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House of Commons

Thursday 4 June 2009

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Global Population

1. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the effects of climate change on the global population; and if he will make a statement. [277918]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): May I first apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this morning? His partner, Justine, gave birth to a son on Tuesday, so he is taking paternity leave—thanks, of course, to the policy of this Government.

To answer the question, the Secretary of State has frequent discussions with his international counterparts on the effects of climate change on the global population. Adaptation to the impacts of climate change is a key priority for international climate change negotiations, and we recognise that the effects of climate change will have the greatest impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

Martin Linton: I congratulate the Secretary of State and his partner on this new addition to world population.

Has my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary read Kofi Annan’s report for the Global Humanitarian Forum, showing that climate change is now responsible for 300,000 deaths a year—98 per cent. of them in developing countries? Has she also seen the forecast that if emissions are not brought under control, climate change will create 75 million refugees by 2034?

Joan Ruddock: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that most important report to the House’s attention. I have indeed seen the report and the figures that he has mentioned. We have absolutely no doubt that that adds to the pressure that we all as part of the international community properly need to absorb and bring to the discussions at Copenhagen at the end of this year. We will not get a global deal unless we can help developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change, which are already happening and are, of course, the responsibility of the developed world.


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We are strong supporters of the United Nations framework convention on climate change adaptation fund, and we have given a considerable sum of money to the climate resilience programme, which is enabling countries to adapt. In Zambia, we are helping people living on the Zambezi flood plain to protect their crops against damage caused by flooding; in Lesotho, we are helping people establish small gardens to make them less vulnerable to food shortage caused by drought; and in Bangladesh, we are helping people to raise their homes on plinths to protect them from the seasonal rains. This country has led the way on climate change, not only on mitigation but on adaptation.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): First, I congratulate the Secretary of State. I want to ask the Minister whether the Government’s policy is based on ideology or science. She knows that for a theory to be scientific, it must be capable of being refuted by the evidence. Given that we have had three decades of rising temperatures, followed by a decade of stable and slightly falling temperatures worldwide, how many decades would she require before she were convinced that the theory on which she is committing £400 billion of taxpayers’ money might be slightly wrong?

Joan Ruddock: The right hon. Gentleman is very fond of quoting rather alarmist figures—

Mr. Lilley: They are your figures.

Joan Ruddock: Indeed, they are our figures, but we are talking about a sum of money that will be spent over more than 40 years, whereas the right hon. Gentleman presents it as if it were all for today. The issue that he has raised about science is very important. Scientists have been predicting for decades the effects of global warming, and the predicted effects are indeed happening. He needs to look at sea level rises, for example, which have been consistent, and the predictions are very extreme indeed. Where he claims that the temperature has gone down, that is very much a short-term phenomenon. When the period of temperature rises is measured against all historic records, it is very unusual. The consensus opinion of world scientists is that it extremely likely that all these effects are man-made. Even if he does not believe in the science, he should believe in taking action to adapt to what is happening—whatever the causes might be. We are quite clear as a Government that the consensus of world scientists is that this is a man-made phenomenon. We must take proper steps to tackle the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and we will do so.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Quite right too. My hon. Friend will know that the Waxman-Markey Bill on tackling climate change is working its way through the US Congress, but it has already been watered down somewhat—and it has not yet reached the Senate. That suggests that the Bill could be watered down more.

Considering that background, if we are to have higher ambitions in the EU based on a deal, should we not have benchmarks in place—I do not ask my hon. Friend to reveal those now, as they are obviously a matter of negotiation—to say that other annexe 1 countries, which one hopes the United States will soon become, should have higher standards and a better approach than that represented by the Waxman-Markey Bill?


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Joan Ruddock: We are most optimistic about the commitment made by President Obama, who has said that the US will lead in the climate change talks. His Secretary of State has said that the US is determined to see that the talks produce a result, and we are confident that it will play a proper part.

My hon. Friend is correct about the Bill—it has been somewhat watered down—and we are encouraging the Administration to have the greatest possible ambition: they are engaged; they accept the science; and they have negotiators with a positive approach. We believe that we will be able to achieve a global deal. It will be important that there is a commitment by the US to make the emissions reduction that is required by 2050, which is 80 per cent. for developed countries. Already, the President has said that the US can make that commitment. It is in a difficult situation because of the history under the previous Administration. We understand that, but there is a great deal of good will. This is a matter of negotiation, and we will continue to press the Administration for the greatest possible ambition.

