Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I hope that the noble Lord was speaking with tongue in cheek when he asked how we can expect energy sellers to take responsibility for our using less energy when they are making money out of selling it. Energy sellers succeed in a voluntary, democratically engaged society because they are seen to be responsible. This House, another place, the general public and the media respond very quickly to companies that abuse that position. However, to make it happen, both the customers of energy suppliers and citizens of the country more generally must feel that they have some

12 July 2007 : Column 1561

skin in the game. Culturally, we need a shift in this nation, so that people approach the use of energy from an understanding of what a diminishing resource it really is. The energy suppliers cannot do that on their own; nor can politicians and media. Perhaps we should all do more to make sure that people feel better engaged.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned also the example that we need to set for other major polluting nations. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, mentioned it, too. We rightly talk of China and India, but if we want to take the true moral high ground as we desperately try to ensure that this, our only planet, is saved, let us think also about the United States. It has 5 per cent of the world’s population, but is responsible for 25 per cent of the world’s pollution. We will not persuade India and China to change if they do not see the biggest economy on Earth changing. To pull that off, the European Union needs to set an example. The critics are correct in saying that Britain alone cannot change the whole of the world’s pollution, but we do not have a prayer of getting countries such as India, China, Brazil and the United States to do it unless we do it ourselves. I am proud to belong to a Government who put that very high on their agenda.

I turn to the often reiterated point of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, about daylight saving. There are potential advantages and disadvantages to a change to the summer-time arrangements. It would have an impact in many different ways on different sectors. Financial services, trade and tourism are all major sectors in this, the most successfully reconstructed economy in Europe. The present situation is a satisfactory compromise between those who prefer lighter mornings and those who prefer lighter evenings—those of us who work in both do not care. We are not convinced that a change to the current arrangements would be in the best interests of this country.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, for his kind words. We worked together some years ago when I was at the CBI and he was at the then DTI. He mentioned King Coal—that is my phrase, not his—of many years ago. Coal plays a part in the future without a doubt. Obviously, clean-coal technology and carbon capture is very relevant. I do not apologise for the fact that this nation does not send men underground in very dangerous, dirty conditions, which at the end of the day is not where we should be putting an advanced economy’s population.

One of the dangers of losing these industries—in Birmingham we have seen it happen with motor car factories, and it can happen with shipyards and steelworks as well as coalmines—is that those centres of communities had a cohesive effect on our society. It is important that as they go away we bear in mind the debilitating effect it has on the cohesion of a society struggling to deal with a changing world and the frightening aspects and challenges of globalisation.

I can assure my noble friend Lord O’Neill that carbon capture and storage offers the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 90 per cent. Because of its relevance to developing countries, it is estimated to

12 July 2007 : Column 1562

have the potential to contribute up to 28 per cent of CO2 mitigation. That is why we are supporting a competition for a carbon capture and storage demonstration. That has never been done before. It is on an industrial scale with electricity generation. We think that a competition is the best way to encourage innovation both in the design and its operation. We await its results with great interest.

The noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith, Lord Redesdale and Lord Chorley, asked whether the department is called BERR, DBERR or anything else? It is not DBERR because the “Lady in Red” who Chris de Burgh wrote about would be mightily dischuffed, and the department does not like being known as “Chris”. It is called BERR—Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. I am thrilled that at last we have a department whose name has “business” right at the start. I applaud the Prime Minister in taking the very brave step of bringing in some specialists in various fields. But, I would say that, wouldn’t I?—I am one of them. I hope that at last we can raise some of these major issues above factionalisation of party politics, and get on with the job.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked where responsibility for energy would lie, and where was the juxtaposition between BERR and Defra. It is not the only one; there are transport, planning and low-carbon buildings. We have to be reminded of the crucial role the Treasury plays in this. The Foreign Office and the Department for International Development have a huge role to play in climate change, energy and, of course, trade negotiations. At what point do we say that the way other countries make things should be a barrier to entry and a barrier to trade, which is a protectionist’s last refuge? At what point do we actually acknowledge the issue? Different government departments have energy somewhere on their brief. Putting it in BERR, where business is so key to providing market solutions in so many ways, is, I submit, the best place for it.

