3 July 2009 : Column 593

House of Commons

Friday 3 July 2009

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

9.33 am

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163).

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Speaker: I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.

The House having divided: Ayes 0, Noes 29.
Division No. 180]
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Justine Greening and
James Duddridge

Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Barker, Gregory
Burt, Alistair
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Clwyd, rh Ann
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Goodman, Helen
Gove, Michael
Harper, Mr. Mark
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Lucas, Ian
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
Merron, Gillian
Prentice, Bridget
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Wright, Mr. Iain
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Frank Roy and
David Wright
The Speaker declared that the Question was not decided because fewer than 40 Members had participated in the Division (Standing Order No. 41).

Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Third Reading

9.50 am

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to help to pilot the Bill through the choppy waters of parliamentary procedure thus far. Private Members’ Bills are notoriously fragile vessels and the waters are full of dangerous beasts, but I am happy to say that when I sought navigational assistance from the Government, they responded avidly. In fact, they seem to have taken over the ship, but I am not concerned about that. I am concerned about getting a Bill on to the statute book, with cross-party support, which will help to move the green agenda forward and help businesses, communities and individuals to play their part in meeting the challenging target of an 80 per cent. carbon reduction by 2050, and the perhaps even more challenging 2020 target that the Government have set us for renewable energy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): The hon. Gentleman is now facing his third Minister on the same Bill. Before he leaves the subject of the history so far, may I ask whether he agrees with me that he enjoyed a good, co-operative relationship with the previous two Ministers—particularly my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O’Brien), who decided that the Bill was valuable and should be supported, and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), whose co-operation in Committee ensured that all the amendments were carried unanimously?

Mr. Ainsworth: I was coming to exactly that point. There has been a good working relationship, demonstrating that when it comes to important matters relating to climate change and carbon reduction we need to work together, and proving that we can work together. I am very grateful to successive Ministers. I might wish that there had not been so many of them, but the hon. Gentleman is of course a beneficiary of the way the doors have revolved in Whitehall in recent weeks, and I am pleased about that as well.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting this far. One of his master strokes was asking me to be one of the Bill’s supporters. I thought that the best way I could help was by taking a Trappist vow of silence on a Friday, but I want to compliment him on what he has been able to achieve. Energy efficiency and renewable and low-carbon sources have an important role to play in the long-term strategy, and I think that his Bill will make a major contribution towards the meeting of our share of the 2020 renewable energy targets. I hope that it will receive an unopposed Third Reading.

Mr. Ainsworth: That is rare praise for a private Member’s Bill. It may have something to do with the fact that the hon. Gentleman’s own private Member’s Bill is due to
be dealt with later today, but I am delighted by what he has said. I return to my metaphor involving ships, pilots and navigators. The hon. Gentleman is, of course, one of the most notorious Friday morning pirates in the House, and it is good to have him onside on this occasion.

Let me extend my gratitude beyond the ministerial team to the civil servants in both the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Communities and Local Government, who have worked together to help the Bill to make progress and, in some cases, to make sense. I am also grateful to those in the Public Bill Office who, as ever, have worked their secret ministry, and to my hon. Friends the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), both of whom have spoken from the Opposition Front Bench during proceedings on the Bill.

Almost inevitably, given that this is a “green” private Member’s Bill, I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Ron Bailey, that Whitehall scourge of counter-revolutionary forces and ardent upholder of anarcho-syndicalism—it is on the record now!—who, along with Jacky Howe, has been immensely helpful and influential behind the scenes. I also thank the Micropower Council for its support and hard work, particularly in encouraging members of the public to make known to their representatives their feelings about the importance of these measures.

The purpose of the Bill is to help the United Kingdom to meet its carbon reduction target of 80 per cent. by 2050, to help to tackle climate change and fuel poverty, and to increase the diversity of our energy supplies, thus making us both greener and safer. It aims to make it easier for households and businesses, including agricultural businesses, to generate energy in a more sustainable way, and to contribute to the meeting of the challenging renewable energy target set for 2020.

No one should underestimate the scale of the task ahead if we are to meet the climate change targets. Nor should anyone underestimate the benefits of moving swiftly towards those targets, not only the benefits in avoided costs—as Members will recall, the key message of the Stern review was that if we do not take action now, the consequences will be vastly more expensive and difficult—but the positive advantages of job creation, economic security, technical innovation and investment. In addition, if the United Kingdom is seen to take a real lead in practical terms, not just in terms of rhetoric, that will greatly strengthen our negotiating position in the vital international discussions that are taking place this year in the run-up to the summit at Copenhagen.

