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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. Perhaps I may express special thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. She has conveyed to the House her enormous experience and breadth of knowledge of Bangladesh issues and has given valuable advice on how we should deal with these problems. I like her suggestion that a parliamentary delegation should visit Bangladesh and freely and openly discuss some of the issues with which we have dealt today.

I agree that it cannot be right to sweep these matters under the carpet. Whatever the response may be, issues need to be discussed. She rightly pointed to many aspects of the enormous progress that has been made, such as the economic growth of Bangladesh. The contribution it has made to the peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations was mentioned by other noble Lords. All that could be swept away if they do not get to grip with the worsening law and order situation.

As your Lordships have acknowledged, if particular efforts are not made in the lead up to the elections next year to ensure that there is a proper contest, the Ahmadis may feel, in the climate of violence and repression against their members, that they have to boycott the event. Even higher-level efforts than a parliamentary delegation may be required, although that would be useful.
 
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To persuade the opposition that it is safe for it to take part in the election, and that there will not be violence and intimidation of those who seek to contest it, I suggest to the Minister that all hands must be brought to the pump. That will require not just individual, bilateral efforts between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh, valuable though they are, but also the efforts of the European Union, maybe through SARC, and through the United Nations. Every effort must be made to ensure that those elections take place fairly and that there is a level playing field for the parties.

I was also extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate for highlighting the situation in the Ahmadiyya community. Although it is not the only religious minority under threat, it has suffered disproportionately. When the High Commissioner spoke at the conference on Friday, it was significant that he attempted to dismiss their concerns as being those of a very small minority of only 100,000 people and as not important in relation to the size of the majority Suni community. Of course, as the right reverend Prelate says, it does not matter how small they are, their rights are exactly the same as everyone else's. I hope that we continue to impress that view on the Bangladeshi Government.

I am concerned about one point that was not mentioned in the debate: we have never received any response to those representations. I know, from the correspondence that I have with Ministers at the Foreign Office, that they continually raise these matters, for which I am very grateful to them. We do not receive any feedback from the Bangladeshi authorities, nor do we hear them standing up and condemning what is happening. I am open to correction if I am wrong in that, but I believe it is true to say that we have never heard Prime Minister Khaleda Zia speaking against the persecution of the Ahmadis, against the attitude of the police towards the violation and desecration of mosques and against the attacks on individual members of the Ahmadi community. Of course, we know that it is part and parcel of their viewpoint that the Ahmadis are, in some respects, a substandard people because they wish to ban their publications. That attitude infects the behaviour of the security authorities towards religious minorities.

I do not wish to go through every aspect of the problem again in my concluding remarks. I believe that this is an ongoing subject for debate, which we have not exhausted this afternoon. At Friday's conference, it was decided that we would form an international network of organisations concerned with the promotion of democracy and the rule of law in Bangladesh. We hope to join up with similar organisations in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

This debate is part of an ongoing discussion which I imagine will be continued up until polling day in 2006 and in which the people of this country can join, together with those who are fighting for freedom and democracy in Bangladesh. We shall ensure, come what may, that the freedoms and rights of the minorities, whether political, ethnic or religious, are fully taken
 
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care of by the concerted efforts of people in Bangladesh and throughout the world. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion of Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Renewable Energy (S&T Report)

3.25 pm

Lord Oxburgh rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Renewable Energy: Practicalities (4th Report, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 126).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. He was successful in the ballot for a debate but, as it turned out, our debate on a related topic had been arranged for the same afternoon. He kindly agreed that the two Motions should be debated together.

We have waited a long time for this debate and we have the unusual but, in this case, welcome innovation of two government replies to our report: one after six months, which was, in the committee's eyes, seriously incomplete, and a more considered reply six months later. We are grateful for that, but I saw it for the first time only on Monday and the committee has not yet considered it.

