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On clean coal, I think the Government are broadly in agreement with our plans, but what about renewables, which are the second part of the trinity of low carbon that we need? The Conservatives said in their manifesto that they agreed with our target of 15% renewable energy by 2020. The Liberal Democrats said they wanted a figure of about 40% by 2020, which I think is completely unrealistic. How have they resolved that difference? The new Government do not seem to have a target. They have 15% as a baseline, but say that they want the figure to be higher, and they have referred the issue to the Committee on Climate Change. There is a deeper problem here, because the Government say they want a larger target, but they are not willing to support the measures needed even to deliver existing targets. The Secretary of State made much of our record on renewables. We are the world leader in offshore wind generation, but it is
true that we lag behind on onshore wind. However there is one very good reason for that, and he knows it as well as I do-most wind farm applications are blocked by Conservative councils. One might put it this way:
"At local level, Conservative councils are simply not heeding Cameron's green call."
Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why his Government failed to take the decisions or create the climate to have new investment in electricity generation, and why they left this country with insufficient capacity and the danger of the lights going out?
Edward Miliband: I do not agree with that. The question for Britain is whether to meet our security of supply needs in a high-carbon way, by building gas-fired power stations, or in a low-carbon way, by building renewables and nuclear. That is why what I am saying is so important.
Mrs Spelman: Coming very recently from a Department for Communities and Local Government brief, I can help all Members of the House on this. It was the original Conservative plan, and is now the coalition's plan, to allow local communities to keep the business rate from the tariff that comes with the wind Bill, so that communities who take wind turbines in their local communities will also gain from them. That is part of promoting that form of renewable energy.
Edward Miliband: I am sure that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will be very grateful for that help from his right hon. Friend, but I do not think that that is enough. Let me explain why. I gave that quote not to embarrass him, but to raise a very important issue.
We said in our manifesto that every council should have a local target to help meet the overall 15% target for the country as a whole-not that they should have a disproportionate target, but that they should make a contribution to the overall target. The Conservatives, including the right hon. Lady, were against that, but I thought that the Liberal Democrats were in favour of our strategy. I attended a Guardian debate on climate change with the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) during the election, and he said that he supported my policy. By the way, I regret that he is not in the Government, because I think they are poorer without him. Now, what do we see in the coalition document? The Tories have won the argument: there will be no local obligation to contribute to the
national target, because of the abolition of regional strategies. So what is it? It is a charter for every council to be able to say, "Not in my back yard." The Secretary of State said in his first interview in The Times that he is going to build 15,000 wind turbines-he is going to make a start by putting seven on his own houses-but that will not happen without a strategy, and so far, I see no strategy from him.
Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman needs to distinguish between setting a Government target and delivering on the ground, which is much more important. One thing that the Government are going to do is to under-promise and over-deliver as opposed to what happened with the last Government, who over-promised and under-delivered. On the point that my right honourable colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made, we should remember what the evidence shows, from good examples of installing wind farms such as the Gigha wind farm in the highlands, where sharing the benefits led to support for it and its rapid installation.
Edward Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman is going to have to do better than that-it is just a load of old hot air. He is trying to increase our target, but he is taking away one of the key levers needed to help us meet the target. You do not have to take my word for that, Mr Speaker-you can take the word of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, who supported our position. If he would like to intervene to tell me, or his former right hon. Friend, who is now the Secretary of State, that he agrees that local councils need to contribute to the 15% target, I would be very happy to give way to him. [ Interruption. ] I think that says it all. The splits are already appearing.
Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Surely, it is worse than that. By starting again with the planning regulations, we are going to lose all the momentum we have developed over the past three or four years, and we are going to encourage investors to go to other parts not only of Europe but of the world.
Robert Flello: Have I missed something here? Up and down the country, whenever I have seen protest flags and signs saying, "No wind farm here", they have never said, "No wind farm here unless of course you want to give us some money." Poorer communities will have to put up with wind farms as the only way of getting money into their communities while better-off communities will say, "Not in our back yard, thank you very much."
Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend eloquently makes his point. I am afraid that the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman, in his first few days in the job, has obviously sold down the river his former Liberal Democrat colleagues, and they will take note.
Let us move on to the next part of delivering the low-carbon agenda: nuclear power, which was a very small feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He spoke one line through gritted teeth about nuclear
power. I wonder why. I think that I know the reason. Let us be clear that our position on nuclear power is that the challenge of climate change is so great that we need nuclear as well as renewables and clean coal, because the challenge of climate change is so big. That is the position of the vast majority of Conservative Members--they are nodding away, which is great because we agree with them.