The noble Lord mentioned food miles. We have to be very careful when we listen to those in the developed world who tell us that we should not expect fresh fruit to be flown in on Christmas Day, with a huge carbon footprint from aircraft, as we are messing around with the livelihoods of many people in the developing world who need this speedy access to wealthy economies, simply to have clean water, better healthcare and the chance of a better life. A compromise has to be struck on this. It is important that people understand what they are playing with.

The noble Lord spoke about efficiency being achieved at the expense of economic growth. Our economy will continue to grow, while our demand for energy will remain constant and could possibly fall if we get this right. Figures in the White Paper show that we have effectively decoupled economic growth and growth in energy consumption. This Government should be very proud of that because they have shown the rest of western Europe that it can be done. We obviously all need to do more. The chapter in the White Paper entitled “Saving energy” deals comprehensively with that.

12 July 2007 : Column 1563

On the point concerning tidal power raised by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, given my lengthy time in the job, I cannot comment on individual projects—I hope your Lordships would not expect me to. But I can reassure the noble Earl that the Sustainable Development Commission is looking at a broad range of issues and options, as well as the Severn Barrage in isolation. Tidal lagoons are being looked at, as he mentioned. The commission is expected to report by September this year. Linking that to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, talking about getting on with it, it is important that, whatever happens, we reach decisions this year. I am pleased that the commission will also be reporting on that particular point in September.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked what is actually happening on the European Union’s emission trading scheme and the carbon price. As the White Paper says, we are active in shaping the future of this—in many ways, it is a British invention and something of which we should be proud. We are and have always been good traders, and this is just another way we can bring that expertise as a nation to a 21st-century issue. As a nation, we are actively engaged in Brussels and elsewhere across the European Union in making the UK’s case, and we are confident that progress is being made. The noble Lord will share with me the absolute frustration at the speed, or lack of it, in which progress seems to be made in various things in Brussels, and this is no exception. All I can assure the House of is that I and my colleagues will do absolutely everything possible to ensure this is given the level of importance and acknowledgement in Brussels that noble Lords clearly give it here.

The noble Lord also raised site selection. It will be for the private sector to propose sites for new nuclear power stations, just like any other. In May, we launched a technical consultation on how to run a strategic siting assessment. The noble Lord raises just the issues that we are considering, and we welcome views from everybody—stakeholders and the public. We do not have a monopoly on wisdom, so enable us to bring up some definitive answers in the future.

In conclusion, the United Kingdom has been fortunate up till now because we have been able to meet most of our energy needs from domestic sources. We started with our coalfields two centuries ago, and more recently used our North Sea oil and our gas. The trouble is that we have got used to the fact, and it is no longer the case. We are soon going to be very dependent on imports. While we can say that that is like other developed countries, it does not sit well with this island nation. As we all know, the big supplies of oil and gas are concentrated in some of the more volatile regions of the world. That does not give anybody in this country the sense of security that enables them to take risks. Business does not like volatile pricing in anything, it does not like unpredictability. If we do not have a secure source of supply, business will face that unpredictability and instability of pricing for a long time to come. The average man and woman in the street will then feel seriously insecure, which does not make for a happy country.

12 July 2007 : Column 1564

Meanwhile, global demand for energy is increasing massively as economies such as China have boomed. China has now overtaken France and the United Kingdom. She is the fourth-largest economy and has Germany in her sights. China is already the world’s second-largest consumer of energy. Her demand for energy is increasing at a rate of 15 per cent every year and new power stations are being built every week. World prices for fossil fuels have increased by more than 50 per cent in the past three years. High prices impact on the vulnerable in this country as well as business and other users. Not only does that make the vulnerable even more so, the whole dimension feeds through to overall inflation, which impacts on the cost of money, which impacts on everybody.

