It is a great privilege to open this debate on the Gracious Speech and its plans on energy and the environment.
The debate comes as people in Cumbria are battling the worst flooding in memory and I want to start by paying tribute to PC Bill Barker, who tragically lost his life, and to others who have lost their lives around the country. I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with their families.
We thank the emergency services for the work that they are doing and hope that the people who have been forced out of their homes can return to them as soon as possible. Such flooding will become more frequent because of climate change, which makes the Flood and Water Management Bill, overseen by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so important. The Bill is a crucial part of implementing Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations.
We must act not just to adapt to climate change but to prevent it. That is the focus of my Department’s work and the Energy Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech. The context of that Bill is the crucial starting point for this debate on the Gracious Speech, because I believe that we need candour above all on the reasons why we must act on climate change, the scale of the challenge that we face and what we need to do about that challenge.
There is a real danger to this argument, which is that somehow it is suggested that the science of climate change is in doubt. It is very important that we show that it is not. Today, the Met Office, the National Environment Research Council and the Royal Society issued a joint statement, and it is worth mentioning some of the key points. They say that global carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise and that the decade 2000-09 has been warmer on average than any other decade in the previous 150 years. They add that Arctic summer sea ice cover declined suddenly in 2007 and 2008, and that there is
“increasing evidence of continued and accelerating sea level rises around the world.”
Those organisations also say that the science has become clearer and that, if anything, the dangers are becoming more pronounced.
Does the Secretary of State get very frustrated, as I do, by the small number of deniers who still think that climate change is not happening? Anyone who comes to Montgomeryshire today will see a large swathe of my constituency under water, something that is happening more and more frequently. The reality is that climate change is happening, we have caused it and, as he rightly points out, we have to fix it.
I agree. In the year or so that I have been doing this job, I have learned that we have to remake the case for the science each time we talk about these issues. There are too many noises off from people who say that the science is somehow not proven, or that experts differ. Let us be clear: the overwhelming consensus of scientific evidence says that climate change is happening and that it is man-made.
I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend. On that point, does he agree that the 10:10 campaign is doing a great deal to promote awareness of the seriousness of the situation that we face, which is backed up by the scientific evidence? Do we not need more local initiatives so that everyone can understand the big picture and take action locally as well?
My right hon. Friend has touched on part of the problem, which is that some people are in denial. However, the majority of the world recognises that the problem has an impact on everybody. What can he do to ensure that there is international collaboration on good, positive schemes, such as carbon capture and the other initiatives that are emerging? Does he agree that we must ensure that developing countries such as China, Brazil and India also get that technology?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely eloquent point, and one of the most important purposes of the upcoming Copenhagen summit is precisely to encourage the sort of co-operation that he mentions. We must also ensure that all countries take action, and that is a central part of tackling the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman started by talking about flooding, and many of us who represent constituencies that flood have been raising these issues for many years. The river in Shrewsbury has been rising again, threatening the town. When he makes announcements about future plans for flood defences, will the Government ensure that there is considerable debate about wet washland schemes and about managing rivers across large areas, rather than piecemeal defences?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs assures me that that is an important part of the debate. It is worth saying that we have increased flood defence spending, but the point that the hon. Gentleman makes is absolutely correct.
I believe that the science is clear. I also believe that the case for action does not rest simply on the environmental catastrophe that awaits if we do not act: there is also a positive argument, to which the Energy Bill in the Queen’s Speech speaks.
I could not agree more with the Secretary of State when he says that we need to have confidence in the science. Does he therefore agree with the remarks of George Monbiot in The Guardian today? He says:
“The emails extracted…from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging…There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.
Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
“I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.”
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on that?
That is certainly an unusual alliance—George Monbiot and the right hon. Gentleman. In all seriousness, my view is that there should be maximum transparency about the data that exist. I know that in debate on related questions, one of my ministerial colleagues talked to the right hon. Gentleman about the way in which the Met Office was seeking permission for the release of the raw data; the right hon. Gentleman has been campaigning for that. Maximum transparency can only help the case of those who believe that climate change is real and man-made; that is important. I will not comment on the e-mails, because I have not seen the detail, but I clearly say to him that transparency is important.
The only other point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman is that we should be cautious about using leaked partial e-mails to cast doubt on the scientific consensus, because that is dangerous and irresponsible. The scientific consensus is clear. Although there must be transparency of data, we should be responsible in how we talk about the issues. Let us be clear: the more we cast doubt on such questions, the more we question the case for action. The case for action involves making difficult decisions—a point that I shall come on to.
May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my constituents need no convincing that climate change is real? The evidence is before our eyes in Cumbria today. Does he agree that denial and scepticism are basically an excuse for copping out and not taking the action that we need to take? As for the events that we are witnessing this week in Cumbria, we sometimes refer to such events as incidents that take place once in 100 or 1,000 years. Does he agree that that is unfortunate and inaccurate language? It might be accurate to say those sorts of things when looking backwards, but looking forward, such events will become much more regular because of the climate change to which he refers.
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right: the standard will change over time. There was severe flooding in my constituency in 2007. That had last happened in the 1950s, but the flooding was described as a once-in-100-years or once-in-1,000-years event. The way that we talk about such matters needs to change.
The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way. I am sure that he will agree that if we are to reduce our carbon footprint, it is important to lower domestic fuel consumption, including fuel bills, wherever possible. Some months ago, I raised with him the idea that we should oblige energy companies to print on all domestic bills whether customers are on the company’s cheapest tariff, and if they are not, the company should put how much the customer would save by changing or switching. He kindly said that it was an ingenious idea, yet recently I received a letter from his Department saying that the Government could no longer support it. What has changed his mind?
We absolutely support the idea; indeed, Ofgem is bringing in regulations to ensure that people get an annual statement about where they can get a better tariff from the company concerned. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman.
I briefly want to mention the positive case. There are real gains for our economy if we make the low-carbon transition and if, at Copenhagen, the world signals that it will make the low-carbon transition. There would be jobs in new industries, including the wind industry. The money allocated in the Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is already being used to help wind companies such as Clipper in north-east England, which is developing the largest offshore wind blade in the world; it is larger than a jumbo jet. There is money for wave and tidal power, and money for venture capital investment in green industry.
The point is both to avoid environmental calamity down the road and to talk about the positive benefits for our economy, energy security and quality of life. However, the scale of the challenge is enormous. Nowhere will that be more clear than at Copenhagen, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) referred to the issues. The UK is determined to play its part in getting an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen. That is why we have committed to 34 per cent. reductions in our carbon emissions by 2020, to more as part of an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen, and to 80 per cent. cuts by 2050.
It is worth asking, “What do 80 per cent. cuts by 2050 mean?” because that is very much the context of this debate. They mean huge ambition—near zero-carbon homes, substantial cuts in transport, and near zero-carbon energy. That shows the scale of the challenge. At the same time, because of electric cars and the electrification of rail and heating, it will in all likelihood—in a sense, this is the biggest challenge—mean more use of electricity, which must be low carbon. That is what makes the decarbonisation of our energy supply the most important and urgent task that we face, and that is what the Energy Bill in the Gracious Speech addresses.
One of the greatest polluters is the marine industry, which deploys large supertankers. As the Secretary of State will be aware, at the moment a considerable number of supertankers are carrying oil in very sensitive areas off the shore of the UK, waiting for the price of fuel to increase. Is that a matter of concern to him, and is there anything that he proposes to—or, indeed, can—do about it?
Controlling the movement of supertankers is tough, but maritime shipping and aviation are important, and must be part of the Copenhagen deal in my view. Unless we can get action across the board, including in the sector to which the hon. Gentleman referred, we will find it much harder to tackle the problem.
The Secretary of State has repeated that shipping, like aviation, is hugely important if we are to get the right climate in future. Why, then, does the parliamentary answer that I have just received say that of the 38 people his Department is sending to Copenhagen at least 19 are flying there, given that perfectly adequate, and probably cheaper, rail journeys are available?
I hate to tell the hon. Gentleman this, but I think we might be taking more than 38 people to Copenhagen. However, I am sure that as many of them as possible will travel by train, and I am sure that we will investigate all the possibilities for getting there.
The Minister briefly mentioned electric cars—indeed, the Prime Minister mentioned them at the G8 in 2008, when he said that the UK should be at the forefront of the electric car revolution. However, with the exception of the efforts by the Mayor of London in the capital, very little appears to have been done, while our competitors are streets ahead, even gas-guzzling America, which has increased its total of electric cars by 27 per cent. on average since 1992. What is the Minister going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman obviously did not notice the incentive that we have unveiled precisely to encourage electric cars in this country, as well as the charging points that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government discussed last week.
That takes me to the issue of energy, and I repeat that we face big challenges in that area. No one should pretend the scale of the challenge is not huge. Our plans will mean that approximately 10,000 wind turbines will be built between now and 2020, as part of the strategy for achieving 30 per cent. renewable electricity by 2020. It means having nuclear power stations, which is why we made national policy statements on that two weeks ago. That requires hard decisions, and we should be honest about that. It requires giving people a voice—that is important in the new planning process—but it also means, in my view, facing down those who would say no to wind, or to nuclear, or to clean coal. The scale of the challenge that we face is enormous, and it requires a culture change, as our countryside is going to change, because we need a low-carbon energy infrastructure. It also means driving forward on clean coal and saying no to those who oppose it.
One clean-coal power station in the UK has already received a provisional allocation of €160 million in funding. In the new year, we will announce how we will spend the £90 million to be allocated for engineering and design as part of the next stage of our carbon capture and storage competition. The crucial thing about the Energy Bill is that it legislates for a clean-coal levy to provide funding for up to four demonstration projects. That will provide funding of up to £9.5 billion over the coming two decades—the largest single investment in CCS of any country in the world, including the United States.
I am always pleased to hear the Minister’s words on clean coal, as he knows. However, we talk glibly about “up to four” demonstrations, and we talk about ensuring that those things happen without providing the finance to do so properly. When will we know exactly how many demonstrations there will be, and when will we know when the money will be available to get them moving?
The plan is that the money starts to flow from 2011, subject to the House passing the Energy Bill. The levy is precisely designed to give the certain stream of funding that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Our view was that in difficult fiscal times it was right to make this investment and to provide a clear and certain stream of funding. That is the plan.
With 800 million tonnes of coal in north-east Leicestershire ready to be extracted, I would be the first to support the advance of clean coal technology, but does the Secretary of State recognise that in the interim, there is a risk of an expansion of open-cast coal, which is one of the most environmentally damaging activities that we can see in the midlands of England? That should be headed off, should it not?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who is being extremely generous with his time. On clean coal, he says that already one plant has received a funding allocation for a carbon capture and storage project, but the 2003 energy White Paper referred to CCS technologies and the need for projects. We have lost five or six years. The Secretary of State is in no position to brag about speedy progress on carbon capture.
I am in a position not to brag but to say that it is important that we are doing what many hon. Members called for—providing certainty about the stream of funding. Provided that the Bill gets through the House, it will provide the certain stream of funding that I know the hon. Gentleman wants.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s support for carbon capture. In West Fife there is certainly support for Longannet being one of those carbon capture demonstration projects, but I fear that the timetable is slipping; 2014 is a date that is not mentioned any more. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that the pilots and the roll-out of carbon capture are not being subtly delayed?
No, they are not, and 2014 has always been part of our criteria for the competition. That remains the case. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as with any procurement, the rules cannot be changed half way through the process, so the rules are as they have always been.
I was saying what the case is. There is a UK case, which all hon. Members are aware of, and there is a global case. On its own, coal accounts for around a third of all global CO2 emissions. That is why it is so necessary to make progress on CCS, and why we should make our contribution in the UK. It is also—this goes to my point about the economic opportunity for Britain in tackling climate change—a huge economic opportunity. I pay tribute to regional development agencies and others who are working on potential clusters in their own areas. That is true in Yorkshire and in other parts of the country. All these can be eligible for the levy and the funding that that will provide. The possibilities are significant. Independent estimates say that we could have up to 60,000 jobs in the UK as a result of moving towards CCS, with the demonstration projects that I have talked about as the hub.
In respect of our low carbon and energy infrastructure, there are difficult decisions to be made on renewables, nuclear and clean coal, but the other half of the equation is the cost that we face. It is important that we face up to those costs. The low carbon transition plan was clear about the costs and the impacts on bills. The CCS levy will add 2 or 3 per cent. to electricity bills by 2020, as we have set out. The only way we take people with us in this process is by showing that the price impacts can be fair.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I want to make progress.
We are acting in the Bill and elsewhere to make the transition as fair as it can be. We are acting to help people reduce the energy that they use, and in the past year 1.5 million households received support to improve their insulation. We are acting to help people meet the higher energy costs of winter through the winter fuel payment, and, as a result of the action that has been taken, in the past year we have eliminated the differential between pre-payment and standard credit customers. In 2008, the average dual-fuel pre-payment customer paid £41 more than the average standard credit dual-fuel customer; now they pay £4 less. But we know that we need to do more, and that is what the Energy Bill tries to do through a series of changes.
The answer that the Secretary of State gave me about the Ofgem annual statement was, I respectfully point out, incorrect. The annual statement will not explain to customers whether they are on the cheapest tariff or what they should do to switch. Will he answer my original question? When he first described the idea, he called it ingenious, but his Department no longer supports it. Why the change?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct, but if he is I shall be happy to make representations to Ofgem, because we need the fullest information possible for consumers. That is what Ofgem’s planned annual statement is designed to do, and, as it is coming in next year, I am sure that there will be time to influence it.
Let me list three things that the Energy Bill will do. First, it will make social price support mandatory. At the moment, vulnerable customers rely on a voluntary system to receive a reduced rate on energy. The voluntary systems mean that more than 1 million customer accounts have benefited from lower prices, but I fully acknowledge that we need to do more, and that is why we will make compulsory that support and increase the available amount of social price support.
Secondly, the regulator needs stronger powers to deal with abuse, and the Bill will specifically act to prevent the exploitation of market power by energy generators. Thirdly, not only do we need stronger powers for the regulator but we need the regulator to use them, so the Bill will change Ofgem’s remit to reflect the fact—this is very important—that relying on competition alone is insufficient if we are to provide the consumer protection that we need. My message is very clear—the regulator must step in proactively where competition is not sufficient to protect the interests of consumers. We will make that very clear.
A number of people in my constituency would like to use less electricity, but unfortunately the communal heating systems that the local authority refuses to change prohibits them from doing so. Will the Secretary of State look at whether an amendment could be added to the Bill to compel local authorities to get rid of those inefficient and environmentally unfriendly communal heating systems?
I thought that we were rather in favour of community heating, but perhaps not in the case that my hon. Friend talks about. I fear an increase in this trend whereby I receive lots of invitations to add to our Bill, which I am told has to be short and concise. Indeed, I think that it is. However, I shall definitely look at what my hon. Friend has to say on that question.
I support what the Secretary of State said about mandatory social tariffs, but we need to introduce the data-sharing provisions that were passed in a previous Bill. I understand, however, that an ongoing Department for Work and Pensions pilot must end before data sharing can be introduced, so what is the time scale for making it available to energy companies?
I am reassured by the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), that the regulations will be out this week, so that is a clear sign of delivery by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way for a second time. Social tariffs drive down electricity bills, but so does energy efficiency. Will he comment on the plans that have been floated to make available to all 25 million households in Britain energy efficiency loans of £6,500? Is he aware that the cost would be about £160 billion, a sum not unadjacent to 10 per cent. of GDP? Is that a cost-effective way of using taxpayers’ money?
My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) have become pen pals on that issue, but I have to say that her letters have been better than his. I shall turn to that subject in a moment.
My message is very clear: the regulator must step in proactively where competition is not sufficient to protect the interests of consumers. Let me also make it clear that the new system of quarterly reporting on wholesale and retail prices that we introduced is designed to bring transparency and fairness for consumers. We look forward to the next quarterly report, because when there is a case for price reductions they need to be passed on to consumers. Taken together, the measures that we have announced in the Queen’s Speech confront the hard choices that we have to make in relation to climate change: hard choices about our energy infrastructure, about energy bills, and about protection for vulnerable consumers.
I search in this debate for that elusive thing, all-party consensus, but on domestic policy I am not optimistic. It has to be said that the Conservatives are outstanding at green image-making. Let us be honest, the image that we all remember—perhaps their finest moment; I think it was the brainchild of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker)—is the huskies. [Interruption.] There was not a car driving behind the huskies—that was in the case of the bicycle. The test for the Opposition in this debate on the Gracious Address is whether they can match the huskies with clear and concrete policy making. So far, they have not done very well, but the Queen’s Speech represents a chance for them to support us in five particular areas. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle refers to the green investment bank. That policy was announced today. The green investment bank is the first bank in world history to be announced with no money attached to it—it will not be much of a bank, in my view.
This is an opportunity for the Conservative party to join the all-party consensus in this debate. There are five questions that I hope that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells will be able to answer—the five tests, one might call them. The Conservatives need to face up to the hard choices that are necessary. First, I say that the CCS levy is necessary: does he agree? I will be interested to hear his reply. Secondly, they need to face up to the hard choices necessary on low-carbon infrastructure in general. We say that it is right to go ahead with the Infrastructure Planning Commission, but the local government spokesman for the Conservatives says that they would abolish the IPC. Business says that it is very worried about that plan because it would set back the process of building our low-carbon infrastructure.
Thirdly, we say that it is wrong that 60 per cent. of wind turbine applications are turned down by Conservative councils, because that will not get us the low-carbon energy infrastructure that we need. [Interruption.] Just to be clear about this, 60 per cent. of such applications made to Conservative councils are turned down. That is not surprising, given that the shadow Business Secretary says:
“My view is that those few wild and open spaces that we have left in Britain should not be used for wind turbines”.
There would be no onshore wind at all under the Conservatives. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells will have to tell us whether he agrees with me that we need onshore wind to contribute towards a renewable energy target of 15 per cent. or agrees with his right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Business Secretary.
Fourthly, there is the issue of costs, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). The Conservatives cannot simply keep going round promising things that they do not have a clue how they are going to pay for. The latest example is the promise of £6,500 for every household, which would cost £150 billion or more, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State has made clear. They have absolutely no idea how they are going to pay for that policy, and I will be interested to hear what the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells has to say about it.
Finally, there is the international dimension of climate change. That is not about the huskies—it is about Europe. What are the Conservatives doing in Europe? They are hanging around with climate change deniers in their new grouping. What did Roger Helmer, the Conservative MEP, choose to do this week, of all weeks? He organised a conference of climate change deniers. What kind of signal does that send? I think it sends a ridiculous signal, and I will be interested to hear the views of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells. The truth is that on the CCS levy, on energy infrastructure, on costing their policies, and on Europe, the Conservatives are not willing to face up to the hard choices necessary to make the green energy revolution happen.
By contrast, we are willing to face up to the hard choices. We have a clear plan with a clear policy. It is guided by the science, it makes the case for action economically as well as environmentally, and it is about taking the carbon out of our economy. The Queen’s Speech makes an essential contribution to that task and to combating dangerous climate change, adapting to it and ensuring that the low-carbon transition is fair. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
I begin by expressing my solidarity with what the Secretary of State said about our concerns for the people of Cumbria and other parts of the country given the devastating floods that they have suffered during recent days. I believe that that part of the country is braced for further inclement weather, so perhaps the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs might take the trouble in his remarks at the end of the debate to update us on what is going on there. We all know that the family of PC Barker will never be consoled over his loss, but they should know that we are united in admiration for the heroic father of the children in that family.
It is always a pleasure to debate matters with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. We have seen something of a starfest in these Queen’s Speech debates in recent days. We started with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, moved on to the Energy Secretary’s brother, the Foreign Secretary, and now we have the right hon. Gentleman himself. One could be forgiven for thinking that this was an early hustings meeting for the future leadership of the Labour party. I suspect that that accounts for the thinness of the attendance on the Labour Benches.
There is a degree of consensus, despite the Secretary of State’s attempts towards the end of his speech to sow the seeds of division, which were not particularly necessary. He mentioned the Energy Bill, but he must realise that at this stage of a Parliament, faced with the current crisis in our energy security, it is so weak and feeble in its contribution to solving the problem as to defy belief. As has been mentioned, we have had news today that last winter, there was a 40 per cent. increase in the number of excess winter deaths—people who sadly died in advance of what was expected. If that is not a clarion call for an urgent increase in the energy efficiency of properties in this country, especially for people who are vulnerable and in need, particularly pensioners, I do not know what is. Yet that fails to appear in any part of the Bill, which is a great disappointment to Conservative Members and, I suspect, to those of all parties.
Unbelievably, the Bill is not purposeful in its intentions. It is timid and provides powers that will need to be enacted in a future Session. It does not get to grips with the urgency of the problem. It fails to take into account the urgency of the opportunity that we have been pointing out, which is a shame, because there is cross-party consensus on addressing our need to close the energy gap that has opened up.
That is the context in which we debate these matters. For the first time since the 1970s this country faces a shortfall in its energy generation capacity and the Government have had to admit that we face power cuts in the decade ahead. It is back to the 1970s—that was disclosed in the Government’s own paper, which was published and announced to the House in July.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the need for more energy in the future, and particularly for more renewable energy, so will he tell the House what he is going to do to persuade his party’s council leaders to approve more wind farm applications rather than reject them in the numbers that they are currently rejecting them?
If the hon. Lady will be patient, I will answer the Secretary of State’s question about that in great detail; I have no problem with doing that. However, we should be aware of the chasm that faces us: power cuts that will affect British industry and consumers and be equivalent to an hour’s black-out for a quarter of the British population. What a humiliation it is that we are in that position.
My hon. Friend is talking about the future, but an immediate problem is storage capacity, particularly for gas. Other countries, such as France, have far greater capacity. Does he agree that our current capacity is woefully inadequate, and that the Government have not had their eye on the ball?
My hon. Friend is right and it is completely inadequate. The Energy Bill was an opportunity to take urgent action on this point. Other countries protect themselves against the possibility of interrupted gas supplies, but nothing in the Bill would address that problem.
