10 May 2011 : Column 347WH

10 May 2011 : Column 347WH

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 10 May 2011

[Mrs Linda Riordan in the Chair]

Wind Farms (Mid-Wales)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Stephen Crabb .)

9.30 am

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): This debate is on a subject that is of greater importance to me than any other issue will be during the entire time that I serve as a Member of the House, irrespective of how long that is. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Riordan. You can observe that I am not at my best today—not physically, at least—having had to enter the Chamber on crutches. I will remain dependent on crutches for a while. I am grateful to my surgeon at the excellent Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt hospital in Gobowen, who two weeks ago performed a successful operation on my back. Mr Trivedi is most displeased that I am here this morning. He instructed me to rest at home, but this morning was such a valuable opportunity that I would have allowed myself to be carried in by stretcher. In fact, I thought that that would add a dramatic touch to the occasion, but in the end I decided against it. I certainly hope that it is not the way I will be carried out.

I will start by declaring a sort of interest. I was born in mid-Wales on an upland farm that I still own; today, I live about a mile away from it. I love the landmass that constitutes mid-Wales and could not contemplate living anywhere else on earth. It is a place of great beauty. That beauty is important in the context of the debate because it underpins the most important and largest part of the local economy—tourism. It can be no surprise that I and almost all the disinterested population of mid-Wales are horrified that the proposals about which I intend to speak are even being seriously considered. The consequence of the proposals would be to destroy totally the place that we love by industrialising the uplands with wind turbines and desecrating our valleys with hideous cables and pylons.

For the benefit of everyone, I should outline the sheer scale, and horror, of what is proposed. It is not an ordinary development—the sort of thing that we have seen before. It is the largest ever onshore wind development in England and Wales. The proposals envisage the granting of permission for the erection of between 600 and 800 huge new onshore turbines in mid-Wales—over and above all those that currently exist and those that already have planning approval—a 20-acre electricity substation and about 100 miles of new cable, much of it carried on steel towers 150 feet high. That is scarcely believable. The scale of it is almost impossible to comprehend. Not even the enemies of Britain over the centuries have wrought such wanton destruction on that wondrous part of the United Kingdom.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Is it not a little over the top to suggest that the landscape will be totally destroyed? Even when the turbines are there, although

10 May 2011 : Column 348WH

there will, no doubt, be a decline in the visual amenity, will not the mid-Wales area still be beautiful and desirable to the millions of people who live in urban areas?

Glyn Davies: I want to come later in my speech to what we will be left with afterwards, but the sheer scale of what is proposed means that the development will cause huge damage. Already people are not prepared to commit themselves to holidays in the long term. Already the prices of houses are falling. The impact is already seriously damaging. There are beautiful parts of Britain; the economy of mid-Wales depends on tourism, which depends on its beauty. What some people want is to act freely to destroy the one thing that makes the place special. That is what the authorities in their various forms are contemplating doing.

When the policy statement or technical advice note popularly known as TAN 8 was issued by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2005, I and a few others understood immediately that this monstrous proposal would be the consequence. However, the local population did not truly grasp the scale of what that policy statement meant. I suppose that it seemed almost too incredible to believe—if only it were. Now that the population of mid-Wales have grasped the degree of desecration planned for their area, there has been an uprising of anger and protest the like of which I have never seen before.

Huge numbers of people, usually approaching 500, have turned up at several public meetings. At one meeting that I called in Welshpool, at short notice and with minimal advertisement, more than 2,000 people turned up. These people are from every sector of the population, and include many who would benefit financially from the proposals. If the National Assembly for Wales had been sitting at the time and not involved in an election, all of them would have descended on Cardiff bay there and then to ensure that the politicians behind this outrage were made fully aware of the scale of the anger.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He has cited meetings in his constituency. Does he agree that this is very much a mid-Wales issue? In the north of Cardiganshire, the prospect of the huge wind farm development at Nant y Moch has also caused huge concern locally. That concern has been articulated very effectively by the Cambrian Mountains Society, which is campaigning for the Cambrian mountains to become an area of outstanding natural beauty. That needs to be respected. The public anxiety to which the hon. Gentleman refers is very real and extends across the whole of mid-Wales.

Glyn Davies: There is truly a mid-Wales impact. The proposals affect part of Radnorshire hugely and all of Shropshire, depending on where the lines to the national grid go, and of course there is the proposal for Nant y Moch in Ceredigion, but the biggest effect by quite a distance will probably be on my constituency of Montgomeryshire. In relation to the impact locally, I pay tribute to the local newspaper, the County Times. It has understood what the people of its catchment area feel and has organised petitions. It realises that virtually everyone in the county opposes what is proposed. It is a proposition that everyone locally is deeply and fundamentally opposed to and always will be.

10 May 2011 : Column 349WH

The protest that I spoke of will still take place, as soon as the recently elected Assembly Members have taken their seats. I will do all I can to ensure that that happens. We must ensure that in years to come, they cannot disclaim responsibility for the environmental vandalism and shocking waste of public money for which they will have been responsible. We do not want the people responsible for the decision saying, “We didn’t understand that it was going to cause that much damage.” It is important that they know now exactly what they are going to do. In decades to come, they will be remembered, in the way that those who were responsible for drowning the Tryweryn valley in the last century are remembered in Wales today, half a century later. We must ensure that, in mid-Wales, their names will be remembered in future decades as having been on the roll call of those responsible for splitting the Welsh nation asunder.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. I have two TAN 8 areas in my constituency. Does he agree with me that the Welsh Government have got TAN 8 totally wrong? It is a crass way of drawing lines on a map and placing all industrial wind developments within those areas. If we are to have large-scale multinational wind farms in Wales, surely they should be offshore. Does he agree with me on that point?

Glyn Davies: It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that in principle I do agree with him on that point, but I want to touch on that area and the relationship to the National Assembly for Wales later in my speech.

The people of mid-Wales are a reasonable people. If the proposal were essential to the national interest, or if it was necessary in some way to accept the destruction of our environment for some overwhelmingly greater good, we would in all probability accept it with traditional stoicism. We would be deeply upset, of course, but we would accept the responsibility to our nation. However, that is obviously not the case; the development is all for no good purpose.

I will not go into detail about the utterly pathetic performance of the onshore wind sector in Wales, but each day we read new reports of how poorly its performance compares with what is claimed for it when new proposals are put forward. The Renewable Energy Foundation tells me that its most recent figures show that Welsh wind farms have a load factor of just 19%—the lowest ever recorded. We also know that there is a need for back-up energy generation to cover periods when the wind is not blowing, or is blowing too strongly. Little is heard about that when onshore wind developers extol the virtues of their proposals and sell their wares. The truth is that onshore wind simply does not deliver what we are told it will; it does not do what it says on the tin.

The most important industry in mid-Wales is seriously under threat because of the proposals. In my constituency alone, the local tourism alliance estimates the value of tourism at £360 million per year, and 6,300 jobs depend on it. Tourism dominates the economy, but the beautiful landscape of mid-Wales will be sacrificed on the altar of a false god. What sense can it make to erect up to

10 May 2011 : Column 350WH

800 new turbines in mid-Wales when they will be 30 to 50 miles from any connection to the national grid? That makes no economic or climate change sense whatever; it is almost as if the plan was drawn up with no consideration of where the national grid was.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and on the exceptional work that he has done in standing up for his community in Montgomeryshire, for mid-Wales and for communities across the border. Does he regret the fact that a centralised policy framework exists in Wales, and that even if the local planning authority rejects the application for the project, the chances of success on appeal are pretty strong, so the Welsh Assembly Government will have the final say? Does he regret the fact that the Welsh Assembly Government are not following the localism framework that exists in England, which would give local people much stronger rights to object to such applications?

Glyn Davies: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I will come to the role of TAN 8 and the Assembly Government in the last part of my speech, because it is key. It might seem that I am focusing overly on the position of the National Assembly for Wales, but it is crucial. Decisions will be taken in a number of places, but against the policy background of TAN 8.

The carbon impact of the development can never be compensated for by any possible carbon benefit. There is the cost of importing materials over such a large distance and over a road network that is totally unsuitable for such traffic; huge investment will be necessary just to get them to the wind farms that are to be built. There are also other environmental costs, such as the destruction of the peat bogs and much else.

In the middle of my constituency, there is a wind farm with 103 turbines, which have been there for 20 years and which are now to be taken down and replaced with new, larger turbines. However, the huge concrete pads on which the redundant turbines are built will not be removed; the turbines will be removed, but these huge lumps of concrete will stay in the ground. There will be 103 of them, together with 40-odd for the turbines that are taking the place of the old ones, and I suppose there will be another 50 when another wind farm comes along on the same site in 15 years. The destruction over a long period is almost impossible to calculate.

Even worse is the seemingly deliberate conflation of the terms “onshore wind” and “renewable energy”, which has done huge damage to public support for the latter. Most people I know are, or at least were, proud to describe themselves as being supportive of renewable energy, but the obsession with onshore wind has undermined public support for renewable energy. Occasionally—actually, this has happened only once since the scale of the proposals became known—I have heard, or rather have heard of, words of support for turbines and pylons, but those words totally dismissed all that those of us who have chosen to stay in the area greatly value. After a recent recording session for a live Welsh TV programme, a friend complained that 90% of the mid-Wales uplands would be covered in wind turbines. A representative of a local environment organisation shouted out, “What about covering the other 10% as

10 May 2011 : Column 351WH

well?” I cannot verify that conversation with precision, but the drift is clear. Such people have no absolutely idea what damage they are doing to the cause they purport to support.

There is also the opportunity cost. The massive public subsidy that onshore wind is swallowing up is just as damaging to the future of renewable energy, which will be crucial to our energy supply over the next decades. So much more could have been done to advance the wider cause of renewable energy. Biomass potentially has a great future in mid-Wales, and I could also mention microgeneration, marine power—wave and tidal power—offshore wind and solar photovoltaics, as well as several other sources of power generation that I cannot immediately recall. Indeed, there are probably several others I have never heard of. However, those possible sources of future renewable energy are not being developed because of an obsession with onshore wind. When we have turbines on the hills, politicians can point at them and say, “We did that,” but all they have done is wreak serious damage on the land that the people of mid-Wales think of as their own. Thousands of pounds have been poured into onshore wind, restricting the development of forms of renewable energy that the public would actually welcome.

In the last part of my speech, I want to look at how we reached today’s position; often, we need to look back to decide how best to move forward. I was the chairman of the local planning authority in Montgomeryshire through the 1980s, and onshore wind farms were novel at the time. However, it quickly became clear that they were hugely divisive, and most of us will have had experience of how divisive they can be, splitting communities and even families. Even at the time, I was never convinced that onshore wind was a worthwhile technology, but I could see that it was an important new technology with possibilities and that research was needed.

Several wind farms were developed in Montgomeryshire —one was the biggest in Europe when it was built—and there are many wind farms there now. Although they had a localised impact, I did not think that they were a threat to the entire region, even though some quite visionary people warned me that we were opening the door to the sort of thing that eventually happened. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, of which I was the president for three years before I was elected to this place, was particularly vociferous, and it deserves congratulations on the position that it took from an early stage. Even though I was not convinced of the value of onshore wind farms at the time, my general attitude, and that of most of the population, was that mid-Wales was a large and beautiful place that could accommodate some new wind farms.

That was my attitude until 2005, and it was most people’s attitude until perhaps two months ago. One fateful day in 2005, however, the Assembly Government published a statement updating TAN 8, which offered local planning authorities guidance on how to deal with planning applications. I was horrified by what it meant, and those who discussed it over a quite a long period were equally horrified. Today, the entire population is horrified.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I welcome the hon. Gentleman back after his operation. It is good to see that he is vertical, even if he needs a bit of assistance. I opposed TAN 8 and its implementation.

10 May 2011 : Column 352WH

One of my critical concerns was that, unlike most planning policies, it was not open to a public inquiry; there was only consultation in the Assembly, which was judge and jury in this matter. It is quite exceptional for a planning policy to be implemented in that way, without the opportunity for a public inquiry.

