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I do not say that because I want to prevent wind turbines from being installed. I want them to be installed and I do not want to be negative about things, but it would be a real setback if some are installed using the general permission only for there to be a tremendous row about a particular incident involving a particular old lady who is being driven mad by the windmill next door. All the enemies of all the green measures that we wish to push for would jump on that, publicise it and gloat, and could set back all the developments that we want to take place.

I note that the Bill’s definition of “non-domestic land” for these purposes includes “buildings” and that the proposal would not apply only to rural areas. I am happy about that because my constituency is at the urban end of things, despite containing Primrose hill, Chalk Farm, Oak village, Elm village and so on. Much more use should be made of non-domestic urban buildings as, in effect, the towers for wind turbines. There is a great deal of scope for wind turbines in urban areas, provided they are not too intrusive on particular parts of the urban landscape. I say that because urban landscapes are just as valuable as rural ones and many of them need to be protected. The source of electricity in some shopping streets could literally be above the shop.

One of the most famous sights in my constituency used to be the gasometers behind St. Pancras station. Some of those have been temporarily demolished, whereas others have gone for ever. Their example prompts me to suggest that a perfectly sound site for wind turbines, and one that would be inoffensive in terms of the urban landscape, would be on top of the new, modern extension of St. Pancras station. We need to take that sort of approach all over our urban areas.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Obviously I know the site well, and I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. Would he be willing to join some of us in speaking to people at Network Rail, which looks after some of the big sites in London? We could suggest several huge railway sites whose use in this regard would be consistent with what goes on at the moment and inoffensive in terms of tradition. They present very good opportunities to get new sorts of energy into the middle of the capital city.

Frank Dobson: As my constituency is the proud possessor of King’s Cross, Euston and St. Pancras stations, I have a bit of an interest in major railway stations and the approaches to them. I have already made a suggestion about St. Pancras, King’s Cross is being redeveloped and a proposition for the redevelopment of Euston station is rather further back—I am meeting the proponents of that next week and I intend raising this matter then.

One other thing that I should say, if this is not too far off the topic, is that huge swathes of land in my constituency and in other parts of inner London are alienated by having a railway running over them. These railways are sometimes 10 or 20 tracks wide, and I recall that when I was leader of Camden council I got the engineers to look into the possibility of building over the railways as they come into the main line stations. We cannot create any more land, so we must make better use of what we have. Perhaps some sources of new energy could be built into those areas, if what I suggested were to happen.

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I come back to my main point about domestic buildings, because I think we need to be very careful about using the general permission approach in respect of non-domestic buildings. We need to ensure that all these things are subject to the consideration of their impact on neighbours, be they commercial and business neighbours or, as is most likely, residential neighbours. That would help to promote microgeneration while also being sensitive to neighbours. It should not be too intensive or intrusive in particular landscapes, whether urban or rural. Instances of microgeneration being unpopular, or being exploited by newspapers and complained about week in week out on the “Today” programme on the BBC, would not help to achieve any of the benefits that we are all hoping for.

On the whole, I very much welcome the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Surrey on introducing it. I hope that it succeeds and that we can get on to the other measures that are before the House today.

10.21 am

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I wish to take my first opportunity to congratulate you warmly, Mr. Speaker, and wish you all the very best.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) on his choice of Bill, his stewardship of it, and his co-operative efforts to get his key objective on to the statute book, which look as though they will succeed.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for failing to welcome you to the Chair in my previous remarks, as that was the first time that I have contributed since your elevation. I also apologise for not mentioning the very co-operative assistance that I have received from Liberal Democrat Members on the Bill.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is very kind. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who did my job when the Bill was introduced, is happy to be a sponsor, and also that my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (David Howarth) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) were happy to serve on the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge is in his place today to ensure that the Bill proceeds satisfactorily today.

I shall be brief, because I made my substantive points on the Bill at Second Reading. My core point is that we will again have a microgeneration strategy for England. That is what we need as part of the energy mix. My vision is of a country where energy is not provided for people by bigger and bigger organisations run across borders with less and less personal control, but instead where we regain personal control of the link between the energy we need and the use that we make of it. The more we can make the link between the person and the provider—between the village, town or community and the provider—the better.

