Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD):
May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my constituents need no convincing that climate change is real? The evidence is before our eyes in Cumbria today. Does he agree that denial and scepticism are basically an excuse for copping out and not taking the action that we need to take? As for the events that we are witnessing this week in Cumbria, we sometimes refer to such events as incidents that take place once in 100 or 1,000 years. Does he agree that that is unfortunate and inaccurate
language? It might be accurate to say those sorts of things when looking backwards, but looking forward, such events will become much more regular because of the climate change to which he refers.
Edward Miliband: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right: the standard will change over time. There was severe flooding in my constituency in 2007. That had last happened in the 1950s, but the flooding was described as a once-in-100-years or once-in-1,000-years event. The way that we talk about such matters needs to change.
Mr. Baron: The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way. I am sure that he will agree that if we are to reduce our carbon footprint, it is important to lower domestic fuel consumption, including fuel bills, wherever possible. Some months ago, I raised with him the idea that we should oblige energy companies to print on all domestic bills whether customers are on the company's cheapest tariff, and if they are not, the company should put how much the customer would save by changing or switching. He kindly said that it was an ingenious idea, yet recently I received a letter from his Department saying that the Government could no longer support it. What has changed his mind?
Edward Miliband: We absolutely support the idea; indeed, Ofgem is bringing in regulations to ensure that people get an annual statement about where they can get a better tariff from the company concerned. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman.
I briefly want to mention the positive case. There are real gains for our economy if we make the low-carbon transition and if, at Copenhagen, the world signals that it will make the low-carbon transition. There would be jobs in new industries, including the wind industry. The money allocated in the Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is already being used to help wind companies such as Clipper in north-east England, which is developing the largest offshore wind blade in the world; it is larger than a jumbo jet. There is money for wave and tidal power, and money for venture capital investment in green industry.
The point is both to avoid environmental calamity down the road and to talk about the positive benefits for our economy, energy security and quality of life. However, the scale of the challenge is enormous. Nowhere will that be more clear than at Copenhagen, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) referred to the issues. The UK is determined to play its part in getting an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen. That is why we have committed to 34 per cent. reductions in our carbon emissions by 2020, to more as part of an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen, and to 80 per cent. cuts by 2050.
It is worth asking, "What do 80 per cent. cuts by 2050 mean?" because that is very much the context of this debate. They mean huge ambition-near zero-carbon homes, substantial cuts in transport, and near zero-carbon
energy. That shows the scale of the challenge. At the same time, because of electric cars and the electrification of rail and heating, it will in all likelihood-in a sense, this is the biggest challenge-mean more use of electricity, which must be low carbon. That is what makes the decarbonisation of our energy supply the most important and urgent task that we face, and that is what the Energy Bill in the Gracious Speech addresses.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): One of the greatest polluters is the marine industry, which deploys large supertankers. As the Secretary of State will be aware, at the moment a considerable number of supertankers are carrying oil in very sensitive areas off the shore of the UK, waiting for the price of fuel to increase. Is that a matter of concern to him, and is there anything that he proposes to-or, indeed, can-do about it?
Edward Miliband: Controlling the movement of supertankers is tough, but maritime shipping and aviation are important, and must be part of the Copenhagen deal in my view. Unless we can get action across the board, including in the sector to which the hon. Gentleman referred, we will find it much harder to tackle the problem.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Secretary of State has repeated that shipping, like aviation, is hugely important if we are to get the right climate in future. Why, then, does the parliamentary answer that I have just received say that of the 38 people his Department is sending to Copenhagen at least 19 are flying there, given that perfectly adequate, and probably cheaper, rail journeys are available?
Edward Miliband: I hate to tell the hon. Gentleman this, but I think we might be taking more than 38 people to Copenhagen. However, I am sure that as many of them as possible will travel by train, and I am sure that we will investigate all the possibilities for getting there.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Minister briefly mentioned electric cars-indeed, the Prime Minister mentioned them at the G8 in 2008, when he said that the UK should be at the forefront of the electric car revolution. However, with the exception of the efforts by the Mayor of London in the capital, very little appears to have been done, while our competitors are streets ahead, even gas-guzzling America, which has increased its total of electric cars by 27 per cent. on average since 1992. What is the Minister going to do about it?
