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Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab):
I, too, welcome my right hon. Friends bold statement. The 80 per cent. target will be widely welcomed not only in Britain, but throughout the world. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), my right hon. Friend made the important remark that we need to look again at the whole structure of the energy markets. Will he give the guarantee, which I think is consistent with what he has said, that we will never
allow price to be used as an instrument to ration energy supply to the poorest people in our country, because this issue is not only about security of supply, but it is also about adequacy of supply for people who need heat and light?
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but we need to address the issues in a cautious manner because, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) has said, investment and security are also important matters, and we need to ensure that companies keep investing. In this area, there is a whole range of problematic issues across the board, which, again, the Select Committee addressed very well. As I pointed out to the energy companies, only 60 per cent. of the people who switch supplier do better from having done so, which means that 40 per cent. are either no better off or worse off from having switched. I made the point to the energy companies yesterday that that does not suggest to me that the market is working as well as it should in relation to the information people are receiving and what is happening with prices. Somebody said to me yesterday that a week after having switched suppliers the prices changed and they were worse off from having switched. Therefore, a whole range of issues need to be looked at; I thought it was better to look at them in detail with proper care and attention than to make statements about them in my first two weeks in the job, but they are important issues that need to be addressed.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that earlier this week the Department for Transport brought forward new environmental regulations for the automotive industry where the Governments own impact assessment showed that the costs are likely to exceed the benefits, possibly by as much as £11 billion? Does that not show that there are better ways of reducing our carbon emissions, such as by the Governments new-found and recent conversion to nuclear power, and that it would be a sad and damaging outcome to his statement if we were to meet our UK emissions simply by driving businesses and jobs, and emissions, overseas without any benefit to the global environment, but at further great damage to British manufacturing industry, which is already in recession?
Edward Miliband: Two issues are raised by the right hon. Gentlemans question. The first is the efficiency with which we meet our targets and about which he makes an important point. Our overall target for climate change emissions and the EU emissions trading scheme play an important role, but the more extra targets we have below that, the more danger there is that we will meet those targets less efficiently. I did not refer to that when the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman asked me about the matter, but that would be my response to additional targets and limits in relation to specific power stations. The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point on that.
The point on which I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman is that I think the European Union must play an important role. A lot of cross-border issues are involved, such as the EU emissions trading scheme, and they need to be dealt with in a cross-border fashion. We need a European dimension, partly for reasons of
competitiveness. We also need to take care, when setting new targets, that we do not damage our competitiveness unnecessarily.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend and his team to the new Department, which is an excellent step forward. It could not have had a better start than this statement, which addressed not only targets but issues such as the consumer impact. I welcome his comment that markets have changed in the past 20 years, and I wonder whether that logically means that the regulators role should be reviewed to address those changes.
As chairman of the all-party Globe UK group, I have written formally to my right hon. Friend, not only to welcome him to his new post but to offer our support as we move towards the crucial 2009 COP 15, and to express the importance of a post-Kyoto framework coming out of that conference. In that respect, does he share my concern that there are signs that some European member states are going backwards on mid-term targets because of the situation that we face? Does he agree that the European Union needs to set a clear example and send a signal if we are to get an agreement at COP 15?
Edward Miliband: Again, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends work, both in Government and as president of Globe, which is an important organisation that works with legislators across the world on climate change issues. His work will be an important part of our securing a deal in Copenhagen at the end of next year.
On the wider questions of regulation that he raises, I shall proceed cautiously. It is important that we continue to get the investment that we need in the energy market, but I have come to no conclusions on the matter yet. The context has changed and, in the coming months, I shall examine the implications of that on policy.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): May I make a plea for people in rural areas who have no option of gas and depend heavily on heating oil? According to the Library note, heating oil is 86 per cent. above its July 2008 price and 227 per cent. above the late 1998 and early 1999 low. Those people are really hurting, and they are not benefiting from falling prices as others are. What can the Secretary of States Department do to ensure that they do?
Secondly, the Secretary of State has not mentioned the security of our own oil and gas production, which will still be needed despite the climate change commitments. Can he reassure us that the Government have a commitment to maximising production from our own resources for our own security?
