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House of Commons Hansard
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Energy and Climate Change
13 November 2008
Volume 482

The Secretary of State was asked—

Electricity Generation

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1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the current economic climate on investment in new electricity generation plants. [235267]

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No sector is immune from the current economic climate and credit crunch. Along with the regulator Ofgem, we are closely monitoring the effects on the energy sector, including on investment plans. However, there is 11.5 GW of new plant currently under construction or consented and a further 12 GW in the consent process. That is a sign of the willingness of investors to make plans for new generation.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I also want to ask about a specific electricity generation plant, the Severn barrage. By my reading of article 5.2 of the EU renewables directive, the Government are not going to hit their renewables target without constructing the barrage. That would make nonsense of the studies that are under way and the great concern that there is locally. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government can hit their EU renewables target without having to build the Severn barrage?

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Yes, I can confirm that. The Severn barrage is one of a number of options that we will be considering in relation to our renewables target. However, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have made progress on renewables, admittedly from a low base, in the past few years. We want to make further progress, which is why, for example, we are banding renewable obligation certificates in legislation that is before the House, why I have made announcements on feed-in tariffs, and why the Planning Bill is intended to speed up the siting of new renewables facilities. I acknowledge that we need to make a lot more progress on a number of fronts on renewables. The Severn barrage is one option for doing so.

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May I take this opportunity—my first—to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment? Does he agree that a period of economic downturn is a good time to look again at the skills that we need, and the investment that we need to put into them, to help to recreate our energy generation sector? Will he have discussions with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to pursue that agenda?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I should like to join the mutual admiration society and pay tribute to the work that he has done on climate change and energy over a number of years. He is right to say that, as we think about the current downturn, some people will say to us, “It’s time to abandon your climate change objectives.” However, the green jobs agenda and moving to a low-carbon economy give us an opportunity to prepare for the upturn and to find new ways of employing people. He is also right to say that the skills agenda is an important part of that, and I will have discussions with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills on the matter.

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There may be 11 GW of replacement plant on its way, but it is not here yet, and there could be problems if there are unscheduled outages in major power plants, problems with the gas interconnector with Europe and a cold winter. What priority is the Secretary of State attaching to ensuring that there is not a major blackout in this country this winter?

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Clearly, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The answer is that that is my top priority. The Minister of State and I monitor the situation on a weekly basis. We talk to the National Grid Company and Ofgem about all such issues. The National Grid Company is reassuring me about the prospects for this winter at the moment, but I am not complacent. We keep a very close eye on the situation.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that, to help business through this difficult period and, indeed, in the short and medium term, we need to increase electricity capacity, thereby reducing prices? That would particularly help energy-intensive industries. Does he further agree that one way to do that is to extend the current life of safe nuclear plants while we are waiting for new build to come on stream? Will he agree to meet the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and me so that we can make progress on a matter that has been ongoing in my constituency for some time?

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Our team will definitely undertake to meet my hon. Friend, and I will definitely consider his suggestion. It was right to end the moratorium on new nuclear power stations, but the priority on nuclear is to work out how we can get new nuclear facilities built. The situation will be helped by the EDF takeover of British Energy. EDF wants to build four new nuclear power stations, which I think is right for our country. Lots of people have changed their opinion of nuclear power on the basis of the climate change challenge that we face. I think that we have got the right policy on nuclear, but I will endeavour also to look at the issue that my hon. Friend has raised.

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Yesterday morning, the Minister of State told the “Today” programme that, far from facing energy shortages in 2015, 37 per cent. more power would be generated in comparison with today. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the National Grid Company seven-year statement takes no account of whether projects will get planning consent or even whether they will get the funding to build them? Will he also confirm that it does not take account of the extent to which generating capacity will be lost? Almost 15 GW of capacity is likely to be lost, as more of our capacity in nuclear, oil and coal closes down, so will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to set the record straight and admit that the outlook is much tighter than the Minister suggested?