It is often the small, humdrum changes that make a big difference. The Bill contains a number of small measures: changes to permitted development rights for air-source heat pumps and micro-wind turbines, the inclusion of small-scale combined heat and power in the definition of green energy, the extension of permitted development rights for microgeneration to non-domestic land, and a timetable for a revised and up-to-date microgeneration strategy that includes raising the capacity limit for microgenerated thermal from 45 kW to 300 kW, which may help significantly with the development of community-based heating schemes.

I believe that all those measures add up to something potentially substantive. Above all, perhaps, they should make it easier for more people to benefit from green energy, with the added benefit of enhancing social engagement in the cause of carbon reduction. They may also help social cohesion where small, community-based schemes are made possible and introduced, bringing people together and—literally—empowering them. That is a useful social spin-off from the implementation of the micropower agenda.

In dealing with the whole question of climate change, we need to be bold, we need to have vision, and we need the grand designs; but we need to get the detail right as well, and we need to get people involved. That will only happen if there are easy, low-cost ways of getting involved. In green circles there is much talk of behaviour change, but it will not happen unless political policies are in place that enable people to change their behaviour. It was put to me the other day that the main religions of the world have been working on behaviour change for millennia without any notable success, and that human beings remain at heart selfish, short-term chimpanzees.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Speak for your own constituency!

Mr. Ainsworth: I should make it clear that I am certainly not speaking for my constituency, although I may well be speaking for that of my hon. Friend.

Chimpanzees respond to bananas. They respond to incentives. We need incentives: we need to make life easy, and we need inducements and encouragements. We certainly do not need punishments—and we do not need any number of Government strategies and reviews.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting this far with his Bill. He was right to say that all-party co-operation has made that possible. May I pick up his point about incentives? Does he agree that it is slightly disappointing that the Government were so opposed to the part of the original Bill that would have helped to preserve people who used microgeneration in their homes from the danger of increased council tax, and does he share my hope that the Government will deal with the problem at a later stage?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I made it clear in Committee that I was disappointed that that clause—clause 6 in the original Bill—did not find favour with the Government. It seems to me illogical that people who take the trouble to invest in improving their properties by installing micropower may face an increase in their council tax on revaluation. That is anomalous, and if this Government do not change it I hope a future Government will.

Returning to the need to engage people and the importance of accumulating small, detailed measures to make changes—and moving rapidly away from chimpanzees and bananas—one of my favourite quotes is, I think, from Ghandi. I have not managed to trace the source of the quote, and I would be very grateful if anybody can, but what Ghandi said was, “The effect of an insignificant action is greater than the effect of no
action by a factor of infinity. And when a multitude each takes an action which may itself seem insignificant, the effect can be huge.”

The Committee stage was a thoughtful and useful process. It also enabled the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), to make the very welcome announcement that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had committed to a complete review of the environmental consent process for micro-hydropower. That is very welcome news. When the Minister makes his—no doubt brief—contribution to this debate, I would be grateful if he would let us know a little more about the detail of that review, and in particular the timetable.

If the Bill completes its voyage to the statute book, I hope that it will be regarded as a useful piece of legislation by the micropower industry, consumers, households and green campaigning groups. However, as I said on Second Reading, lack of time is always potentially lethal to private Members’ Bills, and on that basis, and in anticipation that the House will wish to debate the commendable Industrial Carbon Emissions (Targets) Bill, which the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) will introduce later this morning, I shall conclude my remarks with an exhortation to Members, and in particular the Minister, to keep their contributions brief.

10.2 pm

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): As this is the first time that I have spoken in the Chamber since you were elevated to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, may I congratulate you and wish you well? May I also make it clear that it is not my intention to delay proceedings on this Bill, or the commencement—or even termination—of Bills further down today’s agenda?

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and his fellow sponsors of all parties, including, rather unusually, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). The Bill’s proposals augment, in part at least, the Energy Act 2008 and the Climate Change Act 2008, which the Government successfully piloted on to the statute book. I particularly welcome the Bill’s clarification of the fact that green energy includes energy saving and efficiency measures. They are not especially glamorous; they do not stand out as much as alternative sources of producing energy either physically, in people’s minds or in most of the talk about trying to reduce our carbon-based energy consumption. Double glazing is not as eye-catching as a windmill. However, although energy efficiency and saving do not get the attention they deserve, their scope for benefiting us and the whole of mankind is enormous. Huge amounts of energy are still being wasted, and we can reduce that wastage quite quickly. Investment in energy saving produces much quicker returns than money invested in windmills, heat pumps or photovoltaics.

Most things in life involve dilemmas; there are advantages and disadvantages. Energy saving, however, is almost dilemma free; it is mostly gain. If we save energy, we reduce the need for carbon-based supplies—or, indeed, supplies of energy from any source. Through energy saving, we can rapidly reduce the cost of heating and lighting, because if we reduce the amount we waste, we have to buy less and that costs us less. The installation of energy-saving measures also creates jobs in the supply
of various materials and in the process of installation itself, and the great virtue of that is that it will be done in homes and businesses in this country by people in this country; the jobs created by the installation of energy-saving measures have to be carried out here, not by some impoverished person working for the tyrannical regime in China.

