Previous Section Index Home Page

30 Jun 2010 : Column 896
2.26 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Ministers, the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), to their places. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle has been appointed; he has long been interested in these issues and I am sure that he will make a great contribution. As he said, much of the debate about the reduction of carbon emissions tends to focus on renewables, which, of course, make an important contribution. However, immediate gains are much more likely to come from energy efficiency, so our having this debate today is a positive sign.

If I were to tell the Ministers that there is a technology that could reduce domestic fuel usage by 30%, I expect that they would want to hear about it. If I said the same thing but added that the Government were holding the technology back, I hope that they would ask me what we needed to do to bring the technology along. However, I have already written to the hon. Member for Wealden about these points, and his response to date has been somewhat lukewarm. Today I shall try to persuade both Ministers to take the claims seriously and take the action required to help bring that technology to the market quickly.

I am talking about micro-combined heat and power, which involves small appliances that are efficient and beneficial for the consumer, and will help the UK reach its carbon reduction targets and encourage manufacturing; hon. Members on both sides will realise that we are keen on manufacturing in Sheffield. Importantly, such appliances generate electricity in the home, reducing household energy bills at a stroke. Electricity can also be generated for sale to the national grid, giving an income to householders and reducing reliance on large expensive generating plants.

I particularly want to highlight one appliance, which is suitable for both the domestic and commercial markets. It is produced by a small Sheffield-based company called Inspirit Energy. The appliance is the size of a washing machine and the highly effective boiler is a 3 kW electrical system capable of working at 92% efficiency. The appliance can supply all the hot water and heating requirements of a home, up to 70% of electricity needs at peak times, and it can generate up to 50% of a user's annual electricity consumption. The development of the appliance is well under way and I hope that it will be ready to go to market in the near future. I shall explain why the Government are holding the technology back.

As the two Ministers well know, a particular feature of micro-combined heat and power appliances is that they generate electricity at precisely the times when there is significant demand, helping the national grid to cope. The systems would particularly help the elderly and vulnerable, who may be worried about putting on their heating for fear of the cost. They can heat their homes knowing that the cost of doing so is partly or completely covered. If they sell some electricity to the national grid, they could make a small amount of money back. Importantly, such appliances could cut the carbon footprint of a home significantly, perhaps reducing CO2 emissions by up to 70%. These products are intended merely to cover any interim period before the world runs entirely on renewables. However, with development, the units themselves could in time run on renewable fuels such as biomass or solar.

30 Jun 2010 : Column 897

The Minister talked about the important role of Government in this respect, not necessarily in directly supporting the private sector in the development of these appliances, but in providing the architecture, structure or framework that will allow them to develop. One way of encouraging their further development and future sales is through feed-in tariffs. Around the world, tariff schemes have had a positive effect in cutting the cost of renewable technologies, as well as in creating employment opportunities. Such schemes offer incentives to individuals and companies, by providing clear and effective financial incentives for companies developing appliances for householders and small businesses.

Earlier this year, DECC produced a paper on feed-in tariffs which stated that the tariff should comprise two components: one for total kilowatt-hours generated, and another for kilowatt-hours exported to the national grid. The technologies covered in the paper included micro-combined heat and power, but only up to an electrical capacity of less than, or equal to, 2 kW. I had already raised this matter in the House, and lobbied the previous Government on it, during the Christmas Adjournment debate in December 2009. I point out to Ministers that having an upper limit of 2 kW would exclude the unit produced by Inspirit Energy-and, no doubt, units that may be produced by other companies. The ability to generate feed-in tariffs has the potential to make the unit very attractive, but not having them could impact on the potential return to the company and thus the attractiveness of its further development and manufacture in the UK.

We have already, rightly, spent a great deal of time talking about how we enable people in poorer households to access a wide range of technologies and resources that will reduce their carbon emissions. If householders fear that they cannot get a payback on a boiler of this type, they will be unlikely to invest in it. By having such a low threshold of 2 kW, we are damaging the country's prospects in what will surely become an important industry of the future. We must change the rules to allow feed-in tariffs for 3 kW appliances. I agree that anything over 3 kW is more suited to industrial use, but excluding a 3 kW machine means that properties with more than three bedrooms are excluded from the micro-combined heat and power programme.

