Previous Section Index Home Page

We do need more gas storage, but it is worth saying that at the beginning of this week gas storage was 80 per cent. full in the UK. The hon. Gentleman claims that gas storage is somehow an issue in this cold weather, but he knows that that is complete nonsense.

Greg Clark: Is it not clear that when fuel poverty is soaring, we have too little gas storage capacity, and the Government have said that they expect power cuts by 2017, they are-in this winter of discontent with, and within, the Government-taking us back, with every day that goes by, to a world that we thought we had left behind in the 1970s?

Edward Miliband: I do not know whether that was a question, a statement or something that the hon. Gentleman prepared in front of the mirror this morning. Frankly, he will have to do better. Playing politics with energy security and gas storage, and alarming people, is the wrong thing to do.

Fuel Poverty

4. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): How many households in the UK were in fuel poverty in (a) 2003 and (b) 2009. [308890]

5. John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): How many households in the UK were in fuel poverty in (a) 2003 and (b) 2009. [308891]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): The current exceptionally cold weather causes us all concern for the well-being of all households in fuel poverty. The Department for Work and Pensions makes cold weather payments as a contribution towards extra heating costs during a week of very cold weather in the area in which an eligible customer lives. This winter the number of cold weather payments made is estimated to be worth £185 million. Payments are made automatically, but if anyone has questions about the help available to them, they can access information on the directgov website-or if they do not have access to, or the inclination to use, the internet, they can always ask their Member of Parliament.

7 Jan 2010 : Column 256

The estimated number of households in fuel poverty in the UK was around 2 million in 2003. The latest year for which figures are available is 2007, and they show that there were then around 4 million fuel-poor households in the UK.

Tony Baldry: I thank the Minister for that statement. My understanding is that last winter more than 5 million families were in fuel poverty. The Government have a statutory target to eradicate fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010. Will they meet that target?

Mr. Kidney: It is very frustrating to me that the figures for fuel poverty are two-years-old, so the figure that the hon. Gentleman gives is an estimate. There is no doubt that rising fuel prices between 2004 and 2008 have caused us great difficulty in meeting that target, but I have not given up trying to meet it. All our efforts are directed towards eradicating fuel poverty, as we are indeed required to do.

John Penrose: Will the Minister accept that during one of the worst cold snaps for years, when vulnerable people such as pensioners in my constituency and elsewhere are struggling to keep their homes warm, it is especially important that consumers can switch to the cheapest available energy tariff offered by their supplier? Does he therefore agree that energy companies should be obliged to publish information on each customer's bill showing whether they would be better off on an alternative scheme?

Mr. Kidney: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and it is the Government's policy to encourage people to study the market and switch if possible. There is a new licence condition applying to every supplier from this month, requiring them to deliver to their customers an annual statement that includes information about their ability to switch and advice on how to do so. By the end of this year, every customer should have received the first of those statements.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): May I draw the Minister's attention to the needs, in this weather, of those who live in mobile homes, many of whom are on low incomes? They have a very limited choice of energy supply, and also lack options for additional insulation to improve the efficiency of their homes. I have raised this issue before, and the Government have so far done very little to assist that group of consumers to reduce the proportion of their income spent on energy bills. Is there anything that he can do now?

Mr. Kidney: My hon. Friend has indeed been persistent in pursuing this issue, and I am pleased to say that in response to his pressure, the Department has agreed that it wants to pilot some schemes for delivering greater energy efficiency measures to park homes. I am not in a position to announce at the Dispatch Box today what the schemes will be, but I will be able to do so shortly.

Severn Barrage

6. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment he has made of progress on a decision on an option for the construction of a Severn barrage. [308892]

7 Jan 2010 : Column 257

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): The Government are currently carrying out a feasibility study to decide whether we could support a Severn tidal scheme, and if so, on what terms. All the evidence gathered will be published alongside a second public consultation, which is expected to be held later this year.

Alun Michael: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. This is an enormously exciting, but also enormously challenging, project: it has the potential to make a major contribution to the UK's renewable energy needs, but is complex in both engineering and environmental terms. As well as providing the public information that he mentioned, will he agree to draw together Members of Parliament on both sides of the Severn estuary so that we can be involved in an interim process and understand how the Government are taking the project forward?

