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30 Jun 2010 : Column 921

That relates to an issue that I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) will mention-renewable heat incentives. I will leave him to elaborate further, but it is another matter that the coalition Government need to look at again. They should support the plans that we had for 2011.

A difficulty appears to have arisen across the country in terms of electricity costs, which are allowed to vary because Ofgem accepts that varying costs in different geographical areas reflect the cost of service provision. However, that leaves people in south Wales with an average electricity bill of perhaps £467 per year, while those in the midlands may pay £433 per year. Surely such regional differences are an outdated anomaly when the market has been opened up so that all providers can now supply different areas and one supplier no longer supplies one area alone. Will the Minister have talks with Ofgem to see whether the current pricing arrangements can be looked at again, because they do not seem to be very fair and equitable?

I am also very concerned about rented property. It is often the poorest families who find themselves in private rented accommodation, some of which is frankly disgraceful. It can be very draughty because it has never been properly insulated, and the costs that residents pay for their energy provision are enormous. They often do not have central heating and are paying for the bar on the electric fire or the most inefficient forms of gas fire. There has been no encouraging sign from the Government, or from the Minister today, that they are going to regulate landlords in the way that Labour planned to do. This needs to be tackled head on, not only in regulating the types and standards of property but in incentivising landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency ratings of the properties that they rent out. The lack of such energy efficiency is a serious problem for those members of our society who are least able to pay.

Another issue that the Minister would do well to tackle is waste in commercial premises. When we put on our coats to go and do our shopping in the autumn, in the run-up to Christmas, we find ourselves in various forms of shop or shopping centre with open doors and enormously overheated areas. Of course we must have a reasonable amount of heat for the shop assistants working there, but an awful lot of people complain that they are absolutely boiling when they are walking around these shops. Obviously the shops would benefit from spending a lot less on the heat that they are producing, but as yet they still seem to be doing it. There is a great need for discussions with the Minister about ways of trying to keep temperatures down to sensible levels and thereby make considerable savings; perhaps there could be voluntary codes. Linked to that is the huge amount of money that is spent on heating and lighting shop displays for 24 hours a day. Perhaps we could think about guidelines on the excessive amount of energy that is used in commercial premises at all hours, even when they are not open to the public.

Public transport is a major source of energy use, and it contributes significantly to what we can do about our carbon emissions. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) considerable disappointment that we have not heard a lot more about it, either from the Minister today or in the coalition Government's programme.

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We need to continue to invest heavily in rail infrastructure, whether through electrification of the line from London to south Wales, which I hope will go further than Swansea and out into west Wales, or through building terminals that enable freight to go by rail more easily. That could be achieved through increased rolling stock, because people do not enjoy a journey when they are packed into an overcrowded train like sardines in a tin, and they therefore revert to going by car. All those matters need to be considered carefully if we are to reduce the amount of car traffic.

There is rolling stock for Sunday trains, and it is a great shame that it is not used more extensively. In my area, people of course go shopping on Sundays, and they like to go to sporting events and the seaside. However, we are on the main line from London to west Wales and the earliest train that we can get on a Sunday from Llanelli to Tenby, a well known seaside resort, is at quarter to 3 in the afternoon. When someone gets their family there it is quarter past 4, by which time there is no point being there for a nice day at the seaside. Instead, people pile into their cars and cause traffic jams and huge queues at Carmarthen. When they get to Tenby, the traffic is so bad that there is a park-and-ride scheme to keep the town centre free for pedestrians. It is an absolute nightmare, but if people could go by train it would all be avoided. We need to reconsider people's ability to go away for weekends to stay with their families and so forth, and we need a much clearer picture of franchise requirements for Sundays, which should reflect changed lifestyle patterns. I hope that the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Transport to see whether they can give public transport a greater priority.

Another matter that I should like the Minister to take up with his colleagues in the DFT is encouraging people to think about their fuel consumption in their private cars. I think a few Members are in their places who will remember the 1970s, when a limit of 50 mph was imposed because of the so-called fuel crisis. A lot of people are unaware of the different fuel consumption patterns of their vehicles and the fact that going at very high speeds can often increase consumption considerably. We need a public information campaign, as we have had on other energy efficiency matters, to point out to people what savings they can make. People are incentivised by the idea of saving, but they are unaware or forget that savings exist. Obviously the situation is not the same for all vehicles. They vary, and technology has improved enormously, but there are still savings to be made and well informed public information campaigns could help considerably.

I shall finish now, because I know that many other Members would like to get in. We have to ensure that we do not let the whole issue of reducing our emissions and being as energy efficient as possible become sidelined by people who say, "We cannot afford to do that because of the financial crisis". We cannot afford not to do it, because great savings can be made from both the public purse and private individuals' pockets. We must all make the most of every opportunity to push the Government for a much more energy-efficient programme.

4.19 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I missed the opening speeches, and I am very sorry about that. It was an error
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on my part-I was somewhere else when they were taking place, and I regret it because I would have liked to hear what the Front Benchers said. I may well repeat something that has already been said. Nevertheless, energy efficiency is a really important subject, and it is great that we are having this debate.

