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House of Commons

Thursday 12 June 2008

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

private business

London Local Authorities (Shopping Bags) Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 19 June.

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Low Energy Technology

1. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What steps he is taking to promote low energy light-emitting diode technology. [210300]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): The Government fund the Carbon Trust to work with business to increase energy efficiency and administer the enhanced capital allowance scheme for energy-saving technologies. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform stimulates innovation through a photonics knowledge transfer network, providing support and guidance for manufacturers, especially small and medium-sized businesses. Both those schemes are relevant to low-energy lighting.

Mr. Hollobone: LED lights are super-efficient and emit virtually no heat, so they can help to reduce carbon footprints and fire risk, yet they are not included on the energy technology list to which the hon. Lady has referred. Would she be kind enough to agree to meet me and my constituent, Mr. David Linger from Kettering, who is an expert on the issue, to discuss the matter further?

Joan Ruddock: I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman about the value of LEDs, and I can tell him that a new energy technology criteria list will be published, probably in a couple of months’ time. Some white LEDs will be on that list. Products that meet the criteria will be eligible to be put on the energy technology product list, which in turn makes them eligible for enhanced capital allowances. ECAs are administered by the Carbon Trust. That is really important, and I suggest that he ask his constituent to get in touch with the Carbon Trust as soon as possible. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment would be pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituent.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The attraction of LEDs is, of course, that 70 per cent. of the energy is converted to light, but unfortunately only 20 per cent. of the light normally escapes the bulb. What assessment has the Minister made of the potential of nanoimprint lithography to improve that ratio and make bulbs more effective, and what are the Government doing to support that new, growing industry, which has great potential to save the energy that is spent on light, which is a major consumer of energy?

Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. He is a well-known expert in the field, and he asks us many questions on the subject. As I have said, LEDs are potentially extremely valuable for their energy efficiency. We have a nanotechnology working group—

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): It’s a small group.

Joan Ruddock: It is very small. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) that LED technology is part of our considerations, and will continue to be so, because we think that it has great potential.


3. Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the environmental impact of the proposed new coal power station at Kingsnorth. [210302]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I regularly discuss energy policy with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, but the decision on Kingsnorth will be for him to make, and I cannot comment on what he might decide, for reasons that I know the hon. Gentleman will understand. The environmental impact assessment is an important part of the process.

Mr. Holloway: But does not the Secretary of State think that that undermines any policy commitments to low-carbon technology?

Hilary Benn: I simply say that no decision has yet been made on the Kingsnorth application, as the hon. Gentleman will be well aware. We need to develop carbon capture and storage technology across the world, which is why I am sure that he will welcome the fact that the United Kingdom is currently the only European Union country that has a competition on the go to demonstrate that technology on a commercial scale. With China building one new coal-fired power station a week, and with about 8 GW currently in construction in Germany, we need that technology to work, and I am sure that he will welcome the project.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that carbon capture technology is vital for our long-term future, but will he make sure that all of us in this country recognise that coal is our main indigenous energy source, and that without it, the lights will go out? We cannot ever have that happen.

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Hilary Benn: Coal is currently responsible for a significant proportion of our electricity supply, and certainly a very large proportion of lights around the world are kept burning because of coal. That makes the point that if we are to make progress in reducing global emissions, we have to make progress on significantly decarbonising electricity production from coal. That is why the technology that we are talking about is needed.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Surely this goes to the heart of joined-up Government thinking on climate change. Given that the right hon. Gentleman’s fellow Secretary of State resisted amendments to the recent Energy Bill to mandate carbon capture and storage for new coal-fired power stations, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether DEFRA was consulted before that line was taken on the Energy Bill by his fellow Secretary of State? If the right hon. Gentleman was consulted, what did he tell the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform?

Hilary Benn: Nobody has yet been able to make carbon capture and storage technology work on a commercial scale. What is the sensible way to proceed? It is to demonstrate that it is possible to do that on a commercial scale. As the Prime Minister said in his speech in November, once that is shown to work, countries will have a decision to make about whether they wish to mandate carbon capture and storage technology, but we have to show it working on a commercial scale. I hope the hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will welcome the fact that the UK is leading on trying to get one of those projects up and running.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows, further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), that we have a sea of coal underneath England. We need to exploit it and we need to get back to a better place than where the Tories left us when they closed down all the coalfields. Clean technology is available that can get the coal out of the ground and raise up communities again.

Hilary Benn: I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes about the depth of feeling in those communities about what happened. The fundamental truth is that the remaining fossil fuels that we have on this earth, whatever form they take, will need to be carefully used in a way that does not add to the problem of global warming. We all understand that that is the case, and finding ways of doing that is the solution to making progress.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that his answer will cause great concern to many residents in north Kent and in adjoining parts of south-east London, including mine, where there has been a consensus about the need for low-carbon technology and carbon capture in any new power station developments? It seems troubling to them that the Secretary of State has adopted a course that could open the door to development at Kingsnorth without a commitment to that carbon capture, in their backyard.

Hilary Benn: No decision has been taken on Kingsnorth yet, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware. That decision is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for
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Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The point that I have been making to the hon. Gentleman and to the House is that we need to develop carbon capture and storage technology and to show it operating on a commercial scale. That is why we are going ahead with the project.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): The Secretary of State mentioned the global context and China, but what message does it send to the world if we on the one hand go around lecturing it about the need to reduce carbon emissions, and on the other teeter on the brink of ushering in the first new unabated coal-fired power station for a generation? Does that not sound like hypocrisy? Is it not fossil politics?

