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5. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on managing the effects on climate change of the Government’s proposals for the aviation market. [270302]

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The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): Tackling the impact of climate change on aviation is a key priority. That is why we led the way in ensuring that the EU emissions trading scheme would cover aviation emissions for the first time from 2012. It is also why we are the first Government in the world to make a commitment to returning aviation emissions to their current levels by 2050. We are also striving to ensure that international aviation is part of global climate change agreements.

Norman Baker: The Secretary of State has made the courageous and correct decision to set a target of 80 per cent. for carbon reduction emissions by 2050. Unfortunately, however, if aviation is to return its emissions to their current levels by that date, all other sectors will be required to make an 89 per cent. cut to cater for it. Given that fact, given the entirely unnecessary expansion of Heathrow, and given that transport is the only sector in which carbon emissions have increased since 1990, is it not time that the Secretary of State had a word with the Secretary of State for Transport and told him to stop derailing his climate change strategy?

Edward Miliband: Surprisingly enough, I do not see it that way. [Hon. Members: “Yes, you do!”] Let us not turn this into a pantomime, but no, I don’t.

There is a respectable position with which I disagree: the hon. Gentleman’s position, which is that we should make across-the-board cuts of 80 per cent. in every sector. In the case of aviation, that would mean returning to 1974 flying levels. I do not think Members could truthfully say that we have those levels now.

As was pointed out by the Committee on Climate Change itself, when it comes to decarbonisation it is inevitable that bigger cuts will be possible in some sectors than in others. I believe that we have been incredibly forward-thinking in making the ambitious commitment, on which the committee will advise us by the end of the year, to return aviation emissions to their current levels—to enable aviation to consume its own smoke, as it were.

Of course there must be a price for carbon emissions from aviation. That is what the EU emissions trading strategy does. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to disagree on this matter.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I noted the Secretary of State’s comments on this matter, but as travelling by air causes 10 times more pollution than travelling by train, why are the Government still intent on increasing aviation capacity, such as through the extension of Heathrow? Surely we should be looking at a shift from plane to train for short-haul journeys?

Edward Miliband: I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the issue of domestic flights; we should do all we can on that, which is why we have announced plans for high-speed rail. Let me make this point to him, however, which the Heathrow debate raises: even after the recession, and even after putting a price on carbon, passenger demand in the UK is expected to double in the next 20 years, and as we know, the world is getting closer together, not further apart. I cannot honestly say to the hon. Gentleman that the right way forward is to have no expansion of aviation. Indeed, in the debate on this
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issue the Conservative Front-Bench team said, revealingly, that they were in favour of aviation expansion in the south-east, but—this is the problem, and we suspect a bit of opportunism here—not at Heathrow, not at Gatwick and not at Stansted. I therefore do not quite know where the Conservatives want the expansion. We have a very genuine and thought-through position, unlike the Conservative party.

Nuclear Development Forum

6. Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations he has received on the work of the nuclear development forum; and if he will make a statement. [270303]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We have received representations from the NDF on a range of issues, but not specifically on the NDF itself.

Mr. Hendrick: My hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the plethora of measures introduced in yesterday’s Budget to deal with the growing problem of climate change. Nuclear development is very important, because nuclear power can play a big role in the battle against climate change. It is safe and efficient, and it is now a crucial tool in that battle. There is a whole industry out there that this country needs to develop, particularly in the area of nuclear fuels—and I am proud to be able to say that Westinghouse, which can develop such fuels, is located close to my constituency at Springfields. When will the Government get their act together and develop the technologies that we need to combat climate change?

Mr. O'Brien: I hope that the Government have set out very clearly how we are going to create a low-carbon economy. We need to develop the base load of nuclear, so that we have new nuclear power stations to replace some of those that will come off-stream in the coming decade and a half. We also need to ensure that we have the renewables, particularly wind generated both onshore and offshore. Beyond that, we need to ensure that, with carbon capture and storage, we have the flexibility to deal with problems of variability of demand and intermittency, and that will come from coal and gas-fired power stations. So there is a clear vision of the way forward for energy generation in this country that will move us towards a low-carbon economy, and with the commitment to reduce our emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050, we are on a clear trajectory to ensure that we meet our climate change needs.

