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My hon. Friend asks about the debate that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is looking forward to in Committee about the groups that should be helped by the social tariffs. There are lots of strong cases to be made, but the point is that there is a balance to be struck. Because the costs are spread across all consumers, as I said in response to an earlier
intervention, we need to strike the right balance between the groups that are helped and how targeted the measures are.
Nick Ainger (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) referred to the sectors that are not covered by the social tariff. My right hon. Friend said that the issue would be debated in Committee, but would he like to comment now on the fact that although approximately 4 million-plus consumers are not on the gas network, but are instead dependent on liquefied petroleum gas and heating oil, they do not qualify for any social tariff? That is a genuine issue.
Edward Miliband: That is something that many hon. Members have campaigned on. I refer to my earlier answer. There was a Competition Commission inquiry into that issue which lasted five years and was designed to bring some relief. That is a warning to us all as we advocate a Competition Commission response to other energy issues. We are looking at measures to help those groups of consumers through Warm Front and other schemes, although I recognise the case that my hon. Friend makes.
As I approach the end of my speech, let me say, as I always say on these occasions, that we want as much of an all-party consensus as possible. Unfortunately, we have no clarity about where those on the Conservative Opposition Front Bench stand on the measures. When we debated the Gracious Speech, I posed five questions to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), including about the Bill, but I am afraid that he gave satisfactory answers to none of them. However, I am a fair-minded person and I believe in second chances, even for members of the Conservative party-indeed, he was not always a member of the Conservative party, so perhaps he deserves a special offer.
Today the hon. Gentleman gets the chance of a resit on the questions that I asked him previously. I shall narrow those questions down, but if he is to show that the Conservative party offers more than greenwash on such matters, he must show that he can answer some basic questions. First, does he support the CCS levy that we have put forward? We say that it will provide unprecedented investment in clean coal. He says that he will use money that is already accounted for in the Government's tax and spending plans. He says that revenues from the EU emissions trading scheme can get him 5 GW of new coal, but, as we might expect, that is a policy about image and not substance, and it would damage our ability to tackle climate change.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman needs to answer the question that was posed brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) last time about his £150 billion scheme for energy efficiency. He says that it will cost no public money, whereas his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) has said- [ Interruption. ] I know that the Opposition do not like to hear about their own policies, but they should be able to answer some basic questions. The hon. Gentleman said:
"The policy should be carried out and supported by loan guarantees from the Government, to ensure that the energy companies can do it. That is how the task is done elsewhere."-[ Official Report, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 13 July 2009; c. 9.]
Edward Miliband: I can read out the list if the hon. Gentleman- [ Interruption. ] He says that he is getting bored with it, but it is very relevant because action in Europe is essential to the Bill and to tackling climate change, yet the majority of the Conservative party's European partners voted against the motion that was put forward in last week's Copenhagen debate.
We deserve answers from the Opposition today, not just the usual hot air. They need to come forward with some genuine policies rather than just image. Tackling climate change, protecting our energy security and protecting consumers all require significant change. The Energy Bill is key to making those changes and it deserves the support of all Members. I commend it to the House.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I have respect for the Secretary of State but I have to say that, with every speech that he makes, he sounds more like a member of the Opposition than a Secretary of State. He seems to be practising. The decisions on climate change and energy policy are so far reaching that the rest of the country looks to us to establish some common ground and speed things up, rather than make petty points. I will answer all the questions that he asked-I have no problem with that-but anyone looking at the Bill cannot help but be disappointed at this missed opportunity.
This is an anaemic Bill that lacks energy, even though it calls itself an Energy Bill. The Secretary of State has had a year in post in which to think about the issues and to reflect on and bring forward legislation. Who knows what will happen after the election? He might still be in post, he might be in a different post, or he might be in opposition. This was therefore perhaps his one and only opportunity to put on the statute book a Bill that could have lived up to the ideals that he no doubt shares, and that could have made a difference and provided a legacy of which he could be proud. The problems that we face are mountainous, and we deserve boldness in response.
I do not want to cast blame at this stage; there will be other occasions on which we can do that. The Secretary of State and I came into the House at the same time and, whatever his contribution might have been to our national economic success when he was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, he was not in charge of energy policy at the time, so we cannot hold him personally responsible for that.