Products such as the appliance being developed by Inspirit Energy could not only help to meet the UK's target of reducing energy but drastically reduce the excessive use of fossil fuels. This technology can make a major contribution to saving carbon generation. By focusing on what can be done now to make our homes more energy efficient, we can go a long way towards changing our fuel usage, emissions and ever-increasing fuel bills.

When I wrote to the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden, in May, to request a meeting with him, I was advised that the demands on his diary are considerable at present-as I am sure is the case-and that such a meeting could not take place. However, let me say to both Ministers that if they, or anybody here, were to meet the people who are developing this technology, I am sure that they would become as enthusiastic as I am about the product.

30 Jun 2010 : Column 898

Gregory Barker: The hon. Lady knows that I hold her in high regard, but that has increased even more, as I had not previously appreciated what expertise she has in this particular area. May I invite her to come to the Department to join the round table on microgeneration that we will be holding-in July, I believe? If she would care to bring representatives from the company in her constituency, they would be very welcome to participate with other stakeholders from the industry on how we can have a more ambitious microgeneration strategy.

Meg Munn: I thank the Minister for that very generous offer. I am delighted that in securing the opportunity to have such a meeting, I have achieved the aim that I set myself in making this speech. He is very generous in saying that I am an expert, but indeed I am not; that is the last thing I am. I am, however, persuaded by the experts that this technology that can make a real difference. I am delighted to accept his invitation.

2.35 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech today. I follow distinguished speeches by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I do so with some trepidation, a feeling I am sure that they will recall from the time when they had to make their first speeches. It is an immense privilege to make a maiden speech in this great House, where so many extraordinary men and women have gone before. The sheer weight of tradition and history are overwhelming, and a reminder to us all of Parliament's ancient permanence, which is not to be tampered with lightly.

What a great honour it is to represent the people of South Dorset. The county is my home, and has been my family's home for generations, and I am proud to be elected to speak for it. I follow an almost unbroken line of Conservative South Dorset MPs, with occasional, notable exceptions. The most recent, of course, was my predecessor, Lord Knight of Weymouth-a title that will, no doubt, throw a few. I congratulate him on his ennoblement and on serving the people of South Dorset so diligently for nine years. Ironically, perhaps, fate threw us together before my political aspirations took hold. As a local BBC television reporter, I was, for some years, frequently sent to interview my former opponent. Little did we know then what lay ahead. Suffice it to say that his elevation to the peerage was splendid news to us all, and a relief to me.

My foray into politics ends a slight drought of Draxes here in the Commons. In an earlier deluge, six ancestors graced this place between 1679 and 1880-all representing the long-lost seat of Wareham. One, John Sawbridge Erle-Drax MP, spoke only once during the entire 32 years of his parliamentary career, and that was to ask the Speaker of the House to open the window. Unsurprisingly, he was known as the "Silent MP". After his death, he arranged for The Times to be delivered daily to his mausoleum through a specially built-in letterbox; mine is under construction. In view of his Trappist tendencies, for his descendent to be making his maiden speech a mere eight weeks into the parliamentary Session must seem like indecent haste.

South Dorset is a place of monumental beauty. The people are proud and fiercely independent. Years of history have forged this constituency, not least during
30 Jun 2010 : Column 899
the second world war, which saw its beaches, bases and ranges nurture tens of thousands of young men as they prepared to fight for our freedom during those dark days more than 60 years ago.

Today, the resorts of Weymouth and Swanage are home to a wide range of activities, from light industry and retail, to tourism and fishing. Farmers, the guardians of our countryside, and sadly neglected for so many years, have cared for the lush interior for centuries. Nor should we forget the quarries of Portland, which still offer up the stone for which the island is so famous. The island of Portland is also renowned by sailors for its huge tides, which offer great hope for future energy provision.

Another island in my constituency is worthy of note, not least because of its red squirrels. I am, of course, talking about Brownsea island, set in the middle of Poole harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world. The marshy southern reaches of those waters provide a spectacular haven for sailors, birds and wildlife, including the human variety, which occupies one of Europe's largest nudist beaches at nearby Studland. I have yet to arrange one of my surgeries there.

