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Given that the Government are now totally paralysed and Ministers’ minds are clearly focused elsewhere, is it not clear that they are never going to get to grips with energy efficiency, and that the bottom line is that the lights are on, but nobody’s home?

Joan Ruddock: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his amusing contribution. I am also most grateful to him for having listed so many of the Government’s programmes, and I hope the House is impressed by the extent of our work and our focus on these issues. The fact of the matter is that many programmes are required, because it is essential to involve many sectors and to have different approaches. We believe that there is scope for bringing approaches together—that is in the current consultation, which I recommend that the hon. Gentleman reads. I also thank him and the Liberal Front-Bench spokesman for their kind words about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Copenhagen Conference

4. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What the Government’s priorities are for a global agreement on climate change in Copenhagen in December. [277921]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): Our priority at Copenhagen is to seek a comprehensive agreement, which gives the best chance of limiting global temperature rises to no more than 2° C. To achieve that, we want to see ambitious emissions reductions targets from developed countries, action by developing countries to reduce
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emissions below business-as-usual levels and agreement on finance and technology flows to support developing-country action.

John Howell: I thank the Minister for that response, but what grounds does she have for believing that Copenhagen will be more successful than Kyoto and that unanimity can be reached?

Joan Ruddock: Since Kyoto, the world community has become more conscious of the science of climate change. In every country that we visit, no matter what its perspective, all the conversations that we have show a real understanding that the situation is very serious and that we need to avert the most dangerous climate change. Because of that, minds are much more focused and we have much more science—we also have a new mood in the United States of America, which is extremely important. We also know that China, which is doing a great deal domestically already, is now approaching the talks in a very positive manner, and we have great co-operation from the G77 countries. There is reason to be optimistic, therefore, and even more so because of the commitments that the US Administration have made.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister has stated that one of her personal priorities, which is shared on both sides of the House, is the increased use of electric cars. The first law of thermodynamics says that one cannot create energy, so what sort of cost-benefit or overall analysis has she done on the effects on climate change of having to produce the extra electricity generation capacity to power all those electric cars, which we hope we will have—they will certainly help asthma sufferers in the UK—in the years to come?

Joan Ruddock: The key to the extra generation of electricity is renewables— [Interruption.] I am being pressed as to whether or not that involves nuclear. We have said that there needs to be an energy mix, of which nuclear is a part. Nuclear power creates a lot of emissions through building and the mining of the ore, but when these facilities are in operation, they are then emission-free. So, of course nuclear power has a part to play, but renewables and, in particular—given that we are examining international needs and discussions—the ability to transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, to enable others to produce electricity by low-carbon or no-carbon means, are crucial. That is because there needs to be growth in those emerging economies. That is also why we are working with China on carbon capture and storage for coal, because that is another area where reducing emissions from energy sources is crucial.

Electric Vehicles

6. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the Government’s policy on carbon dioxide emissions arising from the generation of electricity used by electric vehicles. [277923]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Ministers regularly discuss these issues, and we are committed to reducing overall transport emissions as part of tackling climate
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change. We will publish our transport carbon reduction strategy this summer, which will examine, among other things, the development of electric vehicles.

Mr. Goodwill: Electric vehicles are often described as having zero emissions—that may be the case as they drive down Park lane, but it is not the case at Drax, Ferrybridge or Eggborough, where the electricity may be produced from coal. Given the current energy mix of our base load, and given that after allowing for the energy loss at the power station and transmission loss an electric vehicle is only about 33 per cent. emission efficient, which compares with a figure of 45 per cent. for a diesel car, which is the more carbon friendly, the diesel car or the electric car?

Mr. O'Brien: We are looking at the development of vehicles that will be increasingly low-carbon. That is one of the key reasons why the Government have already put a substantial amount of funding into research and development. It is possible to reduce the level of emissions from internal combustion engine cars that use petrol and other fuels, as well as developing electric vehicles, which are substantially lower generators of carbon and other emissions. We hope that such an approach will, in the long term, ensure that our environment is better protected. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that at the moment we still need to work very hard on the research and development area, but that is precisely why the Government are putting in the extra funding and why, unlike his party, we believe we need to flag up the fact that consumers will be incentivised to buy low-carbon vehicles in the future.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments about the potential for reducing emissions from individual cars, is not the management and limitation of CO2 emissions in the generation of electricity potentially much more effective than reducing emissions from individual, carbon-fuelled vehicles, be they on the road or the railway? Does he agree that that is part of the overwhelmingly powerful case for the electrification of the midland main line and other similar routes?