Edward Miliband: On the second point, absolutely. That is very important. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that we are a transition economy, but it will be a long transition and the role of oil and gas will be central for many years to come. I absolutely agree with him about that.
On rural areas, I shall examine the right hon. Gentlemans point about heating oil. He raises an important issue, because I believe that the 4 million electricity-only
customers identified in the Ofgem report are mainly in rural areas. Part of the discrimination that Ofgem has found is against people in rural areas, who are paying more than they should be. I hope that the companies take action on that quickly to help ease some of the problems to which he refers.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I too welcome my right hon. Friend to his important new role in this very important new Department. I congratulate him also on the quality of his statement and particularly the decisions that it contained, such as the change of heart on the feed-in tariff, which I very much welcome.
My right hon. Friend mentioned Stern. May I ask him to consider how we are progressing towards achieving Sterns recommendation that we should be spending 1 per cent. of gross domestic product on reducing and mitigating climate change? Of course, the feed-in tariff is an example of the Government using their powers to encourage private investment, and nobody is suggesting that all the money needs to come from Government sources. However, the information from the Library suggests that Government spending is only a fraction of what it needs to be if we are to meet the Stern recommendations. May I ask him to examine that? After all, having strong targets is no good if we do not have the means of achieving them.
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that the 1 to 2 per cent. recommended by Stern was for 2050, so we have some time to get there. I shall take that as a homework point to go away and examine. Working out the direction of travel for public spending and what will be required is an important part of the attempt to tackle climate change.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I think that the time has come for a plea for brevity. I have to protect the important debates to follow, so I am aiming to move on to them by roughly 1.25 pm. I hope that I do not hear the word secondly again, and I am afraid that those who arrived late for the statement may be casualties.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Secretary of State find time to come up to Norfolk and join me on a flight over the Wash, where he will see a large number of offshore turbines? We will eventually have 500 or so. They are very popular, in stark contrast to onshore turbines, which generate very little electricity, are extremely unpopular and do great damage to the environment. In a case such as Norfolk and Suffolk, does he agree that turbines should be concentrated offshore?
Edward Miliband: I will be cautious about accepting the hon. Gentlemans invitation, not least because of the carbon emissions that would flow from flying over the wind farms. However, I agree that offshore wind plays an important role. Believe it or not, we are about to overtake Denmark in the amount of offshore wind power that we have, which is a good sign that we are moving in the right direction.
Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friends statement was dynamic and decisive, and it has given his Department the best possible start. In setting the 80 per cent. target, he has recognised that long-term certainty is vital for investment in energy. Will he consider ensuring that investment can be made in renewables, particularly wave technology and other marine technologies, and that incentives are aligned with the need for the technology?
Edward Miliband: Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on forestry and a range of other matters. I shall definitely consider wave technology, which has already been raised with me, and I am happy to have a meeting with him about it.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), the Secretary of State mentioned the study of electricity prices. It is important that our constituents get a fair deal on electricity in rural areas, where there is no access to the gas main. He did not tackle the fundamental point that even a slightly cheaper electricity bill will not pay the oil bill. The cost of heating homes that do not have access to the gas main is disproportionate. If the Government seriously want to tackle poverty in rural areas, they will have to come up with a much more robust strategy for those who do not have access to the gas main.
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me; I do not have an immediate answer to that question. I shall endeavour to look into it now that it has been raised by both him and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce).
I welcome my right hon. Friends statement, but will he accept that there is bound to be anxiety up and down the country at the increase of some 35 to 40 per cent. that is being implemented in domestic prices? Would it not be useful if, when he met the energy companies, he would be a little tougher and make it clear to them that those increases should be cancelled? If not, why not a windfall tax?