Mr. Kidney: My right hon. Friend is right to say that there are great potential gains to be made from generating renewable energy from a barrier or similar scheme on the Severn. On the other hand, however, there are international and national nature conservation and biodiversity issues that also have to be considered. My noble Friend Lord Hunt, my fellow Energy Minister, recently wrote to all hon. Members updating them on the process and expressing a willingness to hold the sort of meeting that my right hon. Friend has just suggested. My noble Friend and I remain perfectly willing to meet Members of Parliament to update them on the scheme.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Could the study that the Minister mentioned cover the need for a grid connection for the Severn barrage project? At present, the National Grid wants to put in a new line of pylons across the Somerset levels, which will also affect the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). That is controversial, and we oppose it. It would make sense to go for a submarine cable to take the energy away from Hinkley. That could be done as part of the study for the Severn barrage.

Mr. Kidney: I have heard the right hon. Gentleman make that point on behalf of his constituents before, and I congratulate him on his persistence and ingenuity in working it into the question before us. I assure him that every aspect of the development is being considered in the feasibility study, so my answer to his question is yes.

Copenhagen Conference

7. Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to tackle climate change following the outcome of the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen; and if he will make a statement. [308893]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): Despite the disappointment that Copenhagen did not succeed in the way we had hoped, we are determined to work with our international partners to build on the achievements of the Copenhagen accord, agreed to by representatives of 49 developing and developed
7 Jan 2010 : Column 258
countries. In particular, we will work with others to ensure that the deepest possible cuts in emissions are made, that we deliver on the financial promises made to the developing world, and that we redouble our efforts to secure a comprehensive, legally binding framework.

Sir Peter Soulsby: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, and congratulate him and the Prime Minister on the part that they played in getting as far in Copenhagen as was achieved. However, will he comment on the impression that the problems in Copenhagen were at least as much those of the decision-making process as they were matters of substance? Will he say what action the Government are taking to try to reform the decision-making process to ensure that the frustrations of Copenhagen are not repeated in the future?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend draws our attention to an important issue that I talked about a bit in my statement on Tuesday. The process was unsatisfactory. I have talked to the executive secretary of the UN framework convention about how we can reform that process, and I am pleased that the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has said that he too will think about how the process can be reformed. We must ensure that we do not have a repeat of the process problems at Copenhagen, which obscured any differences over substance and prevented proper discussion of them. I think that the process needs to be reformed, and I think that that will happen.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Despite the disappointment of Copenhagen, there are still many practical things that we could and should be doing at home-on rain forests, for example. We will never halt their destruction if we do not choke off demand for illegal timber. Unlike the Prime Minister's approach, an Act to halt the import of such timber by making it a criminal offence to sell it here in the UK would command widespread support on the Labour Benches, as well as on ours. So will the Secretary of State support an Act to make the sale of illegal timber a criminal offence? If he does not act, a new Conservative Government will.

Edward Miliband: We now see the Conservative party trying to play politics with international climate change-exactly what happened on Tuesday, in response to my statement-which is deeply regrettable. We are working in the European Union to deal with the problem of illegal logging, but we will also look at any other proposal that is put forward.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement this morning that we should redouble our efforts following Copenhagen and not throw our hands up in despair, even though the result was depressing. Will the Government be pressing to go ahead with the EU's higher than intended carbon emissions savings budget, and will he ask the Committee on Climate Change to review as a matter of urgency the costs of doing so?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend draws attention to an important issue. Over the coming months we will need to work to use the EU's commitment to move from 20 to 30 per cent., to lever in higher ambition from others. The commitment that the EU has made is an important one. I will be working intensively in the
7 Jan 2010 : Column 259
coming weeks, before the 31 January deadline for commitments to be lodged in the Copenhagen accord, to see how far we can get in Europe on that commitment. We have existing advice from the Climate Change Committee on the costs and benefits of moving to a higher figure-and in fact, as a result of the recession, the costs of doing so have fallen.

Tidal Energy

8. Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What recent progress has been made on developing tidal energy schemes; and if he will make a statement. [308894]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): A lot of progress has been made on developing tidal energy schemes. The Crown Estate leasing round for the Pentland firth is on course, and we expect the Crown Estate to announce the successful bidders by the end of March. There are three feasibility studies for tidal range projects currently under way, for the Severn, the Mersey and the Solway firth. Officials have now received the final report on the screening study for marine energy development in English and Welsh waters, which will inform Ministers' decisions on whether to proceed with a strategic environmental assessment for English and Welsh waters.