Mr. O'Brien: It is important that we ensure that we electrify our main lines and put in place a transport policy that not only ensures that we do not transfer emissions from the streets to power stations, but whose overall breadth ensures that we recognise that public transport and developing community-based transport are key parts of the future development of a low-carbon energy strategy in the decades to come.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Minister has made the point that the source of the electricity is crucial to the efficiency of the electric car, and therefore the Government have to deliver a low-carbon electricity-generating system. Would not the early introduction of smart metering help to make electric cars more efficient, so that they could be optimised to charge when the wind is blowing and renewable energy is available and surplus to capacity?

Mr. O’Brien: The hon. Gentleman is right: we need to ensure that we not only introduce smart meters—we have already announced that we want to see them
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introduced across the whole country over the next decade—but investigate the uses that a smart grid system can make of the smart meters. In a decade’s time, smart meters will have developed in sophistication, and be able to communicate with refrigerators and other equipment. It will be possible for signals to be sent from the central base to various gadgets in the home to reduce the amount of electricity they use at peak times and increase it during the night or other quiet times. We want a smart grid system to go with the smart meters, with a level of sophistication that enables us better to manage the amount of electricity that we use.

Topical Questions

T1. [277939] Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr. Mike O’Brien): The Secretary of State has reason to smile because he has just become a father, and also because the new Department has now been able to move most of its staff into its new building at 3 Whitehall place. It is always challenging to set up a new Department, but the move should be complete by the end of the month. I have now moved out of a photocopying room into a Minister’s office, which always helps, especially when I have visitors. The Department can now focus much more effectively on its key aims—to tackle climate change, to provide energy security for the UK and to do both at an affordable price.

Philip Davies: Will the Minister confirm the figures in his Department’s document that say that the impact of the renewables target on gas bills will be to increase them by up to 23.6 per cent.? How many more people will that increase put into fuel poverty?

Mr. O’Brien: The hon. Gentleman is creating the image that everything will happen immediately and that next week we will suddenly see massive rises. We are talking about a considerable period of time in which we will develop renewables and a range of low-carbon energy generation—something that his Front-Bench team also claims that it wants to see happen. We need to ensure that happens over the next decade—indeed up to 2050 and beyond—to deal with the problem of climate change. The costs of not dealing with climate change will be much greater for the consumer and the world. It is essential that we develop renewables—

Mr. Speaker: Order. In topical questions, I am looking for punchy questions and answers. Perhaps Mr. Hendry can try.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. By the time the Minister has finished, the questions will not be topical any more. [ Laughter. ]

This morning we have heard from the Government about some of their consultation schemes on smart meters, energy efficiency, electric cars, tidal barrages, carbon capture, renewable heat and biogas. Does the Minister understand the frustration of so many people in the energy sector with the endless process of reviews and consultations? We need a Government with the power to make decisions and to stop just talking about things.

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Mr. O'Brien: This Government have made a whole series of decisions on issues such as smart meters and developing nuclear. The Opposition, however, are a different matter. Let us take the example of nuclear: they were in favour of it, and then as soon as the Government said that we would consult on taking a view on the move to nuclear, they decided to oppose it. After we announced our move, they decided, “All right, we’re back in exactly the same position as we were before.” Those on the Conservative Front Bench cannot make up their mind about most things, whereas we have set out clear strategies for developing renewables, for developing nuclear, for dealing with climate change and for ensuring that we have energy security in this country.

T2. [277940] Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Will the Government make up their mind on how important they think tidal flow technology is? Of course we must harness green energy from the sea and of course it is possible to build something like the Severn barrage, but that would cause irreversible damage to the environment and economy of the whole Severn estuary. Instead, can we please put far more resource and effort into tidal flow technology around our coasts?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: We are consulting on the development of this key area. Using tidal and using containment of tidal developments at the 4-metre tidal wave level in the Severn, we know that in the future we can develop a level of electricity generation around our coast that will help to protect our environment. That is why ensuring that we go through all the environmental analysis of the Severn estuary and of the development of tidal and estuary electricity in the future is key to our energy policy.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): Increasingly, consumers are opting to sign up for so-called green electricity tariffs, often without knowing what they are getting or what they are signing up for. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to ensure that people are signing up for something of genuine environmental benefit?