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My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State was absolutely right in the figures that he provided, which come from the National Grid Company. As I said in my answer, there are issues about the next decade, but the prospect for new build happening is a good one. The difficult question for all of us is how to ensure that the supply of new build is diverse and not simply more gas-fired power stations. We want a diversity of supply and we want low-carbon options.

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The hon. Gentleman shouts “Coal” from a sedentary position, but unlike Conservative Members, we have not set our face in principle against new coal-fired power stations, which is to prejudge the issue. The challenge is to get the capacity we need—I am convinced that we can—while also having a diverse range of energy sources.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

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2. What recent assessment he has made of the progress towards achieving the Government’s target for carbon dioxide emissions reduction by 2050. [235268]

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Between 1990 and 2006, the UK cut by 16 per cent. its own emissions of dangerous greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide; and if action taken under the EU emissions trading scheme is included, emissions were cut by 20 per cent. That makes Britain one of the few countries in the world that is on course to exceed its Kyoto targets; and we are the first in the world to legislate for a 2050 target, which, following my announcement last month, is now set at 80 per cent.

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I welcome that progress, but my right hon. Friend will know that many of my constituents are particularly interested in climate change. Does he understand their concern that the Government are not yet moving fast enough on issues such as getting the balance right between air, road and rail travel? Does he acknowledge that they also worry about credits, which may be a way of buying our way out of things rather reducing our own emissions?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need a balanced approach and that we need proper domestic effort to deal with these issues. What I would say to her and others listening to our debate on the question of buying in credits from abroad is that we need to show that we—the whole world—are in this together. If we can find ways of providing finance to developing countries to enable them to move towards a low-carbon economy, I believe that that is all to the good. There need to be limits, but we argue in favour of that in the EU and we also have recommendations from the Energy and Climate Change Committee to consider. My hon. Friend is right in what she says, but I believe that credits have a role to play as well.

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During the debate on the Climate Change Bill, the Secretary of State made much of the fact that the targets that he has set will be legally binding. Will he confirm that that does not mean that Ministers or officials will be held to account or punished if they fail to meet those targets and that its only implication is that those targets are judicially reviewable? Does he accept that if a court believes that he is failing to achieve those targets, it could insist, without being democratically accountable to the public, that we spend more and take more measures to meet the targets—all £200 billion of them—than the Government are currently committed to?

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I know from our debates that—

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Answer the question.

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I will. I know from our discussions that the right hon. Gentleman is a sceptic about some of our climate change targets. It is of course the case that the targets in the Bill will be judicially reviewable. It is also the case that there are limits to the actions that can be taken against Governments. However, the important point is that when the House set out its general cross-party consensus on long-term targets, it was a way of binding the hands of Ministers in this Government and Ministers in future Governments. No Parliament can completely bind the hands of the next Parliament, but this was an important innovation because it set out so clearly—in a cross-party consensus—the objectives that Ministers needed to follow to meet the targets.

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One means of meeting our targets is to change the balance of our energy generation. A new biomass power station is already planned at Drakelow in my constituency, but are there opportunities to encourage the site owners to explore other biomass options at other locations along power valley—the Trent valley which South Derbyshire straddles?

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My hon. Friend has made a good point. Biomass can play an important role in meeting some of our future energy needs, particularly in terms of heating. We have tabled amendments to the Energy Bill to encourage the generation of renewable heat, but I think we can go a great deal further to meet our climate change targets in that regard.

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It is to the Secretary of State’s credit that he listened to the experts, scientists and thousands of campaigners across the country who called for the target of an 80 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2050, but does he agree that if that target is to be met, the current target of a 26 per cent. reduction by 2020 will need to be revised significantly upwards? If so, when does he intend to announce the new target?

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I thought that the hon. Lady was going to add that I had listened to the advice of the Liberal Democrats, but, in a very non-partisan way, she resisted the temptation, on which I congratulate her. She is right to suggest that we need to look again at our 2020 targets.

Lord Turner will make recommendations on 1 December for carbon budgets for the next 15 years, which will include 2020. It is also important for us to stick to the agreement reached by the Heads of Government in 2007 that we will aim for a 20 per cent. overall European Union reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and a 30 per cent. reduction contingent on agreement at Copenhagen. That is something for which we have argued. We will take a view on the new 2020 targets following Lord Turner’s advice.