How did the Conservatives’ policies in the 1980s help to secure energy supplies—they wrecked the coal industry—and will the hon. Gentleman tell us about the power stations that his party constructed in the 1980s and 1990s that would have prevented the crisis that we are now facing?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady is with us on the need to decarbonise our production of electricity, but one of the problems that we face at the moment is the fact that our coal-fired power stations cause nitrogen and sulphur dioxide pollution and contribute disastrously to our climate change objectives. So the unabated reliance on coal that she implies is not the answer.
If Labour Members want a lesson in history, they need only look back some five years, when the Government published an energy White Paper on future energy needs and completely dismissed the idea that nuclear power stations should be recommissioned. That was absolutely ridiculous.
My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, the Government have failed to take the right decisions on all of these different technologies. They have got us into this position because they have failed, over a 12-year period, to take the necessary decisions for our national energy security. That should not be a surprise, because it is the same approach they took on the economy, where they failed to address the problems that were evidently mounting, instead hoping to be able to look the other way and ignore them.
My hon. Friend talks about the weakness of the Energy Bill, but he will recall that the Government passed the Energy Act 2004. I had the honour of leading for the Opposition on that Bill, and while it did a few useful things, it entirely disregarded the problem that we are facing.
It has been a consistent tendency of the Government’s over the past 12 years to behave like an ostrich, put their head in the sand and duck these issues—[Interruption.] Labour Members moan, but let us go through each option in turn. For example, the whole House has known for the past 12 years that North sea oil and gas production would peak and go into decline during the years ahead. There was nothing much to be done about that, but we should have prepared for the inevitability of needing to import greater supplies of gas. What happens in other countries that rely on gas to heat and power their homes? They ensure that they have enough storage capacity to get them through the winter—
As my hon. Friend says, that is a legal requirement in many cases. Have we seen such an approach in the past 12 years from the Government? Of course we have not, and the result is that we have—at the present rate of consumption in the winter—fewer than 15 days’ storage capacity for gas supplies. Germany has 99 days and France has 125 days of storage capacity. As the Secretary of State knows, in February when we faced a combination of a severe winter and the dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which disrupted gas supplies across Europe, we had left in storage just four days worth of gas. If that were this week, that would not be enough to get us to the weekend. That is an abysmal record for this Government. Nor did the problem emerge from a clear, blue sky: it was predictable and foreseeable.
Another example is nuclear energy. We have known for the whole of the past decade that our nuclear fleet would come to the end of its planned life by the end of the decade ahead, but where was the realisation that that would lead to a shortfall in our energy-generating capacity? It was not there. We are now in the ridiculous situation where it is too late for us to renew the contribution from our existing nuclear fleet before it is closed down. We cannot have new nuclear power stations up and running by 2017. Yet again, that is an abdication of responsibility by this Government over 12 years.
When the Government finally publish the long-awaited planning statement on nuclear—indeed, it is six months overdue—they leave it open to further delay through the possibility of judicial review. However, that could have been proofed against if only they had followed the right democratic course and allowed this House to vote on the statement and ratify it, thereby clearly expressing the view of the people through the House, so that when it comes to judicial review, investors can have a greater reliance on it.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) mentioned coal. We have known for many years that our most polluting coal-fired power stations would need to be turned off in the years ahead, but have we had a plan to replace them with clean coal capacity? What do you think, Mr. Speaker? Of course we have not. There is a gap there, just as there is a gap in all the other technologies. The Secretary of State trumpeted his proposals in the Energy Bill that will come before us to introduce a levy to pay for that process—or, I should say, to introduce the powers later that would give him the opportunity to introduce a levy to pay for it.
However, given that we have known for so long that coal without CCS is not viable, why has it taken a proposal in the Energy Bill in this Queen’s Speech, so late in the day, for us even to think about how it will be paid for? As my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) said, going down the CCS route was first mooted in 2003, so why were those proposals not in the Queen’s Speech in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 or 2008? Only now, in 2009, do we finally get the first inkling that it might be necessary to pass a piece of legislation to turn what I might uncharitably call the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor’s hot air on the subject into something approaching an idea that could help with our energy security.
When it comes to renewables, again we have an abysmal record in this country. In the first decade of the 12 and a half years in which the Government have been in office, we increased the share of energy that we generated from renewables from 1 to 1.3 per cent. What a completely pathetic increase, especially when we consider that we have some of the best renewable resources in the world, including a coastline that is the envy of Europe in the opportunities that it provides for wind, wave and tidal energy—none of which has been exploited to its full potential, beyond a bare scratching of the surface. At a time when other countries have substantially increased their contributions from renewables, it is shameful that we have failed to take the opportunities that we have had, and in so doing seen the supply chain for many such technologies move to other countries.
I have just been talking about how the Government’s approach to the economy very much mirrors their approach to energy. Where they have acted, they have acted unsustainably, but more often they have failed to act. We are in the sad position of not being able to afford the profligacy that the hon. Lady mentions.
No, I am talking about a fiscal stimulus more generally. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have been talking all week about the proposals that we will make. I will come on to say more about them, but whatever we are talking about—whether gas storage, nuclear, coal or renewables—the Government’s record over 12 years, across the board and on all those technologies, has been to create the problem that is now a national emergency for us to solve.
My hon. Friend is completely right. It is a real disappointment that the Energy Bill does not contain a serious proposal to improve the energy efficiency of our properties. I was asked earlier about our green deal, which has been widely welcomed as offering the opportunity for people to save money on their energy bills. That is much needed—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State might not think that that is the case, but his constituents might advise him that they are struggling to pay their bills at the moment. It is important that we find ways to cut the energy consumption in people’s homes, especially at this time. In so doing, we should also be helping to reduce our CO2 emissions. I cannot for the life of me understand why, when everyone recognises that the best way to save energy and money is to stop wasting energy, the Government have wasted the opportunity provided by the Queen’s Speech and the Energy Bill finally to do something about that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the Government’s biggest omissions has been in not considering rural areas, especially areas such as Devon, which have very old houses that are much more difficult to insulate? They have provided no significant extra funds for such insulation.
My hon. Friend is right. When we were designing our green deal, we were determined that the limit of £6,500 should be high enough to ensure not only that it covered the basic cavity walls and loft insulation available for modern houses, but that houses that are harder to treat—I hesitate to say “hard to treat”, because it is important to get the message out that they can be treated—can be treated in such a way that actually saves money. We need to unlock the savings that people can make, and use them to release to people up front the cost of making those investments.
It is characteristic of the Government to assume that any proposal that they hear about must involve the expenditure of vast amounts of public funds. That is what they assume all the time—[Interruption.] I will enlighten the Secretary of State. When people save money on their energy bills through being more energy efficient, that is costing them less than it otherwise would. That stream of savings continues into the future. Our discussions with the banks have elicited a certain enthusiasm for the proposal that, by taking those savings and capitalising on them, people can get the money up front that is needed to make those investments.
That proposal would benefit everyone in the economy. From day one, it would reduce energy consumption and bills, even after repayment, for the people who engage in such improvements. It would reduce our CO2 emissions and provide work for energy efficiency installers at a time when the construction industry is suffering. It would also provide apprenticeships. It would provide a stimulus to the economy that would not have the effect that the Government’s stimulus is having—namely, to saddle future generations with debts without the means of repaying them. There could not be a better designed policy for the times, and it is a source of sadness to me and others outside the House that the Secretary of State has not had the imagination to put such a proposal into the Queen’s Speech.
One group of people who cannot benefit are local authority tenants living in accommodation with communal heating systems. The only way they can reduce the heat is to open their windows, and they are still billed for the total cost of the heating by the local authority. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that local authorities that refuse to deal with such inefficiency and continue to bill their tenants, who have no choice, need to be tackled robustly and immediately by the Government?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that, if people are having to open their windows to maintain the right temperature in their homes, that is a problem that should be addressed. I am sure that the modern controls on boilers should be able to address it. In general, I share the Secretary of State’s enthusiasm for district heating systems that can provide a more efficient alternative to individual boilers. However, the energy efficiency improvements that we have been talking about apply just as much to the tenants that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned as to the occupiers of any other kind of house.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have published our own home energy efficiency plan for 700 million households to be insulated by 2020 and we have said that we will pilot it in the low carbon transition plan, which we will be announcing shortly. The problem with the hon. Gentleman’s position is that he says that we can give £6,500 to everybody on day one. I do not know how he will pay for every household to have that. I asked him in my speech to clarify—perhaps he can advise us now—how he will pay for that £6,500 on day one.
I cannot understand why the Secretary of State does not listen, if not to me then to his own speeches. Perhaps he has been too long in the Treasury. Let me remind him of what he said to the Environmental Audit Committee, and I shall comment on it after I have read it:
“The truth about energy efficiency is that it pays to do it, but the problem is the upfront costs. And the task is to spread those costs over time, not over the time that someone lives in a house, because that might be eight or nine years and that’s probably not enough time, to spread it over a longer period so the repayment, if you like, is connected to the house not the person and to find ways”—
[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should listen to this, as I am quoting his own words back to him and this is a particularly important point. He said the task was to find ways
“in which I think the private sector and others, local councils maybe… can come in and provide that upfront finance”.
That is what the Secretary of State said on 27 October to the Environmental Audit Committee, so I suggest that he listens to the evidence that he gives to Committees and puts it in the Bills that he brings before the House.
I want to make some progress. Many hon. Members want to speak and I have already taken several interventions. If I have time, I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman.
It is not surprising that we have been in this mess over such a long period when over the past 12 years of this Government we have had 15 different Energy Ministers. If Ministers are moved every nine months, it is not surprising that they cannot get their heads around this relatively technical subject and do not get enough time to act. It is not as though the creation of the new Department has solved all these problems, although it is a step in the right direction. I discovered the other day that a shadow Department of Energy and Climate Change, if we can believe it, has been set up in Lord Mandelson’s empire. Not only is there a shadow Department in the Opposition, but there is a shadow Department—shadowing everything that the Secretary of State does and presumably picking holes in it—in the Government. Not only that: I have discovered that 15 civil servants are employed to do that work. The problem has not been solved; the Government are eating themselves. We are in such a tailspin that the Government are setting up Departments to shadow themselves, which is a pretty poor state of affairs.
We are where we are and this opportunity to achieve a degree of cross-party consensus on some of the necessary measures has arisen; in many cases, we agree on what needs to be done, but a lack of urgency has prevailed during the past 12 years and, sadly, it prevails to this day.
I want to be absolutely clear about what the hon. Gentleman is offering the people. If he is offering £6,500 to every family, to be paid for by the energy companies and backed up by either the Government or local authorities, how much does he expect the public coffers to put forward? I understand that he is offering it immediately to every family in Britain.
I am grateful for that intervention because it allows me to tell the right hon. Gentleman that it will cost the public sector precisely nothing. The savings made on energy bills will be brought forward to pay for the costs. [Interruption.] Let me commend something called the McKinsey cost curve to the Secretary of State; I am surprised that he is not familiar with it. The McKinsey cost curve is well known to those of us familiar with the literature. What it shows is that some ways of improving energy efficiency and saving carbon actually save money at the same time—and that is where we should start. It seems to me that if the Secretary of State is aware of that, he is not able to translate it into policy.
I must make some progress now, if the hon. Lady will forgive me.
I want to talk about an area where there is greater agreement—on the international dimension. The Copenhagen summit, meeting in less than two weeks’ time, is a crucial opportunity not just for Britain but for the world. We cannot say for sure that the floods in Cumbria were a result of climate change, but what we can say is that events like it are going to be more likely, more severe and more frequent in the future.
This time last week, I was in Bangladesh with the charity Christian Aid, looking at the experience of people living in that part of the world, particularly those living on a delta near the coastline. What struck me about all the villages that I visited was not that flooding, erosion and cyclones were out of their historical experience—life in the delta is clearly dangerous and prone to such events—but that people recalling their childhoods were unanimous in the view that events taking place there now were occurring with much greater severity and frequency than was the case even a generation ago. We cannot say that any individual event is categorically indicative of climate change. However, I think there is consensus between us that such events are happening across the world, and are happening more frequently and more severely.
The meeting in Copenhagen that the Secretary of State is about to attend represents an important opportunity. As we have said before during exchanges on this subject, if a deal is to be done at Copenhagen it must be rigorous and consistent with what the science considers necessary to contain catastrophic climate change. A serious attempt must be made to find a new mechanism enabling us to generate funds covering the additional costs of climate change—additional, that is, to the costs that we have already accepted are needed to help people across the world to deal with their poverty in other respects. It is particularly urgent for the rain forests to be protected by a tangible deal. If there is one thing we can do immediately, it is to stop the destruction of rain forests that can not only reduce the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but help the countries in which they are located.
I am optimistic that a positive deal can be struck at Copenhagen. I am sure that there will be tense moments during the weeks ahead when it will seem likely that a deal is slipping away, but I think that it can be done. One by one, countries that were opposed to international agreements—such as the United States, Australia and Japan—are coming aboard. I think that the intervention of China in recent weeks is highly significant. Many of its efforts have been overlooked by the west, but it has made considerable progress.
I also think that the Chinese sense an industrial opportunity. In my view, one of the reasons why the Chinese Government have reversed their position, or at least advanced it towards greater urgency of action on climate change, is that they see that a global economy based on low-carbon sources can offer jobs and prosperity to their people as it can to ours. For instance, 4,000 miles of high-speed electric railway have been installed in China in the past few years, and it has a new and ambitious nuclear power programme. It is clear that the Chinese Government are booking their place for the future.
I share the fear of some of my hon. Friends that we may be falling behind the pace somewhat. Carbon capture and storage is an example. It would be a tragedy for this country if that were indeed the case. We have some of the best resources for the new energy economy. We could not be better placed in terms of our marine engineering skills, some of our research institutions and some of our process engineering skills—not least in Teesside, where I grew up. It is important that we harness those skills to provide jobs for the future, and to serve as a new source of buoyancy in our economy. It makes me angry to observe the dithering on carbon capture and storage which has resulted in countries around the world such as China, Canada and Germany stealing the lead that we could have had if we had been true to what the Labour party said that it wanted to do a while ago.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that hydropower, particularly in counties such as Cumbria, provides an opportunity that we have missed massively in recent years? We had a thriving localised hydroelectricity system until the 1950s, but successive Governments have let it go. We know—obviously—about the power of the water in the county of Cumbria, but there are only four working hydro schemes there today. Is that not an outrage, and should we not be building on what is available?
I completely agree. We have failed across the board to capitalise on our technology. The first industrial revolution started with a reliance on water, not least in the north-west of England. The part of the country that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) represents is teeming with energy possibilities. It has been described as the energy coast, and that applies a bit inland as well. We should be leading the world in this and it is frustrating that we are not.
The Queen’s Speech should have contained a set of urgent actions: an emergency plan to keep the lights on in this country and to reduce CO2 emissions as we need to and to keep fuel bills down for those in greatest need, not least through energy efficiency. If the Conservative party is elected to government, that is what one will find in the Energy Bill that will be included in the first Queen’s Speech of a new Government. We would immediately deploy clean coal technology and would not dither as the Government have done through the competition. We would publish and, subject to a vote in Parliament, immediately ratify the planning guidance that is needed on nuclear—
The right hon. Gentleman says that he has done it, but he has not brought it to this House to be ratified. We would do that so there is proof against judicial review.
We need to have diversity. Churchill said that diversity and diversity alone guaranteed energy security. We should abide by that principle. We will mandate the national grid to extend its network offshore as well as onshore, so that we can better harness the power of the waves, tides and offshore wind. We need to be able to get the benefits to consumers onshore and we need that offshore grid.
We will build marine energy parks—perhaps there might be one in Cumbria—to provide the grid connections and the planning requirements necessary to allow entrepreneurs to promote new energy projects, making use of our fantastic coastal resources. We will provide those parks so that we can have that head start. Rather than hectoring communities that host wind farms, telling them that they are somehow immoral if they entertain any objection at all, we will engage them in dialogue and allow them to share in the benefits of renewable energy. We would allow every community that hosts a wind farm to keep six years’ worth of business rates that arise from that investment. Why is that not in the Queen’s Speech? It will be in the Queen’s Speech if we are elected to government next year.
We will upgrade our 50-year-old national grid to be a smart grid so that it can better balance the supply of electricity, especially from renewables, and the demands. We will speed up the deployment of smart meters. For some reason the Government have been bludgeoned into thinking that smart meters cannot be introduced until the end of 2020, 11 years away. Across the world now, communities are benefiting from the interactivity and the cost savings that come from smart meters. We need to get on with that. Why do we not have this urgent action?
We need charging points for electric vehicles all around the country. We need the kind of consumer revolution that my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron)—he has momentarily left his place—talked about. We need information on bills that says not just how much the consumer has consumed—often an estimate at the moment—but how one could go to the cheapest possible tariff, with the number and the link to be able to do that immediately.
We need transparency on wholesale prices. When the wholesale prices of gas are falling, consumers rightly expect that their bills will fall, too. I am not at all satisfied that the present system is clear enough as to whether the right reductions in domestic fuel bills are happening at the right pace. That needs to be investigated and acted on immediately.
We will give every household in the country a green deal that would allow them to have the energy efficiency improvements that would cut our CO2 emissions, save them money and get people back to work in this country. Immediate action to keep the lights on, to create jobs, to make the UK the industrial leader that it should be in all these technologies and to safeguard our planet—that is what is needed from a Queen’s Speech from a Government of this country. The only power cut that we want is an end to the power of this Government and the election of a Government who take these matters seriously. Britain will be better for it.
I want to address my remarks to the climate change negotiations. They are critical and I think that all speakers recognise that. I also want to set my speech against the background of my experience at Kyoto, because many aspects of that seem to be being repeated as we approach the negotiations at Copenhagen, which I call “Kyoto 2” as we are not developing a new convention, but merely an extension of Kyoto.
The current developments are important. I agree with what the Secretary of State said. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), said some things about climate change towards the end of his speech that I agree with, particularly about how China and other countries have begun to develop in respect of these issues. Momentum is now beginning to develop. People had, however, been suggesting that Copenhagen was going to end in breakdown, and I want to say something about that.
Let me explain something that we learned from Kyoto, as it is important. There seems to have been the view that the Copenhagen negotiations must result in a legally binding agreement. There was not a chance in hell of getting a legally binding agreement, however, as anybody who has looked into the matter will know. I have been saying that for almost 12 months, and I have been criticised for undermining negotiations, but I am pleased to see that we have moved away from plan A, and we are now looking at plan B. What is important is to get an agreement, not a breakdown—everybody agrees that that is critical. I have to note, however, that we did not do a deal in December 1997; we established the principles, and it then took us three years to negotiate the processes by which we would achieve those, and it took us another three or four years before the deal was ratified by the 55 countries that had to ratify it. The time taken was, therefore, up to seven or eight years. In my view, the current situation will not be different. I recognise the 2015 and 2020 timetable and the argument that if we do not meet that, we might fail; however, the real point is to get an agreement.
As we approach the Copenhagen conference, similar lines of opposition are beginning to develop. At the time of Kyoto, a combination of people from the coal, steel and iron industries—all great carbon emitters—got together in America and went to Kyoto and said, “We can’t accept this agreement.” Fortunately, they were ignored at Kyoto and an agreement was reached. We are, however, already seeing the first signs of a similar line of opposition developing now. I was in America a few months ago, where the same people were again putting in hundreds of millions of dollars to combat the idea of climate change. They were employing a technique that is also now emerging here. I am sure that Members will be well aware that we are suddenly seeing attacks on the science. It has, for instance, been said that some event was merely an exceptional incident, and questions have been raised as to whether someone used the word “trick” in an e-mail, all in order to attempt to undermine the science.
A thousand scientists have said they believe in the science, however. Not so many of those involved at Kyoto said that, but now there is no doubt. Everybody everywhere agrees about this—except Lord Lawson, as I see from the statements he has been making.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the study of all registered climate scientists carried out by Dr. von Storch of the Planck Institute in Germany? It showed that two thirds of scientists agree with the scientific conclusion that the majority of recent warming is produced by anthropological means, but that means that a third of them disagree. Moreover, only 8 per cent. of all scientists thought it was the most important threat to the world’s future.
I am sure that studies come up with such results, but I do not think that the people who disagree with the science are in the majority; they are a very small minority. There were people who still believed that the earth was flat, but the rest of us did not generally agree with them. At Kyoto, one or two research bodies were found who came up and said that the science is now doubted. The overwhelming opinion now in almost every country is that the science is accurate, however. That is not the same situation as at Kyoto.
The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) quoted an article in The Guardian. I read the article, and it also made a statement about not detracting from the central argument about the accuracy of the science. Why did he not quote that? Why did he quote only the bits about the university in question, and so forth? [Interruption.] Well, it would be very good if he actually gave us a proper and objective opinion, instead of just selectively quoting from the article, as he did.
I shall now return my attention to Lord Lawson. In an article in The Times, he casts doubt on the science, but he also says that he has no idea whether the science is true. He is quite sceptical about it; he produced a book a few years ago making it clear he is sceptical about it. I am bound to say, however, that the fact that he announces this now has the same ring as what happened at Kyoto. Just before people come to the negotiations, they start throwing in all the doubt about the science.
Apparently, Lord Lawson is setting up a
“high-powered all-party (and non-party) think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation”.
Obviously that is designed to feed into the current atmosphere that the science is faulty. It is true, as he suggests, that we are making judgments on the science—all Governments are. He desires “open and reasoned debate” and was very upset about the word “trick” in the e-mail from the university—we would all be concerned about that if the imputation is right, but an inquiry is going on into that. I should say to him that this approach is exactly what we found at Kyoto: people come up with some scientific body that they say has done the research and suggested that the science is not acceptable.
I just wondered who is financing this body that Lord Lawson is setting up. We tend to find that such bodies are funded by the oil and coal industry and people like that. So I had a look and found that the Central Europe Trust Ltd is the body that he has set up and his clients are Elf, Total, Shell, BP, Amoco, Texaco—that is a lot of oil companies. From what I can see of it, it is not so much a think-tank as a petrol tank.
