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As we are the custodians of the environment, such debates are important. We would like to think that the speeches that we make here will stand the test of time, but in fact, although it is horrible to think it, they may
be forgotten in the long term. What will not be forgotten are the actions that we take to protect the environment for future generations. That is why I am pleased to participate in the debate.
When we look at what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, we can see how fragile our environment is. If we do not take care of it we ruin it, not only for our own generation but for future generations, and they will not thank us.
Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman mentions the Gulf of Mexico. Does he accept that when the Government talk about cutting regulation, that is exactly the type of disaster that could come about, and must not be allowed to happen?
Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman makes his point, but there is a distinction between the regulations that are expected to be adhered to during drilling in deep sea conditions using state of the art technology, and the bureaucracy and red tape that has stifled British business and which is quite separate from the safety regulations out at sea.
I had the pleasure of growing up in a number of countries, but mostly in Vienna, in Austria. It was interesting that in the 1980s measures such as insulation for new buildings, double glazing, and recycling using different wheelie bins were the norm there, yet it was only three years ago that such things were introduced in Bournemouth and the rest of the country, when our local authorities began to recognise the importance of recycling, energy saving and looking after our environment. As a nation, we are catching up with countries in Europe late in the day. That is why it is so critical for us to move forward on energy efficiency.
To me, the three principal elements of energy efficiency are how we supply and store energy, how efficiently we use that energy, and the lifestyle choices that we make by shifting away from energy-dependent activities-for example, how we use energy for heating, transport and electricity. I welcome some of the initiatives proposed in the coalition document, such as the establishment of a smart grid and the roll-out of smart meters.
It seems wrong that as we have looked to provide more efficient ways of charging for electricity, the people who have been punished most are the very poor, because of the charging systems and the meter systems, which have taken so long to provide them with the same benefits and deals that were available online to those of us who were able to use credit cards and standing orders.
I welcome the establishment of feed-in tariff systems for electricity. It makes sense that those who generate their own electricity can pump back any surplus electricity into the national grid and be paid for it. The creation of a green investment bank and home energy improvements paid for with the savings from lower energy bills provide an incentive to change attitudes and lifestyles.
I also welcome measures to encourage marine energy. I recently visited Felixstowe and saw some of the initiatives taken there and in other parts of Britain. It is sad that with one of the longest shorelines in the world, we have still failed to harness marine capability. We are starting to do that, placing wind turbines at sea. As a note specifically to Bournemouth, I visited Blackpool not long ago-
Mr Ellwood: After I have made the point. I visited Blackpool recently and saw the wind turbines out at sea. I asked whether there was any anger or concern about them as the planning applications were going through. Yes of course there were, at that point. But was anybody complaining about them now? Not at all. The message that I would give to the people in and around Bournemouth and Dorset is: please accept the proposals for our area. The turbines will not disturb the view as much as people think. If they are concerned about that, they should pop up to Blackpool and see what is going on there. The turbines can hardly be seen in the distance.
Mark Tami: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Will he speak to some in his own party in north Wales who not only actively campaigned against offshore wind turbines, but are still campaigning against them? Perhaps they have just not got the message that he clearly has.
I was saddened to see the outcome of the Amsterdam talks on climate change. I hoped that with the election of President Obama, the United States would show more involved leadership in this area. I certainly hope that in November in Cancun we will see a more convincing legal binding agreement, which will encourage countries to take climate change more seriously.
The issue of supply and storage came up when we debated carbon capture and storage during our consideration of the Energy Act 2010, on which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) was the lead Minister. I was concerned last winter, as many in Britain were, at how close the lights came to going out. We must never again reach the position where we could run out of energy in a matter of days.
Mr Ellwood: I knew that that would provoke a response from the hon. Lady. We had about six days' supply left, and if the supply chain had failed, lights would have gone out. Instructions had gone out to businesses to alert them to the fact that their contract meant that their energy supply would be cut.
Joan Ruddock: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had to provoke me. The fact is that the companies that were given the notices had entered into interruptible contracts, for which the price is lower because they are asked at times to lower their consumption of electricity. That is a reasonable thing to do. They chose to have the contracts. No one forced those contracts on them, and at no time were we in danger of the lights going out.