Mr. O'Brien: Of course Ofgem is responsible for regulating the various tariffs and the way the energy companies charge people for the different rates of electricity that they supply. Ofgem has just completed a review of some areas of charging. It had some concerns and obliged the energy companies to change some of their proposals. If particular concerns arise with regard to so-called green tariffs, those are matters that Ofgem needs to deal with and the Government would strongly urge Ofgem to be straightforward in ensuring that it deals with these issues.

T3. [277943] Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): We have established that domestic energy efficiency improvements under the Conservatives came to an almost grinding halt under this Government, but what about Government Departments? According to the display energy certificates for the 17 Departments, only two achieved a grade C and three achieved a grade E. Seven were graded F and five got the bottom grade of G, including the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Is that what the Government regard as leading by example?

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, the fact is that many Government buildings are very ancient or are listed buildings. DECC is in that category. It is extremely difficult for a Department to raise its standards quickly when it is occupying such a building, but we are absolutely determined to do so. We are looking at every aspect of the heating, the ventilation, the water use and the waste in that building. We are committed overall as a Government to a 12.5 per cent. reduction in emissions from Government Departments by 2010 and we are confident that we now have in place sufficient measures to achieve that.

T4. [277944] Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that on current policies, the UK will fall woefully short of its 2020 target on renewable energy?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: No.

T5. [277945] Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister accept that the European Commission’s proposals to mitigate climate change could well cost this country £9 billion a year by 2020? It is estimated that that could put 1 million more households into fuel poverty, and increase the average fuel bill by £200. Is that what the Government want to achieve? I am not sure that that will be very popular. Should they not pay more attention to energy security, so that we do not get three-day-a-week black-outs, and every other problem that we had in the past?

Joan Ruddock: Great attention is being paid to energy security. In the longer term, renewables will add to our energy security because they will reduce imports of fuel from other countries. The fact is that there is a need to do that work. The costs would be much greater to all of us if we did not mitigate dangerous climate change, and if we had adapt to the worst effects, so the money will be well spent. Of course, as we make progress people’s fuel bills will go down when they are able to take up all the measures. They will save energy and therefore money. Although it is necessary to put public funds into the development of renewables and energy efficiency, we are committed to seeing that it is done fairly. Of course, we do not seek in any way to put more people into fuel poverty. On the contrary, we have a strategy to get them out, unlike the Conservative party.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The consumer organisation Which? has calculated that there are something like 4,000 different tariffs; that can be very confusing for consumers. As a result, many of the people who are switching switch to a more expensive tariff. In the light of my ten-minute Bill, which would oblige energy companies to publish on their bills whether the consumer is accessing the company’s cheapest tariff—an idea welcomed, by the way, by the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box—what steps are the Government taking to ensure that energy bills are used to highlight important information such as that, in order to improve energy efficiency?

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Very good question.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Someone said, sotto voce, that that was a very good question, and indeed it is. Switching has highlighted the fact that some people are not getting information that enables them to ensure that they are
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better off when they switch. We need to make sure that the information they receive is much more honest and valid; sometimes those who encourage switching provide some questionable information. However, there are websites where reliable information could be obtained, and making sure that that information is more widely known is important. We will publish our broader strategy on fuel poverty in due course, and we are considering some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Certainly, one of the issues to which we need to give serious consideration is the idea that he puts forward of having more information on bills about the sort of tariffs available.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Parliamentary Questions

1. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What steps she is taking to ensure the completeness of answers to parliamentary questions for written answer. [277946]

4. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What steps she is taking to ensure the completeness of answers to parliamentary questions for written answer. [277950]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I are fully committed to making sure that Ministers give faithful, honest, complete and timely answers to written parliamentary questions. We keep the matter under continuous review.

Mr. Goodwill: I have to say that I am generally very pleased with the quality of the answers that I get from the Department for Transport, but occasionally—possibly because I am at fault, not having tabled the question precisely enough—the question could be open to misinterpretation. I was pleased a couple of weeks ago to get a call from an official at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea asking for clarification, but more recently, I rather suspected that I had been fobbed off with an answer to a question that the Department would have preferred to have been asked, rather than to the question that I asked. Could officials be asked to take the opportunity to speak to Members more often to find out what information they need, so that Members do not have to table another question and incur more expense?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good suggestion. In one particular case relating to some questions to the Department for Transport that he tabled, I have followed up on the problem that he had. I think that there was a misunderstanding in the Department, and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), wrote to the hon. Gentleman this morning to say that he will make clear the precise situation and make a proper correction to Hansard.

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