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman obviously did not notice the incentive that we have unveiled precisely to encourage electric cars in this country, as well as the charging points that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government discussed last week.
That takes me to the issue of energy, and I repeat that we face big challenges in that area. No one should pretend the scale of the challenge is not huge. Our plans will mean that approximately 10,000 wind turbines will be built between now and 2020, as part of the strategy for achieving 30 per cent. renewable electricity by 2020. It means having nuclear power stations, which is why we
made national policy statements on that two weeks ago. That requires hard decisions, and we should be honest about that. It requires giving people a voice-that is important in the new planning process-but it also means, in my view, facing down those who would say no to wind, or to nuclear, or to clean coal. The scale of the challenge that we face is enormous, and it requires a culture change, as our countryside is going to change, because we need a low-carbon energy infrastructure. It also means driving forward on clean coal and saying no to those who oppose it.
One clean-coal power station in the UK has already received a provisional allocation of €160 million in funding. In the new year, we will announce how we will spend the £90 million to be allocated for engineering and design as part of the next stage of our carbon capture and storage competition. The crucial thing about the Energy Bill is that it legislates for a clean-coal levy to provide funding for up to four demonstration projects. That will provide funding of up to £9.5 billion over the coming two decades-the largest single investment in CCS of any country in the world, including the United States.
Mr. Binley: I am always pleased to hear the Minister's words on clean coal, as he knows. However, we talk glibly about "up to four" demonstrations, and we talk about ensuring that those things happen without providing the finance to do so properly. When will we know exactly how many demonstrations there will be, and when will we know when the money will be available to get them moving?
Edward Miliband: The plan is that the money starts to flow from 2011, subject to the House passing the Energy Bill. The levy is precisely designed to give the certain stream of funding that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Our view was that in difficult fiscal times it was right to make this investment and to provide a clear and certain stream of funding. That is the plan.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): With 800 million tonnes of coal in north-east Leicestershire ready to be extracted, I would be the first to support the advance of clean coal technology, but does the Secretary of State recognise that in the interim, there is a risk of an expansion of open-cast coal, which is one of the most environmentally damaging activities that we can see in the midlands of England? That should be headed off, should it not?
Edward Miliband: It is important to say that the position on open-cast mining has not changed and the planning guidance has not changed. The Government's position is as it has been. It is for that planning guidance to be properly interpreted.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con):
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who is being extremely generous with his time. On clean coal, he says that already one plant has received a funding allocation for a carbon capture and storage project, but the 2003
energy White Paper referred to CCS technologies and the need for projects. We have lost five or six years. The Secretary of State is in no position to brag about speedy progress on carbon capture.
Edward Miliband: I am in a position not to brag but to say that it is important that we are doing what many hon. Members called for-providing certainty about the stream of funding. Provided that the Bill gets through the House, it will provide the certain stream of funding that I know the hon. Gentleman wants.
Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State's support for carbon capture. In West Fife there is certainly support for Longannet being one of those carbon capture demonstration projects, but I fear that the timetable is slipping; 2014 is a date that is not mentioned any more. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that the pilots and the roll-out of carbon capture are not being subtly delayed?
Edward Miliband: No, they are not, and 2014 has always been part of our criteria for the competition. That remains the case. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as with any procurement, the rules cannot be changed half way through the process, so the rules are as they have always been.
I was saying what the case is. There is a UK case, which all hon. Members are aware of, and there is a global case. On its own, coal accounts for around a third of all global CO2 emissions. That is why it is so necessary to make progress on CCS, and why we should make our contribution in the UK. It is also-this goes to my point about the economic opportunity for Britain in tackling climate change-a huge economic opportunity. I pay tribute to regional development agencies and others who are working on potential clusters in their own areas. That is true in Yorkshire and in other parts of the country. All these can be eligible for the levy and the funding that that will provide. The possibilities are significant. Independent estimates say that we could have up to 60,000 jobs in the UK as a result of moving towards CCS, with the demonstration projects that I have talked about as the hub.