Glyn Davies: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. There was not even consultation in the National Assembly for Wales; the governing party of the day just issued a statement, with no scope for discussion or consultation—we had to take it or leave it. I stood up and immediately opposed the guidance, but even then, I did not quite realise the scale of what it meant for the future of rural Wales.

I feel a bit guilty: having spent eight years as a Member of the National Assembly, I am hugely supportive of it, but I have been critical this morning. I want to explain why. If we are to find a way to challenge the plans, we must identify the source—it is no good just shouting at everybody—and look at how the applications will be dealt with. The issue of the cable that will run from near the middle of my constituency to the middle of Shropshire will actually be decided on here, in Westminster. It will go through the Infrastructure Planning Commission process, and probably through the processes of its successor. Decisions on the larger wind farms—those of more than 50 MW—will also be taken here. The decision on a 20-acre electricity substation, which might be built within almost half a mile of a village and thus devalue it overnight, will be taken by the local planning authority in Powys. The local authority will also make decisions on the smaller wind farms of up to 50 MW, but with appeals to the National Assembly for Wales.

All those decisions will be taken against the background of TAN 8, because any inspector looking at how to decide on a proposal put before them will do so against that planning background. That is why the only possible way of saving mid-Wales from the desecration to which it is sentenced by TAN 8 is to take a more sympathetic look in some way—through a redrafting, an understanding, or a proper discussion in the National Assembly for Wales—at whether it is the right policy, and whether it is framed as it should be. I know perfectly well that at the end of the day, the state, in its various forms, will have its way. We live in a civilised country where debate and minorities are trampled on and local opinion is completely ignored. That may happen in this case, but I find it scarcely believable that it can.

Some people believe that we had gone too far before everybody understood what had happened, and I think that part of the strategy was to make certain that people did not understand what was happening. Even now, the way in which proposals have been presented is designed to split the community. There is a choice of two substations and two or three lines, and that looks like a deliberate attempt to turn one part of the constituency of mid-Wales against another, but the people of mid-Wales have not been fooled; they have stuck together absolutely. If the plans go ahead as proposed, they will be outraged for ever; they will hold those responsible guilty for ever and will never forgive them.

9.52 am

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing the debate. I am sorry to hear

10 May 2011 : Column 353WH

about his injury, but given the pain that he must be suffering, he put the case on behalf of his constituents extremely well, and I am sure that they will appreciate that. Everything he said is familiar to me as I have a very similar situation in my constituency, which is why I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate.

The Carrick area of Ayrshire is one of the most beautiful in Scotland—I would say in the UK, but I will not enter into a competition with the hon. Gentleman. It is obviously a rural area, and has suffered job losses and loss of services in recent years. It is dependent on tourism and will be for the foreseeable future.

I do not stand here as someone who is against wind farms per se. They are a reality whether we like them or not, but I do not personally like turbines. They do not do anything for the local environment, but they have a part to play in securing our energy needs and meeting renewable energy targets, so it would be unrealistic to take an all-or-nothing approach and say that there should be no wind farms. Although I am aware of the various research and that countries such as Denmark seem to be backtracking on the whole idea, there is not enough substantial evidence to take the view that they should simply be banned, and, on a tactical level, if someone wanted to do that, it would not be practical or realistic. I will refer to the health concerns associated with wind farms, in some cases, later in my contribution in the context of my constituents.

Not enough work has been done on alternative sources of energy other than wind farms. Carbon capture and storage is close to my heart because another part of my very large constituency is a mining area with an open-cast mine. In contrast to wind farms, which do not provide many jobs, open-cast mines could provide hundreds of jobs in a very poor part of my constituency. I am frustrated that more work has not been done in that regard.

The hon. Gentleman referred to other means of generating energy, such as offshore and tidal schemes, but, again, we have been slow to invest in such sources. Some progress has now been made, but they will not become a practical alternative in the near future. We hope to see them become so, but they are not there now. The Scottish National party Government have outlawed nuclear energy in Scotland, but given the situation in Japan it was bound to be called into question by some people. I know that the circumstances are not the same, but an incident such as that is bound to raise fears among the public, so nuclear policy may be affected as well. All in all, we have not done enough to tackle the issues to meet our renewable targets.

My worry with wind farm development is the proliferation of wind farms in particular areas. As the hon. Gentleman said, initially, everybody took the view that we must contribute for the public good, because it is important for the future of the planet, and what could be more important? I now fear that, once the doors to wind farms have been opened in an area, before we know it, the whole place will be full of them. If all the applications that were submitted for a small town in my constituency, Dalmellington—not in the Carrick area, but in a former mining area—were granted, the whole town would be surrounded by wind farms. Imagine the devastation in the community if that

10 May 2011 : Column 354WH

happened—it had been blighted already by the coal industry over many years. That has not happened yet, but the fear is always there, as more and more applications are made.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): The hon. Lady makes an important point, which clearly supports the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire. (Glyn Davies) There are small-scale wind farms in my constituency, which have community support, and the concern in my constituency is that the type of monster development that we see in mid-Wales will damage those community-led developments that have been beneficial to rural communities, such as the upper Conwy valley.

Sandra Osborne: I could not agree more. The proliferation is causing wind farms per se to be called into question in a way that is not necessary or desirable.

There are 20 wind farms operational, at the scoping stage or in the planning process in my constituency and the adjacent area of Galloway, which is by no means large; it is a small area of Scotland. People will not be able to see the details, but I have a map of the area that indicates the scale of development that will happen if all the wind farm applications go through. We will have almost 600 wind turbines, and even the most ardent environmentalist must surely understand that that is not acceptable in anybody’s book.

It is my responsibility as an MP to put forward the views of my constituents on this matter, because they are in a David and Goliath battle with the big companies, which come in and say that they are consulting people, but the decision has already been made. I must put forward the real concerns of my constituents, because no one at the moment is listening—certainly not in the Scotland Parliament. The benefits of wind farms should be stated, but so should the cost, and not only the financial cost to the taxpayer, but the cost to the community.

I have constituents who are very close to wind turbines. In Scotland, the suggested separation distance—the suggested distance—is 2 km, but some individual houses are nearer than that. I have a constituent who cannot open her curtains or blinds because she is subjected to constant flicker from the wind farm. Although it is said that there is no evidence that that can happen, she would differ; her mental and physical health has been seriously affected. However, compensation is not available to allow people to move, and such people will not be able to sell their houses.

I wish to make two last points. First, I was interested to hear that England has stronger rights to object. I would like to know more about that, because such rights are needed in Scotland and elsewhere. It is not acceptable that people can be more or less bullied into accepting the situation, with no redress or appeal.

My other worry is with the new Scottish National party Government. I have a lot of worries about that, but the main one is that they have totally unrealistic targets for 100% renewables, and they cannot possibly be met in the time scale. To my constituents, that means only one thing—ever more wind farms in their area.

10 am

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this debate.

10 May 2011 : Column 355WH

He spoke of his problem with crutches; conversely, I have a coughing fit as a result of a viral infection. Conservative Members seem to be going down like flies.

I was sitting in my constituency surgery on Friday and various constituents spoke to me about my hon. Friend, telling me of the growing reputation that he has secured across the border. He is an extremely hard-working Member of Parliament, is very effective in representing his constituents and is a man of great integrity and honour. It is not often that we in Shropshire talk about Members of Parliament from other countries and other parts of the region, but I was surprised at the strength of feeling among my constituents. My hon. Friend spoke with great passion this morning, and I hope that the Minister has taken on board how passionate he is.

I had a breakfast meeting this morning with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies). I formally asked him to use his position to hold an investigation into the matter, so that some form of official work can be carried out on the strategy—where these wind farms are to be built and how the electricity is to be transported to the national grid. I encourage all hon. Members present today to join me in that. My hon. Friend was interested in my proposal, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friends and colleagues supported me in reiterating the point.

I, too, am extremely angry with those who propose these measures. I would like them to stop and think for a minute about how they would feel if these giant monsters were to be built near their homes or next to their villages. They would be devastated. Speaking as a father, I am extremely concerned about the safety aspects of the pylons, an aspect that has already been mentioned, and the effect that they will have on young children. Many of my constituents have expressed such concerns to me.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Does my hon. Friend accept that in Sweden, for example, pylons have been taken down across the country and the transmission cabling has been transferred underground, and that as a result there is no loss of visual amenity for those who enjoy such areas? It is not only a Welsh problem, as pylons will march right across the beautiful levels and moors of mid-Somerset. The Minister is familiar with my complaints on the matter, but significant health issues have been proven, and countries such as Sweden are doing something about the problem.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Her pedigree of fighting on the matter is well known. Indeed, I attended a public meeting in Shropshire and the billboards referred to her work on the matter. I totally agree with her, and I shall refer to the matter later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire spoke about the importance of tourism to Wales. I concur with him; tourists are attracted to these places because of their natural beauty. The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who is no longer present, tried to suggest that wind farms would not affect the countryside’s natural beauty, but he is totally deluded. He does not fully understand how important it is for the landscape to be turbine and pylon-free, as tourists come to the area to enjoy that beauty.

10 May 2011 : Column 356WH

Mr Mark Williams: I know that my hon. Friend is a regular tourist to my constituency. He speaks about the general environmental damage done by turbines, but will he reflect also on the damage done in the immediate area of wind farms? Next time he visits Ceredigion, I shall take him to the summit of Cefn Croes, which at one point contained the largest wind farm in the country. There he will see the damage done to the peat bogs—there has been no attempt to restore the landscape—and the spectacle of vast concrete roads going to the summit of a beautiful landscape.

Daniel Kawczynski: I holiday in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is beautiful, and I can recommend Mwnt bay as a lovely holiday destination. I shall take up his offer.

Tourism is the No. 1 income generator in Shropshire, and we depend upon our beautiful landscape to attract tourists, who come not only from the United Kingdom but from around the world. I pay tribute to two local Conservative councillors, Tudor Bebb and David Roberts. They are working hard with various local bodies, including the local tourism association, to analyse the impact that the proposals would have on the local economy.

If the electricity produced were brought across Shropshire to the national grid, the cables could be put underground. However, we are told by those who propose these measures that that would cost 15 times as much as pylons, the monstrosities that would have to be built on the Shropshire countryside. I ask the Minister, is it true? What analysis has been undertaken by the Government on that point? Is it the reality that putting cables underground would cost 15 times as much? I ask because we hear from colleagues in the Danish Parliament that the costs are nothing like that. If so, my constituents are being deliberately misled by these companies at public meetings about the cost of putting the cables underground rather than on pylons.

Tessa Munt: I place on record the fact that the chief executive of National Grid has admitted that he said at a meeting nearly two years ago that putting cables underground was “a no brainer”. At a public meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the Secretary of State for Defence, and other MPs and candidates in Somerset, National Grid admitted that it was likely to cost only £1 per household per year to put cables underground for Hinkley Point and other connections. That conflicts with what is being said by the same National Grid personnel at public meetings in Somerset—that it would be 20 times as expensive to put cabling underground or under the sea.

Daniel Kawczynski: I agree and that is the critical point that we need to get across to the Minister. I will be formally writing to him later today and tabling written parliamentary questions on the matter. I want people to know the true cost of such cabling rather than being told that it could be 15 or 20 times higher.

Let me return briefly to the point about tourism and the natural beauty of Shropshire. The proximity of one of the proposed route corridors to the Shropshire hills means that it will have a significant impact on an area of outstanding beauty. However, let me put it on record that section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

10 May 2011 : Column 357WH

Shawbury has one of the UK’s largest facilities for RAF helicopter training. Situated in the Kinnerley, Edgerley, Melverley and Knockin parishes is the Nesscliffe training area, which trains all helicopter pilots from RAF Shawbury. Helicopters training in our locality also fly into mid-Wales. Hence, the proposed NG pylon routes through this immediate locality would detrimentally affect the training of our servicemen and women and negatively impact on our response to natural disasters and threats to national security. How can the erection of pylons in an area that is so important to the training of our nation’s helicopter pilots be considered as a possibility?

I have been to RAF Shawbury and flown in a helicopter around Shropshire. I have seen already the extraordinary number of areas that these helicopters have to avoid. There are huge restrictions on them, so to have these huge wind farms and monster pylons all over the place will only add to their difficulties. I raise that issue because it is important that the pilots are trained effectively and properly.