As if that were not enough, on top of that there is the need to decarbonise the world’s economies. Not one nation on this, the only planet that we have, can in any way exclude itself from that project. The need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or find a way of storing the carbon emissions that they cause is of paramount importance. It is vital. Temperatures are rising. Sea levels are rising. Extreme and dangerous weather is becoming more common around the world. The way that we currently produce and use energy is, frankly, largely responsible.

In other words, we have to save the planet. We also have to keep the lights on. I commend the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Sustainable Communities Bill

3.40 pm

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I regard it as a privilege to be able to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which was taken through another place with such determination and skill by my honourable friend Nick Hurd.

I start by congratulating all those who have worked together to get the Bill this far. First, its main architect was Ron Bailey of the campaigning organisation Local Works. Secondly, it had widespread cross-party support, with more than 400 Members of Parliament, including more than half of the Parliamentary Labour Party, signing Early-Day Motions in favour of such action. Many national organisations have already spoken out in support. Let me quickly mention just a few: the Local Government Association, nearly 1,000 parish councillors and their umbrella organisation, NALCO, the Countryside Alliance, the CLA, NCVO, Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Scouts and the British Youth Council.

Perhaps I should first declare my interest as the chairman of Marlesford Parish Council, president of the Suffolk Preservation Society and a vice-president of CPRE. I have been concerned with the sustainability of rural England and Wales for many years, having served during the 1980s and 1990s on the Countryside Commission for 12 years and the Rural Development Commission for eight years.

The campaign started as a result of Ghost Town Britain, a study by the New Economics Foundation which charted the decline of local shops, post offices,

12 July 2007 : Column 1565

pubs, services and communities. The report demonstrates social exclusion, in particular. Many other reports have backed it up: High Street Britain 2015, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group and Stamped Out, by Age Concern, to name but two.

I am sorry to say that during the past 10 years, rural areas in this country have felt neglected and ignored. There were real signs that that was changing with the arrival of Mr Miliband at Defra, and especially with the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is so very respected in this House. I am reasonably confident that Mr Hilary Benn, who has taken over from Mr Miliband, will continue the new tradition.

The Bill offers the Government the chance of a real shift of influence from the centre to the grass roots, so I am very glad that the Government are endorsing the Bill. That was the starting point. Then the campaign had to take a view on what we were seeking to achieve in place of ghost town Britain. The answer must be sustainable communities. Bearing in mind our starting point, that clearly meant the reversal of the decline in local economies, services and communities highlighted in the reports that I mentioned. But sustainable, healthy communities should also be environmentally sustainable. They should be inclusive and encourage citizen participation; otherwise they will not be sustainable as communities. Hence, the four limbs were: promoting local economic activity, the environment, social inclusion, and citizen involvement. What is certain is that this problem will continue unless action is taken to stop it.

Let me give a real example: supermarkets in rural areas. There have been individual campaigns against supermarkets and their effects on communities and some have been successful. By way of illustration I will tell your Lordships about a campaign in Suffolk to prevent Tesco from opening another superstore in rural countryside near Saxmundham only 12 miles from the Tesco superstore which already existed at Martlesham. It was led by Caroline Cranbrook who has done so much nationally to encourage the sale of locally produced food. Lady Cranbrook interviewed 81 local shops, most of which would have closed if the supermarket had been built. The Suffolk Coastal District Council looked at the retailing need and refused Tesco planning permission. The company appealed and then withdrew in the middle of the appeal. Meanwhile, Paul Thomas, who previously ran a pub in London, opened a farm café in Marlesford entirely based on local food, including fish from the local coastal waters, which has won national acclaim for some of the best meals in such establishments. I hope some of your Lordships may visit it.

The overall picture, however, is of the trends of ghost town Britain increasing and that evidence is overwhelming. Local authorities and local communities can and should play an important role in promoting the sustainability of local communities but the problem is so serious that government cannot leave it to individuals, communities or even local authorities. There are ways in which government can help—I emphasise the word “help”, not “dictate”—to stop and reverse the problems. There are things that only government can do, as well as things they should do, as well as ways in which

12 July 2007 : Column 1566

government can help to enable the actions of councils and communities. Those government actions must not be ad hoc or done on a whim; they must be properly thought out and co-ordinated.