"reject a new generation of new nuclear power stations".
But I am in a generous mood, so let us not criticise them for that, because the judgment is one of whether they have managed to achieve a proper long-term agreement, with a clear position, or whether they have just papered over the cracks.
"Clarity is essential if new investment is to happen."
I agree with him, so let us apply his test to the new Government. The coalition agreement says that the Government will introduce a national planning statement and that the Liberal Democrats can continue to maintain their opposition to nuclear power, but it does not end there. It says that
"a Liberal Democrat spokesperson will speak against the Planning Statement...but...Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain".
Let us be clear that there is not one Government position on nuclear power, not two Government positions, but three positions: the Government are notionally in favour of it; a Liberal Democrat representative will speak against it-I do not know who that will be; it might be the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, or, presumably, the right hon. Gentleman-and the party itself will sit on the fence in any vote. We always knew that being a Liberal Democrat in opposition meant not having to choose, but old habits seem to die hard: they seem to think that being a Liberal Democrat in government means not having to choose either.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have passed responsibility for new nuclear power to his deputy, the hon. Member for Wealden. The responsibilities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change have come out and the Secretary of State seems to have abdicated responsibility for this issue. Delivering on new nuclear power is a very big task that needs the personal role of the Secretary of State. I used to chair the Nuclear Development Forum, bringing together all the different partners in industry to drive things forward and ensure that we would deliver on time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again about abdicating responsibility to the Minister of State, much as I admire him.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green):
My right hon. Friend says that the challenge of climate change is so great that we need nuclear power as well as renewables and energy efficiency, but given that we have to reduce our emissions in the next eight to 10 years if we listen to the scientists, we need to consider what is the most cost-effective and the fastest way to do that. Is nuclear power not a massive distraction in that debate? Even if
we doubled the amount of nuclear power, we would cut our emissions by only 8%. Putting money into renewables and efficiency is far more effective.
Edward Miliband: I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I wish that the Labour party had won her seat, but she comes to the House with a distinguished campaigning record on green issues, and she will inform our debates and bring great expertise to them.
I disagree with the hon. Lady about nuclear power, because we have to plan for the long term. She is right that we have to meet an urgent challenge, but we also have 80% targets for 2050, and we must drive our targets for 2020 beyond 2020 to 2025 and 2030. The Opposition's view is that nuclear power needs to play a role.
Simon Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman is part of the Labour party's conversion to nuclear power, and he knows that my party has not done so. As well as the fact that nuclear power cannot deliver quickly, is it not true that the contribution that it could deliver is so far away that it will also make a minimal contribution, if one at all? Can he honestly tell the House that he believes that nuclear power can be delivered in this country without public subsidy, unlike in the United States, Finland or any other country in the world?
Edward Miliband: Yes, I can, because we have learned the lessons of Britain's past on nuclear power, as well as international lessons. What have we said? For example, we said that companies will have to put aside money to cover legacy waste. I honestly believe that that is necessary. That is not to say that nuclear power has no challenges, but the challenge of climate change is far bigger, and we reject the alternatives at our peril.
The mystery is that the Secretary of State and the new Government seem to have three positions on nuclear power, but there is a revealing history, and we need to be clear and honest about the fact that Liberal Democrats said in the past that, if they ever got into government, they would do everything that they could to stop nuclear power happening. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who is not in his place, said:
"I assure any investors who may be watching our debate...that their investment will be at risk if we play a part in any future Government, because if we had the chance we would seek to slow down, and if possible to stop, the development of nuclear power."-[ Official Report, 30 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 322.]
I have to tell the Secretary of State, whom I greatly respect, that people will think that that is his and the new Government's hidden agenda. He has said no to nuclear and described it as a "dead end". It is quite simple: to show the clarity that the Minister of State says is necessary and to send a clear signal, I urge the Secretary of State to say that he was wrong to say, "Our message is clear: no to nuclear." The grown-up thing to do is to admit that he got it wrong and that he wants nuclear power to be part of this country's energy mix. Surely, if he believes in his own policy on public subsidy, all the Liberal Democrats should vote for it. He has set a policy-we do not disagree with it-and Liberal Democrat Members should vote for it. Sending those mixed signals is not good for the business community.