Flooding is one of the greatest problems that affects Shrewsbury. It devastates not only the town but its economy. Edgerley and Melverley are at the Severn Vyrnwy confluence and experience unique flooding. The area serves as a natural holding area of water, and helps to alleviate some of the flooding lower downstream. At a time when the Government are investing millions to minimise the effect of flooding, it is bizarre to make a commitment to upland wind farms on such a massive scale because they will only add to run-off and thus increase flooding.

Families have farmed in this area for generations and accept that flooding is an element of life. However, the flooding in the Severn valley has worsened in recent years, which the Environment Agency has attributed to the drainage of upland areas in mid-Wales. Given that we are so concerned with reducing the flooding, why are the Government encouraging the construction of 800 wind turbines in mid-Wales? It is said that

“each turbine stands on a pad the size of an Olympic swimming pool. The huge quantities of concrete that will replace the bog land will also increase water runoff resulting in increased flooding.”

Let me now say something on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). As my hon. Friend is a Whip, he cannot speak in this debate. None the less, he is equally passionate about the matter and how it will impact on his constituency. He is working hard to support my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire and I to raise these issues in the House.

Let me briefly explain the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow. In an e-mail, he said that it is clear

“that there are three network providers, each involved in providing electricity connection; National Grid, Scottish Power Energy Networks and SSE Renewables. All of these companies are required under licence by the Electricity Act 1989 to develop and maintain an efficient, co-ordinated and economical system of electrical transmission. The current consultation underway on the Mid Wales Connection project includes inconsistencies, which indicate a potential failure to deliver in accordance with the Act. None of these companies knows what the relative lengths of cable are for a fully populated TAN 8. National Grid appear to have proposed a sub-station position that Scottish Power are unhappy with, and residents have been told that the sites selected for

10 May 2011 : Column 358WH

consultation also differed to those under discussion with Powys council. National Grid and Scottish Power are not attending the same consultation events and have not been consistent in their communication to statutory and other stakeholders, or the public. SSE Renewables have not started their consultation and yet they contribute to the project in the same role as Scottish Power.”

I will end there. I hope that the Minister acknowledges the strength of my feelings. In the six years that I have been an MP, I have never said that such a development will happen over my cold, dead, listless body. None the less, I feel tempted to say so now. I will fight tooth and nail to prevent my beautiful county from being decimated by these ghastly electricity pylons. I hope that the Minister will give me some reassurance that he has heard how strongly we feel on this matter.

10.16 am

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this debate. I have to be in a Standing Committee at 10.30 am, so I will leave before the Minister winds up the debate. None the less, I welcome the opportunity to make a few points. I have been opposed to on-land wind farms for a long time. I am not opposed to microgeneration that serves individual houses and communities, but the contribution that on-land wind farms can make to reducing carbon emissions is limited and not altogether positive.

When technical advice note 8 was produced in 2005, I opposed it, and in so doing I faced a lot of criticism from my party and from people in my area, because they saw such developments as a way to deal with climate change. I made a number of points about TAN 8 at the time. I said that there had been no opportunity to hold a public inquiry on the allocation of land for wind farm developments. I also said that it took no account of the difficulty of transporting the structures to such isolated places. Apparently, there was no consultation with the trunk road agencies in Wales, let alone with the highway departments of our local authorities.

My other concern was the real impact that the transmission cables would have on the beauty of our countryside. I was unaware then of the impact that the transformer stations would have, but I clearly understood the problem with the transmission lines. It seems incredible to me that such concerns were not included in the consideration of TAN 8. In many instances, one has to apply for planning permission for the transmission lines after the planning permission has been given for the wind farms. My heart goes out to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire, because much of that will impact on his constituency.

I do not know if it is very good practice to change a planning policy as a result of planning applications that have been made. That seems to be putting the cart before the horse and does not seem to be very good practice. For instance, in my constituency there are private individuals who were aware of the implications of TAN 8 but who none the less invested a great deal of money in the sector. We are talking about not just multinational companies or large companies in Brittany but private individuals who have seen an opportunity to make an investment that is apparently in accordance with the policy of both the Welsh Assembly Government and the UK Government. They have made that investment,

10 May 2011 : Column 359WH

but where do they stand if the policy on which they made that investment decision changes? That is a point that I want the Minister to address. There must be some recompense for those people if we change our minds at this very late stage.

I think that I was awarded a medal of honour by the opponents of the Cefn Croes wind farm when that project was proposed in the early years of this century. It was during my first term in Parliament and the development was due to be in Ceredigion, before my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) was the MP for that constituency. I was criticised by the then MP for Ceredigion for involving myself in the opposition to that project.

Glyn Davies: I thank the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity to make a point that I wanted to make in my opening speech but missed out. His reference to Cefn Croes is important. Does he agree that the Cefn Croes wind farm area could easily have been a national park, and that it is purely an accident of history that it is not? North and south of that area are two national parks, Brecon Beacons national park and Snowdonia national park. The idea of making the area in between a national park was considered, but because things turned against the public support for national parks, there was no Cambrian mountains national park. It is still talked about a lot and it is still a long-term possibility, but we are talking about land that is the equivalent of national park land.

Roger Williams: The hon. Member makes a very good point. I have been involved with the national park movement for many years, and there is indeed a lot of countryside in and around Wales that would qualify for national park status if it was looked at again. The point that I want to make about Cefn Croes is that it has not delivered the energy that was promised. I was pleased to object to that project and I am pleased that I objected to TAN 8 when it was put forward. However, we are in a very difficult position, and I would not want to promise people that the issue can be resolved easily. Retrospectively changing planning policy as a result of planning applications does not seem a very prudent way to pursue planning policy. Although I will not be present in Westminster Hall when the Minister responds to the debate, I want to read his response later.

10.22 am

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I want to add briefly to the comments that I have made in interventions. I, too, have another commitment in about seven minutes’ time, and I therefore apologise to the Minister for the fact that I will not be around to hear his comments. However, he knows that I have had a great interest in the subject for a period of time.

The Minister will also know that in rural Somerset, we have the levels, the moors, and the rolling Mendip hills. Part of the land in my constituency is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and there are sites of special scientific interest. A great deal of the land on the levels is under higher-level stewardship, and the farmers there attract European funding and assistance for the way that they keep that land and the environmental benefits that it provides to the community generally. We also had a potential world heritage site; it would have been

10 May 2011 : Column 360WH

the 17th in the world, but that prospect seems to have disappeared into the ether, mainly because of the threat of what will happen to that land due to the transmission of electricity. I refer, of course, to Hinkley, but I absolutely appreciate the difficulties caused by the transmission of electricity that is generated in other ways.

I am particularly for the Minister to say what has happened to the KEMA study, which I believe was due to be produced on 24 or 25 January. It was specifically about the undergrounding of electricity transmission. The report would have been two months in the making if it had been produced in January. It is now nearly three months late; three months is longer than it was meant to take to produce the report. My concern is that perhaps those interested in the results were not happy with the outcome and perhaps the report is being rewritten in some way to fit other things. I hope that the Minister can explain to us what happened to that study. It is particularly important because, as I have said to him before, the Holford rules, which were written in 1959, and the Electricity Act 1989 are both out of date and out of step with what is happening. We should consider the whole-life costs of any development, particularly the development of pylons; that is what the Holford rules guide us towards.

I hope that the Government’s national policy statement on energy transmission will allow people to be heard. Even after inadequate consultation by the national grid, several things are absolutely clear at parish council level, district council level and county council level. First, there was recognition that the consultation had been inadequate. Secondly, it was absolutely clear that the communities in the area that I am talking about—the area between Hinkley Point and Avonmouth, which is only 37 miles of transmission route if one goes directly, which of course would lead to undersea transmission—are utterly against what is happening. Pylons would devastate our chances of remaining an area that is attractive to tourism.

I ask the Minister yet again to address the many concerns that I have raised. I hope that in the long run we will get an agreeable new way of transmitting our electricity that does not damage, in any way, parts of Wales or Wells. I thank him for his attention.

10.26 am

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): It is a delight to serve under your stewardship this morning, Mrs Riordan.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on introducing this debate, and on speaking eloquently and passionately on behalf of his constituents. I know that the issue of wind farms has engaged him for quite some time and continues to do so. He has made that clear today, and I am sure that the Minister will respond in great depth to the debate.

I also congratulate the other Members who have spoken—my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) and the hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) and for Wells (Tessa Munt). Who would have thought that a debate on wind farms in mid-Wales would have stimulated contributions from Scotland to Somerset and all points in between? That shows the pulling power of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, even when he is on

10 May 2011 : Column 361WH

crutches; I also wish him well in his recovery. As we strolled, chatting, to Westminster Hall today, he told me that things were going well and that he would be up and running very soon. I say “well done” to him for that.

I turn to the nub of the debate. This is a difficult situation, both for individual MPs representing their constituents and for the Minister. We wrestled with the same issues when we were in government. We are committed to local interests and local democracy, and at the same time to national interests and national democracy, whereby parties stand on manifestos and accept commitments to renewables and climate change targets. How do we square that triangle? How do we ensure that the voice of people at a local level—including my own voice and that of my constituents—is heard, while ensuring that we deliver a national imperative in terms of energy security, energy affordability and carbon targets? Indeed, we must also deliver on our global ambitions to be a world leader in renewables.

At the outset, I must point out that recently we had a very good Westminster Hall debate on wind farms; it focused on the Localism Bill and so on. I will turn to that Bill in a moment. There were 20-odd contributors to that earlier debate, and I think that a couple of the Members who are here today also attended it. I will not waste everyone’s time by re-rehearsing the arguments that we went through, but it would be fair to say that a fair degree of scepticism towards onshore wind farms was demonstrated in that debate. I do not share that scepticism, and I will explain why in a moment. I recognise the need to have local input into these decisions, but I do not share the scepticism, in various degrees, that some people have about wind farms. Let me explain why.

Daniel Kawczynski: Regardless of whether one believes in these wind farms, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is preferable to have them offshore rather than onshore?

Huw Irranca-Davies: There is an interesting and live debate about not only the appropriate way to deliver energy security in the UK, to which renewables definitely contribute—people often say that they are not part of our energy security—but the most affordable way to do so. That debate has continued in the past few days, and it addresses that very question: should it be onshore or offshore, or should other types of technology be involved? That is the sort of debate that we should have in Parliament. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will come to that later.

Before I do, I want, on behalf of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and other Members who have spoken today, to ask some questions about mid-Wales and the routing of the transmission. Can the Minister provide an update on the consultations, and on any outcomes from them, including any amendments being considered to plans or to the routing and the strategic optioneering report? Will he comment on any consideration that has been given, or is likely to be given, to the community benefits? Such benefits were remarked on by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, and I wonder whether the Minister will update us on the individual developments or on the grid transmission development.

10 May 2011 : Column 362WH

The Minister has spoken not only about renewables and the offshore development off the north-east east coast of England, but about a number of technologies. How will he ensure, if this development progresses to the scale that has been outlined, that the absolute maximum benefit in the form of local and regional economic impact accrues, and that the benefits are not leaked out of the area? How will he deliver on what he has previously said—that he wants these developments to create jobs and to input into the local and regional economies? If the development is to go ahead, that needs to happen.

Can the Minister also update us on the progress of the transport routing, an issue that has caused great concern to people in the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire’s constituency and those of other Members? Will there definitely be another round of consultation in autumn this year so that people, including Members, will have a further opportunity to comment on the route alignment and other aspects of the project?

The issue should not be rushed through. Can the Minister update us on the delay in the progress of the national policy statements, both generally and in terms of transmission and the UK energy infrastructure? We all know that our 75-year-old infrastructure is exactly that. It was a landmark when it was rolled out 75 years ago, but it is not now fit for either what we are trying to do with renewables or what we need to do in developing a smart grid. The Minister and I agree on that, so can he give us an update on what is happening with the national policy statements? They have been slightly delayed, and it would be good to hear when we will see them and what input parliamentarians will have.