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When my right hon. Friend made his first statement to the House as Secretary of State, he told me that calculating the direction of travel for public spending would be an important part of meeting our climate change targets. He said that he would go away and do some homework. Will he now tell us what assessment he has made of whether we are on track to meet the Stern recommendations?

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I am tempted to say, “The dog ate my homework”, but I think the best thing for me to tell my hon. Friend is that I am working on it. Now that she has asked me the question a second time, I shall make sure that I demonstrate further progress next time she asks it.

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There was broad support for the adoption of the even more stretching 2050 and 2020 targets, but what policy does the Secretary of State believe does more to undermine their credibility—building a third runway at Heathrow, or the Government’s commitment to building a new generation of dirty coal-fired power stations without carbon capture and storage from the outset?

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The hon. Gentleman is on the fringe wing of the Tory Front Bench—he is its outrider—when it comes to these issues, about which he knows a great deal. Let me deal directly with the two questions that he has asked, because they are important. The two main points about aviation are that reducing its carbon emissions must be, and is, part of our overall climate change objectives, and that we must put a price on those carbon emissions, and are doing so under the European Union emissions trading scheme. The decision on the third runway is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but whatever decision is made, there will be a carbon price for aviation. That is the most important point.

As for what the hon. Gentleman describes as “dirty” coal-fired power stations, Conservative Front Benchers have made a decision on those: whatever the needs of security of supply and whatever the demands for the next decade—about which the hon. Gentleman asked—there must be no more new coal-fired power stations. I take the more balanced view that we need to examine the case relating to security of supply and, as quickly as possible, establish how we can also meet our need to reduce carbon emissions. That is the work that we are undertaking. We will respond to the carbon capture and readiness consultation that we initiated, and then we will answer those questions.

Energy Market

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3. What recent discussions his Department has had with energy companies on the energy market; and if he will make a statement. [235269]

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We met the chief executives of the big six energy suppliers three weeks ago, and emphasised to them that, just as oil prices have fallen and petrol prices have therefore begun to fall as well, wholesale gas prices have come down. We want the companies to respond to business and consumer concerns about the fact that gas and electricity prices remain so high.

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As my hon. and learned Friend points out, oil prices have halved. Following those discussions, does he have an indication as to when the utilities will take action to cut bills so that households no longer suffer and businesses are able to have sustainable power contracts? Have they given any indication that they are prepared to take action on the Ofgem findings on the scandal of rip-off bills for those on prepaid meters and of those who are not connected to the gas mains? Why are they so quick to put prices up—

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Order. The hon. Lady is doing well and she should stop there.

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On prepayment meters, Ofgem has given the companies until December to respond to that point and we have indicated that if the companies fail to respond adequately, we are prepared to legislate. On gas prices, the gas companies say that they buy their gas sometimes up to about six months ahead on the advance markets and, therefore, it takes time for the gas price reductions—the last time I looked they had fallen by about 22 per cent.—to come through into gas bills. I am pleased to say that this morning’s newspapers reveal that Scottish and Southern has indicated, as we asked the companies to do, that it is looking at lowering its prices as soon as it can. I now look to the other energy suppliers to give indications that they will be bringing down their prices to a more reasonable level.

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I was grateful to the Secretary of State for the opportunity to discuss with him my Committee’s report on fuel prices that was published in July, which proved that increased prices were the fault not of the companies but of the market. We are addressing market failure. Since we published that report, there has been a significant deterioration in market conditions. BizzEnergy, an electricity supplier in my constituency, has gone bust, with 160 jobs lost. The Government are allowing British Energy to be bought by EDF. Transparency and liquidity are being reduced in the electricity market. There will be one consequence— higher prices for consumers. Does the Minister agree?

