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5 Nov 2009 : Column 983

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Some of the worst forms of overcharging have typically involved the exploitation of pre-payment meter users. Ofgem has started to tackle that, but will the Minister be taking up one of its present campaigns, which is for a more formalised social tariff system that would help the oldest and poorest consumers to meet their bills over the coming winter?

Mr. Kidney: One licence change that has been implemented is on pre-payment meters, and I answered a parliamentary question last month in which I showed that the difference between standard credit and pre-payment charges has already been all but eliminated as a result. I am very pleased about that because some of the poorest consumers were affected by overcharging on pre-payment meters. As for social price support, in our legislative proposals we hope to expand on the voluntary scheme that is already helping more than 1 million households.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Despite the huge drop in wholesale prices in recent months, the Department's own statistics show that more than 4.5 million people will be in fuel poverty this winter, which is a massive increase on last year. When we called last year for an investigation by the Competition Commission, the Minister dithered and said he would talk to Ofgem, because he thought that that would offer a quicker solution. Will the Government now commit to taking real action and holding a quick, forensic investigation into why the consumer is getting such a raw deal from the energy companies under this Government?

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman must surely agree that we would still be waiting for the result if we had taken his course of action a year ago. Instead, in that time we have had the changes to the licence conditions that are making a difference, and we have also committed to legislative changes. In the meantime, the Government's programmes and spending have saved between 400,000 and 800,000 other households from falling into fuel poverty. That is an achievement in itself.

Copenhagen Summit

10. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What steps he is taking to promote public awareness of the Copenhagen climate change summit; and if he will make a statement. [297759]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): The decisions made at Copenhagen will affect everybody in the UK and around the world for generations to come. So that everyone in the UK can see what we are arguing for in the negotiations, the Government have published the "Road to Copenhagen" which, for the first time, explains our position to the wider public. We also keep people informed through our website and through advertising.

Lynda Waltho: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In the run-up to Copenhagen, will she confirm her Department's support for low-carbon transport initiatives such as the Parry People Mover, which is a light rail car that runs on the Stourbridge line? It makes an important contribution to the local economy in terms of jobs and green technology. Will she, or the Secretary of State, accept my invitation to come and ride on it?

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Joan Ruddock: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her final offer. I fear that the Secretary of State and I are so preoccupied with the international discussions that we are frequently out of the country, but we will of course try very hard to make a new year resolution to accept her invitation.

I should tell my hon. Friend that we are keeping people informed through the Act on Copenhagen website, to which there have been 80,000 unique visitors. In addition, 60,000 copies of the document have been distributed, including to schools, GP surgeries, libraries and so on. It makes a real difference when people can see local examples of how to move to low carbon, such as the transit system to which she referred-which has, of course, been supported by the Department for Transport. It is through seeing what happens on the ground that people will learn what it is possible to do to meet our low-carbon aims.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Was it wise of the Government to spend £6 million of taxpayers' money on a propaganda film showing a father telling fairy stories to his daughter, particularly when the stories turn out to be alarmist tales of British cities drowned under water? Might not one result of that be that it has put the idea into people's minds that this is all a fairy story, with fewer people in this country giving credence-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that we have got the drift of the question. [ Interruption. ] Order. Let me make it clear to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) that when I rise, he sits down. His question was too long and it is at an end.

Joan Ruddock: The right hon. Gentleman is someone who does not accept the science and the consensus around it- [ Interruption. ] That is what he appears to be saying. The people who have expressed concerns about the advertisement tend to be in that category. We are trying to make it clear to adults that the science has a great worldwide consensus, that climate change is under way, and that if the Government and everyone else do not act, their children will suffer owing to catastrophic climate change. This is not an exaggeration; we have already had terrific floods in this country as a consequence of climate change. It is important to let people understand the truth, and it is the Government's responsibility to allow that to happen.