In respect of our low carbon and energy infrastructure, there are difficult decisions to be made on renewables, nuclear and clean coal, but the other half of the equation is the cost that we face. It is important that we face up to those costs. The low carbon transition plan was clear about the costs and the impacts on bills. The CCS levy will add 2 or 3 per cent. to electricity bills by 2020, as we have set out. The only way we take people with us in this process is by showing that the price impacts can be fair.
We are acting in the Bill and elsewhere to make the transition as fair as it can be. We are acting to help people reduce the energy that they use, and in the past year 1.5 million households received support to improve their insulation. We are acting to help people meet the
higher energy costs of winter through the winter fuel payment, and, as a result of the action that has been taken, in the past year we have eliminated the differential between pre-payment and standard credit customers. In 2008, the average dual-fuel pre-payment customer paid £41 more than the average standard credit dual-fuel customer; now they pay £4 less. But we know that we need to do more, and that is what the Energy Bill tries to do through a series of changes.
Mr. Baron: The answer that the Secretary of State gave me about the Ofgem annual statement was, I respectfully point out, incorrect. The annual statement will not explain to customers whether they are on the cheapest tariff or what they should do to switch. Will he answer my original question? When he first described the idea, he called it ingenious, but his Department no longer supports it. Why the change?
Edward Miliband: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct, but if he is I shall be happy to make representations to Ofgem, because we need the fullest information possible for consumers. That is what Ofgem's planned annual statement is designed to do, and, as it is coming in next year, I am sure that there will be time to influence it.
Let me list three things that the Energy Bill will do. First, it will make social price support mandatory. At the moment, vulnerable customers rely on a voluntary system to receive a reduced rate on energy. The voluntary systems mean that more than 1 million customer accounts have benefited from lower prices, but I fully acknowledge that we need to do more, and that is why we will make compulsory that support and increase the available amount of social price support.
Secondly, the regulator needs stronger powers to deal with abuse, and the Bill will specifically act to prevent the exploitation of market power by energy generators. Thirdly, not only do we need stronger powers for the regulator but we need the regulator to use them, so the Bill will change Ofgem's remit to reflect the fact-this is very important-that relying on competition alone is insufficient if we are to provide the consumer protection that we need. My message is very clear-the regulator must step in proactively where competition is not sufficient to protect the interests of consumers. We will make that very clear.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): A number of people in my constituency would like to use less electricity, but unfortunately the communal heating systems that the local authority refuses to change prohibits them from doing so. Will the Secretary of State look at whether an amendment could be added to the Bill to compel local authorities to get rid of those inefficient and environmentally unfriendly communal heating systems?
I thought that we were rather in favour of community heating, but perhaps not in the case that my hon. Friend talks about. I fear an increase
in this trend whereby I receive lots of invitations to add to our Bill, which I am told has to be short and concise. Indeed, I think that it is. However, I shall definitely look at what my hon. Friend has to say on that question.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I support what the Secretary of State said about mandatory social tariffs, but we need to introduce the data-sharing provisions that were passed in a previous Bill. I understand, however, that an ongoing Department for Work and Pensions pilot must end before data sharing can be introduced, so what is the time scale for making it available to energy companies?
Edward Miliband: I am reassured by the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), that the regulations will be out this week, so that is a clear sign of delivery by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
David Taylor: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way for a second time. Social tariffs drive down electricity bills, but so does energy efficiency. Will he comment on the plans that have been floated to make available to all 25 million households in Britain energy efficiency loans of £6,500? Is he aware that the cost would be about £160 billion, a sum not unadjacent to 10 per cent. of GDP? Is that a cost-effective way of using taxpayers' money?
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) have become pen pals on that issue, but I have to say that her letters have been better than his. I shall turn to that subject in a moment.
My message is very clear: the regulator must step in proactively where competition is not sufficient to protect the interests of consumers. Let me also make it clear that the new system of quarterly reporting on wholesale and retail prices that we introduced is designed to bring transparency and fairness for consumers. We look forward to the next quarterly report, because when there is a case for price reductions they need to be passed on to consumers. Taken together, the measures that we have announced in the Queen's Speech confront the hard choices that we have to make in relation to climate change: hard choices about our energy infrastructure, about energy bills, and about protection for vulnerable consumers.