Mr Ellwood: I am having flashbacks here. I recall the hon. Lady making the same point during the debate. The point is that I never want to be in that position again, and to see contracts being threatened in this way. She may argue that those were the contracts that had been signed, but we as a nation do not want to be in a position whereby any business is threatened in that way.
Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for a second bite of the cherry. He mentions that we now import coal. Perhaps he has forgotten who it was who closed all the coal mines in our country.
Mr Ellwood: Then we have to ask whether we are a charity to keep the unions going, or are we- [ Interruption. ] Opposition Members chortle; no doubt they are all signed-up members of some union that makes sure that they look after their comrades. The point is that the coal mines were inefficient. We could not keep them open. Today's debate is about energy efficiency-having efficient means of getting energy. Using those coal mines when they were running out was inefficient, which is why they were closed. My point today is that one third of our coal is imported from Russia, of all places. That is not a secure place to import from, and it is certainly not clean coal.
Damian Collins: My hon. Friend makes the point that sources of energy change. Some sources become exhausted, be they coal, or oil and gas from the North sea. Does he share my concern that the previous Government waited far too long to consider serious investment and planning for new forms of power generation, and that we should have made preparations for those a decade ago?
Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Labour party is now in denial on this front. I will probably provoke another reaction, but to return to the coal point-yes, the coal mines were inefficient, but there are now more efficient ways of extracting coal, so some coal mines are being reopened because it is now economically viable to produce the coal.
Chris Williamson: Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the fact that while his predecessors were smashing the mining industry, the National Union of Mineworkers pointed out that we had more than 300 years of coal reserves under the ground, and were arguing for the very clean-coal technology that the hon. Gentleman now seems to be espousing?
Mr Ellwood: Those mining strikes, which almost brought Britain to a halt, took place when I was in shorts at school, so I cannot be blamed for that. I agree that we want clean efficient methods, and that is why we did not vote against the Bill on clean coal technology. It fell short, because the provisions on carbon capture and storage should have included gas, but that was ignored.
Mark Tami: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he not accept that gas and coal are imported because the market says that that is cheaper? Unless he is prepared to accept that there are times when we have to intervene in the market to stabilise things and give industry and energy sources in this country a chance, he will never alter the situation, particularly in the short term.
Mr Ellwood: I do not disagree. My point is about the efficiency and security of supply, and not until very late in Labour's tenure did they work out, "My gosh, we need to get some interconnectors here that actually work, so that we aren't reliant on just one." That is what led to the danger of our running out of gas supplies. I understand that the Government are now looking at security of supply, and at long-term contracts that will negate the problems that we faced last winter, when we came very close to some of the lights being switched off. Carbon capture and storage is important, and I am still upset that we did not have a chance to amend that Bill. We tabled amendments to include gas as well as coal.
The previous Government oversaw the demise of another area, our fleet of nuclear power stations-again, until our energy supply was threatened. It took 20 years to get a spark out of Dungeness; we cannot build those things overnight. Therefore, if we are to plan for the future, we cannot live in denial: we cannot live without nuclear power. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) spoke passionately about the importance of nuclear power, and although it is an asset that none of us likes, we are forced into that position simply because of the absence of other sources of power.
Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman makes a statement in favour of nuclear power, but it is not based on the facts. Climate change scientists tell us that we need to get our emissions down within the next 10 years if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst of climate change. The hon. Gentleman just mentioned the time that it takes to get nuclear generation up and running, and that means that we are now outside the critical investment time frame, and there is a real danger that if we put the money into nuclear power we will not put it into energy efficiency, renewable energies or decentralised energy, all of which have a much better chance than nuclear power has of reducing our emissions.
Mr Ellwood: I actually agree with the hon. Lady, whom I very much welcome to the Chamber. She will add an awful lot to these, and indeed other, debates. The Labour Government left nuclear power very late, but what she said does not mean that we should not build nuclear power stations. I guess that she is not in favour of nuclear power, and I am reluctant, too, but she might agree that we should invest in and study nuclear fusion, rather than nuclear fission, because nuclear fusion is the utopia that we have been looking for. Everyone says, "Oh, it will happen 25 years from now," but they were saying that 25 years ago. If we fully grasped that technology, we would not need the nasty side of nuclear fission, which leaves all the radioactive mess for future generations. Nuclear fusion is very much the way forward.