The entire constituency is dominated by our Jurassic coast, now a world heritage site. Dinosaurs once roamed the constituency-there is proof of it. Judging by comments made by opponents during the election campaign, people might think one was still out there. Maybe that is the case, but a strong Conservative heart beats underneath these scales, tempered for a moment with a dash of liberalism. I shall represent my constituents according to my conscience, without fear or favour.

On that note, and despite being at the bottom of the food chain at the moment, I sense a shift of mood in the House. The new intake, of which I am one, has brought with it a fresh perspective. While understanding the need for party cohesion, I believe that MPs should have their own minds and, above all, be mindful of those who put us here. That was very much my guide during my four years as a candidate, when I met a vast range of people who enriched my knowledge of the constituency. It was that experience that revealed to me that appearances can often be deceptive.

What do I mean? South Dorset may be lavishly endowed with natural gifts, but it has traditionally suffered from a lack of investment in its infrastructure. We have lost shops, pubs and bus services, and a shocking 50% of our post offices have closed over the past 10 years. Out of season, the hotels and guest houses fall silent. In Weymouth alone, we have six of the most deprived wards on the national index of deprivation. The fishing industry, quarrying, agriculture and the ports have all taken a knock during the recession, and although unemployment remains below the national average, wages are resolutely low.

We have two prisons in South Dorset, HMP The Verne and the young offenders institution. I have visited both on several occasions and work closely with the governors and the Prison Officers Association. The POA's plight has been ignored for too long. As in so many other areas, the pendulum has swung too far in one direction. Today, officers feel powerless to do their job effectively as the prisoners appear to have more rights than they do. With 50% remission as the norm, it is difficult to apply meaningful sanctions to prisoners who do not toe the line. It is important to remember, in
30 Jun 2010 : Column 900
my humble opinion, that the Prison Service is just that-a service. Without proper support, officers will continue to feel, as they repeatedly describe themselves, a "forgotten army". I warmly welcome the Government's intentions on minimum sentencing and I urge them to look at the matter as soon as possible.

I also applaud the Government's interest in, and support for, our armed services. In South Dorset we have two major Army camps, Bovington and Lulworth. The courage and sacrifice of the families who live there cannot be overstated. Take, for example, just one of our county regiments, The Rifles. The regiment has now lost 53 riflemen in Afghanistan, and more than 200 have been seriously injured. That is the human cost of war. As a former soldier myself, I hold our servicemen and women in high regard. I am greatly reassured by the coalition Government's actions to ensure that the military covenant is properly respected.

As to the future, it holds great promise, with the Olympic spotlight well and truly focused on the best sailing waters in the United Kingdom. Already, top athletes are training for competitive events both this year and next in preparation for the 2012 games, all hosted by the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, the first Olympic venue to be ready and officially opened by the Queen herself. None of that would be possible without the co-operation of Portland port, the former naval dockyard now in private hands. Despite grim predictions at the time, the port now employs more civilians than it did in its heyday as a naval base. There are some exciting projects in the pipeline that promise hundreds more jobs.

I have entered public life because I could no longer sit on my hands and watch our beloved country lose her pride. There is so much to fight for. However, unlike my ancestor, who did not say a word for 32 years-I will not ask you to open the window, Madam Deputy Speaker-I have every intention of standing up for my constituents who put me here.

2.45 pm

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on an excellent and entertaining speech. Over the past few weeks I have listened to many maiden speeches, and each time I felt a pang of emotion as I listened to other new Members speaking with heartfelt pride about their new role and their determination to work for their constituents. I now speak with heartfelt pride myself. I am proud to stand here as a native of North Tyneside having the great honour of representing my fellow North Tynesiders as the first woman Labour MP for the area since Margaret Bondfield in 1926.

North Tyneside constituency underwent some boundary changes at the general election, so I find myself paying tribute to both the former MP and two colleagues in the House. The right hon. Stephen Byers represented the constituency for 18 years. Not only an able parliamentarian but an excellent constituency MP, he is held in high regard by the many constituents he helped.

