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I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on his remarks later, but let me turn now to the other points that he made. I did not hear him ask any real questions about the substance of my proposals, although I appreciate
that he has not had much time to absorb them. However, I should be happy to answer any questions on the substance of the proposals, when he has some.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the roll-out of smart meters, and I can tell the House that 48 million meters will be rolled out in the next decade. It is easy for an Opposition to say, "Let's do it more quickly," and that would be fine if there were ways to do that. However, we believe that 5 million meters are quite a lot to install in one year, and we are open to any quicker way of proceeding.
The hon. Gentleman asked about offsets. The Government have taken an ambitious approach to offsets, as did the Chancellor in the Budget. We have said that we will achieve the 34 per cent. reduction through domestic action, and exclusive of the EU emissions trading scheme. That remains the case. As he will know, because his deputies will have taken part in the debate on this, we have set the credit limit for the first budget period at zero. In fact, in our plans we over-achieve on our carbon budgets, but I hope that he is not falling for the idea that any offsetting abroad is automatically a bad thing-
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman may say, "Ah," but the truth is that for Copenhagen we face a massive financing challenge, and developing countries are saying to us, "We need the finance to be able to make the transition to low carbon." If we are to make that transition to low carbon, we need all the means at our disposal, and that means private and public finance. We have in place domestic action to meet our 34 per cent. target, but we will not say that we will never engage in buying credits from abroad, because that is the right policy.
We have set out the rates for consultation on feed-in tariffs. We have listened to what people have to say, and we think that we have set a realistic estimate of what tariffs can achieve-but if they can achieve more, that is a good thing. Let me just end- [ Interruption. ] Let me just end- [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but I fear that the shadow Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) were probably not present in the Chamber during Wales Office questions, in which I indicated that this habit of wittering away from a sedentary position on the Opposition Front Bench must stop.
Edward Miliband: Let me finish by saying this to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark): we are debating serious issues and we need as much consensus as possible. I regret the tone of his remarks, and the fact that he does not have anything of substance to ask about our proposals today. I look forward to debating them in the coming months.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and I congratulate him on his personal commitment to ensuring that we move to being a low-energy country. I welcome the announcement of carbon budgets throughout
the sector as well as for the Government as a whole, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for announcing that the regulator will be given new requirements.
Simon Hughes: I am going to ask the Secretary of State questions, not because I want to be confrontational but because his policy is lacking in certain areas. Will he confirm that the Government will wish to be judged at the next election not on words but on delivery? Will he therefore explain why, on the day that we have heard that the only company producing turbines in this country is going to close, the Government have done nothing specific to support the growth of UK-based industry in the sector? What is his estimate of the amount of new technology that will be produced in this country, as opposed to abroad, by the end either of next year or of the next five years?
Given that we are at the bottom of the European league table on renewables, with a contribution of 2 per cent. compared with more than 30 per cent. in Sweden and almost 10 per cent. in Germany, is not the reality that, although the Chancellor announced incentives for the renewables sector in the Budget, he has subsequently failed, because the renewables industry has been waiting three months for the promised meeting to discuss how the European Investment Bank money can be accessed, and no meeting has taken place? Why have all the English regions bar one failed to reach their renewables target? What will change that situation over the next year, and the next five years? Will individual communities, including counties such as Cornwall and countries such as Wales, be able to get on with their own policies to deliver the green peninsula, in Cornwall, and the green country, in Wales, without the Government telling them what to do?
On fuel poverty, given the criticisms by the Secretary of State's own advisory body and the fact that the number of people in fuel poverty has gone up from 1 million to 4 million, will he give a categorical promise that none of the policies that he has announced will adversely affect those on low incomes-not just the 800,000 whom he mentioned in his statement, but the millions of people on low incomes-and that they will not be forced to pay the bills for the policy that he has announced? Will the bills fall on the private sector, with its big profits, and on those of us who can afford to pay, so that in the end we have a fairer Britain, not just a greener Britain?
The Secretary of State knows that my party does not share the Labour-Tory love-in with the nuclear industry. Is it not true that no new UK nuclear power station has ever been built on time or to budget? Is it not also true that the more that he and his friends cosy up to the nuclear industry, the more likely it is that the renewables industry will not get the support and technological investment that it needs?
