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Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend’s statement tends to concentrate on new-build coal-fired power stations. Will he give some encouragement
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to technologies that I hope are being demonstrated? I am talking about pre-combustion capture technologies that use the old British Coal topping cycle—a technology that was abandoned by the Tory Government back in 1988. There are companies that believe that they could retrofit that old British Coal topping cycle technology to existing coal-fired power stations, which could extend the length of those stations after 2015. That could be part of the solution to this problem.

Edward Miliband: I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on these issues. I shall examine his proposal, as it could certainly make a contribution. In respect of coal, and all kinds of other fuel, it is necessary to use all the technologies at our disposal, and co-firing with biomass can also make a contribution to reducing emissions. We will use all those technologies and I am happy to examine my hon. Friend’s specific proposal.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I, too, welcome this statement. I do not wish to be churlish, so I pay tribute to the work done by the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), who laid the platform for this particular statement—we should recognise that fact. May I also say that I hope that my own Front-Bench team will become more consensual once the Budget period is out of the way?

I wish to ask two very quick questions, the first of which relates to the coal-producing areas. We know that much of the coal required is being imported and there is a lot of work to do to involve our coal-producing areas, so what thoughts does the Secretary of State have about that? Secondly, I wish to press him on a decision about Kingsnorth, but, from day one, I also urge him to include that power station within the parameters that he has outlined today. We need a decision on the current proposal on Kingsnorth urgently, but we also need that power station to be included in the particular programme that he has described today.

Edward Miliband: I obviously agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, and I think that today’s announcement offers a big opportunity for the former coalfield areas from which they can really profit. Kingsnorth is involved in our competition, and the next stage of the process will be front-end engineering and design studies—the bidders will put forward their proposals and we will judge who will be the eventual winner of the competition. The good news is that there are a number of opportunities to benefit from the four demonstration projects.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Secretary of State on a very imaginative statement. Will he say a word or two more about sourcing? If we do nothing to develop new deep mines, for example in north-east Leicestershire, where 800 million tonnes of clean coal is available, what will inevitably happen is that there will be an expansion of imports from sometimes unstable regimes and, more worryingly, an expansion of open-cast mine extraction. That affects all mining constituencies, particularly those in England, where there are shallow, unworked seams that the open-cast coal people would like to access because of the low cost. However, the environmental and social impact of such mining is very significant, as we see in respect of the Minorca application in north-west Leicestershire, which is about to be submitted.

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Edward Miliband: On my hon. Friend’s first point, indigenous coal does have an important future, and I obviously discuss that with UK Coal, the miners’ unions and others when talking about these issues. It is important to put that on the record. It also helps security of supply if we are able to benefit from such coal. On his second point, the existing planning guidance, which has been in place for some time, is obviously a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, and it remains the basis on which we are moving forward.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am tempted to say better late than never. Scotland could have been well in the forefront of carbon capture and storage had the Government not pulled the rug from under the Peterhead project. Given that Scotland has some of the largest carbon storage reserves in Europe in the North sea saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas fields, and the expertise on how to access them, it would be a tragedy and a travesty if the firth of Forth was not one of the clusters chosen in this project. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the winning entry will be announced? Is he still committed to having a full-scale demonstration project up and running by 2014?

Edward Miliband: Two processes are involved—the existing demonstration competition, in which three bidders are still involved, and the new incentive mechanism, which will require legislation to go through this House. If the Scottish Executive also want to put some money into taking these projects forward, we would be interested in having some of it. The basic point that I wish to make is that the firth of Forth will be part of the competitive process. It is not part of the existing demonstration, but given our announcements about an extra three demonstration projects, there is the potential for it to be involved. We have to use all the means at our disposal to develop this technology, and that will be true throughout the United Kingdom.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): May I offer a warm welcome to the very measured statement made by my right hon. Friend? It really will set us on a transformational agenda in terms of the future low-carbon economy worldwide. Given that carbon abatement technology is the new black gold, will he carefully examine what can be done in areas such as the former coalfields in north Staffordshire, where there used to be many jobs in mining? Will he work with the regional Minister and the regional development agency to see how the former Chatterley Whitfield colliery in my constituency, which produced more than 1 million tonnes of coal in its heyday, can be transformed so that the people still living around that site have opportunities for new manufacturing work in carbon abatement technology?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a very important point in a characteristically eloquent way. There is a real opportunity, including in her area, and this will require work with the regional development agencies and others who are already getting involved. It will also require work with our scientists, our universities and others. I recently visited a university that is already working on carbon capture and the role that it can play.
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We need to mobilise all such forces in order to develop this technology and to win jobs for Britain and for our regions.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If all goes according to the Government’s plans and there are four new coal-fired power stations by 2020, does the Secretary of State think it will predominantly be British coal or foreign coal that is decarbonised?

Edward Miliband: As I have said in earlier answers, indigenous coal has an important role to play. If the Conservatives are supporting indigenous coal supply, that is much to be welcomed—it certainly does not bear any relationship to their record in government. Indigenous coal can play an important role and some of the decisions made in the 1980s were a tragedy; we could have much more viable coal mines and many more mines than we have if those wrong decisions had not been made. We need to do all we can to maximise what we can get from indigenous coal.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. The framework that he sets out will be very helpful, and I was particularly pleased to hear what he said about his meeting with Yorkshire Forward. He will be aware that the Yorkshire Forward project is an infrastructure project that would rejuvenate the engineering and steel industries in south Yorkshire, because it is proposed that it would create 55,000 jobs. May I say to him that we are likely to hit a real problem between 2012 and 2015, when there will be the simultaneous run-down of coal power stations and nuclear power stations? Perhaps we could consider some retrofitting with super-critical boilers, because we would thus be introducing a CO2-reducing technology. Such work would provide us with the opportunity to be able to have them fitted ready for carbon capture so that when the technology is proven, it could be fitted. That would get us through a crucial energy supply period.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend has huge expertise, and I pay tribute to him for the enormous amount of work that he has done for our coal mining communities.

