Previous Section Index Home Page

The second point is that it makes no sense to ask householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes at the same time as increasing the cost of doing
30 Jun 2010 : Column 915
so by 2.5%. I challenge the Secretary of State to show that deep inside his new Teflon Tory exterior there is still a limp Liberal longing to get out-to show us that the Liberal pledge before the election not to raise VAT was more than just the point scoring that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has claimed it was. I ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to speak to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The latter is another Liberal, and is, I think, the Member with the longest constituency name-Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. After yesterday's oration to the House, he is also the Member with the shortest political credibility. They should agree to reduce VAT on the materials and labour used for increasing the energy efficiency of domestic properties. That would make a real difference. If the VAT on such work was 5% instead of 20%, that would go a tremendous way towards incentivising householders and other property owners to make sure that they do the necessary work.

If the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will not do that, rolling out smart meters in every home; piloting pay-as-you-save and ways to make homes greener; introducing clean energy cashback schemes; and making the UK a centre of green industry-all that-is just so much recycling of the stated policy of the last Government, as set out in the "The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan", published in July last year. The truth is that approximately 90% of what Ministers have announced in their green deal comes from that document. No wonder earlier this month the Department issued a YouTube video entitled "Chris Huhne launches Wind Week".

Today, the Committee on Climate Change released its second annual report on progress towards a low-carbon economy. The committee makes it clear that we can deliver on our commitment to reduce emissions by at least 34% by 2020, but only if we accelerate our roll-out of renewables and effect a step change in domestic energy efficiency. So let me welcome the Secretary of State's remarks today, in which he said:

I agree. He continued:

I commend to him "A Woodfuel Strategy for England". After a very modest investment of about £16 million-million, not billion-a year for only seven years, it would show net benefits of approximately £30 million a year in energy cost savings, and would save 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. More than that, it would improve the biodiversity of our woodland heritage by cropping, lopping and clearing deadwood from under-managed woodland. The equivalent of 250,000 homes could be heated for a net £30 million benefit per annum, and the reinvigoration of our broadleaf woodlands-a truly efficient ecosystem-based solution. I hope the Minister will speak to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and implement this strategy as part of his green deal.

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is an acknowledged expert and has a distinguished record in the field of woodland and forestry, in particular. It is hard to conceive how that would fit into the green deal, but I acknowledge his expertise and I personally have an interest in being more ambitious in relation to the wood economy. If he
30 Jun 2010 : Column 916
would care to come into the Department and discuss it with me and officials, we could look at ways in which, in the context of these straitened financial times, we could do more to support that industry.

Barry Gardiner: I am grateful to the Minister for that offer, and I would be happy to take him up on it.

The wood fuel strategy is an important element of our energy efficiency programme. Wood is renewable and can be sourced locally, minimising transport costs. It is incredibly efficient, and represents part of the way in which we could transform local communities. I think that the Minister was present when there was an intervention from the Opposition Benches about the bulk provision of heat to communities and the importance of large biomass boilers, which could provide for communities in a much more energy-efficient way. That fits in with the wider aims of an energy efficiency strategy. I am grateful to the Minister for his offer, and look forward to speaking to him further about it.

If we are to make real progress on energy efficiency, public transport must become a priority for the new Government, which currently it is not. To put it simply, public transport must be the easiest, most accessible, most affordable and most reliable service available to the public. I was disappointed that the Minister said not one word about public transport as an instrument for delivering energy efficiency. Transport represents a fifth of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions; it did not represent so much as one fiftieth of his speech.

However, I welcome the new Government's proposal to introduce a minimum price for carbon. The second progress report from the independent Committee on Climate Change, which was published today, states:

If the private sector is to be encouraged to invest in a low-carbon future, it must be given confidence that its investment will reap appropriate rewards. A floor price for carbon gives stability, and that certainty for the market that will drive investment. I welcome it.

Sometimes in this debate, party Front-Bench spokespeople have been tempted to imply that only their party has seen the light, saw the light first, or uniquely has the solutions to our energy problems. I was a late convert to environmental matters. Indeed, my family sometimes still admonish me for putting apple cores in the wrong bin. The environment was not on my political radar when I entered the House 13 years ago. Now I hold it to be the most vital topic on the political agenda, so I welcome the Conservative party's proposals for improving energy efficiency. However late they are I welcome them, especially where they have adopted good Labour party proposals. I welcome them even more when they get Liberals to go nuclear, even if under the coalition agreement the Liberals do not have to vote nuclear.

I hope the new Government will live up to their undoubted enthusiasm and undoubted good intentions on energy efficiency and climate change, but I warn them that we on the Opposition Benches will hold them to account where they backslide, and for the areas in which they fail to make the progress that we all need.