Road Transport (Emissions)

2. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions arising from road transport. [277919]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I join in the congratulations offered to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his partner on the birth of their son. There are regular discussions between Departments. Indeed, on 19 May, the Secretaries of State discussed carbon budgets.

Andrew Selous: The Minister may be aware of the Chinese company BYD, which is spending billions on developing the battery-powered cars of the future. My concern is that the UK may miss out on that important market. Will he join me in congratulating Vauxhall on its superb Ampera model, which most people will be able to drive most of the time while producing hardly any carbon emissions? What action are the Government taking to install more public recharging points around the country to enable this incredibly important market for the future to develop here?

Mr. O'Brien: A number of companies are taking the initiative to develop electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, which are plug-in and rechargeable. We need to encourage such development not only in the UK, but worldwide. I congratulate Vauxhall on the work it has been doing and on the Volt, which is another General Motors product. That company has problems, but at least some real research and development work is being done. Increasingly, not just the energy companies, but some petrol and diesel suppliers, are recognising that they need to install plug-in points so that cars can be recharged. We are seeing the beginning of what, over the coming decade, is likely to become a vastly expanding industry, with thousands of such vehicles coming on to our roads.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Is there not a powerful argument for not producing carbon dioxide from transport emissions? May I alleviate the concerns of sceptics such as the right hon. Member for
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Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) by saying that we cannot go on acidifying the sea because the changes in that environment have gone way too far? That powerful argument for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is rarely used.

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure that we are aware of the acidification of the sea and that we recognise it as part of the overall development of a transport and environment policy.

The Government have been clear about the fact that we want real investment to go into developing vehicles that are less polluting—indeed, are low polluting—of the atmosphere. That is why we put £100 million into supporting research and demonstration of new vehicles and £250 million has been announced for consumer incentives in coming years for lower-carbon vehicles. There is a £20 million procurement of low-carbon vehicles for the Government and a £2.3 billion package of support for the automotive sector in the downturn, which has been tailored to support the development of low-carbon products.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Does the Minister agree that his Government’s proposal to expand Heathrow will inevitably lead to increased road transport and increased carbon dioxide emissions?

Mr. O'Brien: As part of the process of developing our transport policy, particularly in relation to Heathrow, we have ensured that we have clear targets for emissions reduction. Clearly, bringing aviation into our climate change policies is part of that. In relation to road transport and Heathrow, we want to ensure that we develop policies on hybrid and electric vehicles that will reduce overall emissions from motor vehicles in the coming decades.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Will the Minister of State convey our warmest congratulations to the Secretary of State and Justine on the birth of their son? We wish them much joy during the years ahead. I am lost in admiration for the meticulousness of Ed’s planning: he has provided himself with an excuse to go to ground this weekend that is even more convincing than John Major’s toothache.

Can the Minister of State say which electric vehicles will qualify for the £5,000 voucher announced the week before the Budget?

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations, which I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We will consult shortly on how the funding that we have announced will be best distributed. We want the growth in the use of electric vehicles to be a key area for development. The initiative will help to put electric vehicles within the reach of ordinary motorists, by providing help worth between £2,000 and £5,000 towards buying the first electric and plug-in hybrid cars when they hit the showroom, which we expect to occur from 2011 onwards, although some companies are indicating that an earlier date might be possible.

Greg Clark: Is it not the truth that no electric vehicle is available now, or will even be available in 2011, that will qualify for the voucher? If we want to build support for a low-carbon economy, is it not essential that we avoid such gimmicks and stunts?


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Mr. O'Brien: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman sees the development of electric vehicles and support for consumers to purchase those vehicles as merely a stunt. There are already electric vehicles that are fine for short trips in the city rather than long-distance trips. We are prepared to put in place the incentives that will ensure that the technology improves—it appears that he would not do that were he ever in government. However, we are taking steps now to provide funding for research and development, and to identify funding, which the car makers and manufacturers will know will be in place, to provide incentives for consumers in future to buy the vehicles we want manufacturers to produce.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) was looking for congratulations to Vauxhall for developing a new type of vehicle, which might well—we must wait and see—meet some of the criteria. If the Government were to change, however, it appears that Vauxhall might well be severely disadvantaged, and his constituents would be disadvantaged by re-electing him. Conservative Front Benchers seem to be abandoning Vauxhall and its workers.