We must take that point into account, because Lord Lawson used to say a great deal about money from the trade unions influencing the position of the Labour party and about the people paying the piper calling the tune. It is fair to say that as this operation is being financed by the oil companies, we should perhaps look a little suspiciously at it. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden may have a future in this, because he knows the oil companies involved. There seems to be a correlation whereby if someone works for oil companies, they happen to be against the science. Saying that is perhaps a bit naughty, but people get suspicious about the conclusions that are being reached.
The point I wish to make is that the science is right, and we must act on it. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made it clear in his speech what he has to do about that. The important thing is to ensure that there is momentum. To be fair, I should say that the Opposition spokesman mentioned the kind of changes that are under way. The view has always been that there is not going to be any change in Copenhagen, that things will break down and the issue causing the breakdown tends to be emissions.
Let us consider what is happening, even in the countries that have been mentioned. South Korea, Japan—it promised things at Kyoto and did not deliver on them, but there is a different party in power there now and its Tories have gone—Brazil, Russia and Australia have all decided that they are going to do something about cutting emissions. That is at the heart of this argument.
I was in China last week having discussions with Premier Wen and appealing to him to ensure that the Chinese leadership go to Copenhagen. It was clear from the communiqué that both America and China are considering what further offers they can make on emissions. Of course America faces a difficulty, because it has a constitutional requirement to put things before Congress, but it is nevertheless showing that it might make some judgments about that. China and America are the major emitters, and if they can come to some agreement about emissions, that would represent a major change in the argument.
While I was in China addressing a group and a conference—this was paid by me; nobody else pays the money when I go to these countries—people were discussing how they might now move on this. Where do the difficulties lie? The difficulties are whether we recognise the common but differentiated responsibilities and that the bigger burden should fall on the developed countries—clearly it should—whether we believe there should be an audit if a policy is carried out and whether there will be a timetable on such an audit. Those are very real questions and the Chinese are now discussing how we can achieve progress on them. To that extent, we are getting considerably more movement than we could have expected normally.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman is spending an increasing amount of time in China and is getting to know the Chinese. Is he concerned about China’s need to extract vast amount of minerals and its raid on mineral resources in Africa? Does he regard that as a wholly benign or malign thing?
That is an interesting point because each industrial country, as it begins to grow, has to get its resources. Every European country—Britain, France and Germany—went through its industrial development but we sent in troops and got the resources by conquest. It was called colonialism. The Chinese are going in and negotiating contracts. I happen to think that that sounds a more harmonious way to do it than the murder that we were involved in when we raped these countries of their resources. We should take a balanced view and not forget our own history, and we should not lecture them too much.
We do not have sufficient resources for the massive amount of growth that will take place in this world. Inequality between the north and the south—it is the rich countries that caused the pollution—is growing and Copenhagen must recognise social injustice. Two thirds of the world are poor and do not have the growth that we have, so any Copenhagen agreement had better find a way of introducing better social equity. That is what we have been doing in the Council of Europe, where I am the rapporteur, and I shall be at Copenhagen.
It is important that we get greater transparency. In my last speech, I said that we should be measuring the problem by gigatonnes instead of by emissions. Measuring emissions is fancy dancing by Europe, basically—people do not know what they are doing, but it looks as if they are doing something. The real point is whether the southern world will get a better chance of growth. When we measure by gigatonnes, we find that the figure per head in America is 20 gigatonnes, in Africa it is 1 gigatonne and in Europe it is 12 gigatonnes. If we begin to set a good example and consider how we can get fairness and equity into the system, that is how we will achieve results in Copenhagen. We have to be very clear about trying to create social justice.
I believe that we are on the way to some agreement. It will not be a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but of finding a political framework that we can offer. There must be a timetable to it, and Mr. de Boer of the UN made that absolutely clear. He said that the political agreement at Copenhagen has to set out essential principles: first, it must focus on what is realistic and concentrate on the politics of achieving that; and it should get climate change and emissions targets that countries should agree with. I think that is crucial.
There is another factor to consider if we are to get the framework right, which I believe that we can do—we are moving in that direction. On this point, the Government are showing the leadership that they have always shown and as they showed on achieving the Kyoto targets. Leaders must go to Copenhagen. When our Prime Minister said that he was going, he gave a lead. We now have 60 countries going. I appealed to Premier Wen only last week that China must be represented. We decided at the Council of Europe meeting in Paris this week that we will write to India, China and America. The leaders of those three countries must go to Copenhagen, because at the end of the day, as was the case with Kyoto, it is the leaders who decide. It will be a political fix—whether we like it or not. Their involvement is useful because nobody wants to be accused of breaking the agreement. We need to shove them all in the same room and tell them, “If you really mean it about change, if you are talking about our children and their children, and if you are going to make effective change, you can sit in that damn room and come to an agreement. We won’t let you out before that.” That happened at Kyoto. Many things are being repeated from Kyoto, but we have a moral obligation to achieve an agreement.
Let me make one point that we can learn from. In the 19th century, we spent all our time in mass production. In the 20th century, that became mass consumption. We must learn to have mass sustainability in this century. That is the only key. The decisions are difficult; we must carry the great burden and we should recognise the need for social justice. Countries want to lift their people out of poverty, like we have done, and we should play our part in producing the low-carbon economy to achieve that. Copenhagen will be judged on the social justice embodied in it, and within a financial framework. I am looking forward to that debate, but I hope that I will have the key to the door so that I do not let the buggers out until they have done a deal.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who was characteristically ebullient and forceful. He has shown fantastic commitment to this issue and I pay tribute to him. Copenhagen needs people like him. I had not heard that the Council of Europe had taken the view that it should specifically request the leaders of China and India to go there. I share absolutely the view that if the leaders of the most powerful nations on the planet are in the same place, the pressure will be on them to ensure that they deliver. All sorts of good things should flow from that, and I shall come back to that point in a second.
I join the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) in recognising the suffering of the people of Cumbria in recent days. I pay tribute to PC Barker and to the police service and public services there. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) has been hugely involved, as we would expect from a county Member of Parliament. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been to see the situation for himself. The whole country will want those people to be supported. The lesson learned from Hull, Gloucestershire and other places affected by flooding is that this will be a long haul. The rest of us must ensure that, especially at this time of year, we give every support at a local and national level to the people in those communities who have to rebuild their lives.
This debate is about two substantive issues. The first is what we can achieve at Copenhagen, a subject that was rightly flagged up in the Queen’s Speech as being of huge significance. The second is the legislative opportunity represented by the one Bill that the Government have put on the table—although I agree with the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells that it is a mouse of a Bill when we could have done with a much more significant mountain of a Bill.
I begin with Copenhagen. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East mentioned Yvo de Boer, the lead UN climate change facilitator, and from my reading I know that he and all the people who have followed the negotiations are very clear about two things. The first is that the EU is one of the keyholders in this matter, and the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the comments that Mr. de Boer made yesterday:
“The EU must be clearer now about what it has in its final hand and put that final hand on the table.”
Mr. de Boer spoke about the targets and about the money for mitigation and adaptation. The EU has said that, if there is a deal, there will be a commitment to a reduction in emissions of 30 per cent. from 1990 levels across the EU, but I think that we should say that now. I urge the Secretary of State to speak for the UK, to make it clear that this is our view and to try and get the EU to set the same target. If we could go into the talks with that as our commitment across the EU—and not something that is conditional, or dependent on an eventual deal—that would be really helpful.
By definition, the UK has to have a higher commitment to make up for other countries not doing as well. The Secretary of State knows that we on these Benches believe that, if we are really determined, a 40 per cent. cut from 1990 levels is achievable. Yes, that will be tough and difficult but, because we are one of the countries that have been the greatest contributors, it is our obligation.
The other issue on which Mr. de Boer was very clear was the amount of money that rich countries must put in to help the poor ones. For example, I have visited Bangladesh in the past and I appreciate the difficulties that it faces. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change knows that I respect him, but I was disappointed that his remarks contained not one word about finance. I appreciate that legislation is not finance, but we are talking about Copenhagen and no mention has been made today of how any deal on adaptation and mitigation that might be reached there will be financed. I want to be tough on the right hon. Gentleman about financing and its source, so that we get some answers.
We got no answers when we last debated these matters on 5 November, when Ministers repeated what the Prime Minister had said about the need for a universal pot worth €100 billion. In that regard, Mr. de Boer said that rich countries need to declare clear emission targets, and must also commit “very large” sums to the global south for mitigation and adaptation efforts. These sums must be “stable and predictable” so that the third world can move ahead
“without having to constantly re-negotiate the burden sharing every year.”
He reckoned that that amounted initially to at least $10 billion a year in immediate financing for the period of 2010-12, but that the global south ultimately would need around $200 billion to mitigate carbon emissions and another $100 billion for adapting to the effects of climate change. Mr. de Boer added that the north must also list what each country will provide and how funds will be raised.
We have not yet heard a word about how the funds will be raised. I believe that the easiest way would be to apply a levy or charge on bunker fuels used by the airline and shipping and industries. They have remained relatively untaxed globally but we know them to be a key cause of the trouble. There may be other sources of funds; it is not for me to say that my suggestions are the only show in town. I hope that when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs winds up the debate, he will indicate that the Government’s thinking has moved on, and that the Treasury are moving. Bluntly, the issue needs Treasury sign-up, not just sign-up from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Unless the Treasury is willing to write the cheques on behalf of UK plc, no cheques will be written.
Mr. de Boer made a point about the time frame; I do not think that there is a difference between the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and me on the issue. I have often said from the Liberal Democrat Benches that I did not think that there would be a final deal in December. We should not be frightened by that, but there should not be a deferral indefinitely. Mr. de Boer was very tough:
“As for a timeframe, he felt that a strong agreement was still achievable in Copenhagen, even if not a legally-binding one.”
I think that we share that view. Mr. de Boer
“felt this was acceptable so long as the world’s nations only took another two months to ‘turn that into treaty language.’
The EU has said this could take up to another year.”
There is talk of Mexico in that regard.
There are colleagues who have been in British politics for as long as I have. The politics of the issue is that if there is momentum now, we have to see the matter through to a conclusion before long. I think that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change understands that the politics in the United States, the election cycle and other factors mean that we might lose the momentum. I am clear that the Government will serve Britain well if Ministers make it clear in Copenhagen that if we get the outline deal agreed in December, there should be a resumption early in the new year, so that we can get that deal into a legally binding agreement.
Of course, the United States has to come in on the issue—it has indicated that it might—and so must China, India, Brazil, Russia and Japan, all of which are now being helpful and are giving signs of movement. They have to be part of the process from the beginning. That is not what happened with Kyoto, to which they were not all signed up from the beginning.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I very much agree with him on the need for speed. My concern about not getting an agreement at Copenhagen is that we have spent the past two years going on about the importance of getting a deal that seals in action on climate change. I am deeply concerned about the impact on public opinion if we fail to get a deal. If politicians are seen not to grasp the nettle at this stage, we are in danger of losing momentum with the public, whom we need to take with us on the issue.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. His point applies particularly to young people, but huge numbers of people in this country will be interested. My postbag, like that of other hon. Members, shows that there is huge interest in the issue. Climate change is important here, for reasons that people in Cumbria may think are obvious, but it is far more important for countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives. There are other places for which it is a life or death issue, too, so momentum is vital.
We wish Ministers well, but we hope that we will hear higher targets announced before Copenhagen, as an indicator from the UK. The UK could then lead; that would be to the credit of the Government. It would unite us across Parliament and politics if the Government were bolder. The Treasury has to come along, too, but the obligation to ensure that that happens rests with Ministers.
The Energy Bill effectively does two things. First, it provides for the authorisation of the development of carbon capture and storage. I shall not speak at length about that. That is, inevitably, the way that we must go. We will need coal, but it has to be clean coal. However, we need to move far more quickly. One of my frustrations is that so many of the issues have been on the agenda for as long as I have been in this place—a quarter of a century. The issues are not new, and the Government are really slow to give them any urgency.
In some ways, the second issue dealt with in the Bill is the more important issue—the one that people in the country are concerned about. It is whether there will be fair fuel prices in this country, something that we have not had in our lifetime. As for the call for social justice across the world that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made, there is still a long way to go in this country, for his constituents, mine and others. The poor and people who use less fuel still have to pay relatively more.
I want to give Ministers some direct questions to answer when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs winds up. I have looked carefully at the Bill, and understand that it will provide a statutory basis for subsidy for poorer households, once the voluntary deal finishes in a year’s time. I also understand that it will change the wording of the obligations on the regulator for gas and electricity supplies. It is not clear to me whether that will guarantee that, in future, every utility company has to have a tariff that does not discriminate at all on the basis of method of payment, and whether it will guarantee that poorer households and low users will always pay at a lower rate than the people who consume more. That is the iniquity. As Ministers know, the unit cost for the low user is higher than the unit cost thereafter. All sorts of fiddles, to put it bluntly, mean that no one can work out the system, because there are 4,000 different tariffs. I should be grateful to know whether Ministers are happy to accept amendments to the Bill that will make that absolutely clear in the measure itself—not in regulations that may, or may not, deliver—so that we can ensure that those things happen.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that oil and liquefied petroleum gas should be covered by those measures, because many people in rural communities face large oil bills? A lot of rural poverty arises from the fact that individuals cannot get mainstream gas or electricity.
My hon. Friend and many other colleagues have consistently made that point to Government. Not only is the situation unfair for people who are not on the gas supply or whatever but there are other iniquities which mean that they have to buy a tank, pay extra charges and so on. It is absolutely right that provisions to deal with that should be included in the Bill.
There was a blinding omission from the Queen’s Speech and the proposed legislation, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) is in the Chamber, and he spoke about this the other day. In 1983, the Social Democratic party was created, and it fought the election in alliance with the Liberals. I fought that election, and one of our commitments was for warm homes for everyone throughout the country. It was obvious then that most British homes were badly insulated, and that was bad for the poor, because they were paying a lot of money, which was literally going out of the window and the roof. As a result, their bills increased, their homes were not heated properly, and harm was done to the planet. Twenty-five years later, we have barely made progress. According to the latest figures, only one in 100 homes is energy efficient.
The Government could have announced a serious programme in the Queen’s Speech to make every home a warm home, instead of introducing piecemeal schemes: a bit here and a bit more there; a top-up for this scheme; a bit of the community energy saving programme, a bit of the carbon emissions reduction target, a bit of Warm Front. There is no reason why the UK should not have a programme, driven by Government and managed locally by local government, street by street, village by village and community by community. That is what we need, but the question of financing then arises. With respect, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells ducked that question, because the money must be made available up front. If the work is going to be done, even if it is done by loan, apart from work for the very poorest, the loan has to come from somewhere. He made it clear that not a single penny would come from the Government, and he appeared to imply that there would not even be any Government underwriting or support. I do not think that that is possible, and my right hon. and hon. Friends have said so. We believe that such a scheme has to be underwritten by someone, and we believe that it should be the Government, so that people can take out a loan and pay it back.
I understand the economics of the system: if someone invests in loft or cavity wall insulation, their bills will go down and they can afford the repayment or top-up, but their bills will still be less than they were before. However, we cannot pretend that this is a cost-free exercise. At £6,500 a time, the total cost would be more than £100 billion. At a more realistic £11,500, it may be more like £200 billion. The Tory party is often wonderful at ideas—talking the talk—but as I could prove on lots of other things, it is slightly less convincing when it comes to walking the walk.
The hon. Gentleman asked a fair question. Clearly, if we are recovering costs through savings on people’s energy bills and meter charges, there is a risk of default. That risk also applies to people paying their energy bills through the gas or electricity meter, and it is about 2 per cent. If we include that 2 per cent. default rate in the cost of the scheme, and spread it out for everyone, it is perfectly manageable and financeable. It can be managed without requiring a huge injection of public funds.
I do not want the whole debate to be dominated by this topic, but I have read the trailer for and the speech of the Conservative shadow Chancellor. I do not see in it anything that ensures the funding necessary. I am happy to have the debate in private and in public, but whereas we as a party have said for 25 years that we need warm homes for all, there must be something that triggers the funding, otherwise many people will not participate in such a scheme, which makes the proposal unconvincing.
The reason why that is as important now as ever is evidenced by the figures that I cited today—not my figures, but figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed almost 40,000 extra deaths, above the average, for the winter quarter last year, higher than at any time since the beginning of the decade. That is not happening in other countries with much colder climates than ours, so this is not theory or some wild idea that does not matter. This is about making a fairer Britain and above all protecting the vulnerable from dying in one of the richest countries in the world, where that should not happen.
The honest answer to my hon. Friend is that I learned that fact yesterday. Those people should be included.
It is frustrating for my hon. Friend, other colleagues and myself that our hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) got a Bill on the statute book in 2004 for sustainable homes, and our hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) had a private Member’s Bill earlier this year to deal with fuel poverty, which would have got through had the Government not blocked it. There have been opportunities, but time and again they have not been taken. I know that work is going on in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I hope Ministers will realise that we should be seeing the results now. Unless we do, another winter, which is likely to bring problems, will see other people suffering.
I shall make three other points; I am conscious that others want to speak. I want to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire). The Minister was uncharacteristically—flippant is, perhaps, the wrong word—dismissive of the issue. It is scandalous that off the coasts of Britain there are tankers full of oil which are not unloading. They are waiting until the price goes up because they are being managed by the speculators. I know that there is nothing new about that. The global regime means that we have enough of the fuel. The oil is taken out of the ground, put on to tankers, and sits off the shore of the UK, not just anywhere but in vulnerable marine environments such as off the coast of Dorset and the south-west. Some of us well remember the Torrey Canyon.
I ask Ministers in the Department for Transport as well as Ministers in the Chamber—the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a responsibility too, as does the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change—to engage with the companies that own the oil and the tankers to ensure that the regime does not allow people to exploit the prices. We know what the effect is. The price of oil has increased—doubled in some cases—over the past year. Petrol at the pumps will probably be a quarter as much again at the end of the year as it was at the beginning.
Prices are going up all the time. People are suffering because of those who are fiddling or abusing the system. I would like to hear from the Government what they intend to do. If they say that they and the global community can do nothing, that is an unacceptable answer. The public would think so, too. The energy companies—I did not hear Ministers say this—have an obligation to respond to the fact that when prices go down, the price to the consumer does not follow, but when prices go up, it seems to follow mighty quickly. The regulatory system has been inadequate since it was set up. I had hoped to hear a much tougher response from Ministers. I hope that we might do so before the end of the debate.
In relation to other supplies, all parties are concerned that we should have energy security. There is a difference between us: the Labour and Tory parties believe that nuclear is a necessary component; we do not. We can have that argument separately, but the Liberal Democrats believe that nuclear makes a small contribution to dealing with emissions and a small contribution to our need, and that we could do much better and in a more accountable way by renewables.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that, in costing nuclear power, the Government must include the huge cost—£18 billion was recently suggested—of providing the underground long-term waste storage facility? The industry will never pay for that; it just assumes that the taxpayer will pick up the bill. If that was included in the costs, it would become quite clear not only that not a penny should go to nuclear power, but that the money should go into real clean and renewable energy, which is not nuclear.
I absolutely agree. The Government’s official advisory body on these matters is absolutely clear: we should not opt for another generation of nuclear power until somebody has come up with something that it and others, who are independent and not politicians, consider to be a safe method not just of storage, but of disposal. That has not been found. That is not my view; it is the view of those charged with advising the Government. My hon. Friend is completely right.
The other day the Government defeated the Liberal Democrat motion on a 10 per cent. reduction in emissions next year. The Conservatives support that reduction today, and they supported it the other day, although I noticed that the Conservative shadow Chancellor and leader were not present to vote for it in the Commons. However, we are pleased to hear that the shadow Chancellor has now bought into it. I think that it is achievable, and if it is not, it should be an aspiration.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, is on the Front Bench today, and in October her only real argument was, “We cannot do it, because we have already set targets which go to dates beyond that, and this would get in the way of those.” I just say to her very simply—[Interruption.] I heard her argument and followed it carefully, but the Government set their policy before the 10:10 campaign was launched, and they believe—I could turn to what she said in reply to the debate—that to introduce a 10 per cent. reduction target for the next 12 months would confuse, complicate and undermine the longer-term strategy. I understand the argument, but I do not accept or believe it, and I do not think that the public believe it either. They still see a huge amount of waste from the public sector and the Government.
The public expect the Government to lead, and that is why I intervened on the Secretary of State to say that I was saddened, although not entirely amazed, by his written answer to me explaining that at least half the Ministers and officials going to Copenhagen will fly there. Of all the places—[Interruption.] But it is a serious point. People are meant to set an example, so the Government must set an example. They have often made it clear that they are committed to a Copenhagen deal that averts climate crisis, and that they want to do the right thing for a sustainable future, but when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs winds up the debate, he must acknowledge that they have to lead by action, not words.
The Queen’s Speech contained half as much as the public and the crisis needed. That was not enough, and this is the Government’s last chance. These may be the last few months that they are in office, and I am afraid that, if they are trying to make up for lost time, they have not done so with the Queen’s Speech.
This has been a very useful debate, with good speeches from all parts of the House, although the speech from the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) reminded me, if I may say so humbly, that Opposition wish lists are so much easier than government. However, I hope he never finds that out.
I am convinced that when the historian looks back on this century, energy questions will assume great importance in terms of global affairs. I shall not cover the whole field, but as a framework I suggest that there are about four major questions. The first of those relates to the economics and affordability of energy. Not so long ago, when energy prices were sky-rocketing and the price of a barrel of oil hit $147, the business and economic consequences were extremely serious; that must not be forgotten. Secondly, there are key themes about energy supply and security.
Thirdly, and most important, there is climate science and the importance of making progress at Copenhagen: issues that the former Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), spoke about so eloquently and, as usual, with such great passion.