The crux of the matter appears in a phrase that, curiously, has been hurled at the Labour party by Conservative Members, despite our very best efforts over more than a decade in government. They have said that we had a “wasted decade” of renewables, largely because of what they saw as the failure to roll out, at speed and at scale, onshore wind. That phrase has been used if not by the Minister, certainly by his colleagues, and in recent months.

I acknowledge that the Labour Government did not succeed in rolling out onshore wind at the scale and speed that we had anticipated. Curiously, that was very much because there was strong local input into the decisions, which either slowed things down or deterred investors from staying the course and developing onshore wind to any great scale. That is why, before we left government, we put in place a huge expansion of offshore wind energy, which is much more expensive.

That cost falls, of course, on us. There is a cost implication, but the plan will now deliver if the Government hold true, as they are doing. They have delivered on the £60 million for the investment in ports infrastructure, which has led to four major companies, including Siemens and Marconi, coming in and saying that they will put the jobs into those ports, and manufacture and develop offshore. That is fantastic, and it is because we were not able, because of local input, to go as fast as we wanted with onshore. One of the critical decisions here, not only for mid-Wales but generally, is whether the Government will now see onshore as an area for expansion over the next five to 10 years.

10 May 2011 : Column 363WH

Glyn Davies: I am enjoying listening to what seems to be a very fair and reasonable assessment of the position. In this debate I, and others, do not have a party interest; my interest is purely that of my constituency. I know that people in my party will disagree with me and that there are different views right across the parties, but surely we can all agree that if onshore wind will be part of the overall picture of dealing with our renewable energy targets and meeting our commitments to the European Union and beyond, we have to do it in the best place.

TAN8—technical advice note 8—does not do that. All it does is identify an area, without giving proper thought to access. It does not even allow onshore wind farms to be built in the best places. It is policy guidance, from the National Assembly for Wales, that is totally prescriptive about where developments should go, and which completely takes away power from local planning authorities—and, indeed, from the people.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I understand that the hon. Gentleman, in securing this debate, has spoken directly for his constituents, and in my opening remarks I tried to raise some issues that are of direct concern. The debate is also underpinned, however, by where we are heading with onshore wind, and I therefore want to put some questions to the Minister. I do not want to trespass; I know that the hon. Gentleman is a former Member of the great institution that is the National Assembly for Wales, and I do not want to tread on the Assembly’s toes—not least when, as far as I know, Ministers are not yet in place.

The Minister is aware of, and the Opposition are committed to, the renewable energy directives. We have a commitment to generate 15% of our energy from renewables by 2020. Interestingly, in the past week Policy Exchange has made its view clear, describing wind as an “unnecessarily expensive” part of the mix for energy security and affordability. I know that that think-tank does not determine Government policy, but traditionally it has had a huge influence on it, and its view contrasts with what the Secretary of State recently, and rightly, said—that unless we make use both of wind and other renewables, we will be held hostage to rising external prices, particularly of oil, as we increasingly rely on oil and gas input.

Will the Minister take the opportunity today to distance himself from that Policy Exchange report? If we go down the route of saying that wind is now unnecessarily expensive, it is not only the investors—to whom the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire referred—who will suffer, but our renewables commitments and our climate change commitments.

The Committee on Climate Change report that came out a few days ago recommends, interestingly, that we continue strongly with wind as part of the mix, that we look at scaling back on offshore, because of the costs, and that we push harder on onshore. Does the Minister agree? We had a debate here recently in which he spoke sensibly about the future of onshore wind, saying that more would be delivered by the Localism Bill.

Will the Minister reiterate that he does not see the Localism Bill as an impediment to onshore wind? If it brings community gain, will we see more onshore development of wind farms throughout the UK? If so, does he have some idea, as I asked in the previous

10 May 2011 : Column 364WH

debate, of what proportion of our renewables contribution onshore wind will form? The 20-odd Members who spoke in that debate all saw the Localism Bill as a way to stop, not help, onshore development of wind, with the exception of one Member who was outspoken in favour of onshore wind and thought that it would be wonderful.

Will the Minister comment on underpinnings? Late last night, we heard that one crucial thing underpinning what we will do with renewables and where we head on carbon commitments is our response to the fourth carbon budget of the Committee on Climate Change. If we can bolt that down, we can decide the most affordable way to fulfil our climate change commitments and develop renewables. If not, we are rudderless.

Last night, Cabinet discussions were leaked showing clear disagreements between the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who seems to be for accepting the fourth carbon budget and being legally bound to the Committee’s recommendations, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Transport, who oppose it. Unless we can pin down those matters, we are rudderless, and this debate will be somewhat meaningless. We will be willing to change, from Government to Government and Administration to Administration, how hard we drive forward, and whether we take our foot off the pedal. Will the Minister clarify whether the Committee on Climate Change report that underpins the issue will be accepted?

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I would like a tiny bit of clarification on the Labour party’s point of view about the budgetary proposal. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that Labour opposes accepting the proposal, that is a fantastic piece of news that liberates the Government and gives them plenty of scope to move in a more localist direction. My fear is that the people on the Committee are what we in this country call the progressive majority; we now know where they live, thanks to the referendum on alternative voting.

I would like to see a load of turbine proposals for Cambridge, Oxford, Camden and so on. I think that those people would change their minds pretty damned quickly when they saw the size of them. What is the Labour party’s position on the fourth carbon budget of the Committee on Climate Change?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I hope that that is not the Government’s position on the matter. When we were in government, we appointed successive Secretaries of State and established the Department of Energy and Climate Change to bring those themes together, and we accepted the reports of the Committee on Climate Change. I hope—I look at the Minister as I say this—that the hon. Gentleman’s intervention is not an indication that the Government, under pressure from Back Benchers or others, will make a U-turn away from our climate change commitment.

I want to hear the Minister’s response, and I have taken too long, so these will be my final remarks. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire mentioned solar and wave and tidal power; I agree that we must do more with solar and much more with wave and tidal. If he were back in the Assembly now, I am sure that he would support the initiatives that they announced before

10 May 2011 : Column 365WH

dissolution to push forward wave and tidal power within Wales, as was done in Scotland. We must do so in England as well, but we have a way to go. At the moment, I am sorry to say, UK Government investment is in a hiatus. We have lost the grant funding mechanism for marine and tidal within England, and there is a feeling in the wave and tidal industry that things will not go forward. Solar is in disarray, and the Minister knows it. We await the end of the feed-in tariff fast-track review to see what will happen.

My final question to the Minister is this. Will he address those issues, particular to the mid-Wales situation, that relate to Shropshire and other places? Where are we on onshore wind as part of the renewable mix? Is policy changing, as the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) hinted, or are the Government still as committed as we always were to a mix that includes onshore wind as well as offshore wind, wave and tidal power and microgeneration?

10.44 am

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, at the end of a fascinating and stimulating debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing it, and on how he introduced it. I am glad that he has overruled his surgeon’s advice and come here to ensure that his constituents’ voices on this issue are heard clearly. There is no doubting the passion, commitment and integrity that he brings to the debate.

I am also pleased that, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) said, the issue transcends national boundaries. We have heard from Scotland and parts of England. It is not just a debate about mid-Wales; it has spread to every part of this country. We have no doubt whatever about the strength of feeling represented. I reassure him at the outset that I believe that onshore wind has a role to play, but it must be in the right location, and it must have more democratic support. We regularly hear hon. Members of all parties express the feeling that too often, onshore wind is imposed on communities that do not want it. I am keen to ensure that we address that democratic deficit constructively in our plans.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) and my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), and for Wells (Tessa Munt) for their contributions, as well as to those who intervened in this debate. I think that we agree broadly that there is no question but that we must become a low-carbon economy; I welcome the Opposition spokesman’s supportive comments on that. Becoming a low-carbon economy will require enormous work and a great deal of investment. Perhaps £200 billion will need to be spent in the next 10 to 15 years on new generation, transmission and distribution, so that we can build secure supplies of low-carbon generation.

It is also absolutely clear that we cannot rely too heavily on one form of low-carbon technology. The last Government were perhaps a bit of a one-stick golfer in

10 May 2011 : Column 366WH

that regard, and did not see enough of the opportunities elsewhere. That is why we have put additional focus on developing marine and tidal power as technologies that can make a big contribution in the decades to come. We also have strong ambitions for offshore wind and are implementing measures to take it forward, alongside biomass, bio-energy, new nuclear power without public subsidy, and carbon capture and storage. We recognise that some low-carbon technologies are not as cheap as onshore wind, but the costs will decrease over time as the technologies become more mature. It is crucial, as I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham will agree, that we maintain that diverse energy mix.

Daniel Kawczynski: One reason why our national policy is perhaps not as developed as we would like is that the previous Labour Administration had, I believe, nine Energy Ministers in 11 years. The constant changing of Ministers by Labour Prime Ministers impeded progress within the Department. I look forward to seeing the Minister in his position for many years to come and wish him success. Returning briefly to mid-Wales, I will send the Minister a map of the national grid, with which I am sure he is familiar. The developers could not have found a site further away from the national grid than the proposed site if they had tried. Transporting the energy to the national grid will affect the most people.

Charles Hendry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I have been in office for nearly a year, so by past records, I am up for replacement. I think that it was actually 16 Ministers in 13 years. I hope that I will have the chance to stay around a little longer to ensure that we end up in a sensible place on these policy matters.

The hon. Member for Ogmore asked about the fourth carbon budget. He knows very well that I will not comment on leaked or supposedly leaked documents, but the Government understand totally the need to take the issues extremely seriously and put in place a robust set of targets and mechanisms to drive forward our ambition and our ability to respond. I will reply more directly in a moment to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on the important grid issues.

It is clear from all the studies that I have seen that the United Kingdom has some of the best wind resources in Europe. Wind turbines tend to generate electricity about 70% to 80% of the time—not necessarily at full capacity, but during that time, they are turning and generating some electricity. Wind, unlike most other sources of electricity generation, is a free and unlimited source of fuel. It is also reliable overall—the likelihood is that low wind speeds will affect half the country for fewer than 100 hours a year. The chance of turbines shutting down due to very high wind speeds is low.

Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and established renewable technologies. We have to make sure that we take account of the needs of consumers by ensuring that they do not pay more than is necessary to decarbonise our electricity supplies. We can do that by making sure that onshore wind has a continuing role. However, although it is clear that onshore wind should continue to be part of the solution to the massive

10 May 2011 : Column 367WH

energy security and low-carbon challenges that we face as a nation, it needs more democratic legitimacy than it has today, and I intend to ensure that that happens.

We have to protect communities from unacceptable developments. We have already started to review the issues that often cause concern to local communities. We recently published a report on shadow flicker from wind turbines—an issue that the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock mentioned—and we have commissioned a report on wind turbine noise. We must now go much further. Wind turbines should be positioned where the wind resource is strongest, so this year we are introducing a full review of the funding mechanism of the renewables obligation certificates to ensure that subsidies will not make it attractive to put wind farms in unsuitable locations. The funding mechanism must also reflect reductions in costs.

The cost of grid connections also means that there is an incentive to put wind farms closest to where the electricity is needed, rather than where the wind is strongest. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has made an extremely important point about the disconnection between areas identified for development and accessibility to the national grid, and the impact that that has on communities. That is why Ofgem’s fundamental review of the way in which transmission charges are levied is so important. It is also why the Government made clear at the start of Ofgem’s review that the transmission charging regime must deliver security of supply as well as low-carbon generation. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the charges that consumers pay for renewable energy are as efficient as possible.

Most importantly of all, there needs to be a new relationship between wind farms and the communities that host them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) said. At present, too often a community can see what it will lose but not what it will gain by having a wind farm in its midst. That is why we have been exploring the financial mechanisms that should emerge to support communities that decide to host wind farms—particularly in England, where we have more responsibility for these matters—and that do more to encourage such community developments. “Community energy online” is a scheme whereby local groups can come together and look at what will be the best renewable energy schemes for their community. I am absolutely convinced that we have to address the issue of democratic accountability and public acceptability. The more these schemes can be seen to come from the ground up—that is not intended to be a pun—and to be developed with community support, the more we can deal with the democratic deficit.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for giving way. I have a straightforward question. Given what the Minister has just said, the changes that the Localism Bill will make and the desire to address the democratic deficit, does he intend there to be more development of onshore wind than in the past decade and more? Is he hopeful that more communities will take up onshore wind development?