Today's debate will be broad, not only because of the parallel Motions, but also because so much has happened in the past 12 months. There is now wide acceptance of the reality of anthropogenic climate change and the need to take action urgently. We have had a period of sustained high oil and gas prices which, short of a major world recession, seem unlikely to fall a long way any time soon, substantially improving the economics of renewable energy. We have seen the introduction of the European Emissions Trading Scheme and we have a new Government. We are delighted that the need for a Minister who can devote his whole attention to energy is accepted.

This is not a debate on climate change. However, some noble Lords may feel that the unwillingness of the Government of the United States to accept the judgment of its own prestigious National Academy of Sciences—not to mention those of every other national scientific academy in the world, including our own Royal Society—means that this is not an urgent matter. I shall, therefore, comment very briefly.

I am not a climate scientist but I have worked for many years in closely related areas. I can say only that the prediction of the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Arrhenius in 1903, that the burning of fossil fuels would increase the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and cause the Earth to warm, looks incontestable. There is uncertainty about how fast the temperature will rise and about details of climate change, but the overwhelming probability is that the Earth will become a less hospitable place for its current inhabitants. It is the speed of the change that will make it hard for us and many other species to adapt.
 
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Among human populations, those living in the poorest countries will be at the greatest risk. In that way, the Government's agenda for Africa and for climate change are closely linked. I am happy to congratulate the Government on the firm stance they have taken on climate change and the priority they have accorded it for their presidency of the G8 and the European Union.

Our report addressed one element of the Government's energy policy as outlined in the 2003 White Paper; namely, the intention that by 2010, 10 per cent and by 2020, 20 per cent of our electricity should be generated from renewable sources—that is from wind, waves, sun and the other intrinsic Earth processes, or from plant life or organic wastes. I wish to record my thanks to our committee who devoted so much time to this inquiry.

That said, we remain puzzled by the introduction to the White Paper in which the Government list their desiderata: security of energy supply, reduced greenhouse emissions, competitive energy markets and elimination of fuel poverty. But they are unwilling to prioritise them. They include the important social objective of reducing fuel poverty. Surely this can be met more readily in other and, dare I say, more rational ways. The White Paper also involves a curiously eclectic application of market forces.

The Government have initiated a review of the Climate Change Programme and of the renewables obligation certificate, the so-called "ROCs scheme". In our report, we were critical of that scheme, but let me say that, whatever its deficiencies, it is much better than nothing. It has achieved results.

We were concerned about it for two main reasons: first, it was intrinsically incapable of achieving more than 60 to 70 per cent of the Government's target. Secondly, although nominally technology-blind, it could be attractive only to those deploying the imported technology of wind turbines because our indigenous research base in other relevant technologies was at such a low level. That remained true even after the ROCs scheme was extended to 2015. But, although the scheme is less than perfect, investor confidence must be maintained by not changing conditions that affect those who have already invested.

Another problem is that soon the commercially attractive renewable energy schemes will have been completed. On the other hand, as time goes on, the returns of the ROCs scheme will decline and the incentives for the new, more costly schemes will progressively diminish. Offshore wind installations cost about twice as much as those onshore, which is rather more than originally thought. At this point, I have to declare an interest as chairman of the Shell Transport and Trading Company; the Shell Group is involved in many wind projects.

At this point, it is possible to offer a suggestion. It originates neither from Shell nor the committee. Rather than extend the ROCs scheme as it exists today until 2020, as has been suggested, it could be slightly modified for future investors while keeping conditions unchanged for existing ones. The current renewables
 
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obligations that have been placed upon suppliers of electricity for 2010 and 2015 would remain unchanged and an additional obligation for 2020 would be added. However, only renewable energy produced from generation plant commissioned after, say, 2008—to give 12 years of renewables obligations—would be eligible for future buy-out fund payments. Renewable obligations certificates would carry a date stamp that would qualify them to receive payments from the respective buy-out funds for the applicable period. Suppliers of electricity to consumers would still have their targets to meet until 2020, and would have to buy-out their obligations if they did not, but after 2015, they would receive buy-out fund payments only for newer projects that have generated ROCs eligible for that period.

This would limit the cost of electricity, direct future payments to where they would do most good, not affect the conditions under which existing investors invested, and so on. It would also allow the Government to continue to extend the renewables target to deal with the longer-term carbon reduction plans without disrupting investor confidence by changing the system.

