1 July 2010 : Column 977

1 July 2010 : Column 977

House of Commons

Thursday 1 July 2010

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked-

Energy-from-Waste Incinerators

1. Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): What his policy is on the building of energy-from-waste incinerators. [4933]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): We support modern energy generation from waste where local communities want it and where it makes good environmental sense. It is the responsibility of local authority managers and planners, and the local authorities themselves of course, to decide on the best waste management arrangements in their areas. Recognising the concern that incineration can raise, the Government are committed to a huge expansion in energy from waste using anaerobic digestion, and we are taking steps to drive progress and greater ambition in that area. In Germany, for example, combustion recovery energy-from-waste plants provide 7.5% of renewable energy.

Nicky Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In light of the policy, does he understand the concerns of my constituents in Shepshed, who are facing the building of an incinerator at Newhurst quarry, which is both a site of special scientific interest and on the edge of the national forest, as well as another possible incinerator not 6 miles away? Will he encourage local authorities seriously to pursue alternative waste management strategies?

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern municipal waste incinerators-this might be reassuring for her constituents-was reviewed independently by the Health Protection Agency. Its report, published in September 2009, concluded that although it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects completely, any potential damage from modern, well-run and regulated incinerators is likely to be so small as to be undetectable.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): I commend to the Secretary of State the report on energy-from-waste issues by the New Local Government Network, which I had a hand in writing a couple of years ago. In particular,
1 July 2010 : Column 978
will he consider ameliorating some of the concerns that residents can have about incinerators, even the new generation incinerators? Although, as he says, they can be quite successful, local people get very concerned about them. Given the controversies that can arise, giving back to local residents the proceeds from the sale of some of the energy generated could make them slightly more palatable.

Chris Huhne: That is certainly an interesting model. It has been tried with other schemes, such as with wind turbines. I know of a wind farm in the highlands where that was the case. It certainly helps to get local support for particular schemes. However, fundamentally it has to be a local decision for the local authority. Local authorities know very well that we want to recycle first before going through to waste and energy recovery, but very high rates of recycling and energy from waste can co-exist. In the Netherlands, for example, there is a 65% recycling rate with 33% energy from waste. Local authorities must make their own decisions on this, but if they get the waste hierarchy right they can get the whole mix right.

Nuclear Power

2. Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): What plans he has for the development of nuclear power in the UK. [4934]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The Government are committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles and allowing the construction of new nuclear power stations to contribute to our energy security and climate change goals, provided that they receive no public subsidy. The Government will complete the drafting of the nuclear national policy statement, which will be put before Parliament for ratification as soon as possible. The Office for Nuclear Development continues. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), has announced a new streamlined system to replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission. We will publish an updated timetable for the production of all national policy statements, including the energy national policy statements, later in the summer. On new public subsidies, the former and new Chief Secretaries to the Treasury have pointed out that there is no money left.

Ian Lavery: The Secretary of State has referred to nuclear power and nuclear energy as a tried, tested and failed source of energy with huge costs and huge risks. That is in stark contrast to the policy of the Tory Government. Given this huge conflict in policies within the coalition, will the Secretary of State tell the House what impact those differences will have on the future energy requirements of the UK and, in particular, on the development of new nuclear plants?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman knows that it was precisely because there were very clear differences between the Conservative part of the coalition and the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition that we dealt with that as one of the key issues-we reached agreement on how we would treat it-in the first coalition agreement. We set out very clearly that there will be a framework in which there will be no public subsidy for nuclear, but
1 July 2010 : Column 979
that if investors come forward with proposals they will without any doubt be able to get them through the House of Commons, as there is a majority on the hon. Gentleman's side of the House in favour of nuclear power, and the Conservative party is in favour of nuclear power.

I must say that the hon. Gentleman does a slight injustice to my personal position, which has been very clear. As an economist, I am sceptical about the economics of nuclear power, but I recognise that it is entirely up to investors to make that decision. If there is no public subsidy and if investors think that it is worth taking the risk, as they increasingly do, looking forward to rising oil and gas prices and a rising carbon price, they will take those decisions.

Mr Speaker: I am sorry, but I must tell the House that progress is simply too slow. We need snappier questions and snappier answers.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he will not be put off building nuclear power stations by exaggerated fears of the dangers of disposing of nuclear waste in one or two sites, especially as those who promote those fears seem to have no doubts about the problems of sequestering CO2 from carbon storage and capture in thousands of sites for thousands of years?

Chris Huhne: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the importance of continuing the Government's efforts to deal with the legacy of nuclear waste and decommissioning as a reassurance to those involved in new nuclear build that the problem will be dealt with properly. The Government have that very much in hand.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State explain why it was right to give a grant to Nissan to make electric cars-a proposal we support-but wrong to provide a commercial loan to help a British company, Sheffield Forgemasters, to be at the centre of the nuclear supply chain, particularly in light of the admission by the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), that £110 million would have come back to the Government from that loan and that the Government would have got extra money if the company had made a profit?

Mr Speaker: The Secretary of State will keep his answer within the confines of nuclear power.

Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman knows that the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was not a commercial loan. If it had been, it would have been arranged through the banks and not the Government. It was precisely because of the public subsidy element and the fact that that was not affordable that the Government decided not to proceed with it.

Edward Miliband: The Secretary of State is quite wrong about this, because the money was set aside from the strategic investment fund. A process was gone through at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about whether the loan would give value for money, and the Industrial Development Advisory Board concluded
1 July 2010 : Column 980
that it would be. Is not the truth that we have a combination of the short-sightedness of the Conservative party, which sees no role for Government in creating the green industries of the future, and the prejudices of the right hon. Gentleman against nuclear power?