Charles Hendry: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s question shows that he does not quite understand localism. Localism does not mean that I, the Minister, say that I

10 May 2011 : Column 368WH

want more or less; it means that I want communities to decide how they want to develop. Once they have seen what will be available to them, the package of benefits and the direct support that will come to their communities, they will rightly get involved in and make those decisions. Clearly, a few of the large developments will still need to come to Ministers once the Infrastructure Planning Commission has been abolished, so those will be national issues. What we are keen to see is appropriate development in appropriate locations with community support. That will be one of the most significant changes under this Administration.

To answer a point made by the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, the Localism Bill will provide specific measures to enable communities to shape development in their own locality. That is clearly a matter for England rather than Scotland, but we hope that the new Scottish Government will look at whether they can follow in some of those areas.

We have heard much about the issues relating to technical advice note 8, and I understand the concerns that have been expressed. The process is carried out by the Welsh Assembly Government, and TAN 8 identifies seven strategic search areas where major wind farms, which are defined as those over 20 MW, should be located. Three of those—areas B, C and D—are in mid-Wales, which is why we have seen more applications for development in those areas than elsewhere. A review of that approach would have to be carried out by the Welsh Assembly Government. As a Minister who may be required to make some of those decisions, I know that we are talking about not a binding requirement but a material consideration, and applications outside those areas can also be considered.

A related issue—I know that this is of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne)—is the knock-on consequences for the grid infrastructure of the way in which those areas have been chosen, and the possible impact in England and other areas outside those covered by TAN 8. That is a material issue that has to be looked at in more detail, because one simply cannot put in place a new development without the grid infrastructure to support it. That is the issue to which I now turn.

There is no existing high-voltage network in mid-Wales, so the necessary infrastructure will have to be built. The options are currently being developed by the National Grid Company and SP Manweb. The applications for those connections will be decided by the appropriate planning authorities, which may include Ministers, so I am constrained in what I can say on specific issues. However, to respond to a point made by the hon. Member for Ogmore, we expect a further consultation on specific routes to be completed by the end of the year. We can learn more about how that consultation process works. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow is concerned that sometimes it involves the National Grid Company and not the developers together. I think that people involved in the consultation process would prefer to see all the parties coming together.

The report commissioned by KEMA and the Institution of Engineering and Technology is being refined—not by us, but by the organisations themselves—to make sure that it takes full account of the data collection available and the technical analysis. I hope that it will be published soon. It will certainly give us a much more

10 May 2011 : Column 369WH

factual basis for understanding the costs of undergrounding in appropriate parts of the country, and of putting the grid connections undersea. The enormous number of parliamentary questions that I have been asked and letters that I have received on the subject as part of a national campaign mean that I am in no doubt whatever about how strongly my hon. Friends and other Members feel about the grid connection issues. I know that the National Grid Company takes the issue extremely seriously. It is required to look at both the costing and the environmental and social issues.

Ofgem’s recent transmission price control proposals, known as RIIO, or “revenue = incentives + innovation + outputs”, include incentives that should allow visual amenity to be properly assessed in conjunction with the planning process. We hope that the national policy statements can be published in the near future. As the hon. Member for Ogmore knows, we are holding them back until we have the interim report on new nuclear. The lessons from Fukushima are being looked at by the nuclear regulator, but I hope that we will be in a position to publish those shortly.

Finally, on construction traffic and the impact it may have, I am aware that the road infrastructure was not designed for the sort of transportation in which huge turbines are carried through small villages on small country roads. There has to be a solution to the problem. Individual developments have to address the issue in a constructive way. There has to be a satisfactory conclusion before a development can take place.

I hope that I have responded to many of the issues raised. This has been a fascinating and important debate. Again, I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire for defying medical advice to be here to raise such a critical issue.

10 May 2011 : Column 370WH

Ultra Low-Carbon Emission Vehicles

11 am

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mrs Riordan, and I am particularly grateful to Mr Speaker for granting me this debate on the Government’s policy on ultra low-carbon emission vehicles.

There are four main reasons why the issue is so important and matters for the future of this country. The first reason is about tackling climate change. We know that the Government are committed in law to a 34% reduction in emissions by 2020 and an 80% cut by 2050. Clearly, ultra low-carbon emission vehicles, including electric cars, will be part of the solution to helping to reduce emissions, but we also need to have low-carbon electricity. It is no good just reducing the tailpipe emissions if the electricity that powers ultra low-carbon vehicles is fossil fuel and dirty. That is a given. I do not know whether Professor David MacKay is still advising the Government, but he has made that point very powerfully in his book, “Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air,” and it is important that we mention it when introducing the debate. As I say, doing something about climate change is the first reason the issue is important, as ultra low-carbon emission vehicles are clearly part of that.

The second reason is that the whole sector has massive potential to create growth, wealth, jobs and employment for this country. Just under 2.5 million of our fellow citizens are looking for work, and ultra low-carbon emission vehicles are part of a massive industry of the future. Shai Agassi of Better Place has spoken of a $2 trillion-a-year industry. If the United Kingdom can increase its percentage share of that even by a few percentage points, many more jobs across the country will be created for all our constituents. Low-carbon growth and the jobs that come from it are absolutely vital.

The third reason why the issue is important is that ultra low-carbon emission vehicles are a crucial part of the United Kingdom’s response to a world with less secure energy supplies. We have only to look around the middle east at the moment to see that that is very much the case. The fourth reason the matter is vital, which will probably speak most strongly to our constituents, is that it will allow us to do something about the absolutely exorbitant cost of going to a petrol station and putting petrol or diesel in a car. Our constituents—and, indeed, we—are all paying cripplingly high prices to drive around. If we can sort out the generating issues, ultra low-carbon emission vehicles provide the potential for much cheaper motoring. If any of us were looking for a slogan on which to be elected at the next election, “Cheaper motoring” must be high up the list and would resonate strongly with our constituents. I have given four powerful reasons why the issue matters incredibly. Two reasons I would particularly pick out are the wealth and jobs we need to create, and the cost of motoring to our constituents.

To give credit where credit is due, the Government have been active in this area. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles was set up under the previous Government and is a collaborative effort between the Department for Transport, which is the Minister’s Department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the

10 May 2011 : Column 371WH

Department of Energy and Climate Change. It has a combined budget of more than £400 million. There is also the Technology Strategy Board, which is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the plugged-in places grant, which is designed to provide the necessary infrastructure. I will talk about that grant in a moment. In addition, the industry’s own automotive innovation and growth team led to the creation of the Automotive Council UK, which is a joint industry and BIS body.

There clearly has been action and there is cross-Government co-ordination, as there should be because one Department on its own cannot make this happen. That is excellent. I am glad that the people who need to be talking to each other in Government are doing so. My central question to the Minister, who I suppose is answering on behalf of all the Departments involved, is: are we being ambitious enough for the United Kingdom? I very much want the United Kingdom to be a success story at the heart of this massive and soon to be hugely growing global industry.

Let us consider where we are at the moment. The Department for Transport’s figures show that there are only 57,000 vehicles in vehicle excise duty band A, which is the lowest emission category. That figure is, in fact, double the number of vehicles that were in the category in 2009, so the industry is clearly growing fast. However, I remind hon. Members present this morning and those who will read the transcript of the debate that there are 28.4 million cars in the United Kingdom and that 57,000 is therefore a fairly small number.

The Government’s Committee on Climate Change has recommended that we should aim to have 1.7 million electric vehicles by 2020. Will the Minister say if that is what the Government are committed to achieving and how the numbers will stack up in increasing the 57,000, which we have in 2011, to the 1.7 million, which the committee says that it wants in 2020? There will need to be very sharp increases over the coming nine years to get that far. The figure of 1.7 million cars is just under 6% of the 28.4 million cars in the United Kingdom at the moment. In the excellent Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology note attached to the debate pack, I was interested to read that Japan has set a target of 20% of next-generation cars by 2020—the same date.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate; he is making a strong and compelling case. The benefits that low-carbon vehicles can have in reducing CO2 and helping the environment are undoubted, but does he agree that the research and development and manufacture of such vehicles in this country is a real chance for us not just to broaden our manufacturing base once more, but to rebalance the UK economy?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are already strong in a number of the areas he mentioned in his question. We start from a good base, but he is absolutely right that the potential is massive. My prime purpose in initiating the debate is to allow us to play our role as parliamentarians in holding the Government to account and to ensure that we do not lose out on the potential for us to benefit fully from what he is talking about.

10 May 2011 : Column 372WH

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): This is a very important debate for the reason noted by both my hon. Friends: the opportunity the sector offers to manufacturing. However, a problem that needs to be solved is the supply of the skills necessary to develop the technology that we have. In this country, an insufficient number of people have skills in the automotive sector that relate to electronics. That must be put right because that area will make up a larger part of any future vehicle designed to meet very strict low-carbon emissions. We must address the skills issue in the sector.

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If he will bear with me, I intend to touch on exactly the issue of skills that he has, properly, raised. He is not the only one raising that issue. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers and others are very concerned that we are behind where we should be in the number of qualified technicians, the people who understand the new technology and the training of apprentices in this important area. The issue goes back even further than that to the number of physics teachers that we need in our schools; the number we have is far too low. It will be difficult for the Minister when he responds to the debate, because that issue touches on such a wide area of Government policy, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

I was making the point that, were the United Kingdom to be as ambitious as Japan—I do not see any reason why we should not be, as the industrial revolution took place in this country, we were the workshop of the world and I believe we can be again—that would lead to a figure of 5.7 million ultra low-carbon emission vehicles on our roads by 2020, rather than the 1.7 million that the Government are aiming for. My question for the Minister, therefore, is: why are we being less ambitious than Japan?

It is true that the United Kingdom has had some notable successes; for example, Sunderland’s anticipated production of 60,000 electric vehicles a year, starting in 2013. I would note again, however, that those 60,000 vehicles a year are equivalent to some 2% of the 3 million internal combustion engines that the United Kingdom currently makes every year. That is not to say that we cannot make greater progress with the efficiency of the internal combustion engine—I will say a bit about that towards the end of my remarks—but I think that colleagues will appreciate the scale of the challenge that we face to even get to the Committee on Climate Change’s figure of 1.7 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2020.

When we look across the Atlantic ocean, we see that the United States is investing some $2.4 billion to support the next generation of electric vehicles. We know that in China there is massive investment in new battery technology—I am thinking of companies such as BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams”. Warren Buffett already has a 10% stake—normally a sure-fire sign of a company that will do well. That is the competition that the United Kingdom is looking at around the world.

Mr Marcus Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that Ministers from the Department for Transport need to make substantial representations to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, regarding where the regional growth fund is spent, in order to try to support our low-carbon industry, particularly in the automotive sector?

10 May 2011 : Column 373WH

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The automotive sector is very important to the United Kingdom not just for the cars we produce, but for the number of engines, the number of smaller engineering companies, the suppliers, and the technology and engineering base that supports that. It is vital to the country’s economic future. I indicated earlier that I am reassured that those lines of communication across Government are there, but we need to see delivery from those conversations, as he has rightly pointed out.

I will continue looking at what else is happening around the world a bit longer, because it is important to put what the United Kingdom does in context. As far as I can see, Israel plans to be the most ambitious of all. It intends to rid its entire road transport sector of dependence on oil by 2020. That is massively ambitious if one thinks about where Israel is in the world and its geopolitical relations with some of its neighbours. I think that we can all think of particular reasons why Israel is going down that route, but none the less it is deeply impressive.

Israel is choosing a different model, I think it is fair to say, from that of the United Kingdom. It is looking to sign up to the Better Place concept, which will largely involve changing the engines in cars—engines will be swapped over. The depleted battery is taken out of a car and in under a minute, I understand, a new, fully charged battery supply is put in and one can carry on driving. In less time, therefore, than it currently takes to fill up with petrol at the pump, the car can be on the road again—a fully-charged vehicle that will travel another 100 miles.