On the grid, I welcome what the Secretary of State has said as far as it goes, but how soon will there be flexible access, which has been denied for years, so that people can start to contribute as they have been waiting to do? Are we as a country now committed to the European super-grid? If so, what are we going to do about it?
Are we committed to decarbonising the power sector fully by 2030? And, what will the Government do to help the biofuels industry? Many small businesses have supported it but now believe that it is being regulated out of existence. For example, it has produced fuel from used chip fat and wants to contribute to a new renewables industry, but it has been told that it cannot do that in the future.
We had discussions with Vestas, but I want to make it clear that it never wanted grants or money to persuade it to stay in this country. The option was obviously considered with the company, but there were two factors in its decision. The first aspect is that it was making turbines for America, where it had a factory. The second aspect is related to the hon. Gentleman's point about renewables, and is a big issue for everyone in the House. It is about planning-not so much the planning rules, because we are changing them, although unfortunately the Opposition want to reverse that change, but the question whether one can get onshore wind turbines built. Vestas' speciality is onshore wind, and that requires political persuasion-a hard job for all parts of the House. The job is to persuade people that although onshore wind turbines may be unsightly to some, the bigger threat to the countryside is not wind turbines but climate change. Of course there are areas where wind turbines would be inappropriate, and we have proposals today in our renewable energy strategy about how we can work with local people to site the turbines more sensitively, but they have to go somewhere, and we all need to focus on that necessity.
We are proceeding with the investments via the European Investment Bank, the money will be going out of the door soon-in the autumn, I think-and we are going as fast as we can. If there is an issue about meetings with representatives, I am happy to address it.
On fuel poverty, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we face a massive challenge. It will be an even bigger challenge in the future. I am happy to work together on the issue, but we need to find all the ways to tackle fuel poverty that we can. Reforming social tariffs is a good start, but if there are other ways we should definitely use them, because given the upward pressures on prices, fuel poverty will be a big challenge over the next decade-and, frankly, beyond that.
The hon. Gentleman and I disagree about nuclear energy. I am not engaged in a love-in with the nuclear industry, but I do think that nuclear energy has an important role to play. On grid access, I said that the new plans would be in place within a year, and that that is how we will speed up the connections, because I did not want the stand-off between the industry and Ofgem to continue.
The super-grid is an interesting idea, but it is expensive. None the less, we are happy to explore it, and we are doing so. I would be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman separately about some of the other questions that he raised.
Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I very much welcome the statement, because I think-or at least, I hope, because I have not read the White Paper yet-that it represents a big break from the energy policy of every Government since the time of Gladstone, which has been "Dig it up and burn it." Latterly, of course, that has included uranium. I hope that we are going to shift away from that territory, but I would welcome a statement by my right hon. Friend about how we will convince the likes of BP, Centrica, Shell and the owners of Scottish Power to reinvest in renewables, because during the recession they seem to have backed off.
Edward Miliband: I think that it would be over the top for me to claim that this is an historic moment comparable to those associated with Gladstone; I shall settle for a lower level of ambition than that. My hon. Friend raises an important issue, however, about what those energy companies have been doing. The Chancellor's decision in the Budget to look into support for offshore wind was important, but we then come back to issues such as sorting out planning and grid access. People need to be convinced not just that there is a theoretical financial investment worth making in the UK, but that it will be made on time, that it will start, and that it will not be obstructed by planning rules. That is why it is regrettable that there is not all-party support for our planning reforms.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Thirty-two Members are seeking to catch my eye; as always, I want to call as many as possible. I look to each right hon. or hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question, and I look to the Secretary of State to provide a pithy reply.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): May I commend the Secretary of State for adopting many of the recommendations on low-carbon economies and fuel poverty made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee? In that context, why will the total budget of the Warm Front scheme be reduced in the next financial year? After all, the right hon. Gentleman has put a strong emphasis on improving home energy efficiency for those on low incomes and the Committee has recommended that one way of dealing with the financial deficit is to deny higher-rate taxpayers access to the winter fuel payment.