Two wards from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) have come back into North Tyneside. I
30 Jun 2010 : Column 901
know that my right hon. Friend and Steve Byers worked together on a number of issues, including the Swan Hunter campaign "Life for Swans" and most recently to help with the reinstatement of the Findus factory in Longbenton. I believe that the north-east is indebted to my right hon. Friend for the excellent work that he did in his role as Minister for our region. The evidence of his popularity as a constituency MP is there to see in the busy case load that I have inherited from him.

Riverside ward, where I spent the first 19 years of my life, has come into North Tyneside from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell). My hon. Friend worked hard as a Minister in the last Government, and his success as an MP was confirmed with his fantastic general election victory, when he increased his majority despite the Tory party spending some of Ashcroft's millions over several years in a vain attempt to unseat him.

North Tyneside constituency stretches along the River Tyne from North Shields to Wallsend, through Killingworth, Benton and Longbenton to the former mining communities in Seaton Burn, Burradon, Annitsford and Camperdown. The people of North Tyneside have a sense of fairness, and their commitment to their area is demonstrated by the array of community groups that have developed over the years, from youth groups such as the Longbenton Youth Project to more established residents' groups such as the Burradon forum. We are particularly proud of our excellent schools, many of which have been enhanced and developed under Labour's Building Schools for the Future, and we have our own college of further education, TyneMet, which has helped launch the careers of many North Tynesiders, including mine.

Modern business parks have brought employment into the area, and Tesco is about to create 1,000 jobs at Balliol business park. However, I, like many others in the area, am saddened that we are to lose the Twinings tea factory in North Shields. Despite a good campaign to save it, the company has decided to relocate to Poland, leaving its workers jobless. Everything must now be done to help those workers find suitable alternative work, and I know that the unions have started the process to help them through this difficult time.

North Tyneside has no shortage of cultural and industrial heritage, with famous sons including Robert Stephenson, Robert Westall, Owen Brannigan and Sting. The world of football has been graced with players like Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick, who all started out at the famous Wallsend boys club. Wallsend is also home to the Roman fort Segedunum, which is a world heritage site and sits alongside the world famous Swan Hunter shipbuilding yard, which sadly closed in 1995. The former Rising Sun pit, where my late father-in-law, an overman, was in the last cage to leave the pit, now forms part of our countryside park.

On several occasions, I have listened to Members opposite mock when those of us with great mining and shipbuilding traditions tell of the devastating effects of the Tory cuts during the 1980s and 1990s. What they fail to understand is that those cuts were not simply about economic ruin for individuals, but dealt severe cultural blows to close-knit communities. I congratulate the
30 Jun 2010 : Column 902
Labour Government on trying to right those wrongs with positive policies during the last 13 years. I know that one of our best hopes to reinvigorate industry in North Tyneside is to invest in the wind turbine industry. Already my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth have been working with Shepherd Offshore to that end, and I want to work with them to bring this modern, skilful and sustainable industry to our former shipyards.

I have hopes and aspirations for North Tyneside, but this debate shows that this Government will make the attainment of those aspirations a hard slog. Fuel poverty has been tackled on a large scale in North Tyneside, thanks to support from the previous Labour Government. As a councillor and former energy champion for the constituency, I saw the excellent work done, with the help of Eaga, to develop a strategy to combat fuel poverty with partners from all sectors. The introduction of the warm zone, under our previous elected Labour mayor, not only improved energy efficiency in residents' homes, but-because the scheme included supporting people to access benefits-realised more than £l million in extra benefits, to which people are rightly entitled. I only hope that the Government's green deal proposals will continue to deliver this level of success for those people still in fuel poverty in North Tyneside.

I cannot finish my maiden speech without reference to my former colleagues working in the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. As an administrative officer, I worked with the staff in manual payments at Longbenton until April this year. I know how committed these and other public sector workers are to delivering good services. As Members of this House, we are elected public servants and we should do all that we can to protect our colleagues across the public sector from Government cuts.

My commitment to North Tyneside is total. I will do all that I can to justify the trust that the people of North Tyneside have placed in me, and I will busy myself, in this House and in my constituency, to get the best deal possible for them.

Next Section Index Home Page