It is worth mentioning the context of the debate, because of Israel’s scale and ambition. The Minister will probably have good and valid reasons, which I would accept, to say that it is probably not right for the United Kingdom to go down that particular route. For various infrastructure reasons, it is probably right that we do not. If we are not going down that route, however, how do we in the United Kingdom achieve that level of transformational change? How do the Government envisage United Kingdom companies, some of which were mentioned by my hon. Friends, taking advantage of the £1.3 billion loan scheme for the development of low-carbon technologies that is available from Europe? We need to ensure that we receive our fair share of that money.

When new technology comes to the fore, initially it is clearly expensive and there is low take-up. I think that if we are honest, at the moment electric cars are—perhaps I am slightly parodying—for rich idealists. Frankly, the economics do not quite stack up at the moment. I illustrate that by looking at the on-the-road cost of the new Nissan Leaf, which will be produced in Sunderland. That is an excellent vehicle. I was privileged to see one close to Parliament recently. It is a five-door hatchback—a very nice-looking car. It will be made in Britain, which is fantastic. Its on-the-road price, however, is £30,990. The Government’s £5,000 plug-in car grant, which is an excellent initiative that I commend, brings the price down to £25,990 but, for me, that is a very expensive car. I do not know what sort of cars my hon. Friends drive, but to me that would be an awful lot of money. I expect that for many of my constituents that would be much more than they would spend on a car. Frankly, I do not think that they would get the payback from the cheaper costs of motoring after that level of investment.

10 May 2011 : Column 374WH

There is, however, a tipping point that comes with the introduction of new technology. When there are the advantages of economies of scale—mass production and so on—prices come down as new technology comes in. More people buy these things, so they are cheaper to produce and so on. Shai Agassi, in a speech that I read recently, anticipates a tipping point around 2015 when the economics start to stack up. If that is the case, things could change very quickly, which is why I raise the issues of scale and whether the United Kingdom will be able to meet the level of demand that I anticipate. If, for all of our constituents, an ultra low-carbon emission vehicle is cheaper than a conventional fossil fuel internal combustion engine, we will all want those vehicles straight away, because we will be fed up with paying the higher costs of motoring. Those issues of scale, and whether the United Kingdom is able to provide that amount of cars and make money from those huge levels of sales, will be a significant issue.

What is the Government’s view on the economics of investing in their own fleets across various Departments? Examples might include NHS delivery lorries or Royal Mail vans that go back to the same place every night, where they could be recharged; they might have a set route or series of routes and are excellent cases for conversion into electric vehicles. What progress are the Government making in ensuring that their commercial fleets in particular consist of ultra low-carbon vehicles—whether the electric or the plug-in variety?

Mr Marcus Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. He makes an important point about Departments, local authorities and so on investing in electric vehicles. Does he agree that it is extremely important that, where practicable, we procure such vehicles from British manufacturers?

Andrew Selous: I very much agree. I, too, am passionate about home-made British production. We ought to buy British as often as we can. We are all subject to the so-called OJEU rules—named after the Official Journal of the European Union—under which public bodies must go through strict and unbiased procurement procedures. Sometimes, therefore, we have our police driving around in Volvos or other foreign-made cars. When I go to France, Germany or Italy, however, I hardly ever see French, German or Italian police officers in anything other than a car made in their home country—likewise for fire-fighting equipment and so on.

I postulate to the Minister that this country might be a little too rigorous in applying those OJEU rules. We have a fine automotive industry that makes excellent vehicles and, frankly, the police will catch no more criminals by driving around in Volvos and BMWs rather than in fine, British-made cars.

We digress; I will hastily return to the point, before you bring me back to it, Mrs Riordan. However, I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton.

The Department for Transport asked whether 2011 would be the year in which the electric car takes off. There is certainly increasing interest, which is tremendous, and I commend the Government for the excellent £5,000 subsidy. My view of the economics is that we are not quite at the right point yet, but we will be very soon. Lewis Booth, the chief financial officer of Ford, has

10 May 2011 : Column 375WH

asked for how long Governments will be subsidising electric vehicles. If the Minister can shed any light on that issue, that would be helpful. In this early phase, private industry needs certainty for the future, particularly in planning.

Philippe Varin, the chief executive of Peugeot, has said that the European Union’s research and development support for electric vehicles is too cumbersome and complicated, which is a concern. If we are to compete against Japan, China and America, we in the European Union and this country need to get our act together in research and development funding.

I was delighted to read that the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), said in a departmental press release that the UK was Europe’s leading producer of ultra low-carbon vehicles. That made fantastic reading. I have already spoken of the production due to start shortly, or in early 2013, at the Sunderland plant. I hope we can maintain that position.

I am conscious that France, with Peugeot and Renault, is also ambitious in the area of ultra low-carbon vehicle production. The country has a plentiful supply of low-cost nuclear electricity, and it views itself as having a chance to challenge the dominance of the Germans in the European automotive industry. I repeat that everyone here is ambitious for Britain; we were the workshop of the world, and the industrial revolution took place here. I want us to be right at the front and centre, not running behind any other European country in this massive industry of the future.

I move on to the whole issue of charging points. It is all very well having an ultra low-carbon, electric vehicle—whether a hybrid or a pure electric one such as the Nissan Leaf—but if there is nowhere to plug it in when on a longish journey, the problem is that it will grind to a halt.

Again, the Government are active on that issue, and I commend them for that. We recently had the announcement of a £20 million plugged-in places grant to provide more than 4,000 charging points in the midlands, Greater Manchester, the east of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, building on an earlier scheme in London and Milton Keynes. Yesterday, I checked with my own local authority and found that my constituency of South West Bedfordshire does not include a single charging point. That will change, however, because we are in the east of England and will receive some of the charging points from the plugged-in places grant. Colleagues from areas that I have not mentioned might want to ask the Minister what the plans are for those areas.

Currently, London has 250 charging posts. Transport for London is aiming for 25,000 charging posts by 2015—a level of transformational change that might need to go further, but is a significant increase. Some 90% of the 25,000 posts are intended to be in workplace car parks and 250 will be fast-charge charging points, which are important for longer journeys, when someone does not want to have to stop for eight or six hours to recharge the battery fully. We need to get the mix of charging points right for the future, so that this technology takes off. In Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, near the Sunderland car plant to which I referred, 1,300 charging points are being installed.

Smart-meter, low-cost charging can also greatly reduce energy costs. If cars can be charged when there is much

10 May 2011 : Column 376WH

less demand on the national grid, that is much cheaper. That reduction in the energy cost can be important, and it is where smart meters come in. I am interested in whether the Minister will be able to enlighten us further on that aspect of Government policy.

I am concerned about the lack of standardisation of charging points in the European Union. Indeed, why can we not have standard charging points around the whole world? In the past, technologies have battled things out. With the video or the DVD, a common format for one worldwide product was arrived at eventually. That should be the case for charging points, in Europe at least. Many British people will want to drive their electric cars to France or elsewhere in Europe for summer holidays, skiing or whatever, and they need to be able to charge while they are there. The European Union could do something useful and practical for our constituents. What representations is the United Kingdom making to ensure standardised charging throughout Europe?

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) rightly mentioned training the work force. None of what I have been discussing will happen unless we have the skilled technicians in this country; unless we get it right, we will lose out to other countries that have invested more and have an appropriately trained work force. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is worried about the lack of apprentices with the skills to work on electric vehicles, particularly in smaller businesses that may not be able to afford to train apprentices. How will that be rectified? It said that about 10,000 additional apprentices are needed in this area of electronic manufacturing to take advantage of and to satisfy the demand that is surely coming.

I am interested in the Government’s attitude to hydrogen-powered vehicles. I read carefully the note from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which states of hydrogen fuel cells:

“This is a low-carbon form of transport if the hydrogen is generated using electricity from low-carbon sources.”

I made that point at the start of the debate, and I want to check whether that is the Government’s view. Professor David MacKay, who was a Government adviser—I should be grateful if the Minister told us whether he is still advising them—and who is an eminent professor of physics at Cambridge university, wrote “Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air”, to which I referred. His take on hydrogen is that hydrogen vehicles make our energy problem worse rather than better. I do not know whether he is right, but I would be interested to know the Government’s view. I know that one large UK motor manufacturer, which I contacted before the debate, was keen to obtain clarity on the Government’s view of the future of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

I have driven a hydrogen-powered vehicle round the Cranfield test centre in Bedfordshire. It drove extremely well, as did the Vauxhall Ampera, which I have also driven and which will be on sale in the United Kingdom from next year. I hope that it will be made in Ellesmere Port. I wish that it was being made in my constituency at Luton in Bedfordshire, but it would be fantastic if it was made in the United Kingdom. That, too, drives extremely well, and all the evidence is that when people get into an electric vehicle and discover that it has a nice feel and good acceleration, and is not sluggish, they are enthusiastic and keen to adopt the new technology. We

10 May 2011 : Column 377WH

just have to get over some of the financial issues to which I alluded at the start of the debate.

I should like to know the Government’s view on the use of biofuels for vehicles. There is concern about the sustainability of biofuels and the fact that we may be inappropriately using land for biofuels when it should be used to produce food. What is the Government’s view on that? Likewise, where does liquid petroleum gas fit into the Government’s view of the new technology that we have been talking about?

We must pause to consider the improvements that can be made to internal combustion engines. We have 28.4 million cars on our roads, and Britain makes around 3 million car engines every year. They are becoming more efficient and lighter, and the technology is improving. I noted from the Volkswagen website that the Blue Motion Polo—unfortunately, it is not made in this country—emits 91 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, compared with 89 grams per kilometre for the Toyota Prius, which I guess may occasionally ferry the Minister around; the Prius comes in at just under, but it is very close. An expertly engineered internal combustion engine produces only 2 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre more than a hybrid vehicle. We must differentiate between different types of internal combustion engine, because new technology is advancing swiftly.

Mr Marcus Jones: My hon. Friend talks about research and development, and innovative design of combustion engines. Many of my constituents work for Jaguar Land Rover, which is near my constituency. It is doing a fantastic job in changing how it produces its engines and how its vehicles are constructed—to be lighter and more fuel efficient. Does my hon. Friend agree that policy across Government should be to encourage through the taxation system not just the production of vehicles that cost less to run, but their ownership?

Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend for his further intervention. I am glad that he mentioned Jaguar Land Rover, which has not been mentioned so far in the debate. It is doing excellent work on producing an electric hybrid Range Rover, which is fantastic, and it is co-operating fully with the Government on some of the bodies that I mentioned earlier. My vision is that all British-based manufacturers will be at the front and centre of the new technology and will supply the demand that will come down the track surprisingly and frighteningly fast in a few years’ time, when we reach the tipping point at which it becomes more economic to drive such vehicles rather than pay the exorbitant and cripplingly high prices that we have to put up with at petrol stations at the moment.

The United Kingdom has a history of inventing, but then not commercially exploiting, new technologies. I do not want us to repeat mistakes of the past. If we can seize the opportunities that I have outlined, we can protect our environment, provide jobs, increase our energy security and give our constituents a low-cost motoring future. I believe that they would thank us for that.

11.37 am

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate

10 May 2011 : Column 378WH

the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing this debate, and concur with much of what he said. Clearly, he speaks with a lot of knowledge of the issue. It is a pleasure to speak on the subject; it makes a change from buses, trains and trams, which is the policy area on which I lead for the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), who leads on the issue, is serving on the armed forces parliamentary scheme today, so I suppose that I have drawn the short straw in speaking for the Opposition in this debate.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire referred to the scheme in Israel, which, as a matter of interest, I had the opportunity to see. The ambition is impressive, but like him, I am not sure that it could be exactly transposed to the United Kingdom. However, it is certainly worth looking at, and the operation of the scheme is interesting. Knowing what works well and what does not may be of some benefit to the Department.

This debate is incredibly timely, coming as it does after two reports on the Government’s commitment to making change on the scale needed to tackle the threat of climate change and the role that a shift from dependence on oil to low-carbon alternatives in motor vehicles could play in meeting that challenge. Climate change is a threat that almost everyone now recognises we must treat seriously.