It will be good for this country if people can begin to see that link. It will encourage the sort of initiative mentioned by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). If people realise that the wind turbines or solar panels at King’s Cross, Euston or St. Pancras—or at London Bridge station in my
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constituency—provide the heat or energy for their community, they are more likely to be positive about them. Indeed, just outside London Bridge is SELCHP—the South East London Combined Heat and Power plant—which has been there for 10 years. It is an incinerator so it is more controversial, but it had the same intention of linking the communities with the production of energy, in what was thought to be the best way at the time. Microgeneration should be part of the energy mix and it should come from individuals and communities as a contribution to the grid.

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman said “again”, so he recognises that we have already had a strategy. He mentions the public face of the strategy, but does he agree that, as I have found in my discussions with the supply chain, people are more confident about investing in their businesses, equipment and the skills of their work force if a strategy is in place?

Simon Hughes: That is true, and I concede that there has been a strategy, but this new strategy will ensure that our efforts do not stop.

The second good thing about the Bill is that it includes dates and deadlines. The first is that the Bill will come into force within two months of the date on which it is passed. That is much shorter than many pieces of legislation, and it is very important. Other deadlines provide that the consultation must begin within six months of the coming into force of the Act and must be published within six months, beginning with the end of the consultation. The only thing that is not specified is the length of the consultation. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government take as long as necessary for the process to be perceived to be fair, but not so long that it loses momentum. I am sure that they would not want that to happen, but we need a commitment from the Front Bench to keep up the pressure—

Mr. Kidney: To make the obvious point, the Cabinet Office guidelines on consultations are that they should take 12 weeks. We will not truncate the consultation, and nor would we want it to overrun.

Simon Hughes: My third point is about definitions. We had a debate on Second Reading about the phrase “green jobs”, which was in the original Bill. The Government were all over the place on that definition at the time. The Prime Minister was promoting green jobs from the Front Bench, but one of his ministerial colleagues said in a parliamentary answer that there was no such thing as a green job, because all jobs were green jobs, so it is probably good that the attempt to define a green job has disappeared from the Bill. My colleagues and I hope that more and more jobs will be genuinely green jobs that provide sustainable solutions to our economic and ecological crisis, but any attempt to limit and circumscribe that definition to certain things to do with the energy industry is probably inappropriate.

The definition that remains in the Bill of “green energy” is not as controversial. Clause 1(1) states:

We all know what we mean by that—at least, we think we do—but the Bill defines it more specifically. We had two small debates about this point in Committee. The Bill defines it as

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the word “heat” was a welcome addition in Committee—

It also contains a capacity limit of 5 MW for electricity and 5 MW thermal for heat. I am happy with that definition for the purposes of the Bill, but I would not want to think that that would be the final word on the definition of green energy. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made the point in Committee that some of us do not think that nuclear energy is the green energy that others may think it is. Energy produced in such a hugely complicated and technological way is not green energy. I do not want to open the Pandora’s box of that debate, but I make the point that the definition in the Bill works well. We are talking about small schemes in this instance, but I hope that when we have other debates on strategy for energy policy generally we can look at what we mean by green energy and reach common agreement.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no such thing as small-scale nuclear energy generation.

Simon Hughes: I do know that, and I read that the hon. Gentleman made that point in Committee—

Frank Dobson: Tactical nuclear power stations!

Simon Hughes: That could be a new strategy to try to gain friends and influence people by the nuclear industry— [ Laughter. ]

To complete my words on the definition, it is good that as well as the Bill’s principal purpose of promoting green energy it retains two other objectives: the desirability of alleviating fuel poverty—that point was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras in the context of his constituency and it is also a big issue in mine—and the desirability of securing a diverse and viable long-term energy supply. Those two objectives are properly retained, and I am very pleased about that.

May I add my usual rider? I am never sure that fuel poverty is the right phrase—it is not what people talk about on the Caledonian road, the Old Kent road or in the villages of Staffordshire or Surrey. We need to talk about warm homes if we mean warm homes and we need to use phrases in this debate, as far as possible, that people can relate to and that are understandable.

Finally, I note that two parts of the Bill have disappeared, and I lament their passing. One has been referred to and one has not. We have lost the good but controversial proposal—described in Committee as radical or revolutionary—to offer people an incentive to have green energy at home: introducing microgeneration or energy efficiency measures would affect what occupiers paid in council tax. Obviously, my hon. Friends and I are not supporters of council tax as a method of paying for local government services, but there will always be a method of some sort and we think that, if that method is attached to the property, there should be ways of incentivising people to ensure that they see the benefit of such a move. I am sad that that provision has gone, but the issue will not go away and will come back elsewhere.