Fuel-poor Households

7. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What estimate he has made of the change in the number of fuel-poor households between 2006 and 2009. [270304]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): Between 2005 and 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, the number in fuel poverty increased to 3.5 million—down from 6.5 million in 1997. We are determined to do all we can, through measures to improve housing and increase the incomes of the most vulnerable and through proper regulation in the energy market, to tackle fuel poverty.

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John Howell: Given that the term “fuel poverty” does not seem to have been used once in yesterday’s Budget statement, can the Secretary of State confirm that Warm Front will be sufficient to address Age Concern’s assessment of the Budget that its failure to tackle fuel poverty will continue to leave more pensioners out in the cold?

Edward Miliband: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman—and, of course, the Conservative party cannot support any of the measures that we took on public spending, because as we know it is completely opposed to increasing public spending at this time. The measures that we took on housing, including specifically £100 million for energy efficiency in the social housing sector, will help precisely some of the most vulnerable people in our country. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will announce in a written statement this morning an increase in the maximum Warm Front standard grant from £2,700 to £3,500. I think that will be widely welcomed, alongside other improvements in Warm Front, because it is helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I am very proud of the record of what we are doing to help some of the most vulnerable people in our country who are facing fuel poverty.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend is taking to help people with energy efficiency in the home, but many people in recent weeks have received some of the largest fuel bills of their lives. What discussions has he been having with the energy companies to try to ensure that they treat people fairly and well and take account of the difficult economic situation that people currently face?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right about this, and we are discussing with the energy companies how to ensure that people, particularly those in difficulty, are treated properly. I am also pleased that Ofgem is changing the law on pre-payment meters and the unfair pricing that was taking place. I have said from the time when I came into this job that we wanted the quickest change possible in terms of outlawing that unfair pricing, and that is what is happening. We want people to be assured that the kind of abuses occurring in relation to pre-payment meters will not continue.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The reason why there was no mention of fuel poverty in yesterday’s Budget is that the Centre for Sustainable Energy estimates that fuel poverty has

So I suspect that the Labour party will not be mentioning it in its manifesto either.

My constituency is in Devon, where 21 wards, including Exmouth Littleham Urban, fall within the worst 21 per cent. of wards in England. However, the real problem lies outside the main town centres and urban areas; it is to be found in the rural areas, where Warm Front is less effective because of the lack of accessibility to gas boilers and the problems with cavity wall insulation. Those things are so typical of the kind of houses that exist in rural areas in my constituency. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure that the disguised fuel poverty in rural areas resulting from Warm Front’s failing in that respect can be addressed urgently?

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Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point in the second half of his question, if not in the first. On his first point, as I said, fuel poverty has increased because energy prices have increased, but since 2002, some 5 million houses have been insulated under our programmes. Our record on fuel poverty and what we have managed to do through housing and income are not matched by the previous Government or, indeed, by other previous Governments. He knows very well that fuel poverty would be far higher if we had not taken those measures, which have cost lots of money and which the Conservative party opposes.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, with which I am more sympathetic, he is right to say that people off the gas grid face particular challenges. I think that he will see from this morning’s announcements that the non-standard grant level has also been increased. I hope that that will help people who are facing the circumstances that he describes. I also hope that if he has further concerns following the announcement, he will take them up with the Minister in charge of Warm Front.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that the coverage of the Warm Front scheme is limited, but does he accept that for most homes investing in energy efficiency saves money on fuel bills?

Edward Miliband: I do, which is why we unveiled plans in February for “pay as you save” insulation, whereby people will be able to spread the costs of energy efficiency measures over a number of years; it will not be linked to the person in the house but to the house itself, so that the costs can be spread over 20 years or so. Therefore, part of the savings from the energy bills will be able to be used to fund to kind of insulation that we need. We have very ambitious plans for 7 million houses to have whole-house refurbishment by 2020 and all houses to have it by 2030. Unlike the Conservative party’s plans, those are costed plans; they have been worked through and they will work.

Greg Clark: Yesterday, Greenpeace described the Secretary of State’s plans as strikingly lacking in ambition. If he accepts that savings can be made through investment in insulation, why, when households will face higher tax bills for years to come, is he resistant to our policy, which would give every home in the country an entitlement to £6,500-worth of immediate energy efficiency improvements, paid for from the savings that people make on their fuel bills? Why is he resisting that?