It was a surprise to read in the media that three Departments, including the Department for Transport, have raised objections to the new carbon budget proposed by the Committee on Climate Change. A leaked letter from the Business Secretary stated that accepting the carbon budget would endanger the competitiveness of British industry—that hardly says much for the Transport Secretary’s green credentials. As has been mentioned, rising fuel prices have led to a growing recognition of the need for change, not only among environmental campaigners or the political elite, but across the country. We know how the volatility of oil supplies impacts on the price at the petrol pump, causing misery for drivers and contributing to the costs facing families who are already feeling a squeeze on their incomes. The decision to increase VAT on petrol has added to the burden facing motorists, and the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned those increasing costs in his contribution.

The goal of cheaper, greener motoring should unite everyone, as I believe it does. The public need the possibility of cheap, reliable transport, and the Government need efficient and clean transport networks that rely on secure energy supplies. Businesses must look to remain profitable and competitive at a time when the economy is under strain and environmental concerns are ever more pressing. Transport—primarily road transport—is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and the hon. Gentleman spoke about the need to use clean energy because as much as one fifth of all emissions come from road transport.

We can take two major steps to tackle the problem. First, we can make the alternatives to travelling by car more attractive. The significant investment in our rail network over the past decade led to a rise of over 43% in rail use during that period. The possibility of faster journey times on new high-speed lines, and the improvement of existing routes through electrification and more advanced trains, will continue to help achieve that shift from road

10 May 2011 : Column 379WH

to rail. The risk, however, is that such progress could be set back by the Government’s decision to hike up rail fares by 3% above the retail prices index of inflation for the next three years, meaning that fares will rise by over 30% on many vital commuter routes. In opposition, the then shadow Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), warned that fare rises that were lower than those now proposed would

“price people off the railways”—[Official Report, 17 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 149.]

I fear that her prediction will now become a reality, thanks to the decisions that she has taken since the election. Similarly, the decision to cut local government transport funds so much, so quickly, is having a devastating impact on bus services, inevitably reversing the progress that has been made in getting people out of their cars and on to public transport.

Secondly, we can do more to promote alternatives to travelling, and I welcome the Minister’s championing of initiatives ranging from the use of new technologies such as video conferencing to the promotion of working from home or remotely. Such initiatives, however, will amount to little unless there is proper financial support from the Government to back up the Minister’s enthusiasm. In reality, the car is for many the only realistic way to travel, particularly in rural areas. My constituency is in an urban area of Greater Manchester and is far from rural. Most of my constituents, however, do not travel by public transport; they travel by car, which for them is the only realistic mode of travel.

When in government, we recognised that a step change was needed if we were to move away from our dependence on oil and embrace and incentivise ultra low-carbon alternatives such as electric vehicles. Of the 20% of emissions that originate from our roads, 16% comes from cars. If it were more affordable to use electric vehicles, that would have a significant impact on emissions. Such initiatives must, of course, go hand in hand with a credible strategy to increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources—a point made by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire—so that when there is increased use of electricity as a result of the roll-out of electric cars, that electricity is from green sources.

I am sure the Minister shares my concern about the report published in the past few days by Jonathon Porritt, the former chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission. His damning report marks the anniversary of the Prime Minister’s commitment to lead the UK’s “greenest Government ever”, and states that

“the likelihood of the Coalition Government living up to its “Greenest Government Ever” pledge is vanishingly remote.”

The report finds that more than three quarters of the Government’s commitments have shown little or no progress, and judges 29 of those commitments to be “moribund”, with a further 29 seeing “limited progress.” The decision to prevent the green investment bank from borrowing funds until at least 2015, and the watering down of feed-in tariff rates, are two examples of the Government’s backtracking on low-carbon initiatives. In his report, Mr Porritt states:

“The fact that David Cameron has no personal vision for the Green Economy provides all the permission that is required for piecemeal decisions across the rest of Whitehall working against any notion of becoming the Greenest Government Ever.”

10 May 2011 : Column 380WH

The report concludes that it is

“depressing to see just how rapidly things have gone backwards since May 2010.”

Significant hurdles must be overcome to achieve the mass roll-out of electric vehicles that is needed to make a difference. We need the development of a recharging infrastructure that offers the assurance wanted by potential buyers—namely that they will be able to recharge their cars wherever they are in the country. That point was made eloquently by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire. We must also bring down the retail costs of electric cars. Although we can argue that they are cheaper to run and offer the potential for huge savings across the lifetime of the car, that is little use for someone who simply cannot afford the up-front cost. At the danger of breaking the consensus that has developed during the debate, the zeal with which the hon. Gentleman made his contribution put him in danger of sounding a bit like an over-enthusiastic car salesman—he certainly had me sold on a number of vehicles that he described. I am not sure whether that is a better job than being a Member of Parliament in the general hierarchy of things, but his knowledge has certainly benefited the debate.

We must work in partnership with industry to support the up-front research and development costs of new technologies—the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members made a compelling case for investment in skills. It is a high-tech sector and important to the future of the manufacturing industry in this country, and it will undoubtedly play a major part in rebalancing the British economy. I represent a constituency that is still heavily dependent—perhaps disproportionately so—on manufacturing industry, and the desire to see investment in those new technologies transcends political divides.

I am proud of the steps that we took when in government to address some of the barriers to the mass take-up of electric vehicles. The £2.3 billion of assistance provided by the Labour Government to the automobile industry during the recession was tailored to help British industry become a world leader in the manufacture of low-carbon vehicles, and aimed to promote research and development of that technology. It also helped companies such as Jaguar Land Rover to access the European Investment Bank’s clean transport facility.

Labour made a commitment to make electric vehicles more easily available for consumers, and the then Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, worked on trial electric vehicles. An investment of £250 million was made to make electric hybrid vehicles more affordable for consumers, and funding was provided for the largest trial of electric vehicles in the world. That scheme was launched in July 2009, and 340 vehicles took part. It is hugely disappointing that the Government do not recognise the importance of supporting British manufacturing at a time when investment is necessary to protect British jobs and ensure that we set the pace in the development of green technologies.

Mr Marcus Jones: The shadow Minister is making a case for the support given by the Labour Government to the automotive industry. I am quite shocked by his comments, because many of my constituents who work for Jaguar Land Rover were very concerned in 2009 at the lack of support that the Labour Government gave Jaguar Land Rover in its time of need. A long, long delay nearly saw many departments of Jaguar Land

10 May 2011 : Column 381WH

Rover close facilities in the UK. I am glad to say, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge this, that the regional growth fund has supported substantial investment in Jaguar Land Rover, which will create more than 6,000 jobs in the west midlands.

Andrew Gwynne: That is not quite how it happened. What the hon. Gentleman says about the regional growth fund is certainly welcome, if it is the case, for Jaguar Land Rover. However, I have to say that it is a pittance compared with the funding that was available through the regional development agencies. If that company is benefiting from the regional growth fund, that is good news for it, but I know of many companies that were to receive funding through the regional development agencies that are not so fortunate.

Mr Jones: The shadow Minister mentions the regional development agencies. In the west midlands, private sector employment fell while the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, was in operation, despite it having spent far more money than the regional growth fund, so I suggest to him that perhaps he should look for outputs rather than inputs, and at what we can achieve for our money.

Andrew Gwynne: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that the budgets of the regional development agencies were substantially greater than that of the regional growth fund, notwithstanding the points that he makes about employment growth. With regard to the funding that was made available previously, it is hugely disappointing that the present Government do not recognise the importance of supporting manufacturing. It is crucial to ensure that we are setting the pace in the development of green technologies.

I appreciate that the Minister has at least sought to take forward the work that Labour started when it was in office in developing an infrastructure for recharging. The Department for Transport claims that 9,000 electric vehicle charging points will have been built by 2013, yet research by the BBC published last week found that only 704 are currently available. It is estimated that 8,600 electric vehicles will have been sold by the end of this year, which will require 4,700 charging points to be completed before 2012.

It is a real worry that greater progress is not being made, and there are real doubts that the Government are treating the issue with the urgency needed to ensure that even their own claims will be achieved. There are also concerns about the progress being made in supporting the sale of new electric cars. The Minister has said in a parliamentary answer that just 534 cars were registered to receive the plug-in car grant in the first third of this year. The real concern, however, is that the funding for that initiative is being ended by the Government next March. As the Minister will know, Labour committed £230 million to the scheme, yet that has been reduced to just £43 million, turning the grants into a one-off scheme when what is needed is long-term, sustained support for this emerging industry.

I will therefore ask the Minister for some assurances. Can he reassure the industry and those for whom the cost of an electric car is simply out of reach that

10 May 2011 : Column 382WH

funding will be made available to continue the subsidy beyond the current financial year? Given that the comprehensive spending review was supposed to be a three-year settlement, why has he set this budget only for the current year? Are we providing enough support to the automobile industry to research and develop new low-carbon and ultra low-carbon vehicles? What more can be done to ensure that the UK is in a good position to become a market leader in this field?

Is the automobile industry putting sufficient investment into improving the efficiency of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles? Does the Minister believe that biofuels should play as prominent a role as they have been given in the past in making conventional vehicles greener? What progress are we making towards setting a new EU-wide target of 100 grams of carbon emissions per kilometre from new cars?

Finally, I would like to ask the Minister about the Government’s carbon plan. Can he update the House on the commitment to

“Consolidate existing support mechanisms for low and ultra-low emission vehicle research and development”,

which had a deadline of April 2011? Can he confirm that the commitment to developing a

“nationwide strategy to promote the installation of electric vehicle infrastructure, including a decision on whether to use an energy Regulated Asset Base and/or changes to planning/building regulations”

will be delivered on time—by the end of June 2011? What progress has been made on the commitment to review the

“strategy to support transition from early ultra-low emission vehicle market to mass market”,

which the Government have said is under way?

More environmentally friendly forms of transport, including electric cars, could play a larger role in the coming years in this country. I certainly look forward to what the Government will say about meeting that challenge.

11.56 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on the topic that he has chosen, on his enthusiasm for it and on the large number of entirely pertinent questions that he asked during his contribution. I will try to answer as many of those as possible, which means that my response might be slightly more bitty than would otherwise be the case.

It is worth pointing out to start with that the two objectives of the Department for Transport are to help to create growth and to cut carbon. Of course, developing and promoting electric vehicles fits in exactly with those two objectives, showing that helping the environment need not be—in fact, should not be—contrary to economic development and the generation of growth for this country. If we can move that agenda forward, it will certainly be in all our interests to do so. That is why we have taken action to position Britain as a global leader in the design, production and use of electric and ultra low-carbon emission cars. Cutting spending does not have to be incompatible with a low-carbon agenda. Some low-carbon choices already offer outstanding value

10 May 2011 : Column 383WH

for money, so our future goal is a market for green vehicles that makes economic as well as environmental sense.

We have heard about alternatives to car transport. Let me deal with that issue briefly. Of course, a rounded transport strategy has to take into account alternative forms of transport. That is why we have prioritised the local sustainable transport fund to develop alternatives for shorter journeys; two thirds of car journeys are of 5 miles or less. To answer the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), that shows the commitment of the present Government to dealing with the environment, because not only is it a big way of dealing with carbon emissions in the short term, but £560 million for those areas is more over this four-year period than the last Government provided over the last four-year period, notwithstanding the difficult economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. That is a real commitment from the Treasury to this agenda.

[Mr Edward Leigh in the Chair]

The shadow Minister also mentioned rail. I was having some difficulty in following his logic, because he said on one hand that people were being priced off the railways, but on the other hand that a record number of people were using the railways. Those two statements do not seem to be entirely compatible. Also of course, the last Government changed the RPI arrangement so that every year, rail fares went up above inflation. To that extent, we are simply talking about a continuation of the policy inherited from the last Government.

Andrew Gwynne: When the Minister looks at the record of the debate, he will see that the quote about pricing people off the railways came from his right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport, who is responsible for the railways.

Norman Baker: The point that I am trying to make is that, if increasing rail fares above inflation prices people off the railways, which I think was the argument developed by the hon. Gentleman, the policy has been singularly ineffective so far. The policy pursued by the last Government of pricing fares above inflation has led, according to his own figures, to record numbers of people on the railways.