Hilary Benn: I simply say—and I hope the House will bear with me when I say it again—that no decision has been taken yet in relation to Kingsnorth.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Dithering.

Hilary Benn: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, who intervenes from a sedentary position, first, E.ON itself has asked that no decision be taken while consultation takes place on carbon capture readiness. That will happen in the summer. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, E.ON has put the Kingsnorth application into the competition as well. Those, I should have thought, were two things that he would welcome.


4. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): When he last met representatives of Greenpeace; and what matters were discussed. [210304]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I met representatives of Greenpeace on 7 January to discuss climate change, energy and the Marine Bill, and on 28 February and 2 June together with colleagues to discuss international climate change. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), also met Greenpeace representatives on 12 May to discuss the forthcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

Andrew Mackinlay: In any of those meetings since May, did Greenpeace raise with Ministers the fact that Sizewell B’s nuclear reactor was closed down—“unplanned” was the word used by the official spokesperson for the industry—and that when the spokesperson was asked why and what the circumstances were, no statement was forthcoming? Is it not time that Greenpeace and the House were told what the circumstances relating to the closedown of the Sizewell B reactor in May—unplanned?

Hilary Benn: To the best of my recollection, that issue was not raised in the meetings to which I referred. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will take note of the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): In the meetings that the right hon. Gentleman had with the
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director of Greenpeace, did he hear the director of Greenpeace say, with regard to vehicle excise duty, that that

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Treasury projections for the income from VED increasing exponentially over the years demonstrates that it is nothing to do with changing people’s behaviour, and that it is in fact to do with raising more taxes? If it was to do with changing behaviour, presumably the income from it would decline over the years to some kind of vanishing point. Is there not a fundamental disagreement between his Department and the Treasury on the subject?

Hilary Benn: The director of Greenpeace has not raised that issue with me in the meetings I have had with him, but the purpose of the changes put into the Budget was to make us all more aware of the CO2 emissions of our vehicles—both newly purchased and existing ones. Is it unreasonable in the world in which we live that that factor should be taken into account?

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Does not Greenpeace support the idea that we have to rethink the way in which we use our cars and that taxation must play a part? I have argued for a counter-cyclical rebalancing of the fiscal state expenditure ratio to put more through taxes in the pockets of lower and middle-income earners, but on cars we have to wean ourselves gently off these Tory gas guzzlers and stop warming up the environment just because it suits the car lobby represented on the Conservative Benches.

Hilary Benn: The high price of petrol and diesel, because of the high price of oil, is bringing us face to face with the resource crunch. I think that every Member of the House acknowledges that. We wish to have the mobility that having a car gives us, but what will really be incentivised is more research and investment into non-polluting forms of car use, particularly electric car technology—and the sooner that comes, the better.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The Conservatives strongly agree with Greenpeace that an ambitious roll-out of microgeneration should be a key part of the UK’s climate change strategy, but to make that happen, we must have a comprehensive system of feed-in tariffs. On 20 February, before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Secretary of State himself, like many on the Labour Back Benches, strongly supported the role of feed-in tariffs, so why did he roll over and allow DBERR to squash feed-in tariff amendment to the Energy Bill?

Hilary Benn: I do think that we should look into feed-in tariffs, which is why I welcomed the statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy earlier this year and why I welcome the fact that this matter will figure in the renewable energy strategy consultation that is shortly to be published. The evidence from other countries shows clearly that we should be looking at ways of encouraging microgeneration. The renewables obligation works very well for big renewables, but we need to find a way of getting more to happen at the
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domestic and community level. I look forward to that consultation, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, too.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): When the Secretary of State meets Greenpeace on the next occasion, will he put on the agenda the question of peak oil? Is that not really the elephant in the room? If it is true, as BP says this week, that given the growing demand from China, India and other newly industrialising countries, there may be only four decades of oil left in the world and we are about to reach the peak, is it not necessary that everybody understands that? We need to generate a much deeper public debate about the finite nature of oil reserves.

Hilary Benn: In the light of the questions asked this morning, the director of Greenpeace is going to have a very long list of issues to be raised when we next meet. I agree completely with my hon. Friend that we are coming face to face with the consequences of rising demand and finite resources. As we plan for the future, it will be very difficult for lots of people as they try to cope with the consequences. That reinforces the case for taking action to prepare for a low-carbon economy; it is not an argument for putting it off.

Pig Sector

6. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the profitability of the pig sector. [210306]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): Estimates of pig farm incomes were published in January. The sector’s profits have been particularly hit by feed price increases. The average commercial pig farm is expected to show a loss of income of around £4,100 for the period between March 2007 and February 2008. Pigmeat prices have risen steadily in 2008. If that continues, we expect to see a partial recovery in profitability over the next 12 months, although global harvests and feed prices remain a key factor.

Mr. Heath: The pig industry is entering a crisis that goes well beyond cyclical variations. Even with the improvements in prices, the pig farmer is losing an average of £12 for every pig, with losses for pig farmers this year likely to total £170 million and more than 50 per cent. of the national breeding herd lost. Given that, is there not something extraordinary about the fact that supermarket prices are going up, and the primary producers are not benefiting? Yet again, is there not something seriously wrong with the supply chain which the Government would do well to look into?

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