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To ensure that we get long-term affordable electricity, gas and energy supplies, we need to make sure that there is diversity of supply. The hon. Gentleman rightly says that there are issues in relation to the market, which is why we asked Ofgem to look at it. It has reported and made a number of recommendations, which it has said must be put in place. We are waiting for the outcome of that consultation now. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are issues in relation to the market, but they are being addressed.

On British Energy, the Government have looked at the proposal, which would bring £12.5 billion of investment into the UK. Do the Conservatives think that is a bad thing? We think that it will help to provide security of energy supply for the long term. I am sorry if the Conservatives take a different view.

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When my hon. and learned Friend met Dick Turpin and the rip-off bill merchants, I hope he said to them that it was not on and that the time had come for a windfall tax. Did he also ask them why they failed to invest in storage capacity, as a result of which gas prices are being kept artificially high?

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There has been some investment in storage capacity and we have been anxious to make sure that that is brought on. We have given strong indications to the gas and electricity suppliers that—particularly in the current economic climate, with families concerned about the bills and where the economy is at the moment as the result of the global problems in the financial markets—they have a responsibility to bring down energy prices as soon as they reasonably can. We gave that clear message to the chief executives. We will not be satisfied if we think that there is any delay in doing that. We are looking to Ofgem, the regulator, to do its job.

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Will the Minister accept that the energy market is a mess when it comes to social tariffs? Of the big six energy companies, one provides most of the social tariffs, and it has now stopped; it will not let new customers go on to social tariffs. Some of the others do not do any at all. Is that the right way for vulnerable customers to be treated? Is it not a risky strategy to rely on the goodness of heart of the energy companies?

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We have had an assurance from the energy companies that they will put a further £225 million into social tariffs. The way in which the energy companies were privatised means that they all have to compete. Ofgem has taken the view that they also compete on social tariffs. There is an argument for greater standardisation of social tariffs, and I have some sympathy with it, but the companies take a view, as, indeed, Ofgem does, that there is a market and this is one of the areas where they need to compete. Some 600,000 people are able to access these lower social tariffs, and I want to put more people on them so that they pay lower prices. That is why the Pensions Bill contains a provision to allow data sharing by the Department for Work and Pensions to enable the energy companies to know which people are on pension credit—in due course we would want to extend that further—so that they can be put on a social tariff, as I hope would happen.

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My hon. and learned Friend gives us assurances that the companies say this and say that, but does their track record not bear investigation? A company’s role is to maximise its profits at any cost, and we knew that when we introduced the regulator. It has watched the industry for a few years, but when are the Government going to buy it some new teeth?

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My hon. Friend is right to say that we must always examine the track record of the companies. There is public concern that they have been quick to indicate that prices will rise and slow to indicate when prices will fall, which is why I have welcomed the statement by Scottish and Southern Energy in response to our meeting with it and with the other chief executives. I look to those other energy companies to follow its example and start to say when some prices will come down. Parliament has said that it wants an independent regulator, which Ofgem is, so Ministers cannot keep telling the regulator what it has to do, because it is supposed to be independent. None the less, we have had meetings with Ofgem and we have indicated that we want it to be robust in ensuring that it protects the interests of the market and of competition.

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Why do gas and electricity cost more in Britain than on the continent?

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All the way through the early part of this decade, we have had much lower gas prices than most of the continent, because the market was able to operate very effectively to ensure that prices fell. Europe operates using a different system. It operates long-term and often not very transparent deals, particularly in the business sector. Deals that can last for some years are signed, holding down some of those prices. When our market falls and we get the benefits, Europe does not. When the market starts to rise and our prices rise, it takes some time before Europe renegotiates some of its long-term contracts. We are pressing, with the EU Commission, to get more transparency into some of those deals and to get a more effective market operating in Europe. We want to ensure that we all get the benefit of a more successful and competitive market, because we all want to pay the lowest price that we reasonably can.

