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John Healey: Our first priority has been to help those authorities and other depositors in the Icelandic banks
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to get their money back and to be treated fairly. Led by the Treasury, that has been happening over the past few weeks. Our second priority has been to ensure that we send in financial experts to work with authorities that have deposits in Icelandic banks, so that we could reassure them and residents that there was no short-term threat to services or staff, and we have done that.

Beyond that, there is currently no evidence that the guidance for local authorities on investment that has been in place since 2004 is faulty. Indeed, most authorities have spread their investments, which is one reason why none is experiencing serious short-term difficulties. I will of course meet my hon. Friend—indeed, I believe that I am due to meet him shortly. I look forward to that meeting with him and leading members of Nottingham city council, which was one of the authorities with deposits in a failed Icelandic bank.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Could the Minister offer any additional guidance to councils such as West Lancashire district council to ensure that affordable housing schemes are progressed to positive fruition? Sadly, I have to report a number of incidents, including one in which the housing association, working with the council’s housing department, brought forward a scheme costing £800,000, only to find that the planning department preferred it on an adjacent site for which there was no grant. The whole scheme therefore fell apart, with £800,000 or £900,000 lost and no affordable housing built. That is an absolute disgrace. We need some help with things like that.

Margaret Beckett: I completely understand the distress that my hon. Friend expresses and I share her disappointment that, owing to what sounds like a series of unfortunate decisions not being connected, such proposals fell through. I am not sure that guidance from us would help in such circumstances, unless it was “For goodness’ sake, show some sense.”

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Points of Order

3.33 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe you are aware of a letter that I recently received from Westminster city council saying that despite your robust statement on 28 October about the unauthorised and illegal protest noise in Parliament square, there are no plans to prosecute, because, as the council puts it,

Would you care to inform us whether the Government have responded to your request to be consulted about the matter? If they have not, when they consult you, will you draw to their attention the recent report that Westminster city council has ordered Debenhams to stop playing Christmas carols outside its window display, because, the council says,

Mr. John Wilkinson, the council’s noise team manager said:

Perhaps we should advise Debenhams to intersperse its carols with terms of abuse towards politicians and our armed forces, in order to be allowed to play them.

Mr. Speaker: I am not aware of what restrictions on noise nuisance are being imposed by Westminster city council away from Parliament square. Perhaps Debenhams was putting us all in a Christmas spirit—good luck to it. I am awaiting the response of the council to the deliberations of the Joint Committee about noise affecting the House.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this afternoon, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local
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Government, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), accused me of misleading the House—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I listened carefully to that. The term “misleading”, as used by anyone outside the House, is not something that I would draw to the attention of a Minister or any other hon. Member, unless a Minister or an hon. Member says that an hon. Member is misleading the House. The hon. Gentleman did not say that the hon. Lady was misleading the House. Had he done so, I would have brought him to order.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Further to the point of order made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), Mr. Speaker. You gave a good answer to my hon. Friend, but may I remind the House, through you, that the Procedure Committee, which I chaired some years ago, produced a report into the noise and other antisocial activity in Parliament square? It appears that the advice of the Committee, which was accepted by the House, has not been followed through properly by the Government and Westminster city council.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that matter to my attention.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): On a quite different point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not ironic that today’s motion 9, entitled “Debate Europe”, which promotes yet more propaganda from the European Union on how good it is for this country, cannot be debated in the House tonight under Standing Orders? Can you please do something, Mr. Speaker, to enable us to debate the motion?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me; it is a matter for the usual channels.

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Energy Bill [Ways and Means] (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

3.37 pm

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): We are being asked to vote on the Ways and Means resolution on the Energy Bill that provides power for Ofgem to levy charges in connection with the renewable heat obligation. The Minister will know that the renewable heat obligation is vague. It came in only at the last minute of their lordships’ consideration of the Bill, and even the Government will accept that we do not really know what it is, what form it will take, or when it will come in. However, we are being asked to nod through a motion that gives powers to Ofgem to levy charges in connection with the obligation.

My understanding is that this problem would not arise if were we talking about feed-in tariffs, because the feed-in tariff from which a person benefits is generally taken through higher charges on other consumers of electricity. However, when it comes to renewable heat, I am not clear what we are giving a blank cheque to Ofgem to do. Will the Minister, when he responds to this short debate, tell the House what powers we are giving to Ofgem, in what circumstances it would levy charges, on what sorts of people, for what purposes, on what scale, and when? It is not without reason that we have been given 45 minutes to explore and probe the provision, and I hope that the Minister tells us what Ofgem would use the power for.

One can see the flip side of the measure, and that a renewable heat incentive would be beneficial to one set of people, but it is not clear who would have to pay Ofgem under the motion. Will the Minister clarify what powers he is asking us to give to Ofgem, in what circumstances, and why?

3.39 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): This is not a blank cheque. The Government have taken the view that the renewable heat incentive amendments that we will debate shortly should be subject to substantive discussion and consultation, and to a further order in the House in due course. All the amendments to be debated later will do is give us the power, if necessary, to enable Ofgem to levy some charges or make some payments to put the renewable heat incentive in place. In a sense, we are creating a power or an ability to do something, on which we will subsequently consult. If we are to introduce the renewable heat incentive—I think that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of it—the mechanisms must be
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in place to deliver it. In the debate that follows this one, we can look at what is going to be done in broad terms, knowing that we are essentially creating powers that will at a later stage be the subject of substantive discussion. In due course, further orders will be put through the House. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks me exactly what levy charges will be made. That is exactly what we will discuss in the subsequent debate on the powers in the Bill.