While I was sitting here and hearing about the fuel crisis of the 1970s, when Ted Heath was Prime Minister, I was reminded of the fact that the Department of Energy was created at that time to solve the crisis of the shortage of fuel and deal with the issue of coal. More recently, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has been created to carry out the different task of ensuring that our energy use is more efficient and carbon-friendly. I welcomed its new guise when it was introduced by the Labour Government and I salute it now as it is still in place.

The most important thing that we can do is liberalise the energy market to encourage more transparency and competition. By doing that, we would effectively introduce new systems of energy provision, which would to some extent be micro-and I will have much to say about one particular form later. It is essential that we recognise that the energy market in the future has to be much more liberal in both supply and demand terms, although I shall concentrate on supply today.

The coalition Government have made some fantastic strides forward and have in place an excellent team of Ministers in DECC. The Government have also introduced the green deal, and I note that that has been well saluted by Labour Members as it has by my colleagues. The Government are also talking about a smart grid approach. It is important that we have a grid that is much more receptive to new types of energy from smaller micro locations. I made much of feed-in tariffs during the election campaign, because my constituency is really excited about such issues, and those tariffs will be a huge step in the right direction. The green investment bank will also encourage new technologies to be developed and launched.

One of those new technologies must be modern micro hydro schemes. The role that micro hydro generation can play will be enormous, and it will help in several other areas. What is a micro hydro scheme? A small scheme generates between 1 MW and 15 MW, a mini scheme generates less than 1 MW but more than 100 KW and a micro scheme generates between 5 KW and 100 KW. The latter is sufficient to supply half a small community or small rural industry, and that is what I want to talk about in some detail today.

It is true that sometimes it is difficult to introduce technology of any description, because there is always someone to say that it should not be adopted. Wind power has that difficulty, and actually so does hydro power. We must think more in terms of incentivising, rather than of yielding to the "not in my back yard" approach. That is an important point for all micro energy schemes.

Hydro schemes, by their very nature, will be bespoke. They deal with water, and it does not come in square tins ready for tapping, but in rivers, ponds, pools and mills that are all different shapes. The other important aspect of hydro schemes is that they can help in dealing with other things, such as flood management. In Stroud, we have quite a lot of flood problems, including floods down valleys and along the vale. Controlling water
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through some sort of flood management scheme can lead to a hydro electric solution, and we can consider that as part of our overall environmental policies.

In Stroud, for example, I can see opportunities where introducing hydro schemes would also help flood problems by harnessing water halfway up a valley rather than allowing it to flood at the bottom. In fact, I am hoping to speak to the Minister shortly on this very subject, because he has been to Stroud and looked at a typical mill pond with all the characteristics one would need, first, for flood management and, secondly, for electricity production through a hydro scheme. I hope that will be developed in some detail. There are plenty of opportunities for that elsewhere in the country. Stroud has more than 200 old mills, but there are more than 20,000 across England, all of which, to some extent, could play a role in hydro generation. We need to bear that in mind.

Gregory Barker: May I assure my hon. Friend that although I visited his constituency while we were in opposition, I well remember the visit and was extremely impressed with that micro hydro installation? There is plenty of scope for increasing the role of microgeneration technology in particular. He is absolutely right that it plays a dual role in generating electricity and in flood abatement, and I can assure him that the Department is looking with fresh eyes at this issue.

Neil Carmichael: I thank the Minister very much. That is more than worth the time I waited to make this speech.

I want to expand my argument. Small households can also have micro schemes, which I would like to see and which we can enable. This country has so many waterways open to that very small potential scheme. However, there are things to be aware of, one of which is the Environment Agency's responsibility for managing waterways. It has functions connected with, for example, fish management. Fish and hydro schemes do not, of course, necessarily go together, because as somebody pointed out to me the other day, a hydro scheme is a very good fish masher. So we need to find ways of protecting fish and allowing them to flourish rather than simply putting them through a masher. However, the Environment Agency also needs to be encouraged to note the advantages of flood management and hydro power when considering its overall responsibilities for waterways.

When I went last week to an npower-sponsored event encouraging universities to think about new technology, particularly energy technology, I noticed just how imaginative students can be. Two universities won. Bristol university came up effectively with a mobile telephone tariff system for energy supply, which is well worth considering and expanding. I am hoping to talk to the university in more detail about its scheme, because I think it could be quite useful. The university of Birmingham came up with a scheme for hydro power and made it clear that it is not so much the flow that matters as the amount of water available. It did some interesting mathematical calculations to make that point. Again, I want to take that up in more detail. In essence, we need to liberalise the energy market, particularly in small-scale areas, and hydropower can, and will, play a significant role.

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My second point is about nuclear power. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) talked about nuclear power and commented on the Liberal Democrats' position on it compared with our own. I am keen on nuclear power because I recognise that it is obviously the provider of a base load. We have to understand that a significant amount of energy will always be used at any time, and the kind of facilities needed to produce that will include a nuclear power station.