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Mr. Speaker, did you know that the Minister’s new Department has 900 policy advisers? Do you think that he might have done better with that, given that level of advice? One of the reasons why British customers suffer price spikes is that, due to the absence of a serious energy policy over the past 10 years, we have only 14 days worth of gas storage compared with 99 days worth in Germany and 122 days worth in France. A further reason is the structure of the market. Four weeks ago—not three, as the Minister said—the Secretary of State stood at that Dispatch Box and said that he had given the big six energy companies four weeks to take urgent action or else he would do so. A month later, there has been no change and no action—he has fallen at the first fence. Will the Minister act to stop prepayment meters being used to make the poor subsidise the well-off?

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Well, the hon. Gentleman knows very well that Ofgem has undertaken a consultation and has said that the energy companies must respond by December. In case he has missed it—I know that he is not that well informed—[Interruption.] He starts running down the officials who advise us, but they cannot respond to him; if he wants to start having a go at people, we can all play games like that.

On prepayment meters, the energy companies have been given until December, and Ofgem has said that it wants a response and action. We have said that we are prepared to legislate if the energy companies do not respond on prepayment meters. It certainly is the case that we have ensured that our energy market is able to operate more effectively than those in Europe. In recent years, we have been able to keep our average energy prices lower, and we now need to ensure that we have greater transparency in the broader EU market.

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I applaud the work that my hon. and learned Friend is doing on social tariffs, but in rural constituencies such as mine, social tariffs do not matter to many people, as their only form of heating is oil, liquefied petroleum gas or coal—the latter has also risen significantly in price. Will he consider ways to reduce bills for people who rely on those fuels?

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We are already looking at the market for heating oil, which does cause me some concern. We want to ensure that it operates efficiently and effectively. The market for coal is now much more international—and certainly more European—than regional, and that affects the price. Some 90 per cent. of the coal supplied in the UK goes to the power stations, so very small amounts go to domestic use. My hon. Friend is right to say that many people are worried, especially in former mining constituencies such as mine, where people receive and use free coal. Others choose to use coal and therefore have to pay the price, and we want to ensure that they are not overcharged.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Road Transport)

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4. What his most recent estimate is of the proportion of UK greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the road transport sector. [235270]

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In 2006—the latest year for which finalised data are available—road transport accounted for approximately 126 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is roughly 19 per cent. of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that the use of graduated vehicle excise duty is an important measure in reducing emissions from road transport? Does she also agree that exempting the current vehicle fleet from graduated VED—for which the forces of conservatism on both sides of the House have lobbied—would be counter-productive to the Government’s climate change strategy? Will she speak to her colleagues in the Treasury about that before the pre-Budget statement in two weeks time?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he knows perfectly well, all decisions on taxation are a matter for the Chancellor, and it will not be long before we hear more on that subject—and others—from him. The principle of linking CO2 emissions to vehicle taxation is correct, and we began that process in 2001. It is supported by my Department, and we also agree that expanding the range of bands to create greater sensitivity between CO2 emissions and particular vehicles is the right approach. We—

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Oh come on!

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Well, it is very important—

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I mean hurry up!

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Order. As a trade unionist, I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to do another man’s job. He is trying to do my job, but in any case, the Minister has done well and we should move on.

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I hope that the Minister gets over her cold soon. While she does so, perhaps she could consider alternative forms of transport. Not every item transported on Britain’s roads needs to be delivered quickly. British Waterways is spending a fortune restoring our canals, and the narrow boat system is far more efficient in terms of greenhouse emissions at moving heavy goods from one part of the country to another. I ask her Department to speak to the Department for Transport and to investigate that alternative way to move goods across the nation.

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I apologise if I am speaking slowly; I have a very bad infection. I simply wanted to conclude that it is appropriate that people should understand linkages so that they can purchase the appropriate vehicles.