Edward Miliband: I will explain this to the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change wrote him a letter—he may have replied, but I am not aware of his reply. His proposal is that £6,500 will be available to every household in the country. That would cost £170 billion up front. As far as I can see, he has no idea where that £170 billion will come from and how he will raise it. I hope that he comes forward with that. I look forward to his having interesting discussions with the shadow Chancellor about how £170 billion of funding will be provided. I think it is the largest uncosted commitment made by the Conservative party, but of course it is not the only uncosted commitment that the Conservatives have made, and it shows that they simply cannot be trusted with the nation’s finances.

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Topical Questions

T1. [270316] Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): Yesterday’s Budget saw a series of measures to help tackle climate change and create the low-carbon jobs of the future, including action on carbon capture and storage, renewables and energy efficiency. It was also the first Budget to unveil legally binding carbon budgets, whereby the UK has pledged a 34 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2020. It underlines our commitment to domestic action by setting a zero credit limit in the first budget period up to 2012.

Laura Moffatt: I am delighted and very grateful to hear that carbon capture and storage will be part of our future fuel security into the next decade. Will companies such as Doosan Babcock, which have pioneered this work and have put their necks out to ensure that this technology is available, be fully consulted as we move forward with these excellent technologies?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have had a couple of meetings with Doosan Babcock, which is pioneering some of the most important technology in this area. As I shall say in my statement later and as the Chancellor made clear in the Budget yesterday, the task facing us is to trial as many of the technologies as possible. CCS is at an early stage. We all think that it will be a big hope for the future in terms of clean coal, but we know that we need all the technologies to be developed, including post-combustion, pre-combustion and a range of technologies. That is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday are designed to achieve.

T2. [270317] Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): At a public inquiry last week on a potential biomass plant at Bishop’s Castle in my constituency, one of the objectors suggested that the Environment Agency is now indicating that the carbon emissions from electricity generated by biomass plants are greater than those generated by fossil fuel plants. Is that the Government’s view?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O’Brien): I have not heard that particular suggestion before, but I shall certainly consult the Environment Agency to see whether it has said that and, if so, what the basis for making such a claim is.

T8. [270323] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the announcement of the rise in the Warm Front grant to £3,500. That will certainly help the off-the-mains people, such as my constituent Jon Kirkman, who has had a very poor service from Eaga in recent times. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to assess the green credentials of the scrappage scheme announced in the Budget yesterday, bearing in mind the fact that 20 per cent. of carbon emissions during a car’s life are associated with its manufacture? The logical way to approach the issue would be to encourage people to
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keep cars longer, not least because the average car in the UK fleet is less than five years old. It is a green coat of paint—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. O’Brien: I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

Older cars tend to emit more products into the atmosphere, as a result of which they are greater polluters. The aim is to get some of the much more fuel-efficient cars on the road. The newer cars not only consume far less fuel, by and large, but emit less into the atmosphere. If we can get the newer cars, rather than the older ones, on the road, we will reduce the problems that we have with atmospheric damage.

T3. [270318] Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Yesterday’s Budget was a missed opportunity to invest in green measures and to stimulate the economy. The Government offered us £1.4 billion, but the Committee on Climate Change has estimated that £15 billion a year needs to be spent on green measures and this week Lord Stern said that it should be as much as £20 billion. Why are the Government rejecting the advice of their own experts?

Edward Miliband: We are not rejecting the advice of our experts. One very important point is that we already have a huge amount of investment going into green technology in this country. For example, the renewables obligation will mean that about £100 billion will go into green investment between now and 2020. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor added to that with what he did on the renewables obligation, on carbon capture and storage and in raising finance from elsewhere, such as through the European Investment Bank and other sources. I do not accept the hon. Lady’s portrayal of what we did yesterday. It is also worth adding that, as I said earlier, the carbon budgets aspect of yesterday’s Budget was a world first.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Returning to carbon capture and storage, may I urge my right hon. Friend to address the issue with some speed, regardless of which technology is used? If we decide to embrace the retrofitting of carbon capture and storage to existing coal-fired power stations, we will have to do so before they are decommissioned in 2015.

Edward Miliband: I will be addressing the matter with some speed, in an hour or so. My hon. Friend is right: there is urgency about this, but there is also urgency to make sure that we have a funded mechanism to ensure that carbon capture and storage happens. That was made possible by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday, and that is why I will make a statement later today.

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