuel obligation. Subject to the directive’s being amended to include an acceptable set of sustainability criteria, we support the proposal that there should be the same criteria throughout the EU, as that will help to promote an efficient internal market for biofuels.

May I clarify that we have never said that CCS is a renewable? Of course it is not. However, at an early stage we tried to argue to the Commission that if the European Union is serious about 12 CCS projects across Europe, we need to have some ideas about where they will come from. We in the UK are moving forward with a major demonstration project, but we are worried about the incentives to bring other CCS projects forward and we will continue to press that point.

3 Jun 2008 : Column 712

We think that trading schemes will play a part, but we and other member states agree that that should not be at the expense of national support systems for renewables. We need to have regard, as I have emphasised, to cost-effectiveness, and trading could play a part in all this.

We have had a useful and quite detailed debate in the time available. I will not have been able to pick up on all the points that have been raised. I am prepared to write to hon. Members—

Charles Hendry rose—

Malcolm Wicks: I think that the clock is against us, but the hon. Gentleman can try a quick one.

Charles Hendry: What is the Minister’s view on whether there should be qualified majority voting or unanimity?

Malcolm Wicks: We think that this will probably be settled by qualified majority voting. I think that that is the reality of what is likely to happen. This is a challenge for the whole of Europe, however, and we must work with Europe on it. I want to emphasise that the UK Government are committed to our share of 15 per cent. or thereabouts, and we will do our utmost to hit that target. I am confident that we will.

Question put and agreed to.


3 Jun 2008 : Column 713

Maritime Policy

7.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I beg to move,

Good evening, Madam Deputy Speaker. I begin by welcoming the interest of the House in the European Commission integrated maritime policy and the opportunity to set out the Government’s view on that Commission initiative. The subject of today’s debate is indeed broad. It follows directly on from an earlier debate in the temporary European Standing Committee last March on the Government’s position in respect of the Commission’s maritime Green Paper, “Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European Vision for the Oceans and Seas”, which was the focus of a large-scale consultation exercise by the European Commission on its vision for the future development of a maritime policy for the European Union. That debate cleared the way for the Government’s formal response to the Commission’s consultation, and that response is included in the document pack with which hon. Members have been provided for the debate.

The Commission papers that we are discussing today derive directly from the Green Paper consultation. The Commission considered nearly 500 consultation responses from Governments, social partners and other interested parties. Before I turn my attention to the content of the new policy package, I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members to two things that are not contained therein. The maritime Green Paper proposed for consideration the idea of a European shipping register, which could have supplanted national registers, and a European-wide coastguard. In their response to the Green Paper, the Government strongly opposed those suggestions, as did other respondents. I am pleased to report to the House that those ideas do not appear in the new integrated maritime policy package.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The Minister knows of my concern about planned changes to the tonnage tax regime. I would welcome clarity on whether the change in the interpretation of seagoing vessels is being insisted on by the EU, the Department for Transport, the Treasury or at the behest of the Revenue and Customs. The proposals could impose higher costs on UK shipping generally and cross-Solent ferry services in particular.

Jim Fitzpatrick: The tonnage tax is an important issue for the shipping industry. It certainly does not feature, if I recollect correctly, anywhere in the notes that I am about to deliver on behalf of the Department, but I can advise the hon. Gentleman that the threat of a change in tonnage tax regulations that we feared would adversely impact on the success that we have derived from the arrangements in recent years has receded, that the Commission is revisiting its proposals and that the tonnage tax will therefore
3 Jun 2008 : Column 714
continue to be to our advantage. In that instance, we are not worried by what is happening in Europe as a result. I can write to the hon. Gentleman to give him much more detail in due course, but the tax is not part of the package that I am referring to this evening.

The EU maritime Green Paper sought to take forward the Lisbon strategy on sustainable growth by stimulating employment in the maritime sector and by applying ecosystem-based management of marine resources and the marine environment. It addressed important policy areas, including the retention of Europe’s leadership on sustainable maritime development, the maximisation of the quality of life in coastal regions, governance issues in the EU and the wider international arena, the reclamation of Europe’s maritime heritage and the reaffirmation of its maritime identity.