Marine Energy

12. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): How much the Government spent on marine energy projects in each of the last three years. [297762]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I have only a figure for the overall spending over three years by my Department and its predecessor: £6.3 million on marine projects ranging from the Severn tidal project to infrastructure support and environmental research. There has been other spending by the research council, the Technology Strategy Board, the Carbon Trust and the Energy Technologies Institute. Additionally, the Government announced an extra £60 million for measures to accelerate the development and deployment of wave and tidal energy in July's renewable energy strategy.

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Paul Flynn: Will tidal barrages and new nuclear both be treated as major projects under the Infrastructure Planning Commission's procedures?

Mr. Kidney: I am intrigued by the way in which my hon. Friend has managed to get nuclear into a question about marine energy. As far as marine projects are concerned, it will depend on the final announcements that are about to be made and, of course, the size of the project proposed. At the beginning, I think it would be unlikely that marine projects would be of the size relevant to the new commission.

Energy Pricing

13. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets on the simplification of energy tariffs. [297763]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): Ministers meet Ofgem frequently to discuss a range of current issues, including consumer issues in the energy markets. Ofgem has recently established new standards for energy suppliers, including requirements that suppliers must not sell a customer a product or service that he or she does not fully understand or that is inappropriate for their needs and circumstances, and that they must not offer products that are unnecessarily complex or confusing.

Tony Baldry: Competition is inherently good, but when one has so many tariffs, they simply obfuscate rather than clarify, and it is difficult in such circumstances for the consumer to compare like with like. Does the Minister think that there should be greater simplification of energy tariffs?

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman clearly articulates the conundrum that while we want open markets, competition and innovation, we do not want people to be bamboozled by enormous changes to the offers made, meaning that they are not comprehensible. One of the licence conditions put in place by Ofgem in September-I referred to it earlier-was the new requirement for information on every bill and for an annual statement to consumers. It is hoped that that will enable consumers to be better informed about the decisions that they make and therefore more empowered.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): It must clearly be absurd that consumers are faced with dozens-and sometimes hundreds-of alternative tariffs, which must only add to confusion rather than to choice, so will the Minister use an energy Bill to provide greater clarity? Does he accept that social tariffs should always be the lowest tariffs available? Does he accept that consumers should be able to see how much less they would be spending if they were on the cheapest tariff on offer from their provider? Does he accept that consumers should also be able to see how much electricity-

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me say, I hope for the last time, that Front-Bench Members must ask a question, not a series of three questions. I want to facilitate Back Benchers in this place.

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Mr. Kidney: Ofgem has already ruled that if any energy company is to say that it is offering a social tariff, that must be the lowest tariff that it offers. When we have the opportunity, we intend to legislate for mandatory social price support. If such a measure is in an energy Bill in the near future, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I will be able to debate its precise terms.

Nuclear Waste

14. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): What the Government's latest estimate is of the costs of disposal of the UK's current nuclear waste. [297764]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): Under the Energy Act 2004, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK's public civil nuclear sites. The cost of disposal is influenced by many different factors, including the inventory of waste, the timing of waste arisings, the geology at the site in question and the design of the geological disposal facility. The NDA's estimate, as given in its 2007-08 annual report, for the undiscounted total lifetime costs of a geological disposal facility for higher activity wastes is £12.2 billion.

John Barrett: Does the Minister accept that when the full costs of disposing of nuclear waste are taken into consideration, electricity generation by nuclear power proves to be a very expensive option?

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman must make a distinction between the historical cost, which we as a nation are picking up and our taxpayers are paying, and the future cost, which we will require the energy companies to cover in their propositions. They will make the decision whether it is economic to go forward on that basis, and so far some of those companies have made decisions totalling £13 billion of investment in new nuclear in this country.

Low Carbon Transition Plan

15. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the Government's low carbon transition plan; and if he will make a statement. [297765]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): I and my ministerial colleagues have received a large number of comments and representations since the publication of the transition plan and its associated documents on 15 July, including from key international partners involved in negotiations at Copenhagen and the organisations and bodies that will help us to deliver the required emissions reductions in the UK.

Shona McIsaac: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but most of my constituents probably do not know what a low carbon transition plan is, so will she explain to the House and to a typical resident of north Cleethorpes, living in small, terraced accommodation, what the Government will do to make their homes more energy efficient?