The fourth issue, as my right hon. Friend noted, again with some passion, is social justice, internationally and domestically. The other day, I saw an estimate suggesting that some 1.5 billion people—more than one fifth of the world’s population—do not have electricity. Here we are talking about global warming and, in a sense, the over-demand for energy, yet, in terms of inequality and injustice, so many of the people who share this planet with us are nowhere near to getting electricity. Of course, that has a domestic resonance. The Liberal Democrat spokesman reported that the ONS has produced its annual statistics on excess winter mortality. One must be careful about interpreting those figures: for example, flu has an impact, and that varies from year to year. Nevertheless, it is a scandal that in modern western affluent societies we talk in comfort about global warming while many of our constituents might say to us, “Chance would be a fine thing—I’d love some of this global warming in my bedroom or living room.” I do not want to get sidetracked on to that subject, which I feel very strongly about. It is a matter of immense importance. I could write a book about it; indeed, more than 30 years ago I did so.
It certainly is; I was at the Age Concern conference where my right hon. Friend published his book on hypothermia. Does he agree, however, that some of what has been said about the progress that we have made on warm homes plays things down a little bit? I do not know about his constituency, but in mine 2,000 homes have been fitted with insulation.
I think that both things are true. We have made immense progress, not least under this Government, but there is still so much more that needs to be done.
I want to focus on energy supply and security, putting the issues in a global context but focusing to some extent on Europe and particularly on our own country, the United Kingdom. There are serious matters to consider. When I stopped being Energy Minister a year ago, the Prime Minister asked me to be his representative on energy security. I delivered my report to him in August; it was published by DECC and entitled “Energy Security: A national challenge in a changing world”. If my words are of any interest and people want to know more, they will find it in that report.
The key issue is that, post recession, the global grab—the global demand—for energy will surely be maintained. We speak at a peculiar time. According to the International Energy Agency’s new report, “World Energy Outlook 2009”, this is an almost—I think I use the word properly—unique year, because global demand for energy will go down, as will carbon emissions. When we come out of recession—I hope that we are doing so—this huge increase in demand for energy will be maintained. That is happening at a time when, historically, we are moving away from relative self-sufficiency in terms of indigenous energy in the UK towards a significant import dependency, obviously for oil but also for gas. That involves serious issues as regards energy supply and security. I use the word “security” because this takes on a further resonance of national security. I remember the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, when the Langeled pipeline from Norway was opened—thank goodness we have it—saying that in this century, energy security could become as important to a nation’s security as the conventional defence forces. That is at least an interesting point to consider.
We have the benefit of the International Energy Agency, which has painted two scenarios of how global demand will increase. I will not go into too much detail, but they are closely related to Copenhagen. One is a reference scenario, if the energy efficiency and other policies that we have already agreed are implemented. The other is called the “450 scenario”, because it sets out a world in which collective action is taken to limit long-term concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. Many of today’s useful contributions have been about the importance of securing that agreement.
In the reference scenario, into which are built a lot of actions that Governments in Europe have promised and need to take, the assumption is that between 2007 and 2030, global energy demand will increase by 40 per cent. In the far more ambitious 450 scenario—maybe I could call it the Copenhagen scenario—that goes down to 20 per cent. That is still a huge increase, but only half the increase in the reference scenario. People can make their own judgments about what percentage increase is likely to take place in practice.
Although there is much excitement, controversy and debate, not least in the House, about the contribution of new renewable technologies and the fairly new technology of nuclear, that global demand will be met in the main not by wind turbines and nuclear power stations, although they will start to make a greater contribution, but by fossil fuels—coal, gas and oil. They account for three quarters of the increase in demand in the reference scenario, and in the 450 scenario they still account for two thirds of the increase, even though coal is less important.
As we know—this is part of the politics of Copenhagen—most of the extra demand will come from emerging and developing countries. We should be pleased that demand is fairly flat in OECD countries such as our own, even though it goes up and down in different countries. We are beginning to find out how to have economic growth without a correlation with energy demand. The challenge for our country is surely to reduce our demand for energy but move back to economic growth after the recession. According to the latest edition of the IEA’s “World Energy Outlook”, published just a couple of weeks ago, 93 per cent. of the increase in global demand to 2030 will come from non-OECD countries, driven largely by China and India. We all know the data that can be related to that situation, but just to give an illustration, the number of vehicles in China was some 23 million in 2005. By 2030, it will grow tenfold to 230 million.
Why do I talk about the national security energy challenge? First, let us look at Europe. The EU already depends largely on imports, and that dependency will only grow in magnitude. By 2030, it will be getting some 90 per cent. of its oil, more than 80 per cent. of its gas and 50 per cent. of its coal from outside the Union. Parts of Europe, of course, already depend heavily on Russia, and we know some of the difficulties that that can bring about. Sadly, I would guess that the geopolitics of energy and security will become more important for Europe as the years, and possibly the next few decades, roll by.
Let us look at Great Britain. To generalise, we have been blessed with self-sufficiency. In the pre-industrial era, people used wood and twigs—what would now be called biomass—to cook their food and keep warm by their fires. We then had the development of coal, which fuelled our industrial revolution and our industrial and economic development. After coal, we discovered oil and gas in our backyard, in the North sea on the wider UK continental shelf.
What will happen in the next 10 or 20 years? The North sea oil and gas resources are in decline, although there are still plenty of resources out there, and it is still a major British industry. Many younger, smaller entrepreneurial companies are coming into the North sea, as some of the big boys move on to Brazil and elsewhere. The licensing round is always very active and resources remain to be exploited—for example, West of Shetland—and that augurs well. However, oil and gas production is in decline by 6 to 8 per cent. a year.
When the right hon. Gentleman was the Minister for Energy, we debated the issue of North sea oil and how economically sustainable it was. At the time, we discussed the incentives to Scottish drilling companies, as opposed to English drilling companies. Is he convinced that we are providing enough incentive to companies that may wish to explore in the North sea to reach oil that otherwise might be uneconomic?
I am pleased that, in the last year or so, the fiscal regime has become more sensitive to the current position of the UK continental shelf. The Prime Minister asked me to make recommendations, and I recommended that fiscal sensitivity to the North sea—the sheer cost of certain explorations—should be borne in mind by the Government. I think that I am on the same page as the hon. Gentleman.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the report from the Select Committee on the oil and gas industry? We made the point that small companies working in the North sea are having difficulties obtaining finance from the banks. Only Lloyds-HBOS is prepared to lend, and only to its existing customers. That is a serious problem for those companies.
I do understand that point, and I am sure that the Government are aware of it. One of the great dilemmas of economic recession in all fields, and certainly in the energy fields, is that while we can be sure that global demand will increase soon, there has been a significant decline—collapse would be too strong a word—in investment, and that is affecting not only the North sea but the renewable sector.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about the possibility of using North sea wells as carbon storage sites? Does he think that that would provide a real opportunity to extend the life of the North sea by—according to some estimates—an additional 15 per cent. of the available oil? Is that a real prospect or should we discount it?
I intended to mention the importance of CCS a little later, but the hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the injection of CO2 will help with enhanced oil recovery. Elsewhere in the world, CO2 is being used for that purpose. Given current technologies, a lot of oil and gas is left behind during extraction from the North sea, and recently the industry and the Government have been discussing that matter. Solving it would not be without costs or difficulties, but it is an important item on the agenda.
To get back to my story, the North sea is in decline, as is nuclear, with perhaps only 15 per cent. of our electricity coming from nuclear—some of that electricity is above the Liberal Democrat Benches, so I give hon. Members a health warning about that one. At its height, some 30 per cent. of our electricity came from nuclear. The reactors are of varying ages, but they are old and need to be decommissioned, and then we will see the development of new nuclear reactors.
We know the story of coal, too. I do not want to get too much into the politics of it, but coal was devastated by a previous regime, albeit not for industrial purposes or because the then Government were early converts to climate change—although the new Tories might rewrite the history on that—but largely for political reasons.
There is huge potential in renewables, which I think we all support, although we need to support it in actuality, through onshore wind, and not just in rhetoric. However, as a percentage of all energy, renewables account for perhaps only 2 per cent. or so. The 15 per cent. target is the right target, but hitting it will be tremendously challenging.
In the meanwhile, in the period before we can build up new nuclear—that will be largely after 2020, with the first one perhaps in 2017—and in which we can bite down on energy demand and develop our renewables, in my judgment we will see significant imports of energy. Let me take the example of gas. I know that some of the estimates about the future—they are only estimates—are contentious. I know, too, that there are different official estimates. There is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had, but the trend is essentially as follows.
Only a few years ago we had a sufficiency of gas and we were exporting. Very recently we were self-sufficient, but we are now importing 20 to 25 per cent. of our gas. Some estimates—they are perfectly sensible estimates—suggest that by 2020 some 70 per cent. of our gas could be imported. Indeed, I have even seen the figure of 80 per cent. The more successful we are in reducing demand and bringing forward renewables, the more likely it is that 70 or 80 per cent. might seem an exaggeration. However, for contingency planning it is sensible to look at that issue.
Where will the imports come from? I have mentioned the Langeled pipeline from Norway, and there is more potential to build up our relationship with Norway, as I argue in my energy security report. That is important, because the gas from Norway is good democratic, human-rights gas, and that cannot always be said of other gas!
What is the agenda for action? Much of it has been touched on. Any sensible agenda, whether for energy security or climate change, starts with reducing energy demand and increasing energy efficiency. I subscribe to that position, but we need to recognise the sophistication and the broad nature of the approach that we need to adopt. Housing is of course important, and we can argue about the pace of change there. The development of zero-carbon housing by 2016 is important. We will see a great revolution in design and materials as we move towards higher standards of thermal efficiency in new build. How we integrate renewables into that will be crucial.
Obviously, there is also transport, appliances and other things that we are familiar with. However, there are also things that I do not feel so tutored about, in the range of various industrial and business processes, such as pumps, valves and advanced control engineering, which I was hearing about at a conference the other day. All those things are important and can be developed by industry to reduce demand. Indeed, there is so much that can be said about that.
Smart meters are important, but only if we link them to a public education programme, so that when people get their smart meters, they are told about a wider package of things that they can adopt, so that the whole community down that road, in that village or in that town gets behind the project.
Energy efficiency is item number one. The second item is cleaning up fossil fuels. Some of the environmental groups might not like it, but we will be using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Indeed, the environmental groups will not stop the Chinese using them in future. We have to become one of the world leaders in clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage. I am very pleased by the Government’s position on this. As an Energy Minister, I was frustrated by the pace of change, but no one has ever done this around a coal power station. We are moving pretty rapidly in the right direction, but let us become a world leader and help China and others to develop this technology.
It is difficult to overstress the importance of CCS. It is not just another thing. Unless we get to grips with the challenge of CCS globally, all will be lost in terms of global warming, given that most of the energy that we use in the years to come is going to be obtained by burning fossil fuels. There will be huge technological challenges, including where to store, the fact that storage is very expensive, and the importance of the carbon price. There are all sorts of issues around financing, and the emissions trading scheme is very important.
My next heading is gas. I make various recommendations about gas in the United Kingdom in my report, to which I know that the Government will respond before long. I am not trying to get the Minister to respond to it this evening. I worry about a new dash for gas. It is easier to build gas power stations than nuclear power stations, and it is probably easier to get planning permission for them than for large-scale wind farms. There is a danger of becoming over-dependent on gas, with all the implications that that has for imports.
I raise three points about gas for the Government in my report. One is that Britain, compared with many other European countries, does not have in place significant numbers of long-term contracts for gas. We tend to contract with the suppliers and countries involved on a far shorter-term basis, and we often buy gas on the spot market. I can see advantages in that, but I can also see the disadvantages for our security of supply, and the Government need to address that.
The second issue relates to the supply obligation. We place on our supply companies a supply obligation: the Centricas, EDFs and Scottish and Southerns of this world have to supply gas to us. What does this mean in practice? When I produced my report—with the help of a very able team from the Department of Energy and Climate Change—I found the gas supply obligation to be a bit like jelly: I could not get to grips with it.
When I questioned key institutions on this matter, they recognised that all was not well. Let me spell it out. There is no way in the present regulatory system for National Grid or the regulator to establish whether there is likely to be sufficient availability of gas, in aggregate, in any coming period. That is not to say that the gas will not be there; it will be bought on the spot market or short term, but what would happen if we were to have another situation like Russia versus Ukraine? We had such a situation once, or possibly twice, during my tenure in office. Combined with a very cold winter in Europe, that created real difficulties for European energy supply and for us in the UK. I would therefore like to see greater clarity in the gas supply obligation, and I make that recommendation in my report.
The third subject related to this is gas storage. It is quite easy for us to say that we need greater gas storage capacity. It is like motherhood and apple pie: we all want more gas storage. To defend where we are from an historical perspective, I would say that our gas storage area was the North sea. We had plentiful supplies and we were self-sufficient, but that is now in decline. We therefore now need to develop gas storage, and that is not quite so easy as some people make it sound. Are we talking about commercial gas storage, or about strategic gas storage? If we are talking purely about the former, the gas will be sold to the highest bidder.
The reality at the moment is that our main store of gas—the Rough storage, which is administered by Centrica—is a store for gas that is owned by the different supply companies in Britain, including the French and German companies. Last winter, things were all right-ish, but if I had still been Minister, I would have been looking at the situation day by day, as I did in earlier winters. I am almost sure I am right in saying that, at that time, German supply companies were taking gas out of Rough storage and returning it to continental Europe. They had contracts to supply gas there, so we cannot blame them, and as I understand it there is nothing to stop that gas—we did not stop it—going to continental Europe at quite a difficult time. I put it to the House that this is quite a difficult issue.
I believe either that we need strategic gas storage—gas that will be in the control of a democratic Government, subject to parliamentary accountability—or, if the gas storage is commercial, that we will need to explore the fact that the British Government under European law have a right to say that in extremis or in emergencies, some of that gas has to stay here in the UK. If it can simply go hither and thither in a crisis, it is not the kind of gas storage that many are calling for.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the imported gas will come in the form of liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas, and that some of it comes to Canvey island where it is stored very close to residential houses? He may be aware that there was a leak there, when 140 or so tonnes of LNG escaped and partly became an unconfined vapour cloud. The Health and Safety Executive is currently pursuing a possible criminal investigation following this incident, which put my residents at great risk. Does he accept that the safety of residents and communities must always be put first by the Government?
Of course. We recently had the report on Buncefield, so it is not just a problem of LNG. The point applies to virtually every kind of energy source that we are talking about. I agree that LNG is important. The Milford Haven terminals have been opened and we will get quite a substantial supply of LNG from Qatar in the future. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is arguing that we should say no to it; the issue is about being properly strict—I believe that we are being properly strict—about the health and safety considerations.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. To answer his question about the reserve storage of gas, it may well be motherhood and apple pie, but given the security issues involved, would it not be prudent and good sense to enshrine in law a statutory requirement to have a certain number of days of reserve, as we have learned happens in France and Germany? This is not impossible; it is something that could be done very simply, and we should remember that we went down to about four days’ worth of gas last year.
The short answer is yes. We need to have that requirement for commercial storage—my guess is that the Government would want to explore the legalities around that, given the single market and so forth—which would be perfectly acceptable in my judgment; but if that is not possible for legal or other reasons, we need strategic gas storage, which is very expensive—much more expensive, I am advised, than strategic oil storage. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s strong interest in this subject. Some may think it a grey area of debate, but given our current dependency on gas, it is a very important one. In my judgment, import dependency is going to grow in significance.
I want to mention two other areas. I do not need to say much about renewables, as we have already discussed the importance and huge potential of renewable energy from the sun—even in Britain now—the seas, the wind and from biomass. We also know about the importance of hydro. It may not be as important here as in Sweden or Norway, but we are able to explore it on a smaller scale in imaginative ways. I, too, am excited about the potential of marine, wave and tidal energy, but I need to caution that this is very new technology. Yes, British companies are very good at it, and we could truly become a world leader as a result of our technological, engineering and entrepreneurial flair and the natural habitat in which we live as an island people. As I say, however, this is new technology and we should not exaggerate its contribution over the next 10 years. The 15 per cent. target for renewables is absolutely crucial. When I say that it is demanding, this is not a code for saying that we will not do it, but I put it to the House that this is a tough one and we will need to stretch every sinew to move there.
Finally—I am sorry for having spoken so long, but there were interventions; I will blame them, anyway!—I come on to nuclear, which I know is controversial. I respect the position of the Liberal Democrats—they are wrong, but I respect their position. I believe public opinion has moved more in the direction of nuclear. I was privileged to lead the review on energy policy—Tony Blair asked me to do it some years ago now—which said yes, the Government would support and, where possible, facilitate the development of new nuclear. I believe it is important for climate reasons—some environmentalists still cannot quite make up their minds whether they hate nuclear more than they hate global warming, although some are changing their position, which I welcome.
In my judgment, as well as being crucial for climate change reasons, nuclear is crucial—I am almost saying equally crucial, but I am not sure that that is scientifically valid—in terms of energy security. In future, faced with import dependency, we need to do two things. We need to be as smart as possible in our foreign policy on import dependency so that we are not over-dependent on any one country, any one company, any one region—or any one fuel, which is why I support clean coal. The other side of the coin is that we need to build up our own indigenous sources of energy—energy that we can produce for ourselves, hence my commitment to both nuclear and renewables. I go rather further in my report than perhaps this Government and this Parliament are prepared to go by saying that if by around 2030 we could have 35 to 40 per cent. of our electricity coming from nuclear, that would be a sensible place for Britain to be.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about public opinion having moved on the nuclear debate, but does he believe that we can learn lessons from countries such as France and Canada, which have far higher levels of public acceptance for nuclear power? Does he think that there is still further work to be done there, as this could be one of the continuing sticking-points?
There are lessons to be learned: we mentioned health and safety in respect of LNG, so it needs to be health and safety times 100 for nuclear. The safe disposal of nuclear waste is another huge issue—also a huge industrial and jobs opportunity—that needs to be tackled. We need speed, but we need to take the public through the issues with great care. As I say, I am convinced that in terms of national security, the answer on nuclear has to be yes.
The Secretary of State made an important speech focusing mainly on climate change. I understand the reasons for that at this time, given the science and given Copenhagen, but my report, at the request of the Prime Minister, is also telling the Government that energy security as an aspect of national security needs to be taken very seriously. Albeit in due course rather than tonight, I look forward to the Government’s response to my report.
I hope that it will not embarrass my next-door constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), if I say that that was one of the most interesting speeches I have ever heard on the security of energy supply, which is a crucial issue that needs to be resolved and should have been addressed much earlier than when the Government asked the right hon. Gentleman to prepare his report.
I recall during my young adulthood in Scotland how we had to deal with the discovery of North sea oil and gas, yet now as I prepare to retire we are looking at how to reduce quantities of oil and gas. It is an issue of which I have been conscious for a long time. Given that I live close to Dungeness power station, I am also conscious of the ageing of our nuclear power stations—I nearly said our nuclear fleet. It is a great sadness to me and to many on the Romney marsh that the Government have so far ruled out the building of a third power station at Dungeness on the grounds of what Natural England said rather than on what I would have thought was the more logical ground of the potential for movement of the shingle. I believe that, engineering-wise, that problem could be solved. It was fascinating to listen to the right hon. Member for Croydon, North.
I do not intend to concentrate too much on the Bill that the Government propose to present in the few weeks left to them. Nor do I intend to spend too much time discussing Copenhagen, because we have already discussed it at great length. I will say, however, that whether or not one is a supporter of the science of climate change it is surely common sense for consumers to reduce the amount that they spend on energy, and for that practical reason I am sad that so far there has been little effective action to develop new technologies in the new industries.
It is true that we have wind farms. We have a wind farm on the Romney Marsh, although I am afraid that it is not taken terribly seriously because for most of the time its turbines are not turning. There is endless anecdotal evidence that wind farms have not been built quite correctly. There is also a great deal of evidence that carbon capture has been delayed by the Government’s dithering. In Kingsnorth, E.ON was prepared to build a new coal-fired power station as part of the original competition for carbon capture and storage, but—fundamentally because of Government dither and delay—it decided that the game was not worth the candle. As we all know, environmental protesters collected at the power station and had a rather unpleasant confrontation with, primarily, the police. If the Government had not dithered over the scheme and the competition, we might have moved much further down the route of developing our own carbon capture technology.
Along with the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), who is present and whose constituency includes the lovely and literary Hebden Bridge area, I was on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s delegation to Australia this year. People there told us proudly that they had created an international centre for carbon capture technology. The bulk of Australia’s energy comes from brown coal. The Australians are committed to reducing their emissions under Copenhagen, and they realise that if they are to do that it is essential for them to develop carbon capture. I wonder about the degree to which we in the United Kingdom are trying to reinvent the wheel with our carbon capture schemes. I wonder to what extent there is an international exchange of information about the technologies being developed, about what works and what does not work, and about how we can move from demonstration to production. It would be such a waste of entrepreneurial abilities if we developed in parallel rather than together.
I find it fascinating that, apart from passing references, there has been no mention of how solar energy could help to meet our energy requirements. There are Government grants to help people to install solar panels, but they are difficult to obtain. Four or five years ago China set out to develop production systems for solar panels so that they could reduce production costs to a level enabling them to capture the world market.
Another thing that I learnt in Australia was that there was considerable resentment because the Chinese were exporting cheap solar panels to Australia which were challenging those being produced indigenously, but we have to live with that. It is not dumping; it is driving the market so that more and more people can use solar panels. I do not understand why we are not doing more in this country to encourage people to use them. I do not think that the Government’s proposed Bill will address that question in any way. In household terms, I think that microgeneration is the easiest and quickest way for every one of us, in our domestic lives, to contribute to the reduction of our carbon footprint.
Another issue that seems to have been omitted from the debate so far, and does not appear to have been included in the Bill—although I hope that I can encourage the Government to include it—is the production of energy from waste. Local authorities currently spend huge amounts on trying to avoid sending waste to landfill, and we know of the difficulties that that is causing our local communities. There will be one collection in one week and another in a different week; people wonder whether there is a chip in the bin to establish how much waste they have put out, and whether they are allowed to put out six bottles a week instead of five. All those rather claustrophobia-inducing management demands drive many householders demented. But if—or rather when; there is no “if”—we develop the new generation of incineration with scrubbed emissions, we can feed electricity into the local community and into the grid, and when we develop anaerobic digestion we can do exactly the same. Why are we not creating an economy that favours that form of waste disposal? It would mean that waste would not go to landfill but could produce useful heat and energy—and we could stop irritating our fellow residents at the same time.