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in these matters. As he knows, a windfall tax is really a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not for me, but I would say to my hon. Friend that we are very concerned about what is happening to prices. The wholesale gas price is now going down, and we will be looking to see how that is passed on to consumers. We absolutely want that to happen.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
My constituents support renewable energy. We have a wind farm at Burton Wold with 10 turbines, soon to expand to 17 and possibly to 24 in future. It supplies between a
quarter and a third of the houses in the borough of Kettering. What local residents do not want is loads more wind farms all over the countryside, but five planning applications are coming through. What mechanism exists for local authorities to support a wind farm in their locality without feeling pressurised into giving permission for all the applications that come along?
Edward Miliband: In the end, this is a matter for local decisions. We have taken action in the Planning Bill to speed things up, but this issue is not easy. I know, from the experience in my constituency, that people worry about the impact of wind farms on the value of their houses and so on. The problem is that, as always with these things, if we do not act on questions of renewable energythe hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) rightly made the point about offshore wind, but onshore wind must also play a partwe will not meet our renewable energy targets. There is no easy answer, but I think that feed-in tariffs and the possibility of community wind farms and smaller-scale projects have an opportunity to command more public consent than larger-scale projects sometimes do. That is another reason why I hope that the decision I have made about feed-in tariffs will help on some of these questions.
In order to reduce our emissions by 80 per cent., we clearly need increased investment in a wide range of renewables. Will the Secretary of State carefully consider what the cumulative effect would be on forest and land use around the world of locating enough biomass material to feed all the biomass power stations in the planning system? I fear that our system of renewables obligation certificates might end up rewarding electricity producers for importing biomass materials huge distances from unsustainable sources. That would be completely different from small-scale projects using locally sourced biomass.
Edward Miliband: The question was definitely worth waiting for, because this is an important issue. My hon. Friend may know that an independent report on forestry published earlier this week argued precisely for a sustainable approach to forests, which must include the approach we take on biomass. I hear her comments and will think further about them.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I welcome the statement, although I did not quite hear the detail about the insulation scheme that the Leader of the House advertised in advance. I am strongly in favour of that scheme, which is long overdue. The problem that I face is that many of my constituents are among the most vulnerable people, because of the reasons explained by my Liberal colleaguesthey are dependent on oil fuel or high-tariff electricity; and they live in houses that are often cold, damp and old, so they cannot benefit from cavity wall insulation. May I suggest to the Secretary of State that we need the maximum flexibility in the scheme so that the most appropriate measures are taken to reduce energy need, whatever that might be in a particular area and for a particular type of house?
Edward Miliband: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need as much diversity as possible, particularly in relation to the CERTcarbon emissions reduction targetscheme. One thing that I discussed with the companies was the diverse range of ways in which they can help people with their heating bills. It is right that we make and encourage the investments involved in this scheme, because that is a sustainable way to reduce peoples bills. I know that there are issues to address, particularly in respect of older houses and the kind of technologies that we need to develop. We need to speed up such development and continue to examine it.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his radical statement, which contains enough to give credence to everybodys point of view. I wish to make two points. First, security of energy is of the utmost importance, because, at the end of the day, we must deal with it. Secondly, clean coal technology must be part of that dimension. Some 85 per cent. of our reserves are still in this country, so it would be ludicrous if we did not deal with that. May I ask him to take one message back to the six companies? Can he tell him that if they do not change, Members on both sides of this House will change things for them?
Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend, because keeping the lights on is a central part of what we need to do and the security of supply is obviously central to that. He also makes a very important point about the future role that coal and carbon capture and storage can play. I concur with that, as a result of my local experiences.
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): My right hon. Friend rightly talked about the role of our European partners in creating an effective response to the environmental challenges that we face. Will he undertake to show the same effort with regard to the incoming United States Administration, to ensure that the international response is what it needs to be?
Edward Miliband: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He raises a very important issue that will define whether we get an agreement at Copenhagen at the end of next year. I am very encouraged by what both candidates for the presidency have said about what they want to be doing on the environmental and climate change issues that we face, and the role that the US can play. Obviously, Britain, Europe and other countries have an important role to play after the US election in engaging in dialogue with our US partners about how they can be part of a successful process leading up to the Copenhagen meeting.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party welcome the new target. It will be particularly welcome in Wales, where the One Wales coalition Government agreement already commits the Welsh Assembly Government to a 3 per cent. annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
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