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Joan Ruddock: First, I can tell my hon. Friend that a small leaflet is available, and we would be very pleased to give one to her with a simple explanation for her constituents. On the point about homes, we are channelling about £3.2 billion to help households to become more energy efficient; we are piloting a pay-as-you-save programme to help people to invest in more expensive means of insulation; next year we are introducing the clean energy cashback scheme so that people can generate their own energy and be paid to do so; and we will be rolling out smart meters. There is thus a huge programme of activity to help householders such as my hon. Friend's constituents.

Topical Questions

T1. [297772] Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): In the summer, my Department set out the UK low carbon transition plan. Central to that is planning reform, and we will shortly publish the energy national policy statement, which, alongside the Infrastructure Planning Commission, is designed to speed up the planning process for the benefit of all citizens of Britain.

Mr. Stuart: Further to the meeting of 100 legislators from large economies in Copenhagen two weeks ago, will the Secretary of State agree to meet the cross-party delegation and ensure that the principles agreed are shared with not only UK negotiators but European Union negotiators?

Edward Miliband: It will be my pleasure to do so. I was actually due to attend the conference, but family responsibilities took precedence, and that was right for a range of reasons. However, I will definitely meet the legislators to which the hon. Gentleman refers. GLOBE International plays a very important role and will be very important in the next month, too.

T2. [297773] Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): What comments can my right hon. Friend offer in relation to solicitors overcharging on miners compensation schemes?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): I had my most recent meeting with the Legal Complaints Service and the Solicitors Regulation Authority yesterday, and I was saddened and disappointed to hear of so many lawyers who have taken money from vulnerable mineworkers and their bereaved widows when the state has paid them for their services, too. The Legal Complaints Service tells me that it has pursued so many solicitors for overcharging and poor services that it has made them repay about £3 million to their clients. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has prosecuted a number of firms, and they have had to make repayments of more than £3 million to their customers. For such an ethical profession as law, and as a lawyer myself, I am very disappointed.

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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Secretary of State earlier highlighted the importance of new investment to secure our electricity supplies. Will he ensure that people are not driven into fuel poverty just paying to keep the lights on?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is right, and we need to be candid about the issue because it is a very big challenge. The pressures on energy prices will be upwards in the coming decade, and we need to do all we can to protect the fuel poor. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary rightly talked about compulsory price support. I know that the hon. Gentleman campaigns, in particular, on behalf of people who are off the gas grid and who face particular issues. We must ensure that they too receive proper protection as we make the low-carbon transition.

T3. [297774] Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will the Government reject the siren appeals of the climate change deniers of the Opposition and those who challenge the Act on CO2 ads, and confirm that it will be their policy, as a responsible Government, to get across the message that individuals have to be responsible for turning back the days of climate change, and that only by shocking ads will we get that across to the British public?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is a balance to be struck between shocking people and enabling them to think about an issue and resolve to act on it. We have carefully researched how to advertise in a responsible way. We will continue to do that, because it is essential that the British people understand what we are trying to achieve, why we need to move to a low-carbon economy, and why they can be part of it, given that 42 per cent. of all emissions in this country are the result of our own individual actions.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that the town of Kettering was recently chosen by the United Nations to be the United Kingdom's representative on a pre-Copenhagen international consultation on climate change in which 93 per cent. of participants said that the Government should attach a high priority to signing up to any climate change deal at Copenhagen?

Joan Ruddock: We are very keen for local people to be involved in any discussions. That is why we published the document entitled the "Road to Copenhagen", why we have a website, and why we encourage people to be in contact with us. It is important that people understand these issues and that they have a sense of ownership, because this is a global problem where we can all feel that we can contribute and have our voices represented by our Governments in getting the most ambitious, effective and fair deal possible.

T4. [297775] Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Given that the UK is the No. 1 EU donor on reproductive health matters, what is the Government's position at Copenhagen on population pressures in terms of climate change, adaptation and mitigation?

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