Let me turn to the hon. Gentleman’s point about moving goods by water. That subject is always under consideration. I can tell him that the Department for Transport is working on a low-carbon transport strategy. I am quite sure that we will be able to consider the points that he has made, because he is right that there are issues about emissions that can be well dealt with by alternative modes of transport.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [235287]

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The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): The new Department of Energy and Climate Change is a recognition that energy and climate change should be considered not separately but together. It brings together the Government’s work on three challenges that face our country: ensuring that we have energy that is affordable, secure and sustainable; bringing about the transition to a low-carbon Britain; and achieving international agreement on climate change.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. On the subject of secure supply, the Secretary of State might be aware that recently three of the new super-tugs that will be required to bring in the large cargoes of liquefied natural gas that we anticipate will start to arrive in the UK in the months ahead had to be rerouted via the Cape because of fear on the part of the company that they would not be adequately protected against Somali pirates in the gulf of Aden. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence about measures that can be taken to protect all energy-related shipping serving the UK to ensure that we have security of supply in the future?

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International piracy is being considered at EU level, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise that important question. I think that he is also raising the question of the new terminal at Milford Haven, which we hope will be ready next spring. That is very important for bringing in supplies of gas as it will be able to provide up to 20 per cent. of UK gas supplies.

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T4. In four weeks, the UN climate change conference in Poznan will consider the European Union’s climate change and renewable energy package. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the stringent targets in that package are fully supported by the Government and that there has been no attempt to dilute the targets with which we are presented? [235291]

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May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for that point? It is crucial that the 2020 package goes through. The UK Government have been in the forefront of trying to stiffen the resolve of other European members who have taken the position, which I think is wrong, that in this economic downturn that target cannot be pursued. We believe that it is crucial to jobs, to our future and to our climate change agenda that the energy and climate change package is taken forward. This is not the time, in any sense, to resile from that.

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T2. In his letter of 7 October, Lord Turner, the chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said that if there was to be any prospect of our meeting the target on emissions, the decarbonisation of electricity generation had to start now. Today, we have had boasts from those on the Treasury Bench about the great leap forward in generation by 2015, which is almost wholly dependent on fossil fuels. Either Lord Turner is wrong and the Minister is right, or it is the other way around. Which is it? [235289]

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It is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests. We need always to ensure that we strike the appropriate balance between getting security and affordability and ensuring that we hit the targets. Lord Turner is right to say that we need to ensure that we hit those targets and start taking the steps now. We have made proposals for nuclear and for building up renewables, particularly wind technology. We are making Britain the leading country—we passed Denmark about a month ago—in terms of offshore wind provision from wind turbines. We are therefore taking the steps necessary to move towards our target. I do not deny that there is a lot more to do, and that is certainly what Lord Turner and his team have told us.

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T5. The Minister will be aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the capacity of the national grid, and in particular about the queuing system, which adversely affects small projects such as community wind farms that are trying to get connected. What are the Government doing to address those concerns? [235292]

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My hon. Friend is right to say that there are concerns about how those who are bringing forward renewable projects can get access to the grid and the transmission system. We have asked Ofgem to look at the problem: it is coming forward with proposals and we are looking to have a consultation sometime in December. In the immediate term, however, we have made it clear that we want provision to be made for connect and manage, which basically means that new projects can be brought on to the transmission system. Although the system has not been fully upgraded, it can be managed so that we can get some of the new projects on it.

We have also asked Ofgem to look at how the various cases and applications coming forward can be prioritised, and at whether some will actually be delivered. We know that some will not, so we need to prioritise those that are likely to be delivered and make sure that we get them on to the transmission system more quickly and at an earlier date.

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T3. In the Secretary of State’s flagship Climate Change Bill, there is a chapter on waste recovery. Will he take this opportunity to say how the Government propose to get rid of the mountains of paper and plastic that have gone to recycling and are being stored by local authorities? I understand that we need energy-from-waste schemes around the country, but at the moment they are not going ahead to a sufficient extent because of concern about incineration. When will the Government take this theme to the country and explain why energy from waste is so necessary at this time? [235290]

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The Government have already made it absolutely clear that energy from waste systems is part of the waste treatment facilities that this country needs. Private finance credits worth £2 billion are available for the development of more waste infrastructure, and some of the facilities will indeed be energy-from-waste plants. The hon. Lady is right to say that there is a short-term problem with the accumulation of recyclables because of the economic downturn, but we expect that to be dealt with over time. This is not the time for us to begin to discontinue our recycling effort—we must recycle because that saves new resources being used. She is right that getting energy from waste can be one of the solutions to recycling, but it is not the only one. We still need plants that recycle waste and the new developments in recycling plants, especially for plastics, will help to resolve some of the problems.

