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Conservative Members agree that the choice between ambitious and progressive action on carbon reduction and a successful, powerful economy is, in fact, not a choice at allthey are one and the same. Without decisive action, there is a risk that climate change will leach away huge resources from this country and every other nation on earth. The economic events of recent days have proved that catastrophic risk must be acted on rather than wished away. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge, however, that we start from a position of disadvantage? There has been a decade-long void in the Governments policy on energy, in which successive Ministers have looked the other way rather than addressing the issue of our future energy needs. Does the Secretary
of State accept that to the intrinsic difficulties of making choices on energy have been added the consequences of a decade of indecision?
It was Conservative Members who first called on the Government to publish the Climate Change Bill, which we have sought to strengthen through scrutiny in this and another place. We have been called here today for the Secretary of State to announce a new target, but does he share his predecessors view that the Government are unlikely to meet their 2010 target of a 20 per cent. cut in emissions, despite three successive manifesto pledges? We support his acceptance of the Committee on Climate Changes target of 80 per cent.we have always said that we should be guided by the science on thatbut, as he knows, eight years ago 60 per cent. was considered to be the right target. Does he agree that the committee should keep the target under constant review, and that if the advice changes, so must the target?
Does the Secretary of State share our view that the move to decarbonise our economy should involve leading the way in new technology and practices at home, rather than simply buying in permits from other countries? If he agrees with that, does he also agree that the Committee on Climate Change should advise on the right balance between domestic and traded reductions? Does he accept that his predecessors have been paying lip service to carbon capture and storage without decisive action? Will he commit himself to our policy of funding at least three CCS demonstration projects, so that Britain can lead the world in this vital technology?
If the Secretary of State is serious about decarbonising our economy, will he give us a guarantee by adopting our emissions performance standard, whereby no plant will be licensed if its emissions are worse than those of a modern gas-powered station? Will he acknowledge that decentralised generation offers a vital way for our citizens to cut their fuel bills and emissions, and inject greater resilience into our energy supply? I welcome his belated acceptance of our case for feed-in tariffs for micro and small-scale generation; however, it is regrettable that his statement appeared to contain nothing about tariffs for renewable heat and gas. Will he also now recognise the case for smart metering, which will enable customers to profit from microgeneration? Finally, will he tell us how many vulnerable people he now expects to be in fuel poverty by 2010, the date by which the Government have committed themselves to eradicating it?
Gas customers without pre-payment meters pay up to 40 per cent. more than those using online direct debits and, according to Ofgem, the cheapest online offers may be below costin other words, the poorest are subsidising the well-off. We look to the Secretary of State to act through his conversations with Ofgem and the companies, so that the poorest get the most help, not the least.
We welcome the measures that the Secretary of State has proposed today but, as with our public finances and our financial system, on energy and climate change, we are hobbled byhow would his friend the Prime Minister put it?a decade of irresponsibility. Britain cannot afford the years ahead to be wasted like the years that have passed.
In the past few weeks, we have grown accustomed to the bipartisan consensus lasting all of 30 seconds before the Opposition retreat to their
normal practice. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. I had the pleasure of having him shadow me at the Cabinet Office, where he distinguished himself with his talentand sometimes with his constructive suggestions. He made his name in the Conservative party through his admiration for Polly Toynbee, which I share. He went slightly further than me, however, because he was in the same party as her at one stagethe Social Democratic party. However, I welcome him to his new position and I am sure that he will fulfil the role with distinction.
Let me deal with some of the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman raised. On the question of inaction and targets, let me say clearly that currently, on the latest figures, our greenhouse gas emissions are 16 per cent. below our 1990 levels. We have made progress. Indeed I think that we are one of the few countries to be going beyond our Kyoto targets. Therefore, far from a decade of inaction, we have been making progress.
On the question of buying in permits, the Climate Change Committee will indeed advise us on that issue. I urge him, as someone who is new to these questions, to take care on that issue. It is right that we set stretching and demanding targets for our country, but it is also right that we find ways, because we are in this together, to encourage other countries to move to a low-carbon economy.
On the question of carbon capture and storage, the hon. Gentleman does what the Conservative party has started to do quite a lot, which is to say, Why dont you just fund more of this? Of course we want to do more in respect of carbon capture and storage. However, he may not have noticed that times are tight in terms of public expenditure. We are funding a carbon capture and storage demonstration competition. What is morethis is an important point and Conservative Members do not want to hear it, because it is about Europe and they do not like to hear about thatwe are arguing within the European Union for a dozen carbon capture and storage projects, which the European Parliament has agreed. In my early experience of this job, it has been quite good to go to European meetings and not to be seen as someone on the sidelines who is talking about withdrawing from the groupings that we are in or about renegotiating existing treaties. Being part of the European Union is about being a proper member of it.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of other questions. We agree that smart metering has an important role to play. We also agree on the issue of prices. I made it clear in my statement that we expect Ofgem to act as an independent regulator should, and put pressure on the situation in terms of prices across a range of areas, including on the issue of pre-payment metershe rightly pointed out that that is an issue.