There has been a fair amount of comment about nuclear power. I believe—and the right hon. Member for Croydon, North seemed to agree—that it is the best way in which to generate relatively low-carbon-emission electricity and energy. When the Secretary of State published the draft national policy statement on energy recently, he told me that the public consultation on it would continue until February. He expects it to come to the House in March for consideration by the Select Committees. It does not take a great brain to work out that the consultation will not end before the general election. There is an immediate and built-in delay in the progress of national policy statements.
Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) pointed out, the system provided by the Planning Act 2008 is completely open to judicial review. According to the 13 November issue of “Planning”, the Town and Country Planning Association has said that
“the NPSs make the ‘very profound mistake’ of not including carbon assessment for energy projects.”
If it is not included in the NPS, there will be an application for a judicial review and we shall see more of the delays resulting from the debate about Sizewell. We shall ensure that there are delays in the building of nuclear power stations. We cannot assume, merely because we have passed the Planning Act, that we will magically secure the nuclear power stations that we need unless we ensure that national policy statements are voted on democratically in the House. That would make it possible for Secretaries of State who no longer wish to make such decisions to make them, and to make them much more quickly than the Infrastructure Planning Commission need do. That is the basis for getting rid of the Infrastructure Planning Commission. We must get democratic legitimacy within the planning system if we are to get the infrastructure built. If we do not, we are unlikely to be able to move forward.
The right hon. Member for Croydon, North talked about the target for zero-carbon houses by 2016. I do not whether the right hon. Gentleman noticed—Hansard will tell us whether I am correct—but I thought that the Secretary of State said “near zero-carbon houses”. I notice that there is a written statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government on that subject—I have not seen it yet. Whether the Government are resiling from that commitment—I would not blame them, as it will be next to impossible to achieve it anyway—and are breaking the news gently, or whether it was a slip of the tongue, I do not know. If we are getting a more realistic target for reducing emissions from domestic houses and are moving away from the lifestyle constraints implied by zero-carbon houses, I am glad to see common sense dawn. With a bit of luck we will be able to get more buy-in for reducing carbon emissions from houses rather than banning them altogether.
I feel desperately sorry for DEFRA, because nobody has mentioned that Department so far. It is lovely to see the Secretary of State here; he has sat patiently wondering if anyone will mention anything to do with the countryside. I join completely all the messages of sympathy and support sent to everybody who has been affected by the flooding in Cumbria. It is a ghastly thing to happen to so many people in an area where it is difficult to get the help that is needed. I feel very sad and send them all best wishes. There is a reference in the Queen’s Speech to a flooding Bill. Its proposals could be implemented by changing who is responsible for what and making it clear which local authority has what powers. The only other thing in the Queen’s Speech that might affect the rural community is the broadband Bill, which could bring some economic strength to deprived rural areas. For farmers, fruit farmers, fishermen or environmentalists, however, there is nothing that will in any way, shape or form help them to live a more productive and helpful life.
I want to talk briefly about the other Bills proposed in the Queen’s Speech. I could not believe that there is to be legislation to halve the deficit. Legislation will not halve the deficit; action will. There is a Bill to ensure good schooling. Legislation will not ensure good schooling; good teachers, good head teachers and good parents will. There is yet another promise to halve child poverty. Legislation does not halve child poverty; the economy and social structure will ensure that children no longer live in poverty.
For 12 years we have had a Government who believe that legislation is the answer. For 12 years we have been telling them that legislation is the problem. It is not delivering because the Government believe so often that if they pass an Act, nothing more needs to be done. We must create the circumstances in which we get the outcomes that we want, That is the key to decent legislation. Sadly, this Queen’s Speech is probably more an electoral statement than anything to do with achieving the laudable objectives set out in it.
There are things that I would have liked to see in the Queen’s Speech. The scandal of the exploitation of public sector leaseholders needs to be addressed by legislation. The emerging scandal of leaseholders who live in retirement homes needs to be addressed by legislation. Why is there no legislation to get rid of the stigma of the housing estate? People say that they live on a certain housing estate and are immediately pigeonholed and almost stigmatised with failure. Such legislation would help us to move this country towards becoming a positive, forward-looking community.
The saddest thing of all—there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to address it—is the statement by Lord Strathclyde that the House of Lords will ensure that most of the legislation does not get through. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber. It is this Chamber that should ensure whether or not legislation gets through. For the House of Lords to be able to claim that it has the ability to stop legislation shows how this House of Commons has been demeaned by the Government, who have taken from it the ability to look properly and thoroughly at legislation and to decide whether or not that legislation is of quality. That is not the job of the House of Lords; it is the job of the Commons. If there is one thing that I sincerely hope my party addresses after the election, it is that the House of Commons regains its primacy and democratic legitimacy.
I thought for a moment that I was at least going to be able to agree with the last point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait); she would get agreement from all of us that the primacy of this House is crucial and that statements made about opposing the legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech are out of order. However, she then went on to say something with which I could not agree—that there should be a change of Government.
I invite the hon. Lady to look at what legislation can do. Of course legislation does not do everything but it can provide a framework in which active government can be delivered alongside the third sector and the community sector. I invite her to look at my Adjournment debate last week on the work of the Department for Work and Pensions in my constituency. We have a much deeper recession this time than we have had at any time for 50 years. My constituency has the legacy from my Tory predecessor of the poorest ward in England. But 1,500 more people are in employment now than in 1997—which was not at the very depths of a recession—when I became the Member of Parliament. I also disagree with the hon. Lady about the legislation that has been passed over the past 12 years and about that proposed in the Queen’s Speech.
Did the hon. Lady share my slight disappointment that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait)—unintentionally, I am sure—was rather dismissive about the Flood and Water Management Bill, which I hope will get a clear run through Parliament. It is an extremely good Bill that will give a much more thorough and integrated management of coastal risk. I know that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) is very interested in coastal flood risk management because, like me, she has a coastal constituency.
Indeed, and I shall come to that. I shall also wish to touch on the Bill in my capacity as chair of the all-party group on water. I will explain why the Bill is so important, although that is clear from the events we have witnessed this week. I cannot understand how anybody could possibly say it is not prescient for such a measure to be in the Queen’s Speech.
I wish to cover five issues. The first of them is about a specific aspect of climate change that is little spoken about, perhaps because it emerged on the agenda only at the 2005 conference at the Met Office in Exeter while we were holding the chairmanship of the G8: ocean acidification, or the other CO2 problem as it sometimes referred to. Secondly, I will welcome some of the measures in the Energy Bill. Thirdly, I will anticipate the long-awaited final report of the Walker review on water metering and charging. Fourthly, and alongside that, I will welcome measures in the Flood and Water Management Bill. Fifthly, I shall raise one small, but very important, issue that brings both water and energy together in a way that could lead to a reduction in water bills, fuel bills and the carbon footprint.
First, let me turn to ocean acidification—the other CO2 problem. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change recently visited Plymouth. When we were walking from the railway station to the university—yes, we walked there—to attend a question-and-answer session, I said to him that I must represent one of the most environmentally literate constituencies in the country, as there are 450 marine scientists working in it and some 1,400 to 1,500 environmental students at the university. Some of these people serve on international forums and work with scientists across the globe, including, particularly, Dr. Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who has served on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and who plays a leading role in the ocean acidification reference user group.
Even before the Secretary of State arrived, I was receiving e-mails from disappointed people who could not attend the question-and-answer session asking me to make sure the Secretary of State was fully seized of the importance to climate change of the other CO2 problem of ocean acidification. He went away with a heavy load of papers. I promised to let him have a CD of an animation that the Ridgeway school at Plympton made, and which has been shown at Copenhagen international conferences. It outlines this problem, graphically setting out the consequences and the way in which the sea has acted as a buffer for 25 per cent. of the CO2 produced since the industrial revolution. A key consequence is that the seas have become more acidic as carbon dioxide absorbed in the ocean becomes carbonic acid, and the sea water acidity has increased by 30 per cent. over that period. Without the steps proposed to limit our carbon emissions, this will accelerate and by 2060 sea water acidity could have increased by 120 per cent., an increase greater than any in the past 21 million years.
This matters because at the bottom of the food chain in the oceans are many tiny creatures: zoo plankton, which have tiny shells and skeletons; shellfish, which are slightly larger; and molluscs, which play a very important role in daily diets across the world, and particularly of those of some poorer communities. The very existence of these creatures is threatened, as ocean acidification dissolves their small shells and skeletons.
The air we breathe depends on a healthy ocean for the production of oxygen, and the productive layers of seas stimulate clouds that help to shade the planet. These are just a couple of a cocktail of essential processes in the ocean that will be impacted upon by carbon emissions if the climate change talks do not come to a successful conclusion. If unchecked, carbon emissions could progressively affect whole ecosystems and trigger a chain reaction through the food chain. Apparently, there remains a degree of uncertainty in some people’s minds about the impacts of climate change. The chemical changes in the ocean are much more certain and predictable, however. Although they are relatively minor at present, the impact of unchecked carbon emissions will be incremental, and the acidification process adds considerable weight to the arguments for immediate and significant cuts in CO2.
If my city is one of the most climate-change and carbon-emission literate, I believe the south-west region and the United Kingdom will be among the most literate at Copenhagen. We have big responsibilities to lead, and to persuade not only that we have a problem, but that it must be tackled as a matter of urgency. It is characteristic of what happens in any period of change that there are leaders, early and late followers and laggards. If there are any late followers and laggards during the Copenhagen discussions, I hope our hon. and right hon. Friends who will be representing us there will tell them of the other CO2 problem, which is about not the sometimes too benign sounding “global warming”, but the acidification of the oceans, which cover 70 per cent. of the globe. I hope they will tell them about the 80 years of long-term plankton data recording science at the second oldest marine laboratory in the world on Plymouth Hoe, which is the basis of the work of the current scientists who are leading globally in their field and of some of the eight Nobel scientists who have been based at that laboratory.
Of course, we have to walk the talk. The Energy Bill does further work in that regard in implementing elements of the UK low-carbon transition plan in important ways, and by changing the remit of Ofgem in a way that is essential to the implementation of that plan by making sure that not only competition but climate change and the transition plan feature in the important decisions Ofgem makes in regulating the market. There are important measures at the other end of the spectrum as well, such as putting in place statutory protection for vulnerable customers. I would like that to extend—I am not sure it does this in its current form—to making sure some of the poorest customers do not have to pay higher tariffs.
A number of Members from both sides of the House attended a National Housing Federation reception yesterday, at which we were reminded of the continuing prepayment rip-off of the difference in respect of dual tariff from many of the big providers. The difference between prepayment and the average direct debit cost is £106 for British Gas, £77 for EDF, £105 for npower, £99 for E.ON UK, £108 for Scottish Power and £102 for Scottish and Southern Energy. These still amount to very significant sums of money for some of the poorest households in the country, and I wish the Bill had touched on that. No doubt a measure to deal with that problem is one that a Member who is fortunate enough to be drawn in the private Member’s Bill ballot might wish to try to take forward, if that is not achieved through this particular Bill.
At that reception, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), heard about how more is being done in his constituency to encourage low-income families to switch to the best tariff. I was particularly struck by the work the Stafford and Rural Homes housing association is doing to ensure that any incoming tenant to a new home is encouraged to look at the best tariff for them. Among lower income households, not nearly enough use is made of the ability to switch from one provider to another who will often offer them significantly better tariffs.
I took the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look at one way in which fuel poverty, water poverty and water use generally overlap. I know that our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), was well seized of the links when he was water Minister. I believe that his successor, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), is also taking these issues on board. Our all-party group report “The Future of the UK Water Sector”, which was published last year, points out that
“around 40 per cent. of energy used in households is to heat water”.
There is, thus, an enormous potential for saving both energy and water. Pipe runs between the point of heating and the point of use are often long, which means that water is drawn off and hot water left in the pipes. There is a big job to be done both on retrofitting and on ensuring that the new building standards deal with that effectively. I am pleased to see that the potential for such savings is acknowledged in the interim report of the Walker review on metering and charging. I hope that when its final report is published—I hope that will be before Christmas—it will hold out real help for the too long hard-pressed water users on low incomes all over the country.
Does the hon. Lady regret that the Flood and Water Management Bill, which has just been published, does not incorporate anything from the Walker review’s interim findings or anything that addresses the issue of social tariffs and tariffs for the least well-off water customers?
In common with a number of Liberal Democrats, I have been involved in several Adjournment debates over the many years leading up to the Walker review, and I have pressed the relevant Minister on that issue. We should be able to examine any pressing matters that arise from the review to see whether they can be incorporated. However, I must acknowledge that some of the measures in the Bill are of immediate and pressing importance, especially in the context of what has happened this week. These things were recognised in the all-party group’s report.
As the hon. Gentleman can well imagine, I shall be pressing Ministers to find ways to proceed where legislation may be necessary, but legislation will not be needed to implement much of what was in the interim report of Anna Walker’s review—confusingly, two Walker reviews are taking place at the moment. Our Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team has a big strategic role to play in supporting the climate change discussions that the Department of Energy and Climate Change will lead on, and I am pleased that, as part of that, we have a water Bill that deals with some important matters. I shall return to those in just a moment. I hope that the other important work, which has been running in parallel, can also be developed where appropriate.
The interim report was promising, but I know that there has been substantial engagement with the consultation on it. Much water has flowed under the bridge, and I hope that proposals that are even more radical than some of the very good ones that were in Anna Walker’s interim report may result. The Flood and Water Management Bill addresses some important lessons arising from the problems encountered during previous floods that were similar to those causing such devastation in parts of the country, in particular in Cumbria.
Prevention is better than cure, and as chair of the all-party group, I welcome the work done in the run-up to producing the Bill. The 2007 floods caused major disruption, particularly in Hull, Doncaster, Leeds and the Severn valley, caused £3 billion of damage, affected 55,000 properties and resulted in the loss of 13 lives. Sir Michael Pitt’s report in the wake of those floods made it clear that we needed to change the legislation governing how we manage floods and our water systems. The Bill contains important measures to implement some of what he and the Cave report said needed to happen.
The Bill is also important to the insurance industry, because without it, the industry will be less and less willing to insure—we all know that that is already a problem—and there will be increasing reliance on, and costs for, the Government. Many more people are finding that they cannot get insurance and, thus, the Bill is important. It will also ensure that all involved in the water, flooding and coastal erosion systems have clear roles and responsibilities. I do not imagine that I am the only MP who has faced small flooding issues in my constituency involving many stakeholders. One such situation has been going on for many years in Laira avenue, in my constituency, and I frequently have to bring together the council, Network Rail, a housing developer and the water company, because nobody plays that role well at the moment. From this Bill onwards, local authorities will have a strategic role to play, which should make dealing with such circumstances much more straightforward.
Does the hon. Lady also regret that nothing in the Bill addresses the crucial problem that people’s insurance premiums can go sky high and their excess charges can go stratospherically high even though flood defence work has been done in their locality or even, in some cases, on their own property? Does not something need to be done of the order that was done in respect of serious medical conditions to legislate, level the playing field and return to the principle of pooled risk? I hope that hon. Members pardon the pun.
I recognise the issue that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It might well sit more easily with some of the issues that will emerge from the Walker review report, which will undoubtedly need some form of legislation. The issue that he raises will be debated at various points of our consideration of the Bill, and it is important that something is introduced at an early stage to deal with it.
Importantly, the Bill will ensure the delivery of large and unusual infrastructure projects. I often think that the water Minister has the most difficult job, because although many Ministers have difficult jobs, standing up to one’s knees or neck in water one day and then a month or two later being in the same part of the country trying to explain away drought is a very difficult ask. The work that has gone into preparing what is in this Bill to deal with some of the risks associated with major projects that can help to address some of that is important.
The Bill also changes the powers to amend the non-essential uses of water that can be subject to hosepipe bans. As increasing pressure comes on parts of the country in times of drought, that, too, is important. I am also pleased that the Bill will, crucially, give water companies the power to introduce concessionary schemes for surface water drainage charges to amateur sports clubs, scout groups, Churches and other community groups, thus putting an end to the so-called rain tax. I understand the principle behind why it is so important to try to make transparent the costs involved in dealing with water run-off from roofs and concrete partly in order to avoid some of these floods that cause our constituents such distress.
This Queen’s Speech sets out, at a critical juncture, the strategic and the tactical approach on a range of important issues, most particularly dealing with climate change. This country played an important role, through the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hull, East—
Yes, not the Kingstown.
Not the Kingstown. I am glad that it is our Front-Bench team who are charged with, once again, playing a key role in these so very important discussions. I am sure that whatever bones of contention we may have, we all wish them well in that work and in the work on the Bills set out in the Queen’s Speech. They complement that very important work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), who spoke so excellently, said that she sympathised with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs because nobody had touched on the issues that are his responsibility, but when he sees me in the Chamber, he is well aware that I will talk about flooding, which is very much his issue.
The debate is wide ranging. One can talk about energy, as many hon. Members have, and about climate change, farming and many other issues. I would have an interest in speaking on all those things, but because of the shortness of time and the number of other hon. Members who want to speak, I shall contain my remarks to flooding.
I represent Tewkesbury, which I am proud to do, and obviously two and half years ago we had the most horrendous floods, as did other parts of the country, and because of that, and because the problem is obviously very difficult, I deeply sympathise with the people of Cumbria. I spoke to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) for just a few minutes yesterday and he is obviously working extremely hard. He sounded—I say this in the nicest possible way—absolutely exhausted by his efforts. However, he is unstinting and is carrying on doing the work that he needs to do. I pay tribute to him and to all the other people who are working so hard. I also send my deepest sympathies to the friends and families of those who have lost their lives. We lost three people in Tewkesbury because of the floods and it has a devastating effect.
I say this respectfully, but anybody who has not been involved in any way or who has not been to visit people who have been flooded can fully understand the devastation that it causes. In Tewkesbury, people were living in caravans for more than a year because of the floods. That was remarkable in itself, but what was in some ways even more remarkable was the spirit and resilience of those people. Everybody whom I went to see just before Christmas of that year said, “Oh, don’t worry about us. We’re okay. We’re not as badly off as some people.” They were living in caravans—young people, old people, children and people who were seriously ill—and the flooding had a devastating effect, but their spirit and resilience were not broken. I am sure that that will be the case in Cumbria.
Let me speak briefly about flooding and flood prevention. I agree with my hon. Friend that legislation often does not put things right. It is important to recognise that it is not the end but the beginning of the process. I think that that was the point that she was striving to make when she spoke so excellently a few minutes ago. That said, I want the Government to introduce the Flood and Water Management Bill early in this Session. It has been trailed for a long time and I hope that it is introduced fairly quickly, because of course a general election is coming up in not too many months. Even if we run to the latest time, that does not give us an awful lot of time to carry out the legislative programme that the Government want to introduce. I hope that the Bill comes forward quickly. One slightly good thing to come out of the tragic events in Cumbria might be that the Bill will be given parliamentary time very soon.
It is also important that the Bill is given sufficient time to be considered. Far too often, we rush legislation through when we really do not need to. An awful lot of time is wasted in this House and we should give more time to considering the legislation in detail, particularly in Committee and on Report.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. To be honest, introducing the Bill in recognition of what is taking place in Cumbria is the least that we can do for the people who are suffering there.
Another reason I want to introduce the Bill early is that I fear that it is somewhat lacking. I am afraid that I am not as enthusiastic about it as the hon. Lady is. It seems very strong on requiring people to produce reports, assessments and all these other buzz words. I am not sure that there is the detailed requirement for action that we need.
One of the actions that we need was briefly mentioned by my hon. Friend. When we had the floods in Tewkesbury and Gloucestershire, one of the great difficulties that we had in trying to help people and to get things fixed was determining who was responsible for which waterway. It was very difficult, if not impossible, to determine who was responsible. There were two reasons for that: partly, those involved genuinely did not know; and, once they had accepted responsibility, they had to pay to put it right and they claimed to be short of money. For those two reasons, defining responsibility was very difficult. However, it was crucial and we must address that. I am not sure that the Bill does so fully. I hope that it does, and perhaps if there is sufficient time in Committee we can explore that and the Bill can be strengthened at that stage for that reason.
It is also important to ensure that whoever is responsible for which waterway does not just repair things when something has gone wrong; it is important to maintain the waterways on an ongoing basis each and every year. That simply is not happening. I was not flooded in Tewkesbury, but my house was full of people who were. They lived further up the hill than I do, so they should not have been flooded. However, a drain was broken. The problem did not show up when there was ordinary rainfall, but it did when there was heavy rainfall. The drain had not been maintained and we then went into the process of working out who was responsible for it. The county council denied responsibility, but it was then proved that it was its responsibility and it had to fix it, but it was too late—the family had already been flooded.
We must have maintenance as well as repair work. Of course, repair work is involved in maintenance. Nobody would have a car that they never serviced and expect it to run for ever until it got to the point where it absolutely broke down. The job is far more expensive then than if services are carried out every 15,000 miles or so. We would not do that and we should not do it in this respect, either.
Another issue that I want to mention is one that I have brought up many times, which is building houses in flood-risk areas. Whenever we raise the issue, locally or nationally, we hear the old theories, such as whether it is a flood-risk area or whether it has flooded in the past 100 years. On the one hand, we are told that we are experiencing climate change, and I am not denying that, but if we are experiencing climate change, we cannot use the old figures of once in 100 years, once in 500 years and once in 1,000 years. We cannot have it both ways. We do not know when the rain will fall in the way that it did in 2007 or the way that it did in the past few weeks.