There is also a very substantial element of social justice involved in pushing forward with energy-saving measures, because it is a lamentable fact that the worst-off families and pensioners tend even now to be living in the worst insulated homes. They are getting the worst of all worlds: they are not keeping warm, yet they are paying more for their gas and electricity than better-off people who are keeping warm. That is absurd. I therefore welcome energy efficiency and its inclusion in the definition of green energy.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my support for the Bill. The more we can kick-start these technologies, the better they are likely to develop and the less they will cost, which will make them more affordable to a broader cross-section of the population. Today we can perhaps start a snowball effect that gradually makes all these technologies, whether energy efficiency or energy saving, available to everyone. Also, as the right hon. Gentleman says, often it is lower income people who suffer most from poor energy usage.

Frank Dobson: I entirely agree. This point is probably most starkly illustrated at present in the field of photovoltaics, which are currently very expensive, but if they were produced in tens of millions of units, the unit cost would come hurtling down. We have seen something similar happening in IT, and there are some strong parallels between that industry and photovoltaics.

The Government should be stepping up their action in this area. I know there is talk of reducing capital investment, but in my view there ought to be more Government and private capital investment in energy saving, particularly in people’s homes. That is green, and it would save energy, create jobs and promote social justice, all of which cannot be said for many things in this life. I am therefore strongly in favour of it.

There must also be energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings. A lot of businesses need to do more to reduce their consumption. Quite a lot of them spend quite a lot of money on the physical security of their offices, factories and warehouses, but the fact of the matter is that despite the value of all the things that might be vandalised and stolen, they lose a lot more every day from energy escaping through the roof, chimneys, doors and windows of the buildings that the security guards are roaming around. I think they need to pay a lot more attention to that.

We must also recognise that there is a great deal of waste through overheating and over-lighting. As for the IT industry, I always smile wryly when I see somebody being interviewed on television advocating green measures while they are standing in a room with about 40 visual display units flashing away, with all the electricity consumption that that entails. I also think that there is a timeless element to energy saving, because once we have done it, we have done it—we may need to do a bit
of maintenance occasionally, but it is done. Any form of energy production that we consider may go out of fashion, or its relative costs may change, whereas the relative gains of energy saving are permanent and continuous.

I am not a recent convert to the idea of energy saving. I can recall that within two or three days of being elected to this place some 30 years ago I had a drink on the Terrace—I have not done that very often since, but that has nothing to do with the particular incident I am describing—and talked to someone who had been a No. 10 adviser to the Callaghan Government. I asked why the Government were not putting more money into energy saving and instead of putting more money into building power stations, to which the response was, “It is so much more difficult to monitor and control that sort of investment, and it is less easy to demonstrate to the public that it is being done.” That did not seem to me to be a particularly good answer at the time and it has not become one since.

When I first started working for a living, I worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board, whose chairman at the time was a most distinguished engineer, Sir Christopher Hinton. He was the boss of the generating organisation; he was probably the person who made possible the establishment of nuclear power stations, and he did that by what can only be described as engineering and managerial genius. He also had a great deal of common sense. He used to upset the marketing side of the electricity industry by saying that it was making money out of ridiculously high temperatures in offices. Even at that time—this has grown since—the custom was that everybody went to work and then took off their jacket. He used to say, “I can remember when I was a graduate engineer for the Great Western Railway at its Swindon offices. During the winter we did not just wear a jacket; we put on a jumper or a waistcoat under our coat in order to keep warm.” He pointed out that if everybody in an office in Britain did that, we could probably close two 2,000 MW power stations. So we need to examine our own individual behaviour to see whether we could tolerate not being roasted in a hotel, train, plane and so on—it does not matter what example we use. We ought to be pursuing that approach; we ought to try not to consume energy wastefully through our own behaviour, rather than just look at other people’s energy saving.

I move on to the other aspects of the Bill, which do involve dilemmas. The microgeneration proposals for dwelling houses and non-domestic land are intended to make it easier to install wind turbines—I call them windmills, because I am so old-fashioned—or air source heat pumps, and I am in favour of doing that. The proposal seeks to make it easier by amending the permitted development controls, and I support that. In relation to the proposal’s application to domestic buildings, we need to take care not to end up with someone’s wind turbine causing a nuisance to the house next door, the flat upstairs or the flat below. That is not likely to happen where modern, properly installed and continually well maintained wind turbines are involved, but wind turbines will need to be modern, of a high standard, properly installed and continuously well maintained. I do not know whether they already have a noise rating, but we clearly need to address that issue.

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