I look forward to my debates with the hon. Gentleman in the coming months, but on the issues of energy and climate change the Conservative party is completely confused. Nuclear power used to be a last resort. Now Conservative Members are not quite sure what their policy is. They say that they are in favour of renewable
energy, but all around the country they oppose wind turbines, and they oppose tooth and nail the Planning Bill, which will make it possible for us to make a difference in relation to renewable energy. Therefore, I encourage him in his first few weeks in the job to sort out Conservative party policy on those issues.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): It is customary to start questions from the Labour Benches by congratulating the Minister on his statement. I do not know how it is possible to add to that, but I unbelievably warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on the statementthe Gordian knot on climate change and energy supply has been untied.
On the proposals for a feed-in tariff for small-scale generators, is it the intention, either directly as a result of the feed-in tariff mechanism, or indirectly through an incentive mechanism, to ensure that heat is part of the process of small-scale generation tariffs as well as electricity?
Edward Miliband: I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on these issues, particularly feed-in tariffs. He is one of the people who has led the work on those issues. I have looked at and listened to what he has been saying on those questions. I agree that heat can also play a role. We need to find ways of doing that. I look forward to talking to him about those issues. Again, we will want to make announcements very soon on that issue.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): I also warmly welcome and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on this critical role within government. I also congratulate the Government on following the Lib Dem lead from nine months ago and putting energy and climate change into a single brief. However, I want the right hon. Gentleman to be even more powerful than he is because we will tackle climate change effectively only if he also has control over pretty much the rest of the Government as well. Is it not the case that, in the week that he was appointed, one of his ministerial colleagues said, We will expand Stansted airport? What is the point of having a climate change Minister who has no clout with the rest of the Cabinet? I urge the Secretary of State to wield a big stick around the rest of the Cabinet and ensure that not just energy and climate change decisions, but all other Government decisions are taken through a green lens.
I welcome the move to the 80 per cent. target. Can I save the Secretary of State some trouble? He does not need to table a fresh amendment. He can simply accept mine: amendment No. 1 to the Climate Change Bill, which deletes 60 and inserts 80. It is on the Order Paper, and I will be honoured to have his name added to it.
On a serious point, can the Secretary of State clarify the coverage of the 80 per cent. target? He used some vague words in his statement about aviation and shipping playing their part, but he did not say that they were included in the 80 per cent. target. Is not excluding aviation and shipping from the 80 per cent. target like being on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting the cream cakes that one plans to eat? Surely, we have to count the big polluters and the rapidly growing polluters in the target.
On the issue of domestic effort, we fully appreciate the importance of saving emissions at home and abroad, but is it not the case that the Climate Change Bill would allow every single saving to be brought in? We do not have to save any domestic emissions at all under the Bill. Surely the Secretary of State, when he goes to international forums, wants to set the lead? Is there not some floor that he is willing to set that insists that the British domestic effort is substantial?
The Secretary of State had a meeting with the energy companies yesterday, the latest in a very long line of cosy chats with them that have delivered precisely nothing. Is it not time, not for more cosy chats, but for action? His statement says that, if the energy companies do not play ball, he will threaten them with consultation on legislation. Have not hard-pressed customers had to wait long enough?
Today, I have published figures that show that the poorest four fifths of single pensioners will on average be in fuel poverty this winter; the figures were produced by the House of Commons Library based on Office for National Statistics projections. That is totally unacceptable. Waiting another month and then consulting is too late for pensioners this winter. Will the Secretary of State act far more urgently than that?
Edward Miliband: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my statement. It is probably a good sign that everyone is trying to claim credit for that on the Opposition Benchesperhaps that is better than the alternative.
Let me deal with the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The first was about Stansted airport and the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. One needs to be honest about the trade-offs and difficulties. If we carry on flying in the way that we are and expanding airports, we need to do less of other things. We are absolutely determinedthis is why I said thatto meet our overall targets.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the 80 per cent. target and whether it includes aviation and shipping. Lord Turners advice is that they should be taken into account and be considered as part of the overall target. There are concerns, however, about including aviation and shipping in the Bill which relate to the measurement and calculation of international aviation, and the hon. Gentleman knows that there are ongoing discussions about how to calculate international aviationdomestic aviation is easier to deal with. However, it is, of course, the case that aviation and shipping need to be part of our overall approach to cutting carbon emissions. That is why, for example, we have argued that aviation should be part of the EU emissions trading scheme, which will be the case from 2013. The hon. Gentleman invited me to sign his amendment. I shall have a look at that and get back to him. However, I suggest that he does not call me; I will call him.