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The other provision that disappeared in Committee was the requirement that in updating the microgeneration strategy the Secretary of State should at least consider financial and fiscal measures. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House that such measures will at least be considered as part of the process of updating the strategy. Carrots and sticks are always important as we change people’s culture and behaviour, and financial and fiscal carrots and sticks are probably the most useful things that the Government can introduce. We all respond positively to financial and fiscal incentives and the Government have the mechanisms to introduce them. They know that they use them in every Budget and regularly at other times.

I do not want to go on further. This is an important Bill and I am sure that the House of Lords will be keen to ensure that it continues its passage and becomes law in this Session. We have two very important green Bills on our agenda this morning. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) is waiting patiently to propose his, and we look forward to that. We could do very good work if the Government responded positively to both of the Bills. I know that they will respond positively to this Bill; I am not so clear about whether they will be quite as positive about my right hon. Friend’s Bill. I hope that they can be persuaded.

This Bill has been a piece of very good work. The hon. Member for East Surrey is to be commended and we all wish him and his Bill well. It will make a difference to the energy sources in this country, to people’s engagement with the production of energy and to the response to the terrible risks to the climate about which we increasingly know.

10.33 am

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful and interesting speeches of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely spot on; he made the point about the absolute imperative of energy saving extremely well. In the 21st century, energy saving is the great no-brainer, but we need to provide greater leadership and incentives for people to grasp the energy saving agenda. However, that is business for another day.

I am delighted to be welcoming the Bill back to this Chamber for Third Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) on his not inconsiderable achievement in bringing this important Bill so far. I am sure that his delightful, intelligent and responsible constituents will be extremely proud of the measure.

I am also pleased that for a second year running those on our Benches have produced an ambitious and progressive Bill which will drive forward the climate change agenda. The green energy and microgeneration agenda lies at the heart of the new Conservative vision for a low-carbon Britain. It also proves that even in opposition there is the opportunity to make a real difference.

It is a testament to the importance and substance of the Bill as well as to the skills deployed by my hon. Friend that he has been able to attract such a wide degree of bipartisan support, as reflected in the cross-party
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support of a number of Members whom he has gathered. That is more important on this issue than on almost any other. Climate change calls for a new form of responsible politics and it is critical that we embrace bipartisan politics and consensus where possible, not because it makes the passage of any one Bill any easier but because of the very important signals that such consensus sends to the outside world. It not only shows our determination to tackle this agenda but sends out a critical message about long-term direction and strategy to the capital markets.

The Bill hints at the huge scale of investment, the large part of which will come from the private sector, that will be required to transform our economy over the next decade, not in a piecemeal or step-by-step way but in an almost revolutionary way. It is vital that we in this House act responsibly in giving that long-term direction to the capital markets, the private sector and large and small investors so that they can have faith and confidence in the agenda, which will outlive any Government, any Parliament or any party leader. It is something that Britain plc is determined to see through and it will outlive all of us.

I am pleased that despite major changes to its wording the Bill that went into Committee has in the most part been preserved. The changes in Committee were mostly constructive in clarifying and strengthening the Bill’s intent. I support efforts made by the Minister and his officials to bring the definitions and language of the Bill into line with its parent legislation, the Energy Act 2004. Indeed, it is appropriate that a Bill concerned in part with definitions should have been improved by amendments that reinforce the use of terms such as “renewable or low-carbon source”, which not so long ago were poorly understood and vague and are now part of the established vocabulary of climate change legislation in this country. I am also pleased that the Minister made allowances in Committee to include heat in the Bill. Heat makes up more than half of UK carbon emissions and measures to promote low-carbon, small-scale heating will be an important part of rising to the significant challenge of decarbonising our heat supply.

I followed with interest the record of the Committee’s proceedings, particularly the confusion over the feed-in tariff cap for combined heat and power. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) was typically perceptive in his questioning and both his point and the Minister’s response satisfy my concerns over the apparent contradictions between this Bill and the energy legislation over the level of the cap.

Mr. Kidney: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who was very perceptive in Committee. Has the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) seen the letter that my hon. Friend the Minister of State sent to the hon. Member for Wealden to clarify that point afterwards?

Gregory Barker: I have indeed; I have it beside me, in fact.

As I said on Second Reading, in promoting local energy economies and facilitating the permitted development of low-carbon solutions this Bill will do much to empower smaller generators of power, whether those generators are households, businesses, communities or community-based organisations.

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