Steve Webb: Will the Minister tell me—I may be the only one who does not understand what he is proposing—what sort of organisations Ofgem would be able to take money from? What sort of organisations would pay such charges?

Mr. O'Brien: Essentially, we would need to look at the payments from some of the fossil fuel generators. They would probably—this will be the subject of discussion later—make payments that could then be used to ensure that the renewable heat incentive was substantive or to make compensation payments to those involved in generating that renewable heat. We thus need to create the power to enable that sort of levy to be imposed. As I have said, much of this will be the subject of consultation.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that some of the amendments resulted from discussions during the Bill’s passage both here and in the other place. The Government have been persuaded by some of the arguments, not least from Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members as well as Government Members, so we want to create a series of powers to deal in a detailed way with what needs to be done. We have the broad outline of policy—I think that we all agree with that—but we need to make provision for precise details on the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman about what sort of levy will be imposed and on whom. I have explained who is likely to be affected and how it will be done.

Question put and agreed to.

Energy Bill (programme) (no. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (Programme Motions),

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Energy Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Speaker: I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 42 to 44, 55 to 57, 63, 65 and 86. If the House agrees to those amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 20

Terms and conditions

Lords amendment: No. 1.

3.43 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 41, 45, 68, 73, 74, 79 to 85, 89 and 99.

Mr. O'Brien: This group of amendments deals with a number of issues, including carbon capture and storage, the renewables obligation and offshore electricity transmission. Let me deal with the amendments in turn; I suspect that they will not prove controversial, but it is right to outline their main provisions.

Amendment No. 1 refers to the carbon dioxide storage provisions and relates to clause 20, which deals with the terms and conditions of carbon dioxide storage licences. In Committee, the other place agreed an amendment to require the licensing authority to consult the licence holder before making modifications to an existing licence. Even though this would be standard practice, an express duty would provide greater certainty to commercial operators. We agreed with the arguments presented and I am therefore bringing forward the amendment from the other place.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 11 are proposed to the carbon dioxide storage provisions in the Bill, specifically clause 34. The clause enables the functions of the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers to be transferred, by order, to another authority, or more than one authority, that is best placed to exercise such functions. It will be possible to use the power to transfer functions to the most appropriate and best equipped authority to regulate carbon dioxide storage in due course. For example, if a marine management organisation is established, it might prove an appropriate authority for regulating carbon dioxide storage. The provision will give the House an opportunity to decide later if that is the way in which it wishes to deal with the matter.

3.45 pm

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended that only public rather than private bodies should be tasked with carrying out the functions on behalf of the Secretary of State or Scottish Ministers. That recommendation is consistent with our intentions in the clause. Any potential transfer
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was always intended to be in connection with public bodies and we therefore brought forward these amendments in the other place.

Amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 79 to 83 are minor drafting amendments aimed at clarifying the definitions of Scottish and Welsh waters that are currently contained in one chapter of this Bill and which have been inserted in legislation that this Bill amends.

Amendment No. 68 relates to importation and storage of gas and carbon dioxide storage. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that regulations made under clauses 13 and 27 be subject to an affirmative procedure. Such regulations would specify the powers and duties of inspectors of offshore gas storage and unloading and carbon dioxide storage facilities, respectively. Amendment No. 68 was tabled in the other place to meet those recommendations. We accept the Committee's recommendation to subject the making of the regulations to an affirmative resolution procedure.

The second set of amendments in the group relates to the renewables obligation under clause 37. It is our intention, supported by the renewables industry, to introduce a reformed renewables obligation as soon as possible after receiving Royal Assent for the Bill. In practice, that will mean from 1 April 2009, as the obligation runs out at the end of a financial year. However, the timetable for achieving that is very tight. The difficulty is that the operation of the renewables obligation in Scotland is already devolved. The amendment puts the transfer of the reformed functions to Scottish Ministers in the Bill rather than using the longer process of an order under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998 once Royal Assent has been received.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: In just a moment.

Transferring functions in such a way is fully in line with the devolution settlement but ensures that we are on track to deliver on our zero band by April 2009. May I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the issue has been debated and approved in Holyrood by means of a legislative consent motion?

Mr. Gummer: Why did the Minister not take the opportunity to correct the mistake relating to the renewables obligation as far as biofuels were concerned, which was later found in the Bill by Department for Transport lawyers and will mean that there will be considerable disorientation this year on the biofuels requirement?

Mr. O'Brien: We took the view that the issue of biofuels was not appropriate for the Bill. The amendments do not deal with that; they deal with a separate issue of how the renewables obligation will be dealt with and the way in which clause 37 will operate. As I have already indicated, with these Lords amendments we are ensuring that the role of Scottish Ministers is dealt with, rather than trying to deal with a particular issue, such as biofuels. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman has a view on biofuels—we certainly accept that many other people have—but this is not the appropriate place to deal with it.

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