So do we act top-down or bottom-up? The campaign’s oft-stated view is that councils and communities are the experts in their own problems and the solutions are for them and not for Whitehall. The Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister seem to agree. Mr Blair said in his party conference speech last year:

As our present Prime Minister said just a year ago:

Mr Phil Woolas, the Minister who took the Bill through the Commons, said in his brief to the PLP on 26 March this year:

If the Government believe that, they will trust local people and their councils who must now get into the driving seat.

Let me explain clause by clause how the Bill will work. Clause 1 concerns the sustainability of local communities. It defines the principal aim of the Bill, which is to promote that sustainability. Promoting the sustainability of local communities is defined as encouraging the improvement of the economic, social and environmental well-being of a local authority, or part of its area. Subsection (4) clearly states that it is the duty of Government to assist local authorities to achieve this. It recognises that local authorities need help in achieving local sustainability but do not want more imposed duties from central government.

Clause 2 requires the Government to approach all local councils and invite them to put forward suggestions on how to improve the sustainability of their communities. In making suggestions, local authorities must have regard to 13 different matters in the schedule to the Bill that have been selected by tens of thousands of people as important for local sustainability. In the Bill, local councils mean county councils, district councils and London borough councils. In some ways, I regret that they do not mean parish councils, which are the real grass roots of local government. However, I recognise that already more than 400 councils would be consulted, and good local authorities do in general consult parish councils on many matters, particularly planning applications. I am therefore confident that, under the terms of the Bill, parish councils will be able to make effective representations on matters that affect their communities.

Clause 2(2) and (3) enable local councils to request a transfer of functions from one person or body to another to promote local sustainability. This will allow local authorities to identify existing sources of money for local matters, to propose how that money

12 July 2007 : Column 1567

could be spent differently, and, if they so choose, how it could be used to switch resources to what local people find more important. If a particular road in a local authority area is managed by the Highways Agency and the local authority believes, on the ground of improved sustainability as laid out in the schedule, that it could manage it better, it could request from the Secretary of State a transfer function from the Highways Agency to the local authority.

Clause 3 deals with how local authorities’ proposals will be dealt with and presented to government, and with the process by which government decide which proposals to action. It requires the Secretary of State to appoint a person known as the selector, who will act as a representative on behalf of local authorities. The selector’s role will be to consider all the proposals made by the various local authorities under Clause 2, and to work in co-operation with the Secretary of State to put them into a shortlist. Having someone to act on behalf of local authorities is clearly simpler than the Government themselves having to co-operate with 400-plus local authorities on a case-by-case basis. There was general agreement in another place that the selector would be the Local Government Association. Once the shortlist is presented to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State must decide which proposals to implement from the shortlist and, in so doing, must work with the selector to try to reach agreement. The presumption here is on the implementation of local community and council proposals.

The duty to co-operate in subsection (1) and the necessity not only to consult but to try to reach agreement is a new and vital part of legislation. Its purpose is to ensure that there are genuine attempts to reach agreement. That goes much further than consultation often does when the consulter has to show only that suggestions were considered. The selector must represent the interests of local authorities. As I said, it is envisaged that this will be the Local Government Association, which has already been approached and has agreed in principle to carry out this function.

Clause 4 requires the Government to publish their decisions on the proposals in the shortlist in Clause 3, giving reasons why each proposal has been accepted or rejected. All proposals that the Government have decided to implement must be published in an action plan, with each proposal accompanied by a statement of action stating how the Government intend to implement it. The clause therefore sets out the national framework to be implemented by government to help to improve the sustainability of local communities, with the contents of the plan and subsequent government action being driven from the grass roots. The requirement to publish an explanation of the decisions taken on which proposals to implement or reject introduces transparency and accountability into the process. This is further enhanced by subsection (4), in which the Government have a duty to report every year to Parliament on the progress being made in implementing the proposals in the action plan.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page