On the important issue of energy prices and pensioners, I agree with the spirit of the hon. Gentlemans remarks about the urgency of getting on with things. I have been in this job for less than two weeks, and I am absolutely committed to moving as quickly as is legally possible on all these issues, as I have been making clear to officials
in my Departmentand as I made clear yesterday to the big six energy companies, and as I have made clear in my two meetings so far with Ofgem, the independent regulator. We have a regulatory system in this country that we must observe, but I am absolutely determined that we will deal as speedily as possible with some of the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for making a clear, serious and radical statement, which encourages many of us, and I congratulate him and his formidable ministerial team as they take up their new responsibilities. They take them up at a time when the geopolitics of energy insecurity impinge not only on Europes and Britains supply, but on Britains national security.
May I ask two questions? Many of us believe that climate change is truly the big challenge facing our planet this century. Will my right hon. Friend confront the siren voices that we are now hearing in many parts of the world, including Europe and Britain, that say that, given the economic and financial difficulties, we cannot afford to save the planet? My right hon. Friend has stressed the economics of tackling this problem, and I wish him all strength in that campaign.
My second question is on affordability. Despite the Governments many achievements in many Departments in safeguarding the interests of the most vulnerable, we know that many vulnerable people, and not just the elderly, are frightened about the prospects this coming winter. Will my right hon. Friend consider going further than the energy efficiency package that has been announced, and develop a kind of national planto use an old-fashioned termso that we can start to retrofit Britains housing stock to help tackle the problem of carbon emissions while making sure that we understand our duty to protect our most vulnerable from the perils of the cold?
Edward Miliband: Let me start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend for the great work he has done on this issue. He started much of what was in my statement on the energy side. I know that people across the House and across the energy industry have the highest regard for the work he has done on these matters, and I look forward to carrying on working with him in his new role around global energy markets.
On my hon. Friends climate change question, I completely agree that we must confront the siren voices who say we should retreat and row back from these commitments, partly because we know that the longer we wait the worse the problem will get, and partly because, as I said in my statement, we know there are ways in which we can address both the economic issues we currently face and the long-term climate change questions.
I also have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said on the issues of fuel poverty and affordability, and I am urgently looking into that by asking what more can be done, as soon as possible, to help such vulnerable people. Let me make just one other point, however, which refers back to my statement. We have a market system that was designed 20 years ago in completely different times, and some of the issues that we are now facing are symptomatic of having a differently designed system created some time ago. Therefore, there
is a whole set of questions that we need to consider to do with how we can fundamentally tackle the issues my hon. Friend raised in his second question.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): As Chairman of the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, which has had responsibility for scrutinising energy policy, I must welcome the higher priority that is being given to energy and climate change matters, even as I regret what I imagine will be the loss of my Committees responsibilities in this area, and also the loss of an excellent Minister of State, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), who will be greatly missed. I also worry that the new Department might have an inappropriate tension between energy and climate change, because there is a tension between those two matters; securing supply is also very important for keeping the lights on, and I did not hear quite enough on that in the Secretary of States statement, although I am sure we will hear more about it later.
Let me ask a question specifically on fuel poverty. The Secretary of State referred to pre-payment meters, but may I gently remind him that they are not the real issue? The real issue is standard credit terms. Most fuel poverty is concentrated among pensioners and others who are on standard credit terms, and that, for me, is the real political priority if we are to keep people warm this winter.
Edward Miliband: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I pay tribute to his Committee for its July report on these issues. I recommend it to Members as a good readalthough perhaps not a bedtime readas it addresses in great depth the issues surrounding the energy market and energy prices. It is an impressive piece of work, and I have found it extremely useful.
I agree with the points the hon. Gentleman makes on security of supply being a very important issue. Of course, there are always dilemmas and tensions in Government, such as between energy and climate change, and we need to find ways of resolving them. The new Department can, however, also now take advantage of the synergies between those two issues.
The hon. Gentleman asked about people on standard credit, and I agree that that is an issue. On pre-payment meters, however, let me just say to him that there is a conventional wisdom, which I do not say he shares, that many of the people on pre-payment meters are not disadvantaged people. The fact is that 53 per cent. of people on pre-payment meters are in the D and E socio-economic categories. Disproportionately, it is the poorest who are on such meters. Not everyone on a pre-payment meter is poor, but many of the poorest in our society are on one. That is, therefore, an urgent issue, and so, too, are the other matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
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