A different difficulty arises from the structure of the electricity industry. Annual payments from the ROCs buy-out fund go to electricity distribution companies that buy electricity from generating companies at fixed prices under long-term power purchase agreements. Therefore the high incentives provided by the ROCs scheme when the Government's targets are not reached, do not readily feed through to those who can build new plant—at any rate not readily, transparently or sufficiently promptly to affect their market behaviour. This problem too would be slightly mitigated by the proposal I made earlier.

Pressure of other commitments has prevented me examining in detail the Government's more considered reply. I am glad to see that in a number of cases the Government accept our recommendations. On the matter of whether the renewables target for 2010 will be met, frankly, it is now neither here nor there. The die is cast and, in any case, I believe that there is now a widely held view that national energy policy has to be revisited.

I looked at the later paragraphs in the reply concerning security of supply, and I am frankly dismayed by the blind faith in markets. It could be described in chemical terms as a failure to distinguish between thermodynamics and kinetics; that is, between what should happen and what will happen. It is probably true that markets will ultimately correct any imbalance between supply and demand. But the reply fails to recognise that there invariably is a time delay. If the market is for baked beans, that may not matter too much, but for an essential infrastructural service, it does matter; the lights must not go out. I expect that the committee will wish to pursue this matter further.

I now turn to the use of biomass as a renewable resource, partly because in this area we found multiple regulatory bodies whose terms of reference and priorities were imperfectly aligned. Furthermore, they
 
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were not aligned to support broader government energy policy. This led to operational nightmares for the firms concerned. We look forward to the report of Sir Ben Gill's working party, which has been set up to look into these problems.

Biomass—plant matter—may either be directly burned in power stations or be used to make liquid fuels. Because plants extract carbon from the air, when they are burned it is returned to the air and the energy derived from them should be carbon neutral. However, care is needed because energy is required to cultivate, fertilise and transport biomass, and one can end up using almost as much energy to produce the fuel as one gets out of it.

For some time, biodiesel has been made from vegetable oils—linseed, rape and so on—while the petrol substitute, ethanol, can be produced by the fermentation of plant sugars from sugar cane, sugar beet or corn heads. In the past, these products have been more expensive than their fossil fuel equivalents, but recent rises in oil prices have reduced the difference and I believe that last month corn ethanol in the US was briefly cheaper than gasoline.

The cost of these fuels is high not only because of the labour and energy needed to produce them, but also because only a small fraction of the plant is used for fuel and the rest is wasted. However, a small Canadian enzyme company, Iogen, has shown that this does not have to be so. It has developed an enzyme that will break down straw into its constituent sugars and it is now, in collaboration with Shell, making an ethanol fuel from what was previously a waste product. Industrially this process has much more in common with whisky making than oil refining: it is fermentation followed by distillation. In full production, it will be significantly cheaper than today's oil. Producing liquid fuel from waste is a great step forward. The processing itself has low additional energy requirements and waste straw is already collected and moved. That means that the fuel is effectively emissions-neutral. It is known as Ecoethanol to distinguish it from corn ethanol that carries around 75 per cent of the emissions from the gasoline that it can be used to replace.

The message again is clear: we must look carefully at the emissions capability associated with any particular renewable source. But this technology opens the door to the production of fuel from plant-derived wastes and from the organic elements of urban waste of all kinds. But perhaps more importantly, it opens the door to the co-production of food and fuel, avoiding very uncomfortable competition between the two. Ultimately, this approach may offer the possibility of sustainable transport.

If human life is to continue on this planet, we have to find renewable, secure and sustainable energy sources. Stocks of fossil fuel are, by their nature, finite, although we have no alternative to continuing to use them for some time. But we must recognise that this is a stopgap measure. There are promising advances, but the contribution from many renewables is limited simply because our technology is at the present time too primitive to exploit them fully. I beg to move.
 
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Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Renewable Energy: Practicalities (4th Report, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 126).—(Lord Oxburgh.)

3.40 pm


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