Northampton has also suffered floods and we lost two people, so I understand my hon. Friend’s comments about that. However, one lesson that we learned is that floodplain maps simply are not good enough and houses are being built on floodplains. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Ministers need to take that seriously into account because the problem is continuing and is not being stopped? We are making the problem worse for the future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right: we can all draw maps, and I have seen maps that are manifestly wrong. We have given photos of flooded areas to the people who produced the maps that say that those areas do not flood, and planning permission has been granted on appeal for that very land, but the floods in that area will be even worse in the future. We cannot work from some of the maps that have been drawn.
I was on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when it reported on the flooding in Gloucestershire and elsewhere a number of years ago. We visited Tewkesbury and I remember well that, as we drove out of the town in our hired minibus, I saw lots of yellow signs saying, “Come and have a look at the river view development.” That was ironic in the light of what happened. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that his local authority and others are too quick to lie down in front of powerful developers and to ignore advice from the Environment Agency and others? Should not greater powers be given? Looking back over the past 100 years, it seems that in some cases flooding occurs not once in 100 years, but once in 10 years. We need urgently to update that figure.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I know the estate that he is talking about. It flooded as it was being built, and then an application was put in to build 100 more houses on that very site. The second bit of the building application has not gone through, but the first did.
I am not willing at this stage to lay too much blame at the door of the local authorities. They know what happens. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is smiling, but I remind him that no party has overall control of the Tewkesbury authority—I think that that is what he is getting at.
Planning policy statement 25 is insufficient. It says that authorities should not build in flood-risk areas unless this or that is the case, but it is far too weak a document to provide the protection that we need.
In his recent statement on the flooding in Cumbria, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said—I paraphrase him—that one problem was the concreting-over of Britain, not least of people’s front drives and gardens. Does my hon. Friend agree with me, and by extension, presumably, the Secretary of State, that local authorities must be given much stricter guidance about when to allow front gardens to be concreted over, as very often that just exacerbates the problem?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to ruin a cracking speech by letting off local authorities of all parties. Does he agree that they see all those pounds from council tax and think, “Let’s build a few more houses and we can get a bit more in our empire. Let ’em build anywhere.” That is what all local authorities think, regardless of colour—and even those that are colourless, like his own.
I certainly would not describe Tewkesbury local authority as colourless. It might have no overall control, but it is certainly not colourless. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a point that, although slightly different from mine, is important. What he describes is a consideration, albeit a very short-term one.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Government should give very firm instructions to their inspectors to be much more robust about planning policy statement 25? My Castle Point borough council, which happens to be Tory controlled, wants to build several hundred houses on the Canvey Island floodplain, where 58 people died in the 1953 floods. Does he agree that it should be prevented from doing that?
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that local authorities’ priorities in assessing where houses should go are being distorted by the house building targets set by the Government? They are causing a great many problems when it comes to finding the space on which houses can be sited.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she very conveniently takes me on to the next point, which concerns the pressure placed on local authorities by the regional spatial strategy.
When this Government came to power, they said that they wanted to end the “predict and provide” approach to housing. Like me, many hon. Members will remember that statement. I thought, “There we go. I’m not going to be able to disagree with everything that this Government say.” However, they have not only reinforced that approach, but regionalised it. They have reinforced it by making it a requirement to build 3 million extra houses over the next 20 years or so, but how did they know that we would need that many houses in that period? Why has the power to decide how many houses are needed, and where they should go, been handed to the regions? The decisions are almost site-specific, but I do not know who is making them. It is not local councillors, because if it were we could go to them and say, “We disagree with you and we’re going to boot you out next time because we don’t like what you’re doing.” We cannot do that with the RSS.
In my constituency, the proposal in the RSS is to build more than 14,000 houses. How on earth can we find space for all those houses when the area concerned is a flood risk? I do not care whether we are just on one side or the other of a line on a map, because that is not what is important. As the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentioned, the planning process does not take account of the theory of water displacement.
It is not only a matter of whether the new houses flood. When the hon. Gentleman visited Tewkesbury, the new houses flooded as they were being built, but the other problem is that they also displace water and send it somewhere else. The water in Tewkesbury is, as we speak, resting on green fields. It does that quite frequently, as certain parts of the fields in the town flood several times a year. That is not a problem, but concreting over those green fields causes that water to go somewhere else.
I was never big on science at school, but the theory is pretty obvious—the water is going to go somewhere else. It is profoundly wrong, and dangerous, for the RSS to propose that 14,000 houses be built in my area. The people who put the strategy together do not live there and obviously have not studied it, because they do not know what they are talking about.
It is not just in my area that there have been objections to the RSS. The Secretary of State will know that in the south-west region there have been 35,000 representations about that document, for very many different reasons. The document is fairly technical, and is not necessarily something that people wake up with in the morning. People do not normally get involved in responding to the RSS, but 35,000 have.
Is it not being disingenuous to the point of dishonesty for the hon. Gentleman’s party to suggest that abandoning the RSS will somehow lead to a nirvana in which people will decide how many properties are needed and where they should be built? He suggests that there would never be a problem again if that were to happen, but that was never the case in all the years of county structure plans that lie behind us. At some point, and if necessary, Governments will always impose their will on counties preparing structure plans to ensure that the number of houses needed are built in particular locations. To suggest that those days are going to return and that all will be well is barmy. The hon. Gentleman has not said that, but his party has.
I am not sure that my party has said that. As I understand the policy, it is to scrap the regional assemblies and the RSS process. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that will not necessarily be absolutely perfect or a utopia, and I am sure that I will still have disputes and arguments with my Front-Bench team or local councils, but at least I will know who I am arguing with and what the process is. To me, that is far more honest than the system that we have now.
The people of the north-east were asked whether they wanted elected regional assemblies, and they said no. What have the Government done? They have carried on devolving powers to regional assemblies that are unelected. That cannot be the right way to go.
Because of all the interventions, which I have been very glad to take, I have spoken for far longer than I intended. I shall end with two very quick points, the first of which has been mentioned. Since the floods in my area, some people have not been able to get insurance and others have had to pay vastly increased premiums. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said, some have had to cover extraordinarily high excess payments. I had a telephone call today about someone with an excess of £20,000 on his house. In effect, that means that that person is not insured against flooding, because it would probably not cost more than that to fix the damage.
The insurance industry, of course, is a business that has to fund itself and make itself pay, but I wish insurance companies could be a bit more flexible and understanding. I do not know whether the Government can help in that regard, or whether they have had discussions with the industry. I presume that they have, but a bit more flexibility and understanding would not go amiss.
My final point has to do with water supplies. I do not know what the situation is in Cumbria, but we in Tewkesbury lost our water supplies as a result of the floods. Some people were without water for up to three weeks, and the entire county came very close losing its electricity supply. I understand that the problems in Gloucestershire amounted to the largest peacetime emergency that this country has ever had, but can the House imagine how much worse it would have been if we had lost our entire electricity supply? If it is possible to provide alternative water and power supplies, such systems certainly should be in place, as well as the protective barriers that can be built around those utilities.
I send my deepest sympathies to the people of Workington. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I know what people there are going through. I sincerely hope that they come through the experience with the same spirit and resilience as my constituents did.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) have covered much of the ground that I wanted to cover. I shall focus on the Flood and Water Management Bill listed in the Queen’s Speech, because I think that it is excellent. I urge Ministers to give it utmost priority, so that we can get started on it straight away.
Even before the dreadful events of last weekend, many of us have experienced the constant threat of flooding. We had flooding in my constituency in July, and we know that flooding is no longer confined to the dreaded November winter onslaught; it can happen all year round. There has been an enormous amount of flooding across the country; it may not have received the same publicity as the flooding of the past few days, but it nevertheless left people out of their homes for months and months, with all the cost and distress that that brings.
Some of the main issues that we are tackling in the Bill were highlighted by Sir Michael Pitt in his report, following the 2007 flood problems. Many of those problems do not happen once every few years, or once every 100 or 1,000 years, or whatever figure people would like to quote; we have to face up to the fact that they will happen much more frequently. We have to rethink our whole way of planning. Many of the points made about planning are exceptionally important.
One of the main provisions of the Bill—a provision of immediate importance—relates to finding out who is responsible for what. The idea that we are to clarify that must be very welcome to many people. I have constituents who, when faced with rising water, have panicked and wondered who on earth they were supposed to contact. Do they contact the water company, because a pumping station is involved? Do they contact the Environment Agency, because the water is from a river? Do they contact the local authority, because the problem is surface water coming off the highways? If they are extremely well informed, they might even know that the local authority has responsibility for that wonderfully named creature, the non-main river, whatever one of those is.
That is what people face, and they are absolutely frustrated. They may have to phone around on a Sunday afternoon, without having a clue where they will get their help from. It is worse than that; even when the emergency state—the actual flooding moment—is over, they have the frustration of spending months trying to find out who is supposed to repair the flood defences, dredge the river, and check whether the pumping station works. That is extremely complex, which is why many people come to me. We have had to go around trying to sort out who is supposed to do what. Clarity is essential, and the sooner we have it, the better. The sooner we all know exactly who does what, and where their responsibilities extend to, the better. That has to be sorted out as soon as possible.
Looking to the future, we need to be very cautious in our approach. We have to think of the worst. We cannot have our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, looking back and saying, “Why on earth did they build here? What possessed them to do so?” When I look at the addresses of many people in my constituency, I see Welsh words that mean willows and marsh. The minute I see such words, I think to myself, “How absolutely lunatic we were to put buildings in those places!” We really have to stop.
In my constituency, a further danger is posed by the coast. We have a magnificent view; we look out over the Gower peninsula. A person could not want a nicer place to put their house than looking out over the magnificent scenery, across the Burry inlet. However, we have to look at the maps and think about coastal erosion. What is the point in putting a house in a place where coastal erosion may well be an additional problem, or where there is a tidal lock because the house is so near the sea, meaning that nothing can flow away? We have to look at what is underneath; we cannot just look at the surface and think, “Let’s build here because there’s a fabulous view.”
We have to be brave. Obviously, we cannot move every single bit of infrastructure straight away. We cannot move every single water supply source or electricity substation immediately, but we have to plan to move them. We have to plan to get those vital bits of equipment out of floodplains. We also have to stop putting buildings on floodplains. Sometimes, it is tempting to put them there. We all would like a particular new facility—a school or a hospital—in a particular location, but we have to think twice. We have to say, “Perhaps we need to think of the future, and think whether this will be a safe place in 30 years’ time.” Otherwise, we are creating problems for ourselves, and for the people who will move in. We have to think about that in advance, rather than waiting for those buildings to be flooded.
The hon. Lady makes important points that apply to both England and Wales. Sometimes, part of the problem is that the plans produced by the Environment Agency are not extraordinarily accurate. A hospital extension in my constituency was ruled out at one time because the site was on a floodplain, but further examination showed that it was completely safe. We have to give the public confidence that the maps are accurate and really reflect the situation; otherwise, planning decisions will be arbitrary and people will not be able to trust them.
One of the difficulties is that people’s faith in the maps has been undermined, because they have seen inconsistencies. I have to say that those inconsistencies are sometimes driven by motivations much more along the lines of those mentioned earlier, when reference was made to some local authorities and greed, and authorities looking to develop much more than they need to. There has been a problem, but I understand that a lot of the maps have been redrawn. We have very sophisticated systems, but we need to ask people with local knowledge for advice, too. People may have seen fields flooded, and may know that there are regular occurrences of flooding in an area.
We should also look at the effect that building in one area immediately has on another. In urban areas, we might be talking about concreting over a garden. However, when vast new housing estates are built, we have to think about where the water will go. That is yet another problem that we have to think about in advance, so that we are not paying for repairs when we could have avoided the situation in the first place.
This whole business has been going on for years. One need only go to the Nene valley and notice where the churches were built to see that people in mediaeval times knew exactly what ground to build on, and not build on. We have become too arrogant; we have forgotten most of that, and build on floodplains time and again. I support what the hon. Lady says. We have to find some way of stopping that.
Absolutely. My constituency happens to have that tricky combination: short, steep hills next to a coastal plain. Any geologist, geographer or hydrologist will say that that is classic flood country. The rain comes down the slope very quickly, so we have to look at all sorts of areas that are close to the river banks or that are likely to flood with water from those slopes. We need to do a lot of work, and should be much more cautious about what we build where; we should think first.
I move on to a problem that, though small, is of enormous significance to those affected, and that will be addressed by the Bill, namely the adoption of private sewers. The problem is terrible for those whom it affects. It has certainly affected people in my constituency, in places such as Cleviston park, Derlyn park and Dolau Fan road. When something has gone wrong, residents there have found, to their absolute horror, that they are on what is called a private sewerage system. They did not know that because they have paid—some of them for as long as 40 years—what were water rates and are now water charges in the same way as everybody else. They have paid and paid, like everybody else; of course, the sewers for which they are paying are taking some of the local authority’s water off the local authority’s highways.
Suddenly, when something goes wrong—it may be a blockage, because the pipes may not have been of the best quality—the system is discovered to be completely weird, but certainly not wonderful, with pipes doubling back on themselves in people’s back gardens, and crossing from one garden to another in an absurd way. That has left people such as my constituents with bills of around £2,500 for one simple break to be repaired. They have to pay that in addition to paying the water rates that they have paid for years. The Bill will end that practice and make sure that, after the 2003 survey, which included a mapping exercise of all the private sewers across the country, water companies will be forced by legislation in 2011 to adopt all the systems on estates that have not been properly adopted in the past. That will be of tremendous importance to those people.
In Wales, powers can be drawn down by the Welsh Assembly Government, and we very much look forward to that. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), has been closely involved in work with the relevant Minister from the Welsh Assembly Government to make sure that that happens. It should be simpler for Wales, as it has only two main companies—Welsh Water and Severn Trent Water—with which to negotiate, so that should happen very soon. I was somewhat shocked at a public meeting that I called not very long ago to hear how proud Welsh Water was of paying a dividend of £21 per water-charged household throughout Wales. That was a very nice dividend, but those of us who are comfortably off could probably have done without that £21, because we would not have noticed if it had not been returned. However, Welsh Water balks at the thought that it might cost £5 to £30 per household to absorb the costs of sewer adoption. Everyone at the meeting thought that that was quite absurd: one minute, the company was giving back money, but the next it was saying, “Well, we don’t know how the negotiations will go with the Welsh Assembly Government. We don’t know whether we can adopt those sewers, as a certain amount of money might be added to the bill—perhaps £5 to £30.
The hon. Lady has been very generous in giving way. I very much agree with her. Some houses in my constituency have been subject to sewer flooding, and I have always said that it would be far better not to pay a dividend of £21 or £22 a year, and instead to ensure that the affected houses are safeguarded from that occurrence, and to take up the sewerage systems that the hon. Lady has mentioned.
Indeed. I very much agree. It is extremely important that we keep up the pressure, and I urge Ministers to do so, to make sure that legislation is imposed on those water companies and they do not try to wriggle out of their obligations or postpone them—action must take place in 2011, and we must not let it drift around the place. That is a completely different issue, however, from tackling water poverty, where we seek to operate a sliding scale or provide help where it is needed instead of paying a blanket dividend.
The Bill will therefore be extremely important in dealing with something that we said was extremely important in the Climate Change Bill—the issue of adaptation. We always thought that it would be something right at the end of the Bill, but when we are rushed for time it can be difficult to give something full consideration. However, the Flood and Water Management Bill makes a commitment to try and put something in place and to begin the process of dealing with adaptation. We need to take that more seriously, and make sure that we design a country so that, in 200 or 300 years’ time, residents say, “Yes, this was the right place to build,” and not, “How stupid or foolish they were to do that all those years ago.”
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who raised a number of important issues, particularly the need for clarity on different responsibilities, which I encountered in my constituency when it was difficult to assess who was responsible for the clean-up after flooding that occurred as a result of building works. Even more importantly, we should make sure that we do not build in inappropriate places. There are great examples in history of houses and palaces built next to water courses. Indeed, I live in a 400-year-old barn, which was built in Huish—an Old English word for “damp”—next to a spring, and it is still standing somehow. There are examples of how that can work, but all too often the reverse happens, and those houses are devastated by flooding. The hon. Lady therefore made some important points, as indeed did my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who spoke about the need to ensure that development is appropriate.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate. I shall probably redress the balance in favour of environmental issues, as opposed to the energy issues that dominated our initial proceedings. The Flood and Water Management Bill in the Gracious Speech gives us an opportunity to deal with important issues relating to development, and I shall develop that theme. This is a timely debate, and I echo the comments made about problems experienced in Cumbria, Wales and many parts of the country, and the devastation that the floods have brought to local communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury said that it is probably difficult for someone to appreciate the true impact of flooding until they have experienced for themselves losing all their belongings or their home. I hope that the people who have been affected receive all the support that they need, and I pay tribute to the heroic work of the emergency services in the past week.
Recent events have heightened our awareness of the natural limits that the environment imposes on every single community, so we must keep a careful eye on the implications of climate change. Water has always played a fundamental role in all communities, which were set up because there was a water source close at hand. That water source has nurtured our communities, enabled them to grow and has shaped them in many respects, too. Moving water about and storing it is expensive. Cleaning it is costly and subject to technical limitations. When I began to read the Bill, I felt that it was just scratching the surface of the issues that arise when we look at water management and flooding. I echo the comments made by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the Bill is a slimmed-down version of what is needed.
If we are looking for consensus, however, we can find it on the need for sustainable development. Environmental concerns should play a considerable role in helping to determine the way in which our communities develop in future. The Bill in the Gracious Speech should not be a missed opportunity to reinforce that even further. There has been much talk today about making tough decisions—the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change used that phrase on several occasions. He also urged us to believe the science, and to make sure that we are convinced, as issues arising from climate change will affect the way in which our communities will have to operate in future. I challenge the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who is sitting on the Front Bench, on whether all his colleagues are convinced about issues of sustainability and environmental sustainability.
When we begin to look at work that has been done, particularly on planning and development, we can see that there is a great deal of paperwork on environmental sustainability. Indeed, the new Bill specifically establishes the need for a
“local flood risk management strategy”,
which will be developed by a county council or a local district council in the regional spatial plans that we discussed earlier. Specific attention is paid to the environmental impact of house building, particularly in local communities. In my constituency in Basingstoke, as a result of the south-east development plan, we have undertaken an extensive four-year water cycle study, to consider pollution levels in our local river. Various consultations have been undertaken by water companies and the Environment Agency to make sure that we are aware of environmental issues as they pertain to house building and planning.
However, when I look at the actions of Government Departments other than DEFRA, I question whether there is complete buy-in to the goal of environmental sustainability, and whether the Bill offers Ministers the opportunity to make sure that their colleagues in other Departments have got the message. In relation to house building particularly, environmental sustainability cannot be ignored. As the hon. Lady said, we cannot set it to one side. It is a matter on which we will be judged by our children and our children’s children.
Perhaps in the Department for Communities and Local Government there is not complete buy-in to the concept of sustainability. Having examined the problems in my constituency, I cannot understand why the Department would endorse a building target of 19,000 houses by 2026 if it truly bought into the vision of environmental sustainability. Along with many areas of the south-east, Basingstoke is an area of serious water stress. The Government acknowledge that the effects of climate change will lead to a reduction in the supply of water in my constituency and an increase in demand.
In terms of water supply, the situation in north Hampshire is worse than in some Mediterranean countries. My local river, the River Loddon, is in extreme breach of the European water framework directive. The phosphorus levels—which, as the Minister is aware, are directly linked to levels of population—are six times higher than recommended by the water framework directive standards because of the effluent discharges from my local sewage works. I am told by those who are expert in these matters that there is no sewage treatment works in the country and no technology in the world that could reduce the pollution in that river to levels consistent with the water framework directive. Building one more house, let alone 19,000 more, is problematic if we are to be truly sustainable in our approach to developing our communities.
I mentioned earlier that there has been an expensive and extensive water cycle report, which has been going on for about four years. That has confirmed that house building levels set by Ministers through their regional assemblies will perpetuate the situation. There will be no improvement in the water quality and the pollution levels in my local river if house building continues in the way that the Government foresee. In case hon. Members are not aware, the river is a north-flowing salmonoid river, one of very few in the country, and a prize possession in our local area.
In my constituency, 75 per cent. of the water comes from chalk aquifers, so abstraction of water from underground is key. Even before the proposed increase in house building, the way we get our water is resulting in a lowering of the water table because of the increased abstractions that we have had to undertake in recent years. As a result of excessive abstraction in the neighbouring Whitewater valley area, there is already possible environmental damage, which is being closely monitored. On behalf of my constituents, I pay tribute to the work of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight wildlife trust for all the work that it does in identifying and protecting fragile and important areas such as the Mapledurwell fen, where there is a risk to the environment from a lowering of the water table as a result of high abstraction levels.
Too many of the tools that the Government are foisting on local authorities do not seem to take account of the importance of environmental sustainability. I refer to the strategic housing land availability assessments, with which many other hon. Members may be grappling—those nicely termed SHLAAs, as our local councillors are starting to call them. They are being used to determine where houses might end up, without even considering issues of biodiversity or the quality of the landscape and its importance in the local community. Despite all these troubling environmental indicators, my constituency, along with the south-east, is being earmarked as the centre of house building in the country.
We cannot allow the debate to go by without Ministers responding to that. There seems to be a disconnect between house building and environmental sustainability, and the consequent overloading of the south-east with house building. What assurances can the Secretary of State give when he winds up the debate to me, my constituents and other Members who represent areas in the south-east about the priority that should be given to environmental sustainability in the context of house building in the future? The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change spoke about making hard choices. I do not see those hard choices being made when it comes to saying no to development that might fundamentally affect the environmental quality and sustainability of our communities in the future.
I know that many hon. Members are keen to participate in the debate because it is such an important subject for us and our constituents. The second area that I shall touch on is the involvement of local communities, which is picked up in the Flood and Water Management Bill. I welcome the apparent increase in the role of local authorities in strategy and planning for flood management.