Mr Ellwood: Where do we go with that? Do we continue going back in time and blaming previous Governments? In the first debate on the Budget a week ago, I heard Members say that Maggie Thatcher was responsible for everything. How many generations do we want to go back? We are where are today, and I am concerned that when it comes to looking after our energy needs, we have had 10 years almost in abeyance, so I seek guidance from the Government to ensure that we will never be in this position again.
Damian Collins: In his earlier remarks about nuclear power, my hon. Friend was kind enough to mention Dungeness power station, which is in my constituency. On the points made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), I should say that the site could be brought online quickly-before 2020, it is believed. The current power station was opened under the last Conservative Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that such is the urgency and national priority that one of the great considerations for new nuclear power should be the location of sites in strategic areas of energy need and the speed with which they can be developed?
Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. The people best educated about these issues are those with nuclear power stations in their constituencies. They already understand what is going on; they realise the benefits and what safety mechanisms are in place, and would embrace further such technology.
Other forms of technology can be built much faster-they are almost "off the shelf". The Canadians are using the CANDU systems, which are very simple and probably have the safest record in the world. They would be easy to build. The trouble in the UK is the planning process, which takes so long before the first bolt can be put in or concrete floor laid down. I am glad that one point of the coalition agreement has been to expedite the planning process to make sure that, yes, we take on board consultation and views, but that once the decision is made, we get on with it.
Mark Tami: The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change seems totally opposed to nuclear power and has said so on a number of occasions. Is he the suitable person to drive this change through?
Caroline Lucas: I cannot resist either. I have two points to make. First, Dungeness is built on a floodplain; it is a bit short-sighted to put lots of nuclear power in the middle of a floodplain, given climate change.
Secondly, if we are still to hold out this great hope that some new nuclear technology will come along, that, again, will mean that resources and research will go into that instead of into the tried and tested technologies
that we know will work. We have been talking about energy efficiency. If we rolled out a free programme of energy efficiency to every household in the country, that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and get us out of recession. It would also get our emissions down much more quickly and cheaply than going down the nuclear route.
Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady is new to the House and I do not wish to be disparaging about what she has just said. But she seems to be saying that the issue is either/or, black or white. I am saying that it is not like that, and that we must invest extra research on an international basis. Work is being done, including in the United States, but it is not enough.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we must push for more efficiencies-in fact, that is what half today's debate is about. How can the home be made more efficient? How can we reduce our emissions and the amount of energy that we use? All those things are important. Is she suggesting that we should park any further advances or research on the idea of nuclear fusion? That is absolutely wrong.
I am saying, very realistically, that there is a finite pot of money, which is even smaller as a result of the cuts that the hon. Gentleman's Government are about to make. The idea that that money can be put everywhere at the same time comes from cloud cuckoo land. We need to decide where the money can be best and most effectively spent; scattering it around the place is not the answer. If we were to implement a major programme of energy efficiency, including renewable and decentralised energy, that would be tried and tested and offer a much better bang for the buck than investing in the chance that we might some day come across a nuclear technology that is safer than what we have now.
Mr Ellwood: On that I stop agreeing with the hon. Lady. We are not talking about a technology that may or may not work. We know that it can work; it is a matter of harnessing it. Experiments have already been done. To park the issue, or put it on the back burner-that is probably the wrong phrase-would be wrong. If we can harness the technology we can roll it out, not only in Britain but in other countries, particularly developing countries that are thinking of using nuclear fission. We could say to Iran, "Here is nuclear fusion." An atomic bomb cannot be made out of a nuclear fusion reactor. This therefore makes sense in the long term, and generations will thank us for it. Given the position we are in, I am afraid that we cannot survive over the next 20 years without investing, reluctantly though it will be, in nuclear power. I think that there is agreement on that in all parts of the House.
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