Edward Miliband: I do not agree with the proposal that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in the second part of his question; we need a balance of universal and targeted measures. On the first part of his question, I should say that we have brought forward a lot of the Warm Front spending, and that is one of the reasons why the budget goes down. We always seek to do more on such issues.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab):
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. He is absolutely right to concentrate on the recalibration of the grid and on the makeover of homes in the domestic energy sector, and absolutely right to look fundamentally at the reconstitution of Ofgem's responsibility for renewable energy. In parallel with those moves, will he talk to his colleagues in other Departments to ensure that we have
the necessary skills, training and work force equipment so that the new low-carbon economy that his moves presage can be developed effectively, using the skills of UK workers and technicians?
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept that some of us have been pressing a whole range of these things on him and his predecessors for a long time. Now I press him again on a specific point. Will he agree that every Department of State will now never rent or buy offices that use hydrofluorocarbons in their air conditioning? Will he accept the Dutch understanding, which is that that is one of the major impacts on global warming? Finally, will he stop the British Government being one of the dirty Governments who have not voted against HFCs and in favour of their being banned in the near future?
Edward Miliband: I shall quickly pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for all his work on a whole range of issues, including this one. I shall take up the matter that he has mentioned with my noble Friend Lord Hunt, who has direct responsibility for such issues. We certainly want to make progress on HFCs as quickly as possible.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to remind the press, as well as the House, that the one comprehensive study on the costs of introducing an ambitious framework of feed-in tariffs has shown that, by 2020, the UK energy account would be £12.5 billion better off as a result of our being able to produce our energy rather than importing it. That, however, depends on the introduction of an ambitious scheme.
I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend came back with a specific answer to the question of percentages. Is he still working to a 2 per cent. contribution of renewable energy from feed-in tariffs? That figure was first set out in the Element Energy report and it was limited to assumptions about a threshold of 50 kW. The Secretary of State was responsible for a hundredfold increase in that. Does the scale of our ambitions now match his original intentions?
Edward Miliband: We are consulting on those questions. Let me say to my hon. Friend, who is a long-standing campaigner on these issues, that we are talking about two sets of things: the feed-in tariffs and the renewable heat incentive. Both can make a contribution. As I said, there is a consultation and we look forward to hearing his views.
Why did the Secretary of State's reassuring figures on the impact of these measures on household budgets contradict the figures in his most recent impact statement, which showed that the cost of renewables
currently adds 15 per cent. to electricity bills-a figure set to rise to nearly 50 per cent.-and that the increase in gas bills will be 46 per cent.?
Edward Miliband: The figures are all set out in the documents. As I made clear in my statement, we need to look at the cost of renewables and the benefits of energy efficiency, smart metering and all the other measures that we are implementing as a result of climate change. That is the right way to look at the average impact on bills.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): How does my right hon. Friend justify offering the airline industry a virtual exemption from the disciplines that will apply to almost all other industrial sectors? According to projections, by 2050 the rise in aircraft emissions is expected to negate the cuts made in all other industrial sectors. Surely this cuckoo-in-the-nest protection of one highly polluting industry is simply no longer tenable.
Edward Miliband: I want to make one thing clear. We were the people who pushed for aviation to be included in the EU emissions trading scheme and for a price to be put on aviation. We are raising air passenger duty, and we are the first country in the world to say that by 2050 we will get aviation emissions back to current levels. We are the first to have set a framework for aviation emissions. The truth is that we cannot have equal cuts across the board if we are to do things in the most cost-effective way.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Secretary of State's announcement on social tariffs will be of no benefit to those who rely on unregulated fuels, such as oil and liquefied petroleum gas, to heat their homes. What assurance can he give the rural fuel-poor that they will not be penalised to pay for the low-carbon strategy?
Edward Miliband: There is a whole range of schemes to help the fuel-poor, including in rural areas. There is the carbon emissions reduction target, or CERT, scheme and the new community energy savings programme, or CESP, scheme that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has been taking through this House. We know that there is more to do on fuel poverty, particularly in relation to the rural fuel-poor.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the Scottish fossil fuel levy fund, which stands at £150 million and is rising almost exponentially. The money can be spent only on the promotion of renewable energy, yet the Scottish National party-controlled Administration in Edinburgh will not draw it down. I ask my right hon. Friend to use all his influence to encourage them to use that money for the purposes for which it has been raised.
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