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I would appreciate it if one of the energy and climate change team would state clearly and boldly that biofuels are essential if we are to achieve our emissions targets. Will one of them visit the biofuels companies and farmers in the north-east? I should greatly appreciate that, as sustainable and innovative food and fuel projects are being developed that are receiving millions of pounds in investment.

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I will definitely volunteer one of my Ministers, or myself, to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. That is something to look forward to, but she raises an important point about biofuels. We are trying to get a provision in the 2020 EU directive for indirect land use in respect of biofuels, to ensure their sustainability. The Government believe that biofuels can play a role in our energy mix, but that we need to be careful that they are produced in a sustainable way. That is the right approach, and it is the basis on which we shall proceed.

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T6. As the poor Minister of State was unable to do so, will the Secretary of State now try to explain why gas and electricity prices are lower in France and Germany than they are in the UK? Will he also allay my constituents’ fears that, with French-owned energy companies in this country, there might be some form of cross-subsidy that is not helping us? [235293]

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The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question is clear: actually, our prices are lower than the EU average for the individual consumer. Historically, that has been the case. As was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, we are more subject to ups and downs in the market price. If the right hon. Gentleman does not like the market system that was introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, he can say so, but the most important thing that we can do, given the system that we have, is first to look at the system to make sure that it is the right one—we will do that—and secondly to put all necessary pressure on the energy companies to lower their prices. That is what we did four weeks ago, and that is what I will do at my meeting with the energy companies on Monday. I shall report back to the House on those discussions.

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My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and I recently attended a reception where there was a demonstration of technology that can be retrofitted to coal-fired power stations to reduce their CO2 emissions by 50 per cent. That would enable coal-fired power stations to be kept in use after 2015, and will reduce our carbon emissions greatly. The technology was developed by British Coal, and it was called the topping cycle at the time. Incidentally, the funding for that topping cycle was abolished by the Conservative Government in 1988. It is ironic that that technology is now being used to reduce carbon emissions. Will my hon. and learned Friend urge the energy generators seriously to consider fitting that technology to existing coal-fired power stations?

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Certainly, my hon. Friend and I attended a meeting where that new technology was discussed. A whole range of new ideas is coming forward from those who want to ensure that we get cleaner coal. One of the ideas brought forward was the one that we discussed the other day. I very much hope that the energy companies will look into such new projects, and run them alongside carbon capture and storage, so that we can ensure a future for clean-coal technology. We know that the Opposition—the Conservatives, at least—take the view that coal does not really have a role unless new technology is delivered in exactly the way that they want. We say that there is a range of ideas out there, and we want to see those ideas develop. We want generators to consider them, so that we get security, as 30 per cent., and at certain times in the year 50 per cent., of our energy comes from coal—

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Order. I call Mr. Peter Lilley.

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T7. Earlier, the Secretary of State admitted that as a result of the Climate Change Bill his progress towards, and policies on, meeting the Government’s targets would be judicially reviewable. Subsequently, he said that he intended to go ahead with coal-fired power stations because he attaches more importance to security of supply. Is he aware that that is precisely the sort of decision that will be subject to judicial review? Will he tell us whether he has taken any legal advice on whether he will be able to get away with that policy? A yes-or-no answer will suffice. [235294]

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Why do I sometimes feel that I am being patronised? What I say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we are determined to meet our targets on climate change emissions, and we will do so. We are also determined to meet our ambitions on security of supply, to ensure that we keep the lights on. I am convinced that we can do both. The question about coal-fired power stations is: how quickly can we get carbon capture and storage attached to new coal-fired power stations? The Opposition have said that there should be no new coal-fired power stations unless CCS can be fitted immediately. We take a less dogmatic position; we ask how quickly we can ensure that carbon capture and storage can be attached to coal-fired power stations. That is what we are considering at the moment.