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The tackling of the issue of permitted development is particularly timely, as for too long there has been a lack of consistency between words and action on the ground. Permitted sound levels for air source heat pumps and small wind turbines have caused a great deal of confusion and anger in the industry, with some small entrepreneurial firms brought to the edge of bankruptcy by delays and confusion in decision making. Ultimately, I hope, the Bill will help the Government to join up their thinking on microgeneration and ensure that there is an impact out there in the real world.

Simon Hughes: After the Bill has achieved Royal Assent, as I hope that it will, one thing that the hon. Gentleman might do, possibly with the help of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), is ensure that those farmers, landowners and householders who have had frustrating experiences in trying to develop their new energy sources can come together and share them, so that Ministers can really respond, particularly as they change the planning regulations.

Gregory Barker: It is an excellent idea that we should share experiences, because there are a lot of individuals—I have them in my constituency—who just do not seem to be able to get through the tangle of rules, yet they are trying to respond to the national agenda. I would be happy to work with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on that.

As I say, ultimately, the Bill will help to join things up, and will cut through the tangle of legislation with new purpose. Meaningful consultation with stakeholders in non-governmental organisations and the industry is required in any microgeneration strategy, and conversations will need to be had between officials in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and those in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that pre-permitting is fair. That will give a much-needed boost to our deployment of small-scale low-carbon technologies, many of which are still in their infancy but show real signs of potential. They are being spurred on by the new surge of innovation that is coming through as we start to develop in earnest a low-carbon energy economy. To that end, I ask the Minister to consult on fiscal and financial measures in drawing up the strategy. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that it was clause 4(3)(b) that was removed in Committee. I ask him for reassurance that, although that provision is no longer in the Bill, fiscal and financial measures will be an important part of his consultation.

I should like to finish by acknowledging, as did my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, the extraordinary force for change that is Ron Bailey and his team. I also thank the officials who have done so much to bring the Bill into line with other relevant legislation while maintaining its obvious powers, and colleagues on both sides of the House who have supported and endorsed the Bill in the Chamber and in Committee.

10.42 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): May I start, as everybody else has done, by congratulating the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) on his choice of subject, which is a perfectly good one, as we have found in this good debate? The Bill is well supported in every part of the House. I also congratulate him on his
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persistence in ensuring that it got this far—I hope that it will go all the way to the statute book in the not-too-distant future—and on his co-operative approach. He does not just say that such issues need cross-party co-operation; he demonstrates it by his behaviour.

As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged in answering an intervention of mine, he had good relations with the previous two Ministers responsible for handling his Bill. When the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), was a Minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, he had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman. At the time, it was not entirely clear to the Minister from the advice that he was receiving that he should support the Bill, but he and the hon. Gentleman together saw the value of it as a vehicle for promoting microgeneration more widely in this country. My right hon. and learned Friend made a difference, thanks to his meeting with the hon. Gentleman.

When my right hon. and learned Friend moved on to other business, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change took over. She conducted the Bill through the Committee. The slight thing that I have done to assist so far is to secure the money resolution for any expenditure that will be needed to put the Bill into effect practically. She worked hard with the hon. Gentleman on the amendments that made the Bill acceptable to the Government and, as we have heard, to the House. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) acknowledged that most of the amendments in Committee were constructive and have improved the Bill, and that is pleasing for all of us.

I think that my two predecessors would agree that it is a pleasure working with the hon. Member for East Surrey—a pleasure that I have enjoyed for many years in other settings before recently becoming a Minister. I should like to join others in paying tribute to all the members of the Public Bill Committee for the constructive and helpful discussions that characterised their debates in Committee on this important Bill.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I am blushing horribly at the Minister’s kind remarks, for which I am very grateful. He will be aware that the process is not over yet; the Bill now has to go to another place. He will also be aware that there appear to be some timing problems in the other place, regarding when it can consider the Bill. I hope that he and his colleagues will do all that they can to get it listed for debate in the other place on 10 July, because if the debate does not happen then, there is a risk that the Bill, which everybody seems to support so strongly, will fail to get into the final harbour and on to the statute book.

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman pre-empts a point that I would have liked to have made later. I will make it now instead. I anticipate, from all that has been said so far, that the Bill will be agreed to by the House today, which is welcome. It will go to the other place, where it will need some time, as he says, in order to be agreed to there, too. The Bill has had the detailed debate, consideration and scrutiny that will, I hope, satisfy Members of the other place that it needs very little additional attention
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at their end of Parliament. I hope that they will not take too long over it. I am conscious, as he is, that there is some pressure on the time that can be given to the Bill in the other place, especially before the summer recess. Clearly, if it has to start its passage there in the autumn, it will have limited time in which to get through all its stages there. Members of the ministerial team in my Department are conscious of those difficulties, and we will do all that we can to ensure that it has a safe passage through the other place and becomes an Act of Parliament in the autumn; that is what we want to happen.

The Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill represents an excellent opportunity for us to build on the solid foundation of the Government’s ongoing support for small-scale on-site low carbon and renewable energy generation. Part of that makes clear the Government’s ongoing support for microgeneration. That support has developed as a result of actions included in the Government’s current microgeneration strategy, a point that I raised with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes).

The Government see an important role for microgeneration installations, which are small-scale on-site energy technologies. Microgeneration, such as small-scale heat pumps in local community halls, can engage and interest communities in generating their own energy. It can also help us, as a nation, to tackle climate change and achieve energy security. I am pleased to say that the Government are continuing that impetus by maintaining their strong support for the Bill as amended in Committee.

We talk about microgeneration in the abstract, and in the legal terms of definitions, but it actually makes a difference in people’s homes and communities, as I have seen in my constituency. I recall visiting a man, in his cottage in a conservation area, who had installed solar thermal in the roof of his property. He was confident that he was making a difference to his energy bills, and contributing to tackling climate change. Of course, he was a member of a community. All his neighbours saw what he had done, and hopefully will be willing to follow his example. To digress for a second on to the subject of permitted development rights, which I shall talk about later, he put in his installation before there was general permission to do so, so he had to go through the planning process. As he was in a conservation area, he also needed consent. It is important to point out that the Bill retains the ability of local authorities to impose limitations and conditions in certain circumstances, such as those where the property is in a conservation area. That way, they can ensure that character is not damaged in pursuit of a fine objective, such as tackling climate change or lowering people’s energy bills.

Simon Hughes: I welcome the Minister to his responsibilities. Will he agree to meet, at some time convenient to him, the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and me so that we can provide examples of people whose proposals, possibly including some that might apply in national parks, would not offend the wider conservation interest, but who have struggled to get through the system, so that we can achieve the best possible process, both in special areas—conservation areas and others—and generally?

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Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman knows that I am a new Minister, so I am very much in meeting mode. How could I resist such a polite request to meet people with an interest that I share personally to discuss such issues? We will make arrangements for that to happen in due course.

I want to mention one or two of my own experiences which show the practical support that exists for microgeneration, which we need to tap into as a result of the Bill. I want to describe the day I climbed on to the roof of my local school, King Edward VI high school—as I am mentioning that, I should declare an interest: both my son and my daughter went to that school. It had installed a solar thermal installation on its roof to contribute to the heating of the school’s water. The people at the school were very proud of the installation, because it immediately provided a reliable source of energy and they saw a reduction in heating costs. They wanted me to come to the roof of their building to celebrate their success with them.

The point about a school having a microgeneration installation is that it is educative in the general sense. The entire school population every day was seeing and benefiting from that installation, so when my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) talks about having microgeneration installations in public places such as railway stations, I thoroughly agree with that suggestion because of the educative effect, in addition to all the other benefits, that such public sitings can provide.

Another example that I shall give from my experiences of microgeneration installations—yet again a solar thermal installation—is the Staffordshire wildlife trust in its headquarters in the beautiful rural location of Wolseley Bridge, just outside Stafford. With the help of the industry, which wanted a public display of its technology, and with the help of a grant under the low-carbon buildings programme, the trust was able to have both the installation and install a real-time meter in the entrance to its premises. There was an interpretation board next to the real-time meter to provide an explanation to the thousands of visitors who come to the centre every year so that they could see and learn more about microgeneration installations. That is a good example of educating a much wider audience than the people who benefit directly from the installation.

In case the House thinks that the only thing I can talk about is the Stafford constituency, brilliant though that constituency is, I want to draw attention briefly to the Sustainable Development Commission’s latest report, “Sustainable Development in Government 2008”, which contains a marvellous photograph of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Wiston House. It is a beautiful building, in a beautiful location in a rural setting, but the importance of the photograph is in the forefront—the biomass boiler fuelled with woodchip taken from the surrounding woodland, giving a carbon saving of 160 tonnes per year. I know that hon. Members would say the Government should go further and faster, but that is one instance of the Government setting an example and demonstrating the benefits of microgeneration installations.

I do not need to remind hon. Members of the difficult economic times that we face at national and global levels. While Governments must deal with the problems and consequences of the global recession, we must also bear in mind that, at this point in history, there can be
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no relaxation of our need to focus on the importance of sustaining our individual, national and global efforts to tackle the major challenge facing us all—climate change. We cannot shelve the issue until we have steered our way out of the economic downturn. Mañana is not the time to tackle it. Tomorrow will be too late.