Chris Huhne: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my prejudices, whether they exist or not other than in his imagination, did not enter into this decision. It was simply unaffordable in the context of the fiscal legacy that he and his friends left this House. We have it on no less an authority than his colleague the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury that there is no money left.

Wind Farms

3. Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): What plans he has to take account of local public opinion in determining the location of onshore wind farms. [4935]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): We want communities to benefit directly from any wind farms that they host. That is why we will allow councils to keep the additional business rates paid by wind farms and support communities in having a stake in appropriately sited renewable energy projects such as wind farms.

Matthew Hancock: I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the proposal to build a wind farm near to Stoke by Clare in my constituency, which is in the area of the country that was most often painted by John Constable? What powers will local people have to decide whether that would be appropriate?

Charles Hendry: I am very much aware of that proposal because my hon. Friend has been so assiduous in promoting the concerns of his constituents. We are very keen to ensure that such developments have local support. We want to see more local community partnerships in this area and more financial benefit going to those communities. Of course, planning decisions should take account of environmental concerns as well.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The Secretary of State has mentioned the coalition Government's new streamlined planning policy. Does that include, in relation to wind power and large wind farms, a Welsh dimension? Will the Welsh Assembly Government be consulted on it and will there be Welsh representation on the new planning unit?

Charles Hendry: We have had discussions with members of the Welsh Assembly Government and we are keen to find a way of continuing to make key infrastructure decisions within the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but of course we understand the desire of local communities in Wales to have their voices fully heard.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): In addition to considering the opinions of the public and residents regarding the location of wind farms, does the Minister plan to give any guidance to local councils on how close to private homes such wind farms may be built?

1 July 2010 : Column 981

Charles Hendry: We have looked at that issue. It seems rather peculiar to set a minimum distance for a wind farm but not for a nuclear power station. We need sensible and sound national policy guidance that enables local councils to make the appropriate decisions, but we will continue to look at all the environmental issues relating to the applications.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): The Conservative manifesto said that 15% of energy should come from renewable sources such as wind. The Secretary of State said that the proportion should be 40%. Who won?

Charles Hendry: The right hon. Lady is very much aware that we have a legally binding requirement from the EU that renewable sources must supply 15% of our total energy needs by 2020. The former Labour Government set a target for achieving that, whereas we are working out how to deliver it-something that they signally failed to do-in order to make sure that we have a robust policy that stands the test of time.

Joan Ruddock: So the Tories won again. In our manifesto, we said that every council should have a local target to help meet the national target, which was indeed 15%. The Liberal Democrats agreed with that. Is that now the Government's policy, or have the Tories won again? Will Liberal Democrat and Tory councils still be saying, "Not in my back yard"?

Charles Hendry: The right hon. Lady fails to understand how the coalition works. We have- [ Interruption. ] We have identified ways to work very constructively together. We are absolutely committed to the principle of localism, which means allowing local people, communities and councils to decide on the issues that affect them most. That lies at the heart of our approach, but we are working out how to deliver on our policies-something that she significantly failed to do in government. It is fine to have ambitious targets, but without the real road map for 2020-and way beyond, to 2050-that we are putting in place, there was no hope of delivering on her high ambitions.

Energy Supply Security

4. Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase the security of the UK's energy supply. [4937]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The coalition agreement set out that we will reform energy markets to deliver security of supply and investment in low-carbon energy, and to ensure fair competition, including a review of the role of Ofgem. We will instruct Ofgem to establish a security guarantee of energy supplies, and we will give an annual energy statement to Parliament to set strategic energy policy and guide investment.

In addition, we are bringing forward a green deal as part of the key legislation for the first Session. That will help to close the gap between energy demand and supply in the cheapest way possible, through energy-saving measures.

1 July 2010 : Column 982

Nadhim Zahawi: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He is an economist, and I am an engineer-

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): A financial engineer!

Nadhim Zahawi: Actually, I am a chemical engineer. I believe that engineers should be taken into account when energy security is under consideration. Would my right hon. Friend consider appointing a Government chief engineer to feed into the thinking process?

Chris Huhne: I have enormous respect for engineers. There are an awful lot of them in my constituency, which is a very manufacturing constituency. Therefore, I think and hope that the country will go on providing greater status to engineers than has often been the case in the past. I am afraid that the question of whether the Government should appoint a chief engineer is above my pay grade, but perhaps my hon. Friend would like to raise it at Prime Minister's questions.

Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): The UK's energy import dependency will increase over the next 10 or 20 years, at a time when global demand for energy could increase by 40% over 10 or so years. Given that, what plans are there to reorganise the machinery of government, so that DECC, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and other agencies can get a better assessment and grip of the geopolitical risks that the UK faces?

Chris Huhne: I am very grateful for that highly intelligent question which, given his interest in this area, is what I would expect from the right hon. Gentleman. The National Security Council is explicitly charged with the co-ordination of energy security. That will go across Government: it will not be confined to my Department, but will include the Foreign Office and other interested Departments.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, in that the figures show that, on the worst possible projections, our energy import dependence may well rise from 27% to over half in the space of just 10 years. This is a really key issue, which we need to address.

Green Jobs

5. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on increasing the number of green jobs in the economy. [4938]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The move to a low-carbon and eco-friendly economy is a key priority for the coalition Government. Issues relating to increasing the number of green jobs in the economy were discussed when I met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in June, recently in the context of low-emission vehicles when I met the Secretary of State for Transport, and at the regional Cabinet on Tuesday.

Next Section Index Home Page