Let me end my comments on nuclear power by making the point that there is a very strange thing in the coalition agreement at the end of the section on nuclear
power. I have been scratching my head about it. It says that they-presumably, the people who wrote the coalition agreement-want
"clarity that this will not be regarded as an issue of confidence".
What an extraordinary thing for a Government to say about their own policy. Oppositions normally say that they do not have confidence in a Government's policy. The Government are saying that their do not have confidence in their own policy. What confidence can the world outside have in the Government's policy when they say that they do not have confidence in it?
The person whom I feel most sorry for is the Minister of State. He must be tearing out his hair. He spent many distinguished years in opposition. He persuaded the Prime Minister to abandon his position that nuclear was merely a last resort, and now he ends up with the right hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) in charge. Someone said rather unkindly last week that it really is like having a vegan in charge of McDonald's. I think that that is very unfair, but Tory MPs, most of whom support nuclear power, must be shaking their heads. The coalition has given us the dogma of the Tories on wind farms, which will mean that they find it difficult to deliver, and the dogma of the Liberal Democrats about nuclear power. Neither side is willing to face up to the tough decisions that we need to make as a country to make the low-carbon transition.
Malcolm Wicks: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the new Secretary of State seems to wish to adopt a laissez-faire approach-"It's nothing to do with me; it's up to the industry on nuclear"-the reality is that, whether on the generic assessment of the technology, siting arrangements or deep geological disposal, one needs a Secretary of State to drive things forward? The Secretary of State talks about clarity. People wish for nuclear fusion one day. Is not the reality that we now have nuclear confusion?
We face a third problem with low-carbon transition: planning, which my hon. Friends have mentioned. I am afraid that both sides of the coalition subscribe to the idea that they should abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Its abolition is absolutely the last thing that we need. For years, the thing that has held up large-scale energy projects is planning. We have worked with business to establish a system to provide certainty in which directions are set by accountable politicians and specific decisions are resolved independently. Business welcomed it and the CBI said that it was
"vital for the strategic infrastructure",
but now the Government want to scrap it. And who gets to make the decision on new nuclear plants under the new system? None other than the Secretary of State, because politicians have retaken control, but he has a policy in which even the coalition agreement does not have confidence. On the essential test of the long-term direction on climate change-on how we decarbonise our energy supply-I fear that the Government are already failing.
I should like to raise the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) mentioned: the proposed
£80 million loan for Sheffield Forgemasters to which the previous Government agreed. Is it not vital, if we are to develop a new nuclear industry in this country, that British industry is given the best chance to compete for work in building new nuclear reactors? Is it not worrying not only that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will take the decision on nuclear, but that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will take the decision about the review of the grant to Sheffield Forgemasters?
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), and he prefigures the next part of my speech, because the second test is whether we can show that low carbon is about not just climate change, but the future of our economy. To his credit, the Secretary of State talked about the importance of an industrial strategy.
In the last 18 months, the previous Government pursued an active industrial strategy. Four of the world's five biggest offshore wind manufacturers all said that they were coming to Britain: Siemens, GE, Clipper, and Mitsubishi. Nissan said that it would make electric cars in Sunderland. We also created the chance to be at the centre of the nuclear supply chain through Sheffield Forgemasters. Those things happened not by accident, but because we had a plan that recognised that even in a market economy, Government must nurture new industries that the private sector will not invest in on its own.
In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats promised £400 million of Government investment in shipyards in the north of England and Scotland, to convert them to wind energy. We no longer hear anything about that; we do not hear of it in the coalition agreement or in the Gracious Speech. It is worse than that, as was indicated in the interventions on the Secretary of State's speech. Now the Government say that every spending decision since January will be reviewed. That includes decisions on grants to companies such as Mitsubishi to make wind turbines; port investment for offshore wind manufacturers, which is very important; money for Nissan to build electric vehicles; and the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters regarding the nuclear supply chain.
Remember, the Liberal Democrats said at the election that they agreed with Labour that spending should not be cut this year, so I have to say to the Secretary of State that this uncertainty is a total betrayal of their position at the election. They went round the country telling people that there should not be spending cuts this year; they agreed with us. People will have voted Liberal Democrat, apparently confident in the knowledge that the Liberal Democrats were with us on the question of industrial investment.
Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman will remember that during the election campaign, quite an important event happened on the international markets: the international markets beat up a country in southern Europe called Greece, which happens to have a smaller budget deficit than that bequeathed to this Government by the Labour Government.
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