The Stern review demonstrated that the costs of responding to unchecked climate change are incomparably higher than the costs of taking action to combat it now. The review also estimated that the economic and environmental costs of a failure to act could be as much as 20 per cent. of GDP or even more.

The current glorious weather in Wimbledon week seems to improve the quality of life in the British isles, but the current unusual health warnings may well foreshadow similar warnings in the summers of 2030, 2050 or 2080. Children being born now will have to endure these and other extreme events as a result of changing weather patterns. They will be only 40 years of age in 2050, by which time we need to have reduced our carbon emissions by 80 per cent.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: It has been glorious weather for Wimbledon, although probably rather too hot. I am told that the temperature in central London yesterday hit 32º C. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country there has been torrential rain and flooding. Is that not entirely consistent with what the scientists have been telling us for a long time about the likely effects of climate change?

Mr. Kidney: Of course, with my new responsibility for fuel poverty, I have learned a great deal more about excess winter deaths—the increased number of people who die in the winter months because of the cold—yet recently we had a summer when there were excess summer deaths because of a heat wave that was outside the norm. I agree that the evidence before our very eyes is quickly catching up with what the scientists have warned us about for many years. It must be increasingly difficult for the few deniers of climate change and its causes to maintain their opposition.

We must not be lured into excuses or slacken the pace at this crucial point. DEFRA recently released the UK climate projections, which give climate information for the UK up to the end of the century. The projections are based on a new Met Office methodology. It allows a measure of the uncertainty in future climate projections to be included in the information, but that element of uncertainty only covers a range of negative scenarios, not the possibility that climate change is not happening at all, a point reinforced by the hon. Gentleman.

Almost all climate scientists agree that the climate is changing and that that is due to man-made climate change, caused mainly by an increase in emissions of human-made greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide from burning coal and oil. I am informed that the Met Office has graphically described it as heading into a change of temperature equivalent to

Changes of this magnitude normally take thousands of years to develop, but in this case have taken just over 100 years. I hope hon. Members will agree that this is no time to downgrade climate change from being the leading challenge facing humanity today. Everyone who contributed to the debate had that as their unspoken text and motivation for their support for the Bill.

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Frank Dobson: Would it not be difficult for anybody to deny that some amount of climate change is taking place? Most people believe that humanity is contributing to that, but even those who do not believe that ought to accept that it is extremely stupid of us to waste the carbon-based energy supplies, which are clearly limited, particularly oil and gas.

Mr. Kidney: I served on the Joint Committee of both Houses that carried out the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Climate Change Bill. We had evidence from Lord Lawson, who is one of those who would say that there are other causes of climate change, it will not all go in one direction endlessly and we have no reason to worry. I agree with my right hon. Friend that that is a very dangerous attitude to take on many levels.

My right hon. Friend mentions carbon-based fuels running out. We probably still have centuries of coal supplies. It is an expanding source of energy, particularly in developing countries, and it is urgent that we tackle the emissions that come from burning fossil fuels. However, as he says, it is so pressing, demanding and obvious that we should follow a precautionary approach and take the actions that we are describing here and in other forums. They are the right actions to take if we are to ensure that the world does not get into the dangerous circumstances that scientists say will otherwise prevail later this century.

Mr. Ainsworth: The Minister makes an extremely important point. Whatever anyone’s views about climate change, does he not agree that we should have been promoting resource efficiency and energy efficiency anyway, and that in the developed west we have scandalously neglected those things for far too long? Dealing with those issues presents an enormous opportunity for good in the future.

Mr. Kidney: I agree. This is a fascinating discussion, although we are in danger of going a long way from the Bill. The hon. Gentleman’s point is important for two reasons. First, there is the great unspoken issue of population growth; there are already more than 6 billion people in the world, and some say that by the middle of this century, there will be 9 billion. In that context, resource efficiency is an important subject. Secondly, to be a little selfish for my own country, as we are all entitled to be, there will be skills and technologies from which we can benefit if we are more resource-efficient in future. Britain could be at the forefront of finding the technologies for low-carbon and renewable energy sources and benefit from immense trade in those technologies. There is every good reason for us to be resource-efficient.

I want to respond to one or two points made by the hon. Gentleman, and I shall answer the question that he asked me. He said that taking his Bill so far had been a privilege and a pleasure. I wondered about his use of the word “pleasure”; perhaps tonight, as he looks back on his Bill’s successful passage, he will feel a lot more pleased than he does now in listening to me drone on in support of it. I was pleased that he recognised how the Government had co-operated with him during its passage.

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