Domestic Buildings (Energy Efficiency)

3. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the energy efficiency of domestic and commercial buildings in the UK; and if he will make a statement. [277920]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): The energy efficiency of individual domestic and non-domestic buildings is assessed primarily through energy performance certificates, which are required for all buildings when constructed, sold or let. The heat and energy saving consultation, published in February, sought evidence about energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings and asked for views on potential policy responses. We are now considering the responses to the consultation.

Dr. Lewis: Is it not a fact that between 1997 and the present day there has been hardly any improvement in household energy efficiency in the United Kingdom, according to ODEX, the index that measures these matters, and is it not a fact that in the preceding period—the years leading up to 1997—there was a 14 per cent. increase in household energy efficiency? What is it about this Government that has destroyed the improvement, as measured by the internationally accepted standard?

Joan Ruddock: This country has a long history of poorly insulated buildings, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, goes back many generations. The Government are making a real effort to ensure that much more attention is paid to insulation. We have already insulated 5 million buildings in the domestic sector as a consequence of our carbon emissions reduction target provisions and the obligations on energy companies. Our current programme will lead to the insulation of a further 6 million buildings, and, as I said earlier, we have introduced energy performance certificates. We have the green homes service, run by the Energy Saving Trust, and we have the Act On CO2 helpline.

There are many, many strategies in place, and we are making improvements. People are saving money as a result of our policies, and they are lowering their carbon
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emissions. However, we accept that there is much more to be done. We recently engaged in a major consultation on a heat and energy saving strategy, which will bring about improvements in millions of houses over the next few years.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I ask that our best wishes and congratulations be passed to the Secretary of State, his partner and their extended family on the birth of their little boy?

Ministers know that so far we have performed very poorly in relation to energy efficiency in domestic properties. According to a ministerial answer, only one in 100 homes meets the required standards. The Minister has just referred to the range of existing programmes. Will she reaffirm the importance of the leadership of the European Union and the European Parliament in pushing forward energy efficiency? Given that this is also local election day, will she consider our proposal for the establishment of a single central Government agency to bring all the policies together, and for local councils across the United Kingdom to roll out a programme—arranged locally, but supported by national Government—to ensure that every home is a warm home within 10 years?

Joan Ruddock: The Government are always happy to consider any proposals on these issues from any of the Opposition parties. If the hon. Gentleman examines the heat and energy saving strategy, he will see that it includes options that are not dissimilar to his proposal. As I have said, we believe that we need much greater drive and much more co-ordination. We have learned from many of the programmes that will come on stream in the autumn. The community energy saving programme will enable us for the first time to deal with the areas in greatest need, house by house and street by street. It will give us a basis on which to introduce programmes that will make the whole population energy-efficient over the next couple of decades.

We are very clear about the fact that by 2015 every cavity and loft that it is appropriate to insulate will have been insulated, and 7 million homes will have had a complete eco-makeover by 2020. That is a very positive programme. We will continue to keep everything under review. We need to do as much as we can, because the emissions from our homes constitute about 27 per cent. of total carbon emissions. We absolutely must get to grips with this sector. We shall need more co-operation and involvement on the part of the public at large, and I hope that all parties will play their part in helping that process.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I commend the Minister for her efforts, but will she accept that a major part of the energy expended by a building during its life cycle is expended during its construction, and that the vilification of older property—particularly antique property—that is not capable of being double-glazed or cavity wall-insulated as part of the home information pack process is rather unfortunate?

Joan Ruddock: In this country, we have many historic and listed buildings. We are endeavouring to find ways both to preserve the fabric of historic buildings and to improve their energy efficiency. The Government have provided £1 million for ongoing work with the Energy
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Saving Trust. We know that we must achieve both those aims, and we are committed to ensuring that we do so. While that work is being undertaken, however, as the vast majority of homes in this country are more than capable of receiving standard measures, the most important thing we can do is both encourage people to get on with the work and continue with the Government programmes that give financial assistance and oblige energy companies to ensure that those homes that can be easily insulated are quickly insulated in advance of next winter.

Mr. Speaker: May I gently remind the Minister that I must ensure that we get through the Order Paper?

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I hope the Minister will also pass on my very warmest best wishes to the Secretary of State and his partner.

In the Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), she put her finger on the nub of the issue when she said that there are “many, many strategies in place”, because the fact of the matter is that the Government’s approach to energy efficiency is fragmented and confused. We have social energy tariffs, energy performance certificates, the decent homes standard, Warm Front, winter fuel payments, the low-carbon buildings programme, the carbon emissions reduction target, new building regulations, warm zones, the community energy saving programme, Fuel Direct, the green homes service and fuel poverty targets. No wonder the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said:


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