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the President of France from 1974 to 1981, tackled energy pressures in France quite well, by recognising that France should not be dependent on oil, but instead move over to nuclear power. Today, more than 80% of French energy is produced by nuclear power, with the rest produced by renewables; and anyone who drives down as a holidaymaker, as I often do, can see quite a lot of renewables.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): My hon. Friend is making some important points about nuclear power. Does he agree that sensible planning for the future needs of nuclear power and the amount of base load energy that we might require from nuclear energy is important? It would be sensible to advance with as many viable sites as possible, in order that we can get as much new nuclear on stream as soon as possible, so does he also agree that Dungeness power station in my constituency should be considered as an additional site for the new build programme?

Neil Carmichael: I concur with everything that my hon. Friend has said. We need to plan ahead and recognise that even if we start building a new power station tomorrow, we would still be getting less electricity from nuclear power for some time to come because of the decommissioning process, so we need to take action and get on with it. However, there are some key points to be made, and one of them must be this: nuclear power has to be cost-effective. It is important that we recognise that. The second most important thing-this is especially important for me, as I have a nuclear power station in my constituency that is being decommissioned-is that the cost of the clean-up must be included in the cost of the overall nuclear bill. We cannot go on mopping up afterwards. We have to be sure that the cost of building and running a nuclear power station includes the cost of clean-up.

Thomas Docherty: I used to work at Berkeley power station a few years ago, so I am familiar with it, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman of the deep affection in which nuclear power is held in his constituency, as I am sure he knows. One thing that would perhaps concern me about the coalition's plans for cuts is the effect on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. One point that I hope he will be raising with the Minister is that when the NDA's budget is set for the next five to 10 years, the important thing will be getting the right decommissioning strategy, not keeping his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer happy.

Neil Carmichael: I certainly recognise the public expenditure pressures on the decommissioning costs at Berkeley, because I was there when a reduction was made in the spending round towards the tail-end of the previous Government, so I tend to agree with what the
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hon. Gentleman has said. I am pleased that he was at Berkeley and I hope that he enjoyed it there. It is in a beautiful part of my constituency, notwithstanding the fact that the power station is still there in its concrete form. The rest of the area is absolutely beautiful, and it is a perfectly safe place to be. I have been there several times myself, so if the hon. Gentleman still has any friends there, I will pass on his greetings.

That is what I wanted to say about nuclear power-that it has to be cost-effective and include the cost of clean-up-but I agree that we need a plan to ensure that we know where the next power stations are going to be.

Ms Bagshawe: My hon. Friend is making some excellent points about nuclear power. Does he agree that in order to advance the programme, we need to take local people with us? Does he also agree that his constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) are perfect examples of where local people are welcoming and embracing nuclear power, which is what we need to bring forward?

Neil Carmichael: We certainly do need to have localism in our planning system. It is great that this Government are so determined to ensure that local people have a proper say in all aspects of planning-certainly in housing, and also in infrastructure and energy-and quite right too. The answer to a lot of these issues is to incentivise local communities to take up the things that are not only necessary in our national interest but able to reflect their concerns. It is quite right that our people are keener than one might imagine on building nuclear power. I am from the north-east, so I know a little bit about Windscale-it is Sellafield now; I am quite old. There is support in those places, so I agree with my hon. Friend.

I want to say a few words about transport, as public transport in particular was mentioned earlier. The key thing is that we need to consider electric cars more than we have in the past. We need to recognise that they are a reality and that we can develop the technology in ways that would impress someone like Jeremy Clarkson. The brutal fact is that the electric car will in the long run be a reliable thing to get about in for long journeys, and the charging of those cars might well turn out to be easier than we first imagined.

I am delighted to say that my constituency has a manufacturer-Himag-producing transformers no bigger than a fist that can propel a Hummer vehicle. If anyone knows anything about a Hummer vehicle, they will know that it is large and heavy. That sort of technology is already out and about, and some large car manufacturers-Renault is one example, I believe-are already preparing to launch a range of models that would suit families or individuals quite well. I believe that those cars will be on the market in two or three years' time. We should celebrate and encourage that sort of technology.

Trains are also really important. I use the train all the time. From Stroud, it has to be diesel because we do not have electrified lines, but we need to think more about that. We also need to think about getting more trains on the track, as we now have the technology that allows that to happen. We should invest in that technology so that we can produce the train that takes people to where they need to be and thus increase traffic flow.

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I was impressed by the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who talked about pylons. She is quite right that pylons crossing the landscape are not particularly attractive, but I would end on this important point about electricity supply. There are people living in Amberley who would just love to have a reliable electricity supply; they are waiting for underground cables to be put in, so that a proper electricity supply can get to all parts of the area. It is important to realise that there are ways of doing these things and also that local communities, such as Littleworth in Amberley, have needs.

In summary, I think that liberalising the market is the key. Having confidence in technology is also essential, as is being willing to take those technologies forward by incentivising local communities and individuals to grasp the opportunities before them. Those are the ways in which we can, first, secure our energy supply and, secondly, make sure that that supply is good for our environment and good for the communities that use the energy.

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