30 Jun 2010 : Column 917
3.55 pm

Ms Louise Bagshawe (Corby) (Con): It is a pleasure to be called in the debate and to follow such excellent maiden speeches, most recently from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook) and the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt). My hon. Friend invoked the spirit of the suffragettes, and I am sure that she will have to plant no bombs in order to make an impact in the House. Her colleagues were most satisfied at her victory at the general election. The hon. Member for Wells gave a full and beautiful account of her lovely constituency, which I have visited, and I have enjoyed the Glastonbury music festival myself. She also touched briefly on the wonderful produce available in her constituency-the cheese and the cider. That was rather cruel on those of us who have been sitting here since before Prime Minister's questions and have not yet had lunch. Those are two very different constituencies, but they share one thing in common-they have fluent and talented Members of Parliament who are prepared to stand up for their constituents and fight passionately for them in the Chamber. I congratulate both Members on their maiden speeches.

There can be no doubt that we have, in this coalition Government, a Government who are prepared to make huge changes in our energy policy, including in respect of energy efficiency, and we have heard much about that from those on the Front Bench today. This is something that my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire will welcome very much. In my constituency, 12.8% of households still live in fuel poverty, and any measures that the Government can bring to bear that will assist them will be incredibly welcome. I was encouraged to hear my hon. Friend the Minister touch on the Government's commitment to lead from the front by reducing energy consumption by over 10% in Whitehall Departments in this year alone, 2010-the 10:10 programme.

One aspect of energy saving that has not yet been touched on in the debate is the way that the transparency revolution, which the Prime Minister intends to bring into all areas of government, will effect energy savings. Maidenhead council led the way by putting online in real time its energy consumption, and as soon as ratepayers could see the amount of energy consumed by the council, energy use in the council dropped during the next few months by 15%. Transparency is one other avenue that we can explore at local and national government level to ensure that we lead by example.

As various other hon. Members have mentioned-my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) did so, and even the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) touched on this in her opening remarks-efficiency in energy goes two ways: we must play defence but we must also play attack. I am in the unusual position of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman when I say that we must look at energy policy in the round. We cannot consider energy efficiency if we do not also look at the ways in which energy is being generated. This is of great concern to my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire, who are very concerned about saving the planet. I am a Conservative; I wish to conserve. I wish to conserve both the world in which we live and the beautiful countryside of east Northamptonshire, which I represent.

30 Jun 2010 : Column 918

In north Northamptonshire, 10 separate wind farms have been applied for or are in development, of which three threaten my constituency and are very much opposed by local people. I hope that when Ministers consider energy policy and the vital importance of renewables, they will maintain our true commitment to localism. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that one size does not fit all, and that must remain true. East Northamptonshire has one of the lowest wind areas in the United Kingdom, and energy must be efficient when it is produced just as when it is consumed. My constituents remember the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) saying that he intended to impose onshore wind turbines even when they were not wanted. He said:

I happen to believe that it is both sensible and prudent for the people of east Northamptonshire to oppose wind farms in their area, given that they are in the lowest wind area in the United Kingdom. They live in an area of extraordinary natural beauty, and it is my duty to help to preserve it.

Let us compare the efficiencies of onshore and offshore wind. I shall try not to blind the House with statistics in the manner of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), but a couple are worth listening to, because the difference in output is so remarkable. Out of 262 UK wind farms, 250 are onshore, and they produce about 3,500 MW between them. The mere 12 that are offshore, however, produce about 1,000 MW between them, and that level of efficiency must be taken into account when we look at wind power and how it is generated.

My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about a step change, and given our current situation, and the fact that we are considering energy efficiency and a low-carbon economy, that is exactly what is needed. We will not shift to a low-carbon economy unless we embrace nuclear power. If we are to embrace nuclear power and bring it in to provide for energy efficiency, energy security and a low-carbon economy, we must bring the public with us, but we will not do so unless we look at safe ways of disposing of nuclear waste.

My constituency also faces the prospect of a nuclear dump in the village of King's Cliffe, 20 miles from which 250,000 people live in various towns and cities. The dump is opposed by local authorities of all stripes, from Labour-controlled Corby borough council to Tory-controlled East Northamptonshire council and Northamptonshire county council. I am a huge supporter of nuclear power, but it cannot be delivered if applications for dumps completely ignore safety levels. The application in my constituency is essentially nothing more than a large hole in the ground. An application has also been made to transport huge volumes of low-level waste across the country. The previous Government introduced that change in policy, and until then the site could not even have been considered. When rain reacts with the waste, radioactive leachate forms, and that will have to be pumped out and transported to Avonmouth.

Dr Whitehead: I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady. She is in favour of nuclear but not in her area, because of the consequences; and she is in favour of wind but not in her area, because of the consequences. Are there any appropriate low-carbon technologies for her area which she could support?

