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Topical Questions

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

Yesterday’s Budget saw a series of measures to help tackle climate change and create the low-carbon jobs of the future, including action on carbon capture and storage, renewables and energy efficiency. It was also the first Budget to unveil legally binding carbon budgets, whereby the UK has pledged a 34 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2020. It underlines our commitment to domestic action by setting a zero credit limit in the first budget period up to 2012.

I am delighted and very grateful to hear that carbon capture and storage will be part of our future fuel security into the next decade. Will companies such as Doosan Babcock, which have pioneered this work and have put their necks out to ensure that this technology is available, be fully consulted as we move forward with these excellent technologies?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have had a couple of meetings with Doosan Babcock, which is pioneering some of the most important technology in this area. As I shall say in my statement later and as the Chancellor made clear in the Budget yesterday, the task facing us is to trial as many of the technologies as possible. CCS is at an early stage. We all think that it will be a big hope for the future in terms of clean coal, but we know that we need all the technologies to be developed, including post-combustion, pre-combustion and a range of technologies. That is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday are designed to achieve.

T2. At a public inquiry last week on a potential biomass plant at Bishop’s Castle in my constituency, one of the objectors suggested that the Environment Agency is now indicating that the carbon emissions from electricity generated by biomass plants are greater than those generated by fossil fuel plants. Is that the Government’s view? (270317)

I have not heard that particular suggestion before, but I shall certainly consult the Environment Agency to see whether it has said that and, if so, what the basis for making such a claim is.

T8. I welcome the announcement of the rise in the Warm Front grant to £3,500. That will certainly help the off-the-mains people, such as my constituent Jon Kirkman, who has had a very poor service from Eaga in recent times. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to assess the green credentials of the scrappage scheme announced in the Budget yesterday, bearing in mind the fact that 20 per cent. of carbon emissions during a car’s life are associated with its manufacture? The logical way to approach the issue would be to encourage people to keep cars longer, not least because the average car in the UK fleet is less than five years old. It is a green coat of paint— (270323)

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

Older cars tend to emit more products into the atmosphere, as a result of which they are greater polluters. The aim is to get some of the much more fuel-efficient cars on the road. The newer cars not only consume far less fuel, by and large, but emit less into the atmosphere. If we can get the newer cars, rather than the older ones, on the road, we will reduce the problems that we have with atmospheric damage.

T3. Yesterday’s Budget was a missed opportunity to invest in green measures and to stimulate the economy. The Government offered us £1.4 billion, but the Committee on Climate Change has estimated that £15 billion a year needs to be spent on green measures and this week Lord Stern said that it should be as much as £20 billion. Why are the Government rejecting the advice of their own experts? (270318)

We are not rejecting the advice of our experts. One very important point is that we already have a huge amount of investment going into green technology in this country. For example, the renewables obligation will mean that about £100 billion will go into green investment between now and 2020. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor added to that with what he did on the renewables obligation, on carbon capture and storage and in raising finance from elsewhere, such as through the European Investment Bank and other sources. I do not accept the hon. Lady’s portrayal of what we did yesterday. It is also worth adding that, as I said earlier, the carbon budgets aspect of yesterday’s Budget was a world first.

Returning to carbon capture and storage, may I urge my right hon. Friend to address the issue with some speed, regardless of which technology is used? If we decide to embrace the retrofitting of carbon capture and storage to existing coal-fired power stations, we will have to do so before they are decommissioned in 2015.

I will be addressing the matter with some speed, in an hour or so. My hon. Friend is right: there is urgency about this, but there is also urgency to make sure that we have a funded mechanism to ensure that carbon capture and storage happens. That was made possible by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday, and that is why I will make a statement later today.

T4. In October last year, when oil was around $70 a barrel, a litre of unleaded petrol cost the motorist about £1.07, yet in June 2007, when oil was around $71 dollars a barrel, a litre of unleaded cost 97p. Does that not indicate a degree of market failure among some of the major petrol retailers? Why have the Government not instructed the Competition Commission to instigate an inquiry to make sure that the beleaguered motorist is treated fairly, not least because the motorist was clobbered again in the Budget yesterday? Does the Minister not realise that many people have no choice but to use their car? (270319)

It is the case, of course, that the escalator was introduced by a Conservative Government. But let us not go there; let us instead deal with the real issue of the price of fuel for cars. The price of petrol and diesel spiked last year; that was a substantial burden for the motorist, but the price has gone down sharply. It is dependent, obviously, on the overall world economic situation. The demand for oil responds very quickly to global financial circumstances and, as a result, prices have fallen, but it is interesting that they have started to rise again, albeit not to a substantial extent. On the price of oil there is not only a need to ensure that we are able to get out of the recession without it spiking too high; we also need to sustain investment in the oil and gas industry, particularly—from the UK’s point of view—in the North sea.

What support are the Government giving to the reopening of Harworth deep-mine colliery in my constituency?

The Government are working, and are in discussions, to ensure that we can encourage the process of reopening Harworth, but there are still further quite detailed discussions to be had.

T6. Can we not have a more balanced discussion on climate change? We are told so often that the north pole is melting, yet Arctic ice has reached a maximum area this winter, and the British Antarctic Survey has confirmed that over the past 30 years, the area of sea ice around the continent has expanded. In fact, the south pole has experienced significant cooling in the past 30 years. Why do we not hear the facts, so that we can make up our mind about what is happening? (270321)

I am all for unconventional thinking, but I say to the hon. Lady that on these sorts of questions, it is best to trust the science. [Interruption.] If she will let me finish my answer, I can point out that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is real, is happening, and is man-made. I really worry about an approach that says, “We can leave all this to one side, because perhaps it is not happening”, as that is not what the scientists are telling us. To take one year, or one fact, and say that somehow it shows that climate change is not happening is precisely what the scientists tell us that we must not do. We must look at the trend over 20 or 30 years, and that shows unequivocally that climate change is happening.