Andrew Gwynne: I realise that the debate is not about railways, but perhaps the Minister will look at some of his right hon. Friend’s written parliamentary answers, which show that the Government’s own projections make it clear that price increases of 3% above RPI over the next three years will see the growth in rail passenger usage fall.

Norman Baker: As the hon. Gentleman says, the debate is not about railways, so we should not spend too much time on this, but the Department for Transport’s projections show increasing numbers of passengers on the railways. Only this week, record numbers of rail

10 May 2011 : Column 384WH

passengers were announced, not least because of the price of fuel, which my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned.

I am glad that the Opposition spokesman mentioned high-speed lines in a positive sense, and I look forward to the Opposition confirming that they have retained the last Administration’s position of supporting high-speed rail. It is important that there is cross-party agreement on the issue, and I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman’s boss has so far been unable to say definitively that high-speed rail would continue if there were a Labour Government.

Let me turn in more detail, however, to the subject before us: electric and low-carbon vehicles. Notwithstanding the comments about railways and low-carbon transport locally, the fact remains that most journeys are undertaken by car, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future. The reason is that cars are a convenient means of getting from A to B and are the only practical alternative for a great many journeys. Yes, people can take a different means of transport if they are in a city centre, and they can use the railways if they are going from one city centre to another, but the car is the only alternative for most journeys. We must therefore ensure that it is in a good place to contribute sensibly to our environmental and economic objectives. As I said in opposition, and I am happy to say again in government, the enemy is the carbon, not the car, and that is what we should focus on in our attempts to move forward on transport policy.

In the short term, the majority of CO2 savings from road transport will come from improvements to conventional technologies, and that is broadly acknowledged across the House and across industry. I have been impressed by car manufacturers’ ability to tweak—that is perhaps an understatement—or adjust their technology in a productive way to deliver reduced carbon emissions from conventional engines, and one of the models mentioned competes favourably with a hybrid engine. EU regulations on fuel efficiency have helped to drive that process. Similarly, the manufacturing industry’s competitive will has helped to respond to the general environmental challenge that we all face. We will continue to work with manufacturers and our EU partners to squeeze more fuel efficiency out of petrol and diesel cars and vans because that will provide the biggest short-term gain. However, we are also preparing for the more revolutionary change that is the subject of the debate.

Of course, the take-up of ultra low-carbon cars may be slow at first, and nobody should be surprised by that. Whenever a new technology is introduced, there is always a slow take-up and then a rising line on the graph as people get used to the technology and gain confidence in it. The price then starts declining because the market is developed, and part of the Government’s strategy is to help to ensure that the market is kick-started and developed. There should be no concern about the number of electric vehicles that have been sold to date, because the trajectory is the one we would anticipate and is entirely consistent with our significant ambition for four years ahead, to which I will return shortly.

We are putting in place the incentives we need to establish a market for these pioneering technologies, which will be supported by measures such as enhanced capital allowances, low benefit-in-kind taxation and variable vehicle excise duty. I am happy to say that we

10 May 2011 : Column 385WH

are joined in our effort by a number of private and public sector organisations. To respond to one of the points that has been made, the Royal Mail is undertaking trials with electric vans. Sky is seeing what the plug-in Toyota Prius is like to live with. In my Department, the Government Car and Despatch Agency is testing five plug-in Toyotas and a Smith electric van, so we are doing what we can.

To support the development of the market for low-carbon vehicles further, we need to ensure that the right infrastructure, specialist supplier base and customer incentives are in place, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have confirmed our support for a range of research and development programmes across the green vehicle sector. Through the Technology Strategy Board’s low-carbon vehicles innovation platform, we are working with key partners to deliver a strategic vision for automotive R and D. Last year, we announced that a further £24 million was being awarded to six winning consortia from the latest competition, which makes a total of £52 million with contributions from business.

All of that will make a significant contribution to greener vehicle development in this country, to pick up the point rightly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones). That development includes hybrid technologies, composite materials and engines that recover waste heat energy. The vehicles that will benefit include plug-in hybrids from Nissan, Lotus and Jaguar Land Rover, extended-range electric cars and a lightweight hybrid refuse collection vehicle. Through the plug-in car grant, we are helping to lower the up-front costs of such vehicles. There are nine eligible cars, which are, and will be, on our roads, with more than 500 orders already placed under the scheme, as has been mentioned.

Our objective has always been real grants for real cars: cars that are safe and reliable, that meet the needs of real motorists and that provide a motoring experience that is as good as, if not better than, that provided by the conventionally powered vehicles people currently drive. It is important that the new generation of cars have that consumer confidence and that their performance is similar to, or better than, that of existing vehicles. If we are to have uptake, we absolutely must have that. Fifteen or 20 years ago, I did some work on green washing powders, which, quite frankly, were not as effective as normal washing powders, so the uptake was limited. If green technology is to take off, we must get its performance up to the level of that of existing technology.

The scheme was launched in January, with buyers receiving a grant of 25% of the price of a green car, up to £5,000. That, of course, also applies to business buyers. The scheme has been well received by the public and by business. We have shown our strong commitment to supporting the market by confirming support for the grant for the lifetime of this Parliament. To pick up the point raised by the shadow Minister, it is right that the sum involved is £43 million until March 2012. The spending review has confirmed the provision of about £300 million to support consumer incentives for the life of this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman can have

10 May 2011 : Column 386WH

confidence that this is not a stop-start arrangement, but something we will see through to make sure that there is confidence in the market.

Through these initiatives, we want to encourage motorists to embrace cleaner and greener vehicles. By encouraging demand, we will stimulate investment in mass production which will, in turn, bring down costs and further boost demand. That is what we have seen with all new technologies, whatever the field, and things will be no different with electric vehicles.

Let me turn now to some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire. He mentioned the carbon reduction from an electric car powered by the existing grid, and he is right to draw attention to the need to change the grid mixture. Indeed, when we came into the Chamber at the end of the previous debate, my next-door neighbour, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), was responding to a debate on that very matter. The Government are well seized of the need to develop a cleaner, greener grid, which will undoubtedly increase further the advantages of electric cars. Even if the existing grid is used with a new electric car, however, there can be up to 40% carbon savings. There are also further benefits in terms of reducing air pollution from tailpipes and so on. We should change the grid, but even if we do not, there are still many good reasons to pursue electric vehicles, which is what we are doing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton referred to the regional growth fund, and I can assure him that the Department for Transport is drawing the attention of other Departments, including the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to the advantages of transport investment, including in this field. He will know of the Transport Secretary’s enthusiasm for these issues, and he can rest assured that my right hon. Friend will not lose an opportunity to advance them in discussions with fellow Cabinet Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire asked about the 2020 target, as it were, for electric vehicles. There is no doubt that we want a big uptake of these vehicles. The figure achieved will be determined by external factors to some extent, for example the price of oil. If the price rises dramatically, it will, I suggest, hasten the development and uptake of electric vehicles, but if the price declines, it will make it less attractive to move forward on that trajectory. Therefore, some outside factors mean that it might not be sensible to set a target. We should say, as we have said, that we must decarbonise road transport if we are to make serious inroads in our carbon emissions in the transport sector.

We should and we have done stuff on rail and encouraged cycling and walking in urban centres, but ultimately the big gain will come from decarbonising road transport. We must put in place high-level objectives for carbon reduction and economic growth and the mechanisms to deliver the outcome we want, which, in this case, is a big uptake in electric vehicles. We must then monitor the uptake without necessarily setting arbitrary targets for how many vehicles there should be by 2020. Having said that, “The fourth carbon budget” report has made some recommendations and we appreciate the efforts made in that regard. We have not formally responded to them,

10 May 2011 : Column 387WH

but we will publish our views in October, and we might be able to give more detail on the number of electric vehicles we could achieve when we publish that.

My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire referred to the incentives for purchasing electric vehicles, and I am grateful that he welcomes the £5,000 grant. The economics are not quite as negative as he might feel. On current petrol prices, an electric car such as a Nissan Leaf could save the average motorist up to £1,000 a year in running costs, so, taking account of the plug-in car grant and the vehicle excise duty benefits, even now someone could get a payback in seven years. I accept that that could be better and we want to make it better, but there is a sensible payback period for people to consider when they invest in such vehicles.

Andrew Selous: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the serious way in which he is responding. What he has just said is, in some ways, the most important thing that has been said in the whole debate, and I am grateful to him. The fact that the payback could be within seven years is very welcome news. He has told us about it here, but it is probably rather a well kept secret at the moment, so we need to publicise it slightly more. I ask him to do that.

Norman Baker: They always say that if one wants to keep a secret, tell the House of Commons. It is worth pursuing that issue further and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s suggestion. My officials are here and we will see what we could usefully do to promote the scheme further.

I mentioned the need to ensure that the performance of electric vehicles is satisfactory, but if we are to make progress, we also need to ensure, as far as possible, that the economics are satisfactory. Once those two things are in place, people will embrace the new technology in a welcome way. People want to be green, provided that they can afford to be and that their vehicles do not lack performance as a consequence.

Those who have contributed to today’s debates raised the issue of the infrastructure. We are determined to roll out an effective infrastructure for electric vehicles, hence the inclusion in the coalition agreement of a commitment to mandate a national recharging network. Our plugged-in places programme is helping to do just that. The scheme will provide valuable data on how and where people recharge their cars, so that we can get the national network right. To help achieve that, we are working on a strategy for promoting the roll-out of charging infrastructure, and we will publish it this summer. More details will be available then.

In December last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire knows, we announced five more plugged-in places: Northern Ireland, central Scotland, Greater Manchester, the midlands and the east of England will all receive match funding to install electric vehicle recharging infrastructure. Those projects join the schemes in London, Milton Keynes and the north-east of England, which the previous Government began.

The programme is real and happening now. Charging points are already appearing on our streets—the most visible sign of the growing market—and will soon, I hope, become a common feature on streets and in homes, workplaces, and private and public car parks, so consumers can charge their cars easily, safely and

10 May 2011 : Column 388WH

conveniently. To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend, they will have confidence that they will not be left stranded somewhere without a power source. That concern is also addressed by the development by manufacturers, who are pushing at the boundaries, of increasing range for electric vehicles.

This is a new market and these are new technologies. The projects will test a variety of business and operating models and different technological approaches. The knowledge that we gain will inform the developing national strategy for infrastructure. Of course, we want the UK to benefit from the business and competitive opportunities of ultra-low-carbon cars. We want green growth and we want it here. We want UK businesses to seize commercial opportunities in the sector and are supporting them to do so.

The move to ultra-low-emission vehicles presents opportunities to support the economic recovery, green growth and the creation of high-tech, low-carbon jobs. The automotive sector is already our No. 1 manufacturing export, directly employing around 156,000 people in the UK and a further 150,000 in the supply chain. The sector is worth nearly £6.5 billion to the UK economy in terms of gross value added, so as the automotive sector goes green, the UK is well positioned to reap the benefits. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton that the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Treasury are working together and are closely focused on doing that.

The Nissan Leaf will be made in Sunderland from early 2013, with production growing to 50,000 vehicles per year. Nissan will assemble battery packs for the Leaf on the same site, starting in 2014 and growing to 60,000 units per year. Those are real, green jobs, and they are helping to create growth and cut carbon—the two objectives of the Department for Transport.

I turn to the other questions that were raised. I dealt with the length of the subsidy for electric vehicles. There is competition from Europe—there is no doubt about that. France has aggressive plans for infrastructure and vehicle uptake, but the UK has been allocated the largest number of Nissan Leafs in Europe, which demonstrates that we are seen as a leading market, and we are working to position the UK to take advantage of the business opportunities that the market brings.

To be frank, the standardisation of charging points is a difficult issue and not one for which there is an immediate solution. The International Electrotechnical Commission has developed international standards for electric vehicle recharging and there are discussions in the EU to get progress on a standardised charging system. However, the national interest sometimes has a role in the consideration of the best way forward, as my hon. Friend will understand.

Andrew Selous: Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that this is one area in which the EU could play a useful role? Many people think that getting some form of standardisation is exactly what the EU is for.