The hon. Member for Llanelli stressed the importance of clarity of roles. Reading through the Bill, I can understand that the intention is to clarify the roles undertaken by county councils and district councils, and that the Government are rightly introducing some flexibility so that local authorities can work matters out for themselves. Let us make sure that that flexibility does not turn into a lack of understanding, particularly among constituents who might be affected by these issues, and that there is a clear demarcation of role in practice.
A further question that I would throw to those on the Government Front Bench is how local authorities can balance the conflicting priorities of hitting the Government’s house building targets and being responsible for managing flood risk. As we have heard in the debate, those could be conflicting priorities. Where are they to put the houses if the housing number is set so solidly, if they are restricted by the risk of flooding or unsuitability for other environmental reasons? We must make sure that we address that conflict. I urge the Minister, if he has not already done so, to look at the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), which would help enormously to overcome some of the conflicts by putting the scheduling of house building and the determination of house building levels into the hands of local elected representatives.
Some of the conflicts that the hon. Lady rightly describes could be resolved by more careful examination of the numbers behind regional spatial strategies. The RSS for the south-west is still based on a 3 per cent. per annum growth rate maintained consistently over 20 years, which is clearly not being achieved at present.
The hon. Gentleman is right to question the numbers. Rather than questioning the numbers myself, I should like my local elected representatives to be in charge of house building and the scale of house building that might be undertaken in that locality. They are best placed to know how a community should develop, and how they want their community to develop. That is where the power should lie, rather than in Whitehall, as it has in recent years.
The hon. Member for Llanelli spoke about private sewers. I thought I might be the only person to pick that topic out of the Bill. It seems that many of the 200,000 km of private sewers reside in my constituency. For hon. Members who have not encountered it, the issue is that housing estates are developed and because of their set-up the sewerage systems, which we would naturally presume would be handed over to the relevant authority to be maintained, remain the responsibility of local residents. That can come as something of a shock to some residents, but even more of a shock are the bills that are sometimes associated with such private sewers.
I see the Under-Secretary nodding in agreement that that provision is quite firmly in the Bill, but I ask for clarification about how it will be rolled out, because it is a potentially significant financial issue for local water companies—the organisations that will take over responsibility for private sewerage systems. Many sewers in my constituency have deteriorated significantly because of a lack of maintenance, mostly due to tree roots having gone through the sides of pipes and caused blockages and as a result of the sort of flooding referred to.
Will the Secretary of State offer some assurance that simply handing over ownership to a third party—to a water company—will not be a paper exercise, and that those companies will be able to undertake the maintenance that has not been what it should have been in recent years? I am aware of the water bill levy that is intended to pay for some of that, but will there be an imperative for maintenance, and how will it be dealt with? Will he confirm that he intends the legislation to come into force as soon as possible? Why do we have to wait until 2011? If it is going to happen, it should happen sooner rather than later, so that residents in areas such as Popley in my constituency can rest easier in their beds, without the threat of sewage flooding, which has become an all too common incident for too many of them.
In conclusion, I shall pick up on something that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is no longer in his place, said in his concluding remarks. He said that the 21st century is the period of mass sustainability, and I could not agree more. That should be our watchword, and I say amen to that comment. The right hon. Gentleman was the architect of the problems of overdevelopment and excessive house building and with planning for the future that I am dealing with in my constituency. My local council in Basingstoke is grappling with many issues that were formed under his stewardship of that part of the Government, so perhaps his successor, who is now responsible for that area of Government policy, will hear the words that the right hon. Gentleman sagely uttered today and act now to ensure that future house building is environmentally sustainable not just in my constituency and the south-east, but in all our constituencies. The Government should use the Bill in the Queen’s Speech to underline to people not just on the outside but on their own side that environmental sustainability has to be the name of the game.
I have been listening to these speeches about how this is the important issue, and 23 Members of the House of Commons have managed to stay this long, or were here in the first place, out of 646, so it has clearly captured the imagination of this country’s elected representatives. In a similar way, everyone’s propaganda will say that this is their top priority, or one of their top priorities, in the months to come.
I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is not now present. He made a good speech, and I am glad that he is going to Kyoto, because he has done a lot of the ground work. [Hon. Members: “Copenhagen.”] He was in Kyoto and he is going to Copenhagen. However, I heard the sneering remark from the Liberal hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who is also not present, about how people should not fly to Copenhagen. I call that the “Monbiot syndrome”, after The Guardian writer. What such people do, from their intellectually high position, is sneer on the masses when it comes to everything to do with the environment, and they believe that, in some way, such tokenistic little gestures move things on. Well, they do not. They polarise the population and people dismiss the idea that what we say is important.
No. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey is not here, but if he wants to come back, I may take an intervention from him. I noted that sneering, by a Member who drives around one of the nearest constituencies to Westminster in a car, when most of his constituents are happy to go on the bus and on the underground. That syndrome, which involves sneering about action on the environment, undermines the case for the environment.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will continue with my speech.
“We all know,” said a Conservative Front Bencher, “that coal-fired power stations are to close.” Well, actually, we do not all know that. When will that happen? What is the time scale? It shows the vagueness that has slipped in and become major statements. I happen to have two coal-fired power stations in my constituency, and nobody has told the company that runs them that the power stations will be closing. Indeed, it has just invested many tens of millions of pounds in technology to green the stations, and it has done so with Government support. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that we all know that coal-fired power stations will be closing—not in my constituency. They will not be closing, those jobs will not be going and that energy will be required. Such statements show the shoddiness of the debate.
If we were to ask, “In 30, 40, 50 years’ time, what power stations should there be, and what do we want to see there?”, we would rightly recognise that the new gas-fired power stations being built alongside existing stations are an interim stage. There will be stages beyond that. However, a party, presuming that it will be in power, suggests that it is going to close down coal-fired power stations. No, it is not, and if it is, it should give us the time scale, because my constituents, as producers and consumers of that energy, will want to know when they are going to close. The Government encouraged new and wise investments in flue gas desulphurisation units, and EDF and the power stations put up the money. Those units green the use of coal in order to create power, and they have a long life span, which is precisely why I and my local community welcome that investment.
However, that does not mean that I agree with the consensus, but I have heard a little bit of consensus. The Government are in favour of wind farms and the Opposition are in favour of wind farms, so there will be wind farms everywhere. Well, I am no nimby: there is a power station, literally, in my backyard. I look out my window and see and admire it every time that I am at home. There is a second one just down the road, a gas-fired power station is being built alongside a massive one and doubtless there will be more in the future. We are not nimbys, but we are not going to be surrounded by windmills on one side and power stations on the other, so those windmills can go where the wind don’t blow, as far as I and most of my constituents are concerned.
We are not having anything anywhere, and that consideration must be part of the process. Those of us who have power stations in our backyards have a right to say that we are not having more in front of us than we have behind us, or, in some householders’ cases, more behind them than they have in front of them. It depends which way we look at these things. That is a critical factor. When we scrutinise the legislation, I want to ensure that there is no sneaky way something can be imposed on us. I will not vote for anything that can impose windmills on us when we have the power stations already. Far more windmills should be put out where the wind does blow—out at sea—as the Danes and others have learned. That is where the majority of wind farms should go. I think that we will see more resistance to the indiscriminate location of something that makes a tiny contribution to the energy supply, but undermines the concept of environmentalism for my constituents and others. That is an important consideration.
I heard the Secretary of State dismiss, perhaps unwisely, the notion that there should be amendments to his Bill. It behoves Secretaries of State, particularly young ones with ambitions for the future, to listen not only to the Opposition but to the country and to their own Back Benchers. I am pleased to see that three Ministers—there were five a moment ago—are in their place taking notes of the points that I am making. There is a series of potential amendments that would improve the Government’s performance on the environment. Let us not have too much rigidity on wind farms. In Germany—I think the figures are two-years-old—14 per cent. of households have solar energy. That is extraordinary. Based on my occasional visits there, Germany is no warmer than my constituency or the rest of Britain—it is about the same. If the Germans can have 14 per cent., we can have more. We can manufacture that sort of technology in this country, thereby creating manufacturing jobs. I am bewildered as to why we allow new house building without insisting that it should get preferential planning consent—not in any area, but in appropriate areas—if such technologies were built into it. We are making a major error by failing to encourage solar panels and other such technologies in all new buildings—we should be incentivising that in a big way.
I would go a stage further. How do we sell to retired miners who are only just giving up their solid fuel fires—some have still not done so—the concept of alternative green technologies? I could do that in any of the homes in my constituency; they are often little bungalows. The way to do it is to stick in a solar panel for free and give those people free hot water. The retired miners who dug the coal in my constituency would be rather pleased to have free hot water. It might not be on every day of the year—the experts can tell me that—but for most of the year they would get free hot water, and as the technology developed they would get more than that.
To me, that is common sense, so why are we not doing it? We could be giving young people apprenticeships in these new manufacturing technologies so that we are the leader, pump-priming in the way that the Americans long ago learned to use contract compliance, not least with the armed services, to pump-prime manufacturing and new technologies. We should be doing the same. That would be a more complex amendment, but the principle is simple—to get our manufacturing industry going with products that the public will see as common sense and as things that matter in everyday life. None of my constituents would turn down free hot water—not one. That is where we should be taking these policies. If we cannot manage to do that by amending the Bill, perhaps the opportunity will come with next year’s Budget, if not the pre-Budget report.
I was perplexed by the consensus between those on the Front Benches on communal heating. The Secretary of State was a little equivocal, but the Conservative spokesman was absolutely certain. The Conservatives back district heating systems, just as the Soviets did when they pioneered communal heating systems and built them across the Soviet empire. That was how people had to live. They were told, “Here’s your heating—you will have it. If it’s too hot, you’ll open the window, and if it’s too cold you’ll put a coat on.” We now find, in local authority areas such as mine, these cranky old boilers that are years out of date and pump out the heating, not very efficiently. I know a little bit of physics. Some people like the extra heat, but others do not, and with a centralised system, there is nothing they can do other than open the windows. The heat pours out, and they get the bill. They come to me and say, “This is stupid. Look at our bill—it’s far more than anybody else’s. It’s bad for the environment and bad for my pocket—I’m paying for something I don’t want.” There is an opportunity to move away from the Soviet structures so beloved by the new Conservative party, as articulated this afternoon—much to the horror of one or two of its Back Benchers, as I can see from their facial expressions. I encourage them to sort out their Front Benchers on this issue. These Soviet systems are not efficient for the environment or for the consumer, so let us change them. That could be done easily and immediately, with a few extra bits of pump-priming of the economy as new boilers and systems had to be installed by local suppliers.
I am surprised that the issue of mushroom farm composting is missing from the Queen’s Speech. In the villages of Misson, Harwell and Everton, the biggest single emissions are those from the Tunnel Tech mushroom composting factory. No one else would know about that—apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who has Bawtry, which is also affected, in her constituency. There is only one such area in Britain. Following my interventions, we have managed to get some regulations on this, and I believe that the Secretary of State has indicated that there will be more over the winter.
Action is needed to end this scandal. It is a classic example of what happens when we devolve power to the lowest level. This place is full of former councillors who love everything being devolved to the local level. The problem is that we have these tiny district councils because no one has bitten the bullet and brought in good-sized unitary authorities, which we should have across the country, including in my area, saving the taxpayer at least £200 a year on a band D property. If we had that system, my authority would have the ability and money happily to take on Tunnel Tech in court but, having lost £8 million in the Icelandic banks debacle through its bad financial management, it is too terrified to take anybody to court about anything, so Tunnel Tech gets away with it. This little authority is up against the big multinational, and it is terrified. The problem needs to be resolved, whether through regulation or the wise counsel of the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers. I do not suggest an entire Bill on mushroom composting because, important though it is, it is perhaps not the highest priority for the country at the current time—although it certainly is for those 1,000 residents. I am looking for even more support from the Secretary of State. I congratulate him on his diligence in working on this over the past year, but we will need a final push to sort out the problem once and for all.
The House will be pleased to know that for the sake of brevity I will not say too much about the issue of Warm Front, which I have raised over the past five years with the Secretary of State, his team, and his predecessors. Suffice it to say that the scandal of Warm Front contracts undermines, once again, the confidence of constituents such as mine in the whole concept of environmentalism. In theory, it is a brilliant scheme; in practice, half of it is a brilliant scheme, but the other half is racked with labour costs. I had a case this week, with constituents being charged £4,500 to put in one boiler and two radiators. I can get tradesmen and tradeswomen to do that for £900 or £1,000. My constituents expected to pay £1,000 of that £4,500. We will ensure that they do not, but the taxpayer is still paying £3,500 for that simple little job. The scheme needs to be properly tightened up. I suspect that a Warm Front Bill will not emerge from amendments that I attempt to introduce, but it remains a very important issue.
While the hon. Gentleman is talking about fuel poverty, will he address the problem of prepayment meters? The electricity supply companies have done well so far, but they need to go a lot further. Will he look to the Government to make further progress so that we remove the obscenity of the poorest people paying more for their electricity?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point on behalf of his constituents, mine and others. Those in private rented accommodation are often ripped off the most, and I know that, as ever, Ministers will be listening to his wise counsel.
I echo most of the comments that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) made on flooding. I will not repeat them, but it was a superb contribution. I recall sharing flood telephone conferences with him, during which we pushed for and got a responsiveness from Government that we found admirable and a good example to Departments on how to respond in times of crisis. Ministers should be congratulated on that.
I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State announce that the concept of speaking of floods as one-in-100-year or one-in-30-year happenings is to be changed. That was a profound announcement, and I attempted to say something on it but my intervention was unfortunately not taken. Perhaps we can tease out more of what it means. Those numbers determine where flood defences and money go and what local authorities feel obliged to do, and they have a significant impact on the planning process and decisions on where new houses and other buildings are unwisely built.
My house was a little flooded on one occasion, but nowhere near as badly as my neighbours’ and other people’s. Things change over time, and I have shipwreck timbers from when the river came all the way up into Bassetlaw. The Pilgrim Fathers went to America on a boat from Bawtry. Planning for flooding clearly needs to be overhauled, and the change in the language used will simply and easily create a new understanding. Of course it will not provide resources—that will require Treasury moneys—but there is nothing more frustrating for someone when their house and their neighbours’ houses are flooded than to be told that it is a once-in-100-year event when they can plot exactly when it last happened. The change will be a major step forward, and I hope that the ministerial team will expand on it.
I have one more little suggestion for Ministers. A small number of schools have been flooded—I believe that one in Tewkesbury may have been, and two in my constituency were. There needs to be a better system for ensuring that when a school floods, decisions on rebuilding it are not just insurance fund-led. If they are, we get cheap and cheerful patch-up jobs on the assumption that the school could flood again. If it is in a floodplain, it either needs to be rebuilt higher up or moved slightly—not to another village or another area, but in most cases it will be possible to move it slightly. It may be difficult and expensive, but the power ought to exist for schools in particular, as they are the key public buildings most likely to be affected by flooding. A little amendment to the Flood and Water Management Bill would give Ministers the power to intervene to override the natural tendency of those in officialdom to chase insurers immediately and replace like with like. That can be a weakness, and the power to intervene directly in such cases would be a wise addition to the Bill.
The huge omission from this debate, as it will be in Copenhagen, is population. To my mind, there is no question but that the world cannot continue to expand and expand its population. The notion that Britain can manage with an extra 10 million people living here is nonsense. That has something to do with the immigration debate, but it is far more widespread than that. It is not about the composition of the people here—I have no problem with that, and the more diverse the better, in many ways. However, the increasing number of people and the requirements for housing and other services that go with it, if not irreversible over the centuries, is irreversible within our lifetime and that of the next generation.
I do not want my constituency, rural Bassetlaw, to be a suburb of Doncaster or Sheffield, with ever more housing stuck in for the so-called needed increase in population. I am an economist, and when I question other economists such as those at the Monetary Policy Committee and the Bank of England, they do not want to discuss population. However, it is fundamental, and we must consider where those people who move across the world are coming from. Our immigration is a trickle compared with most countries in the world. There are huge population moves, sometimes led by war but more endemically led by food and water shortages. Those are the key factors that will determine where the wars of the next 30 or 40 years will be.
The British Mountaineering Council, of which I am an active member, is meeting today in this building, and one can examine the big mountains and glacier shrinkage to see the impact on the environment. It is not just about the damage that has been done. One can map out where the water supply will not go when it is reduced, and therefore where the next major wars will be. The Himalayas are the biggest area for the provision of drinking water, so that is a frightening prospect.
Population needs to be part of our equation. It is the great unspoken, and not just in this country. It has an effect on consumables. One of my political opponents, a Conservative, bemoaned the fact that I had raised locally the point that the situation could lead to the extinction of animals that the world needs for the quality of our life. A good example is that there are virtually no tigers left in the wild. That is a direct consequence of population growth. What kind of world will it be if the animals that we see only on occasion, or through the BBC, disappear because population has crowded them out? That is what is happening, at such a fast rate that there will be nothing left for future generations. That is irreversible, and it should be at the heart of our thinking.
My final point is about the new nuclear power stations. Already, we are hearing that those responsible for one of them want to bring in foreign companies to do the build. In this country’s economy, far too much investment has gone to the south and south-east, particularly London. I say to the ministerial team that with new nuclear build, British companies must get the vast majority of the contracts, so as to build skills in this country by using large numbers of apprentices and by upskilling the existing work force. There should not be, as with Crossrail, American competition coming in, cherry-picking the labour, leaving no skills benefit and damaging our economy because of it. We got it right on the Olympics and wrong on Crossrail, and for nuclear power stations it is vital that in the subcontracting we buy British. If we do not, our manufacturing industry and much more will rue the day.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) in what may be quite an important moment—his castigation and denunciation of the Soviet Union probably means that old Labour is now dead, and we should probably take a moment to think about that. However, he made some good points.
As the remaining months of this Parliament go by, I am sure that with my Front-Bench hat on I will have time to engage with Ministers and other Front Benchers on issues in the Queen’s Speech, but today I shall restrict my remarks to my constituency, particularly at this time when it has suffered from unprecedented flooding, like much of the rest of Cumbria.
When I listened to the Gracious Speech last week, I paid particular attention—because of my brief and other interests—to the reference to the Flood and Water Management Bill, but I did not realise, whatever the forecast might have said, how personally involved I would become with that issue within 24 hours. Less than 24 hours after Her Majesty had spoken, I was waist deep in water in Kendal with my constituents.
As I said in my question to the Secretary of State during the statement yesterday—it is important to repeat it—PC Barker lost his life protecting the lives and safety of civilians. At times of difficulty like this, we always praise the emergency services, and we are right to do so. We should not forget what risks they run at such times, and PC Barker’s tragic death underlines that. On behalf of the whole House, I wish to express my immense sympathy and gratitude to his family, and indeed to the whole constabulary.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who is no longer in his place, remarked that people do not really understand the issues of flooding until they have seen them for themselves. That is a strong point, because I saw both sides of the issue last week. On Thursday morning I was in Kendal as the River Kent was bursting its banks. On the Aynam road side of the river, one of the warehouses had been lent by its owners to Operation Christmas Child, which—as other hon. Members will be aware—is a project in which the community, especially local schools, works to put together shoeboxes of Christmas presents for orphans in eastern Europe. That warehouse was right next to the river and was likely to flood within half an hour. I joined some 25 to 30 people who were busily emptying about 10,000 of those boxes into the back of a lorry so that they could be driven to safety. We succeeded, which was wonderful. I then walked down the road with a family who had been helping, and we were full of the spirit of camaraderie that difficult times engender. We reached their house, which had just flooded, and the mood changed instantly. They went from feeling that community spirit—which undoubtedly exists at such times, so much so that it could almost be bottled, no pun intended—to abject misery through being affected personally.
It is important to pay tribute to that community spirit. When I was on the other side of the river, earlier in the day, at Edgecombe court—a block of sheltered flats—I was helping to move some of the residents to higher floors. I expressed sympathy to them as we helped to move their stuff upstairs, but I was mostly slapped down, because as they said, they had lived through a war and this was nothing. That spirit is prevalent throughout the county and we need to pay tribute to it.
The Flood and Water Management Bill is late. We could have had it a year or two ago, but it will be welcomed throughout my constituency. After I had been in Kendal on Thursday morning, I went up to Burneside. Many people will have seen the torrent there when the Kent burst its banks and rushed through people’s living rooms. Further up the road in Staveley, where the Gowan burst its banks and rising water levels affected people living on Main street, the problems could have been dealt with by some of the measures in the Bill.
Many parts of my constituency remain under water and they are what we might call the tourist honeypots—Bowness, Ambleside and other areas in central and southern Lake district. As I left home yesterday morning, Lake Windermere was significantly bigger than usual. It is the biggest lake in England, but it has a tiny drain into the Leven to the south and it is taking longer to empty. Many of the businesses in Bowness and Ambleside are still under water and they will need specific support as they seek to recover.
The impact is also high in places such as Backbarrow, where a bridge was lost, causing great inconvenience. The loss of so many bridges has not only been tragic, in the case of PC Barker, and inconvenient, causing communication difficulties, but has meant the loss of important parts of our heritage, which have been literally washed away. Earlier in the debate, we heard about people who expressed scepticism about climate change. I just ask them to look around. Very few people in Cumbria this evening will need much convincing that climate change is both real and the result of human activity. The good news is that if we caused it, we can solve it. As we look to mitigate and deal with climate change, we must keep in mind that common endeavour—that wartime spirit evoked by the residents of Edgecombe court—but we must also adapt. The Flood and Water Management Bill is part of that.
While we have suffered immensely in south Lakeland, we feel tremendous solidarity with our fellow Cumbrians in Cockermouth, Keswick, Workington and other parts of the north and west of the county who have suffered even more in many cases. Like us, they refuse to be cowed by this devastation and are determined to rebuild their communities, including residential properties, the communications network and businesses.
We all have sympathy for the hon. Gentleman’s story, but can he clarify his view of the Flood and Water Management Bill? Does he agree with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which has been critical of the Bill? It said:
“The current draft is a confusing mix of measures, many of them poorly drafted; a patchwork that seeks to address individual identified problems, rather than deriving from a coherent and comprehensive strategy to implement the vision set out in ‘Future Water’.”