30 Jun 2010 : Column 919

Ms Bagshawe: I am in favour of nuclear power. I am in favour of the safe disposal of nuclear waste. I am not in favour of the unsafe disposal of nuclear waste, which is proposed for my area, where there are no nuclear power stations for miles around. I am in favour of wind power, and, as I said, I am in favour of offshore wind power, which is highly efficient. Sadly, however, my constituency is landlocked, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks, namely that I am in favour of offshore wind power in my constituency, because there is nowhere to put it.

In contrast, let us look at safe nuclear waste disposal sites-the type that will encourage public confidence in a new generation of nuclear power stations. The Dounreay site in Caithness has already received planning permission, and in contradistinction it proposes to put waste in steel drums, compact them and place them inside steel containers within a concrete-lined and covered vault. I can see how that would instil confidence in people. The people in King's Cliffe and its surrounding areas have all the confidence of knowing that there is a certain type of clay at the site. The application does not even possess a roof.

Is it any wonder that my constituents have asked me for help? My predecessor said that he would not get involved because it was "a planning matter", but I happen to believe that on such major planning matters people cry out for an MP's protection. A true carbon economy must be based on nuclear power. Is it nimbyism to say that an application is completely unsuitable? I do not think it is if one can make the case. Hundreds of my constituents have made that case in their representations to me, and when the application comes up for appeal in October I shall write to the relevant Secretaries of State to oppose it most vehemently.

In my mind, the most important thing that has happened in the field of energy over the past couple of years is the announcement in Japan by Toyota that it is developing a solar cell that can power a car. That will truly change geopolitics, energy security and our planet. Indeed, "Passion", the excellent book that I wrote in 2010 and was nominated as romantic novel of the year-I highly recommend it to the House-was a thriller based around just that theme. I urge the Minister and the rest of the Front-Bench team to look long and hard at investing in solar power once the technology is in place to harness the power of the sun. There will no local objections anywhere to the power of the sun, so we will be in very good shape.

Meanwhile, I know that the Front-Bench team are doing everything that they can. I ask them again to look at the transparency revolution and encourage local councils to bring forward efficiency measures and put their energy use online, so that people see savings being made in real time.

In the speech that he made when standing for the leadership of my party, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister famously said:

and a little transparency in energy conservation would surely not go amiss. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I look forward to hearing further contributions.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I am new to this job, so I shall have to have another look at "Erskine May" to see what it says about product placement.

30 Jun 2010 : Column 920
4.5 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; you have taken the words out of my mouth. Perhaps the Minister will place some very large solar panels in the constituency of the hon. Member for Corby (Ms Bagshawe).

Let us get on with the issue of prospects in energy efficiency. First, I should like to talk about the situation of the Welsh Assembly Government and the cuts. As we know, energy efficiency does not often get called a front-line service. Housing and education are clearly front-line services, but they take a large proportion of the Assembly budget. What money is left for the measures such as those carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in England-housing issues-and the excellent Welsh Home Energy Efficiency scheme, which is similar to the English Warm Front scheme? It worries me that the cuts to the Assembly Government could disproportionately affect what energy efficiency measures they are able to implement.

The Assembly Government have some innovative schemes in the valleys, where they are renovating ageing properties, which have traditionally had poor energy efficiency. That type of scheme could be under threat. I hope that the Minister will make representations to Treasury Ministers that particular consideration needs to be given to protecting energy efficiency budgets. That also applies to the money passed to the Assembly Government.

Sometimes, there are special schemes that attract a "Barnett consequential"-a technical term for additional funding for a recently announced Government measure that had not previously been put into the budget. The boiler scrappage scheme came under that title. If we do not get the funding in, a lot of the good work that has been going on could easily dry up.

We have to give much greater priority to energy efficiency than has been evident in much of the talk about which services we can protect. We all understand that if we get the investment in and continue to push for considerable amounts of energy efficiency savings, that will have considerable impact on savings made by individuals and public bodies.

During the last Government, there were productive discussions about feed-in tariffs and in April this year a scheme was launched, incentivising those who produce their own energy to produce extra, which they can feed into the grid. Such people are often extremely conscious of energy efficiency measures in their own homes, and they also contribute to the energy needs of the nation. I am disappointed that feed-in tariffs have not yet been extended to people who already had energy-saving equipment installed in their homes-the pioneers who two or three years ago, when such things were much more expensive and not so many Government grants were available, were putting photovoltaic systems, solar panels or wind turbines on their properties and were able to feed electricity into the grid. The coalition Government need to look carefully at what they can do to ensure that those who already had these installations benefit from the feed-in tariffs, not necessarily backdating that to cover all the electricity that has ever been produced from such installations, but from April, when that benefit was introduced for people who had new installations put in.

Next Section Index Home Page