Those themes are broadly continued in the new maritime policy package, taking into account the consultation responses received by the Commission. The paper, “An integrated maritime policy for the European Union”, together with its supporting documents, which include an action plan, sets out a vision for a joined-up approach to maritime policy, taking as its premise a perception that all matters that relate to marine areas that surround Europe are, in essence, linked to one another. Therefore, it proposes the idea that all marine-related policies must develop within a governance framework that embraces a shared cognisance of those connections to ensure that the best results are achieved and that positive developments in one area do not inadvertently blight progress or prospects elsewhere. I emphasise that no firm legislative proposals stem from the package at this stage.

The Government note that the European Council conclusions of 14 December 2007 gave a broad welcome to the Commission’s initiative and invited the Commission to progress the initiatives and proposals contained in the action plan, which forms part of the package. We await the appropriate developments.

Turning now to the documents under scrutiny this evening, the lead document in the package sets out the concept of an integrated maritime policy. It provides an analytical framework and a set of objectives that lay the foundations for the accompanying action plan in addendum 2. The other supporting papers contain a discussion of the Green Paper consultation responses, an impact assessment and a summary thereof, and a European Commission staff working document that looks at the connections and synergies between the energy policy for Europe agreed at the European Council in March 2007 and maritime policy.

The lead communication declares that the new package aims to enhance Europe’s capacity to face challenges of globalisation and competitiveness, the effects of climate change, environmental damage, maritime safety and security, energy needs and sustainability. Allied to that goal is a desire to enhance employment and economic growth, underpinned by high standards of research, technology and innovation. The keynote is that the way in which maritime policy is made would be changed. Rather than policy being developed through compartmentalised dossiers, it would develop as an integrated form that recognised the relationships and interactions between different activities in the maritime sphere.

3 Jun 2008 : Column 715

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Although the Minister is making a cogent case for considering these matters in the round—indeed, any Government should do so—it appears that the Government’s response accepts to some extent that some matters should be dealt with in international forums by the International Maritime Organisation, rather than being specific EU competences.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Certainly, as the Government, we are always conscious that, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, the IMO is the international regulatory body. It is an arm of the United Nations. We believe that it has competence in certain areas where the EU does not. Therefore, we must be aware of the role that it plays, as well as that which the Commission plays.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I was mildly concerned at first that the jargon in the Minister’s speech was his own, but I now see that he is quoting more or less verbatim from various passages to be found in the documents. I endorse the view expressed by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) about the IMO and the importance of our role in that respect. Can the Minister assure the House that, in fact, there will be no question of the House or this country giving up its role as a direct inputter to the IMO in favour of an EU voice?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I can certainly assure the House, as I assured the Greek Transport Minister in Athens yesterday morning, that we would not surrender our national voice at the IMO in favour of a European voice, that we believe that all the very strong maritime nations of the EU have articulated most strongly that they wanted to maintain their separate identity and voice at the IMO and that the EU should not take our place.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Taking things further back, some progress, albeit small in recent years, has been made, particularly with fishing communities, in taking some decision making closer to the communities through management plans and the Scottish fishermen’s voluntary scheme on environmental matters. Can the Minister assure us that such movement will not be jeopardised by the new pan-European scheme that is before the House today and that the interests of the fishing and other maritime communities around these islands will be closely considered?

Jim Fitzpatrick: If I do not come to the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks during my introductory remarks, I am pretty sure that I can reassure him in my concluding remarks. I have already been pulled in the direction of our world role in maritime affairs, but we are not at risk of neglecting localism and the ability of local communities to play an important role in formulating policy. I am sure that my remarks will cover the hon. Gentleman’s point, but if they do not, I shall be happy to return to the issue in my concluding remarks.

Next Section Index Home Page