We can, however, agree on what the problems are. There are five in particular. We are facing power cuts and an energy crunch by 2017- [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State says that that is rubbish, but he wrote an article entitled "We must work together to keep the lights on". Why would he write such a thing if he did not think that there was a risk of that happening?
Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is correct. In that article, the Secretary of State said that we needed to work together to keep the lights on. Great! I agree, but where are the measures to do that in the Bill? There is not one single such measure.
Miss Kirkbride: As part of the evidence that my hon. Friend is putting forward to the Secretary of State, he might refer to that given to the Select Committee last week by Alistair Buchanan, the chief executive of Ofgem, who clearly described the worrying scenario of the lights going off in the middle of the next decade. He is the man in charge of this policy.
"The headline fact is that Britain is the single most exposed country among the big players in Europe".
The second threat was mentioned earlier. The fact is that during the years ahead we will rely more and more on imported gas. For understandable reasons, North sea oil and gas supplies have peaked and are in decline. Other countries facing this situation have adequate storage capacity. The French have 120 days' supply and the Germans have 99 days, yet we have only 15 days. Where is the proposal in the Bill to increase our level of gas storage?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) asked the Secretary of State a question on storage, and he gave a completely incoherent answer. He said that to advance the proposition that we should have the kind of storage on which other countries insist would somehow put off companies from investing. I do not understand what he meant by that. Perhaps the Minister of State will make a better job of explaining it when she winds up the debate.
Another problem is our pitiful progress on renewables. I know that the Secretary of State believes in renewables, as do I, and we want to accelerate progress. We agree that wind farms and other renewables projects tend to get bogged down in acrimonious planning disputes. He thinks that we should have more renewables projects, and so do I, but his approach is to go round the country shouting at people for opposing wind farms, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh visiting a disobedient relative to tick them off. But where is the policy in the Bill to provide incentives for local communities to take on such projects?
Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman correctly identifies the need for clarity in the planning system, and the need to speed up that system. Will he therefore support our proposals to do precisely that?
Greg Clark: We share a view about the need to speed up the planning process, and we think that the powers of the Infrastructure Planning Commission are absolutely right. It is also right that what are essentially national matters are decided nationally through planning statements. We have two points of difference, and we would amend the proposals on the IPC. First, we think such decisions should be accountable; the final decision should be taken by a Secretary of State who is accountable to this House rather than by some unelected official. We think it is right that people should be able to hold someone to account, but under our proposals there would be the same time limits and the same secretariat to advise, and the same process would apply, so it would be at least as quick, if not quicker, than under the Government's proposal.
Secondly, we think that the planning statements that are read out to the House-starting with the nuclear one, in which I know the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) is as keenly interested as I am-are so important that they should be proofed against the inevitable legal challenges through judicial review that will be made against them. By subjecting them to a positive vote, the will of this House that the statements represent public policy will be expressed. If these statements are merely the utterances of a set of officials whose democratic legitimacy has not been established, that might be a problem that causes further delays. Therefore, we are at one with the hon. Gentleman in wanting these planning obstacles to be removed, and our amendments to the Government's proposals will speed that up.
Nigel Griffiths: Does the hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that his Front-Bench colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) opposes all onshore wind farms, which is rather typical of the Conservative position?
Greg Clark: Once again, I had hoped that we would seek to achieve unity on these issues. [Interruption.] When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made that comment, he said that he was speaking in a personal capacity and fully respected the Front-Bench viewpoint. The party in government goes around the country telling people that they are immoral to raise even a qualm about a wind farm in their area, but it has no policy response to it. If the Secretary of State has any policy suggestions, why do they not appear in this Energy Bill? The Bill is designed to solve a problem that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) seems to think exists-but the Secretary of State has no solution. [Interruption.]
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): My hon. Friend certainly does not need helping out; I think that the Minister does. The Bill is very much a missed opportunity for planning. There is to be no obligation placed on large pieces of infrastructure-in my constituency, for example, 3.5 million square feet of roof space is not being used in any way, shape or form-to incorporate green initiatives, green energy or any form of biodiversity to help support it.
Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the point that I am making: this Bill is a colossal missed opportunity. If the Government think that there is a problem-we agree that there is-why do they not bring forward solutions? We have said that we need to cut people in to the benefits of renewable technologies, but nothing in the Bill addresses that.
Edward Miliband: I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). Since the hon. Gentleman aspires to be in government, how does he think a potential Government might function when the shadow Business Secretary, who is supposed to be an ally when it comes to wind farms, says:
"My view is that those few wild and open... spaces that we have left in Britain should not be used for wind turbines"?
Greg Clark: The right hon. Gentleman is speaking from his experience of the type of mind control that goes on in the Labour Government. We Conservatives are perfectly relaxed to have discussions about these things, knowing that we have strong policies that will make a difference. It is one reason why the country is getting a bit fed up with the government by pager that we get from Labour.
Martin Horwood: I am now thoroughly confused about the Conservative Front-Bench position on wind farms. Would the hon. Gentleman have supported the private Member's Bill recently promoted by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), which sought to drive a coach and horses through wind power in this country? What is the Conservative position on such initiatives?
Greg Clark: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, private Members' Bills are not taken up by those on the Front Bench, but my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) made an interesting point, and if it is relevant, I am sure that it can be taken up in the discussions on renewable energy that the Minister will be promoting.
The Bill contains no strategy to deal with fuel poverty, one of the most pressing issues facing the country. Yes, it gives Ministers reserve powers to intervene, but where is the commitment to the only sustainable way in which to reduce fuel poverty-improved home energy efficiency? That is completely absent from the Bill, although it is surely beyond politics and is something that we should get on with. When people's fuel bills are £1,200 a year and more, and they can save money and carbon dioxide and create jobs by improving insulation, how can a serious Energy Bill possibly be completely silent on the issue? It beggars belief.
At a time when we need £200 billion of investment in new generating capacity, we know that that investment is not being made. That is partly because people are so uncertain about the policy environment, including the
price of carbon, which has been low and very volatile. Where are the measures in the Bill providing for a more stable carbon pricing regime?
There is a better way. This was the moment at which the whole House could have united-as we did when we discussed the Climate Change Bill-in devising an ambitious, progressive solution to a crisis that commands all our attention. The Bill, however, contains nothing to close the energy gap, nothing to secure our gas supplies, nothing to accelerate renewables, nothing to improve energy efficiency at home, and nothing to address the price of carbon. What a disappointment it is. I am sorry if the Secretary of State has been distracted, whether by writing the manifesto or by the silly dividing-line nonsense that he tried earlier, when he should have been applying himself to turning his policy thoughts into proposals in the Bill.
Let me now deal with the Bill's contents, slight though they are. Given the scale of the challenges, it is a pitiful Bill, and not even a Bill that produces any action today. In the case of each of its three components-carbon capture and storage, Ofgem, and social tariffs-it merely enables Ministers to take powers that they cannot begin to implement without new statutory instruments in a new Parliament, probably following further consultations. Where is the ambition and the urgency that we require from the Secretary of State? Of the 37 clauses in the Bill, 34 are enabling, consequential or technical; only three make actual changes to the way in which things work at present.
Let me give my response to the three measures that the Bill does contain. It seems that we do agree on the importance of carbon capture and storage, but not on its urgency. Britain is ideally placed to be in the vanguard of the deployment of carbon capture and storage. We have depleted gas wells and saline aquifers in the North sea. We have along our coastline some of the industries that can lead the world in this regard: processing industries and marine engineering businesses. We have some of the best research establishments in the world, and we should be leading the world. It is important that we do, because carbon capture and storage corresponds to the experience curve: the sooner we get on with it, the more we can establish a lead. There is no great scientific breakthrough for which people are waiting.
Given that the present Prime Minister announced plans to support carbon capture and storage in his 2006 Budget, why did the Government wait a further 18 months before launching a competition to deliver a single carbon capture and storage plan? It took until November 2007 for them to do that. More than two years have passed, and we still do not have a winner. Meanwhile, the chance for Britain to lead the world is slipping away. China, Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway and Belgium have all used that delay to overtake Britain.
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