Dr. Pugh: I thank the Minister for that answer. However, given that something as modest as Peel Holdings' proposal for a tidal lagoon in the Mersey would generate 650 GW of energy a year-much more than wind farms-is it not time the Government got solidly behind such schemes, given our dismal record on renewables? We have had plenty of studies. We now need some action.

Mr. Kidney: I got sufficiently solidly behind that project by visiting it last year and giving it my personal support. Peel Holdings and the North West Development Agency are currently spending £3 million on the feasibility study to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which will conclude this year. I am enthusiastic about its prospects of leading to a suitable scheme that will be meaningful in producing renewable energy from the marine environment.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend rightly said, any scheme has to be a reasonable one that works. Does he therefore recognise the work of the Energy Technologies Institute, which he visited in my constituency some time ago, in ensuring that the technologies that we introduce are the most efficient and best for the country, and will make a genuine economic impact? What steps is he taking to ensure that some of the private sector partners required to make that £1 billion Energy Technologies Institute work are being involved, and can he assist in ensuring that that happens?

Mr. Kidney: I am solidly behind the Energy Technologies Institute too, having visited it. I congratulate the institute on its decision to invest in research and development, and deployment for marine technologies. My hon. Friend is so right that we are talking about an innovative collaboration between the public and private sectors. A number of key manufacturers in this country are subscribers to the ETI, and I would encourage more to join.

7 Jan 2010 : Column 260

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Feasibility studies, consultations, reviews and glossy brochures cannot mask Labour's total failure over the past decade to develop the huge potential of offshore renewable energy-not just tidal energy, but wind and wave energy, and other forms of harnessing the immense power of the sea. Will the Government now recognise that ambitious Conservative proposals for marine energy parks, supported by a green investment bank and new energy infrastructure offshore, is the way to realise the potential of our seas, rather than the piecemeal, short-term and ineffective approach that has characterised this out-of-touch Labour Government?

Mr. Kidney: I just cannot understand how the hon. Gentleman can be so out of touch. This country leads the world in connected electricity energy from offshore wind, and the recent announcement of the round 3 leases by the Crown Estate makes us by far the largest contributor in the world to that technology. On marine technology-which is what this question was supposed to be about-I do not think the work we have done on the banded renewables obligation, the marine renewables proving fund or the strategic environmental assessment can be dismissed as lightly as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Wind Energy

9. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the number of wind energy projects approved by local authorities in the last two years; and if he will make a statement. [308895]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr. David Kidney): Local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have approved 76 onshore wind energy planning applications in the last two years. All planning applications for wind energy in Northern Ireland are determined by the Northern Ireland Planning Service. There is now over 3 GW of installed capacity of onshore wind operating in the UK.

Nigel Griffiths: Is the Minister concerned about the number of Conservative and Liberal councils that oppose onshore wind farms, and about the Conservative MPs who oppose offshore wind farming? Does he realise that their opposition is sabotaging the £1 billion investment in renewables by the Labour Government?

Mr. Kidney: The leader of the Conservatives says that we can judge what a Conservative Government would do by looking at their record in local government. They have an abysmal record of holding up and rejecting applications for onshore wind farms.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Although wind power can make a contribution to Britain's energy needs, does the Minister also accept that local authorities have an important role to play in listening to the desires of their local residents? [ Interruption. ] If wind farms are appropriately placed, yes, but if they are inappropriately placed, they do damage the future of the industry.

Mr. Kidney: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the planning laws are there to strike an important balance between nature conservation and biodiversity on the one hand, and, on the other, the vital need for more renewable energy.

7 Jan 2010 : Column 261

Carbon Capture And Storage

10. Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of carbon capture and storage technology in reducing the level of carbon dioxide emissions; and if he will make a statement. [308896]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): The International Energy Agency estimates that carbon capture and storage could contribute up to 20 per cent. of the cuts needed in greenhouse gases by 2050. Without CCS, the cost of emission reduction needed to meet climate change targets globally would increase by more than 70 per cent. The four demonstration projects we are planning and those around the world will provide more information on the effectiveness of the technology.

Phil Wilson: In evidence to the North-East Regional Committee's report on industry and innovation in the north-east of England, Andrew Sugden, a director of the North East chamber of commerce said:

Next Section Index Home Page