My hon. Friend made a very important point about the Yorkshire Forward project, but I will generalise. We need public investment, and that is what we will see as a result of the Chancellor’s announcements, but we also need private investment. That combination, including investment in some of the industries that he was talking about and the networks that we need, can make a real difference in the future. I am very happy to discuss further with my hon. Friend his other points about new investment, retrofitting, flue gas desulphurisation and so forth.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I welcome the comprehensive approach that the Government are taking to these questions. Will the Secretary of State tell us what examination he made of the type of balance being struck by other European countries between different forms of energy generation? France, in particular, as we know, has a great degree of self-sufficiency based on nuclear power stations. What sort of balance does he think that we should have between nuclear power and the new technology that he has described?

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Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The view about nuclear in this country was coloured by the experiences that we had, the plants that were gone for and the cost of waste and clean-up. I am pleased that my predecessor made the decisions that he did about nuclear. As I said earlier, I think that climate change has changed people’s view about the role of nuclear in the energy mix. On the subject of the French example, I am not sure that we would want to be wholly reliant on nuclear. It should be part of the energy mix along with clean fossil fuels and renewables, and there should still be a role for gas, at least for the time being. I think that that is the right way to go.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the commitment shown by the Government to carbon capture and storage. Will he elaborate a little more on the use of indigenous coal? We know that, very sadly, many mines were abandoned after considerable investment in the ’80s. Sinking new deep mines requires considerable investment, and I want to know what steps the Government are taking to foster further development of deep mines so that we are not reliant on imports, which have a carbon footprint because of their transportation and which offer less security of supply, and so that we provide jobs for our own people here.

Edward Miliband: There are obviously limits—one should be candid about it—in terms of rewriting history on these things. Decisions were made in the 1980s and 1990s and it is hard to reverse some of them. I have mentioned Harworth, where a particular case has been made. It has been mothballed for a couple of years and we are in discussions with UK Coal about it. We will listen to all representations that we receive about deep mines and their potential. The mines that are open provide an important indigenous source of fuel for Britain and will do so for many years to come.

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Points of Order

1.13 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 1 March, the News of the World smeared me in a story about parliamentary allowances, based on a false claim that I hardly visit the home in my constituency where I have lived every week for more than a decade. That story is now before the Press Complaints Commission. It was given credibility by a clear endorsement by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who knows that I am mentioning him and was in this Chamber earlier today, but who could not possibly have known whether the specifics of the story were true or not. Instead of apologising for not even consulting me first, the hon. Gentleman has claimed in correspondence that he gave only what he describes as “a generalised non-specific quote” that “does not even name” me, that he was “unaware” of much of the story’s contents before commenting, that he has not accused me

and that he

about my behaviour as the newspaper alleged.

I have now seen the newspaper’s evidence to the Press Complaints Commission. Its reporter, Jamie Lyons, states that


Is there any general guidance that you can give, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about standards of decency and integrity to be adopted by hon. Members when publicly criticising the personal conduct of colleagues, particularly when the person making the criticism has previously claimed very large sums of money from the public purse, including tens of thousands of pounds to pay rent to himself for a constituency office inside his own main home?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman’s point of order is obviously not a matter with which the Chair can deal in detail. I will say to the House, however, that I think that all right hon. and hon. Members should be very careful in their dealings with the media, particularly when reference is made to colleagues in this House. On every occasion, colleagues in this House should deal with each other with the greatest possible care and respect.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con) rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that I have dealt fully with that point of order.

Mr. Walker: It is a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A month ago, secondary schools in my constituency were notified that their funding for sixth form places was going to be cut. It was rumoured today that there might be a statement from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on the state of
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play in returning that money to the schools. How can we persuade the Secretary of State to come to this House to make a statement on this important matter, which affects all our constituents across the country?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am well aware of how important these matters are, not just to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents but to others. He will know full well that the Chair does not have responsibility for when and where Ministers make statements to the House, but his points are firmly on the record and I have no doubt that those on the Treasury Bench have taken note of them.

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Ways and Means

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Amendment of the law

Debate resumed (Order, 22 April) .

Question again proposed,

1.17 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to open the second day of this Budget debate. It gives us an opportunity to look at the detail of the Budget and to highlight the points that the Chancellor of the Exchequer entirely omitted from his speech yesterday lunchtime. It is also a pleasure to do so opposite the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Chancellor has let me know that he is on his way to an important meeting in Washington, and I entirely accept that.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): He’s going to the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Osborne: As my hon. Friend says, the Chancellor might well want to put in a call to the IMF for all sorts of reasons.

It is good to open this debate with the Energy Secretary here. He is always an engaging fellow and we always have a good relationship. After all, he was one of the key economic advisers of the last 10 years—one of the members of the council of economic advisers and one of the adjuncts in that famous Treasury bunker. To be fair, he has always stressed that he just stuck to giving economic advice rather than trying to run the political operations. Given what has happened to the British economy, perhaps in the interests of his long-term ambitions, he should take credit for the political operations and leave Mr. McBride to take the blame for the economic advice.

We welcome the Secretary of State to this debate, and it is a special one. Government Budgets normally take a few days to unravel—sometimes just one day—but this one set a new record. It unravelled half an hour after the Chancellor sat down. He sat down at around 1.30 pm, and at 2 pm the IMF produced its growth forecasts for the world economy and the British economy, which completely contradicted the growth that the Chancellor had given to the House just a few minutes earlier.

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