That is a fair intervention, and I agree that there is a lot wrong with the Bill. It is inadequate in many respects, but it is on the table and it is significantly better than nothing. We will scrutinise it throughout its progress through this House, but we believe that it will be better for my constituents, for his and for the whole country if we end this Parliament with a Flood and Water Management Bill on the statute book. I hope that it will be better than the one in front of us at the moment.
I shall give some reasons why the Bill would be a positive step. The presence of a single co-ordinating body across the country—it makes sense for that to be the Environment Agency—will be a huge improvement. There is far too much confusion and buck passing, and not enough backside kicking, when it comes to preventing flooding or dealing with it when it happens. One area of my constituency that thankfully did not flood this time round is Grange-over-Sands, although it often does flood in the Windermere road area. Fixing that problem is a nightmare, when the Environment Agency, local authorities, United Utilities, Network Rail and others all pass the buck to each other, no doubt because solving it would cost money. I want to see a single entity that has the power, the authority and the resources to knock heads together and ensure that we solve such problems. That single co-ordinating body should have the muscle and the inclination to tackle such problems. I observed this morning that Severn Trent Water was celebrating—or perhaps apologising for—record profits. I think of the record profits that United Utilities and other water companies have been, shall we say, fortunate to amass, thanks to an infrastructure paid for by the taxpayer—an infrastructure that is also elderly, but which they have been far too complacent about.
Again, it was an irony—or a coincidence; I do not know—but six days before the catastrophic floods last week, I was in Burneside with representatives of United Utilities and the Environment Agency, at the epicentre of the floods there. We were trying to deal with flooding that happens just about every fortnight, never mind once in a thousand years—flooding at a lower level in Burneside, but nevertheless at an appalling level, because it involves foul sewage as well as everything else. The response of United Utilities was, “We know what the problem is. The problem is that the Kendal and Burneside drainage system is inadequate, but it is a low priority to us.” The Environment Agency representatives stood there and sort of nodded. However, I do not want the Environment Agency to stand next to United Utilities; I want it to apply shoe leather up backsides to ensure that those things get sorted out. The complacency of the water companies was shown up for what it was just six days later, when the residents in that area had to deal with the devastation.
I also welcome the elevated role of local authorities, as a potential consequence of the Flood and Water Management Bill. It is right that they should have single responsibility for the local flood risk strategy, but they must also have the resources to do that job. One of the other success stories, as it were, in our area that we would like to talk about is that in Kendal, even with a deluge, say, a quarter of the size of the one that we have experienced in the past few days, the Sedbergh road area would have been flooded and about 250 homes would have been under water. Indeed, with that particular deluge, I suspect that we would have had 500 to 700 properties under water. However, that area of Kendal did not flood because two years ago the local district council built the Stock beck flood relief system, which has worked, even in this most dramatic of situations. That came about after I chaired a meeting of about 11 different agencies, sitting them round a table at the Castle Park primary school. It is wonderful what getting people sitting round a primary school table on those low chairs with their knees underneath their chins can do to, let us say, interfere with their dignity and ensure that they address the issues. We banged heads together and ensured that a successful flood relief scheme was built.
However, I do not want to go through the same process every time. I want local authorities to have the power to make things happen, but money is power, and they have to have the necessary resources. If the resources do not follow those powers, they will be absolutely pointless.
I look back on the experience of my constituents last week. I talked to the Environment Agency earlier today about early warning. I appreciate that it has done a tremendous job these past few days and deserves praise for its work. Indeed, it has improved the standard of the warnings going out to people, but many of my constituents either did not receive text message warnings at all, if they were on Aynam road, Lound road or any of the streets off those roads in Kendal, or, in the case of Burneside, they received a text message six hours after their homes had flooded. I understand that that is all down to mobile communications and so on, but frankly we have to look at the issue in future, because that is not a good enough excuse.
Also, although the generalised flood warnings put out by the Environment Agency were excellent, timely and accurate, we now have the know-how, particularly in the national flood forecast centre, to give specific targeted warnings to homes and businesses well in advance to allow them to take the necessary precautions, move furniture upstairs, evacuate if need be or sandbag themselves in to ensure that they do not get flooded at all.
I am also concerned that the warnings are given only when homes or businesses are at risk of flooding because of rivers bursting their banks, because the majority of the homes flooded in my constituency were flooded because of surface water and ground water. All those things are just as predictable—or potentially predictable, using different models—but at the moment they are not in the Environment Agency’s remit. That is wrong. I want to ensure that the Bill makes provision to put that in law, although they are things that can also be fixed without legislation. I would like the Secretary of State to take steps towards addressing that right away, because we have the know-how to sort it out.
As other right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned this evening, we also need to be able to strengthen the hand of local authorities to say no to development on flood plains and in other flood-risk areas. I am absolutely committed to developing new, affordable homes for local families, particularly in my area. It is a tragedy that we have a waiting list of 5,000 people for council homes in social rented properties, but only 4,000 social rented homes available. I will not go into why that might be, but we all know the reasons why—the failed policies of the past, shall we say? That is a tragedy, so I want more social rented and other affordable homes built as an urgent priority. However, I do not want the families who get those homes to be subject to almost instant misery because the houses have been built in areas where we will be dealing with flood risk year after year. We surely have the capacity to deal with that in this day and age.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) talked about the names of places where such developments have been built, perhaps giving away the fact that they should not have been built. My previous home in Milnthorpe, before we moved to our current house, was built in a place called Grisleymire lane, which once won a prize on “Nationwide” in the ’70s for having the quirkiest name in the north-west. We were never flooded, but perhaps that is another story—it was probably because the Kent silted up.
I have two more quick points to make arising from my experience these past few days. My great concern is that residents and businesses will have their insurance premiums hiked up or their excesses increased to the extent that, in reality, they will become uninsurable. We need to put pressure on the insurance companies, now and in future, to ensure that that does not happen and we do not allow people to become effectively uninsurable. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) rightly pointed out earlier that there is a principle of shared risk, and that must continue. If it does not, the whole principle of insurance is blown away.
I am also experiencing problems with residents, particularly in Burneside, where private landlords are refusing to take the action that they need to take, on the electrics and so on, to make homes habitable. Where homes belong to local social landlords, for example, it is much easier to take action. I want there to be provision for private landlords to be forced to take action to make homes habitable and to take reasonable steps to prevent future flooding.
I mentioned earlier that those areas in my constituency that have been under most pressure, at least in the past couple of days, are, as it were, the business centres of the south lakes area, particularly in Bowness, Windermere and Ambleside. It is worth pointing out that the tourism economy in Cumbria is worth £1.5 billion a year. To the Exchequer, therefore, it is worth some £500 million a year. I spoke to a businessman friend of mine in Grange-over-Sands last night who told me that his takings in the past week had gone down by 90 per cent.—and that is in a town that has not flooded—because the general message being put about out there was that the Lake district and Cumbria are closed for business. I want to take this opportunity to say that we are not.
If the Government are coming up with money—I would encourage them to come up with yet more funds to support us in this endeavour—they could spend that money successfully and profitably by investing it in the marketing and development of the Lake district and Cumbria brand over the next few weeks. Cumbria Tourism has an annual budget of just £1 million per year—annual budgets tend to be per year. That is clearly inadequate, full stop, but it is absolutely inadequate for trying to rebuild the reputation of a part of our country whose economy has been enormously damaged by the devastation of the past few days. We need to be able to sell our communities and our tourism product, especially in the run-up to Christmas, and we would appreciate some financial support in order to do that. The Exchequer would get more than its money’s worth if it were to invest £10 million or £20 million in marketing for Cumbria, because of the benefit to the Exchequer of tourism.
I also want to emphasise the importance of the uplands. One of the reasons that Kendal did not flood more seriously than it did was the work of the upland farmers in the Kentmere valley. We need to look at the role of the uplands in the retention and storage of flood waters. We have the fastest falling water in the country. The source of the river Kent is only about 15 miles away from the sea, and it can fall extremely rapidly, as we have seen in the past few days. It falls rapidly at the best of times.
We need to invest in the work that upland farmers do to disperse and contain the waters in the uplands. They have done more than almost anyone else to protect our towns and villages in Cumbria from flooding, yet they are an endangered species. Only two weeks ago, Natural England released a report entitled “Vital uplands: Natural England’s vision for the upland environment in 2060”. The reality is, however, that hill farming could be dead by 2020 if we do not act soon. The average income for a hill farm is £5,000 a year, and the average age of a hill farmer is 59. You do not need to be a genius to work out that that income base makes it unlikely that the profession will continue for much longer, yet the economic, environmental and social value of those people in Cumbria is immense, and we need to support them and pay them for the work that they do.
I pay tribute to the emergency services—the police, the fire and ambulance services, the bay search and rescue and mountain rescue teams, the coastguards, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and all the others who have made such immense efforts over the past few days. It is important to point out that many of those agencies are voluntary in nature. In particular, the equipment and vehicles that the mountain rescue service has been using to save lives and protect and rescue people over the past few days will have been paid for by voluntary donations. The service also has to pay VAT on those donations, and pays vehicle excise duty. Across England and Wales, however, the cost to those volunteer mountain rescue teams is less than £200,000 a year. If I could ask the Secretary of State for one additional thing—it would not require any legislation—it would be to reimburse the mountain rescue teams that relative pittance of £200,000. So far, the Treasury has refused to do that, but it would represent an immense vote of confidence and be seen as a thank you to the communities of Cumbria that are struggling so manfully at this time.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, may I inform the House that six other hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have just over an hour left, so if everyone is going to get in, hon. Members will have to think about the timing of their speeches.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate on energy and climate change. These subjects are particularly important as we approach the Copenhagen summit. If we needed any reminder that Governments must act to tackle climate change, surely witnessing the events of the past week in Cumbria will confirm that. I want to join other hon. Members in expressing my sympathy for the constituents of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and the other people of Cumbria for what they have suffered in the past week. I also want to pay tribute to them for the fortitude with which they are tackling the clean-up operation.
I am fortunate in having a number of projects in Durham that are seeking to remind people not only about climate change but about the ways in which all communities can begin to take action to tackle it. Last Friday, I attended an event in Durham organised by Professors Lena Dominelli and Phil Gilmartin and other staff from the energy institute at Durham university. That is an important institute, which receives funding from the Government and other bodies to develop new green technology and to seek ways in which that technology can be applied in the energy sector. The institute is therefore very important for the future development of green jobs in the north-east region and in the country as a whole. It also does significant work to transfer technology overseas.
We are extremely lucky to have the institute in Durham. I am particularly pleased that its academic staff are taking time out of their busy schedules to work with local businesses and community groups to make them aware of the measures that are readily available to be used in homes to reduce energy use and to save money. The response from members of the local community to the measures described and made available to them was really positive.
That backs up the recent poll that was carried out for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which found that, once the issues had been explained carefully, 74 per cent. of people would take immediate action to change their lifestyles if they knew that that action would affect their children’s or grandchildren’s lives. We have not always made the case for bringing climate change down to the individual level or for making it absolutely clear to individuals and communities what action can be taken in the home to help the Government and others to tackle climate change. I also want to pay tribute to Climate Durham, an umbrella organisation in my constituency that seeks to raise public awareness about climate change, and to make the link between the global issue and local and individual actions.
I am also pleased that Government projects are supporting technological development, and we need to do much more of that. If we are to have the necessary energy and renewable energy sources for the future, we must keep investing in the technology. I am pleased that the north-east has recently received public investment not only to develop wind turbines and, critically, wind turbine manufacturing, but to extend the use of solar energy and further to develop photovoltaic cells.
The Government, as well as other bodies, have also supported an interesting project in Teesside involving a feasibility study to see whether household waste could be converted into an energy source. Just now, we are awaiting news about whether the expansion of carbon capture and storage will be extended to the north-east. Of course, I make a special plea for that to happen. Several Members have spoken today of the need for CCS. We know that we are going to continue to use coal as an energy source in this country and elsewhere for some time into the future, and it is therefore important that we have carbon capture and storage measures in place to make coal a much greener energy source.
I particularly welcome the Energy Bill in the Gracious Speech and it is important for it to get through the parliamentary process in time. I am also pleased that there are measures in the Energy Bill further to tackle fuel poverty. The Government have done much—they have gained little credit for it today—to reduce energy use through better insulation, which has been achieved through a number of measures. The obligation on energy suppliers, CERT—the carbon emissions reduction target—has helped insulate about 6 million homes already, and the scheme is being extended until 2012.
Warm Front, which has received some criticism in the Chamber today, has carried out extensive work in my constituency. The number of households that have already been assisted is 4,691, with a further 991 households receiving help with heating. The total value of that work is almost £4 million, which in the main has been money well spent. A number of my constituents have been very pleased to receive extra insulation as well as, in some cases, a replacement boiler.
Warm Front is also carrying out a project on income maximisation, ensuring that people on low incomes get all the benefits to which they are entitled. I am pleased that the scheme operates in my constituency. Nationally, 2 million homes have been helped through Warm Front. A number of homes have also been updated with insulation and new boilers through the implementation of the Government’s decent homes standard—again, not much mentioned today. In total, a very large number of homes have already been helped to reduce their energy costs through better insulation. I accept, however, that a lot more needs to be done.
I hope that the Government will achieve the goal of carbon-neutral buildings very much in advance of their 2016 target for homes and their 2019 target for commercial premises. What we know about global warming and climate change presses us to take action to bring about carbon-neutral or carbon-zero homes and premises much in advance of those dates.
I am pleased that £10 million has been set aside for the low-carbon communities programme and the low-carbon communities challenge. I am certainly pressing my local authority to put in a bid in partnership with our local communities for a slice of that fund. It is important to seek ways whereby local communities can really look at what works best in the local area in producing more sustainable communities. Although he is not in his place at the moment, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for saying that sustainability is the key issue for this century. I hope that the Government will continue to press forward on all issues relating to sustainable communities.
It is really important that the public sector takes the lead in promoting and adopting measures to reduce climate change, but in fairness, the private sector has a huge role to play, too. I would like the private sector to do much more to bring about a reduction in energy costs for my constituents and to produce exemplars of carbon-neutral buildings. We just have not seen enough of them. In that regard, we should press the private sector as well as the public sector.
I want to say a few brief words about Copenhagen. The press reports about it have been quite pessimistic, but I hope that other countries will follow the Prime Minister’s lead not only in attending Copenhagen, but in actively pursuing a new global deal on reducing carbon emissions. This really is the key issue of our time.
While I am on my feet, let me briefly speak about a few other measures in the Gracious Speech that I believe are worthy of mention. I am very pleased that the Government are at last considering the difficult issue of social care and are seeking to bring forward the Personal Care at Home Bill. That will mean that, from October, more than 275,000 of those with the greatest needs will be protected from charges and top-up fees for care in their own homes. I hope that everyone will get behind that measure.
I am also pleased that we are getting to the final stages of the Equality Bill and it looks as though it might manage to get through the parliamentary process. It will introduce a new public sector duty to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It is a radical measure, and I find it disappointing that the policy that it represents has received so little attention from the media. It is critically important, because it makes it clear that we will be serious about reducing inequality. It will also ban age discrimination outside the work force, and will introduce reporting on gender pay in the case of large employers.
The agency workers regulations will ensure that agency workers are given treatment equal to that given to permanent staff when they have been employed for 12 weeks. The Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill will implement in United Kingdom law the convention on cluster munitions, which bans the use, development, production, stockpiling, retention and transfer of cluster munitions.
I could go on, but what I am trying to make clear is that the Gracious Speech contains a number of measures that are genuinely necessary. I find it very disappointing that Opposition Members have described a number of those measures as a waste of time. I cannot see how legislation to fund care for the elderly, tackle fuel poverty, deal with child poverty and ban cluster munitions—let alone further measures to regulate the banks—can be a waste of time, and it is truly astonishing that it should be described as such.
I am also dismayed by the fact that some Opposition Members could do anything but accept that the Flood and Water Management Bill is absolutely necessary. Last Wednesday my Durham constituency was almost flooded following a very serious series of floods in July. I believe that my constituents would be astonished that so many Members have said—possibly outside the Chamber—that the Bill is not necessary. I know that Northumbrian Water has done a huge amount to reduce the incidence of flooding in my constituency, but more needs to be done, particularly in co-ordinating measures to prevent and deal with floods. I am therefore very pleased that the Bill was included in the Gracious Speech.
I was—again—astonished to hear some Opposition Members say that they hoped that some of the Bills would be blocked in the House of Lords. I think that that is absolutely dreadful: apart from anything else, it undermines our democratic mandate. I hope that all Members will back the important measures in the Gracious Speech.
I shall be astonished if some of these rehashed announcements and Bills go anywhere in the time left to the Government. In fact, I share the astonishment expressed by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), but it is not astonishment about the cynicism of the Opposition; it is astonishment about what was not in the Queen’s Speech.
I find myself—unusually—slightly agreeing with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). I am not at all sure that there was need for a Queen’s Speech at this stage. From where I am standing, and from the viewpoint of the part of south-west England that I represent, there seems to be little in the speech that relates to us. It is not surprising that, in responding to a recent ICM poll, a sizeable majority—66 per cent.—said that the Government cared more about issues affecting urban people than about those affecting people in the countryside. Everything that I have seen in the Queen’s Speech only goes to support that. Given the number of vegans on the Government Front Bench, I suppose I should be grateful that Devon’s cow population did not come in for an attack on carbon emissions.
I should say in all fairness that, in the run-up to Copenhagen and following the recent tragic events in Cumbria, it is right in a sense that we have concentrated on flooding and flood prevention. However, the debate has been interesting in other respects. In my view, the best contribution so far—I say this in a non-partisan way—has come from a former Minister, the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks). He talked of energy security, which is or should be of real concern to us all. I wonder whether the Secretary of State could let us know when the right hon. Gentleman’s report to the Prime Minister will be available to us, whether there will be a copy in the Library, and indeed, whether there will be an opportunity to debate what I believe to be an extremely serious issue.
The Government have had 12 years—it is difficult to believe some times—to deal with energy security. We have heard that France, by law, must have 125 days’ worth of gas holdings. We have less than 15 days. Germany has 99 days; last year we were down to as little as four days. That is irresponsible and clearly unacceptable.
We have heard about the energy deficit. Even if we pressed the start button tomorrow, no nuclear power station could be built until 2017. Yet I believe that the Government are not doing enough to explore the finite resources—they are still there but are more difficult to get at now—in the North sea. I would welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about whether the encouragement given to drilling companies to explore in the North sea is going as it should be.
We heard about alternative energy and tidal wave power. There is a very good project in Plymouth financed by the South West of England Regional Development Agency to have a tidal wave power machine put off Hayle in Cornwall. It has not happened yet and it is a wonderful and exciting piece of technology, but we should not be relying on a piece of technology that remains unproven.
We have heard about offshore wind farms. I am very keen on offshore wind farms but I remind the Secretary of State that we have just had the Marine Bill. In Committee I asked how we brought onshore the energy generated by tidal wave power. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) mentioned judicial review in terms of the new generation of nuclear power stations. I think there will be judicial review every single time we try to extend the national grid and bring in these wires to highly sensitive areas.
It is clear that the UK is still lagging behind in the use of alternative technologies. We do not have enough electric charging points, particularly in the capital city. We are lagging well behind Japan and the US in investing in new green technologies. We should be doing more to deal with battery disposal.
I urge the Secretary of State to go the United Arab Emirates, if he has not done so; I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group. In Masdar, they are seeking to create the first carbon-neutral city and to attract other high technology industries there. They are doing some incredibly good work from which we could learn.
I do not want to detain the House as others want to get in, but I want to talk about fuel poverty and flooding. On the Energy Bill, the Government have said that they will give a greater amount of help to the poorest and most vulnerable. But they had said already that they would end fuel poverty by 2016. How will they reach that target given that nearly one in four households—16,000 households—in East Devon is currently in fuel poverty? The Government’s current schemes give very little help to rural areas. The community energy saving programme has very few designated areas that are in rural England because fuel poverty is so dispersed in rural areas. It is dispersed and disguised and we need to do more about that.
On flooding, it is heart-wrenching to hear the reports from Cumbria. I can empathise somewhat; we have had similar problems in my part of the world. Indeed, on the River Dart we had the tragic death recently of the canoeist Chris Wheeler, to whose family I send my condolences. I welcome the Flood and Water Management Bill. The draft Bill needs some attention and there are some things in it that we need to debate and change but it is timely; indeed it is overdue. I was with the Environment Agency a few days ago in Devon where we were looking at maintaining banks. Its representatives were telling me how it was encouraging farmers and landowners to undertake deeper ploughing—another practice that has gone by the wayside in recent years—in order to try to hold deeper water. Whatever happens, there will be a trade-off between the farmers, the landowners and the EA, because we cannot just flood huge areas without compensation and discussion; that needs to take place if things are to work at all.
The south-west has the second highest number of properties at significant risk of flooding, with 86,000 under threat. I agree with the chairman of the EA, Lord Smith, who said:
“More people have lost their lives from flooding than have from terrorism in England.”
We therefore must take flooding extremely seriously.
The emergency services have done excellent work in the last few days, and I pay tribute to them; they do a magnificent job time and again. I am, however, concerned about preventive aspects in relation to flooding, the co-ordination of different Departments, and the amount of money that is spent in different areas. We have heard today, in a completely non-political way from Members on both sides of the House, of the continuing concern about England being concreted over. In my part of the world, there is concern about the proposed new development of Cranbrook near Rockbeare, as that will arguably be built near, or adjacent to, a floodplain. It may not have flooded for many years, but given the way the climate is changing and its unpredictability, is it wise, as part of a regional spatial strategy—something we are committed to getting rid of—to build a brand-new town if there is any question of it being subjected to flooding at any time?
We are miles behind other countries in terms of the housing we build. In the low countries, such as the Netherlands, houses on stilts and houses that can float are being built. It is difficult to believe that we might need to look at what other countries are doing, but we clearly do. I would welcome hearing the Secretary of State’s views on how far we will need to go down that road to address not the problems of today, but the unpredictable problems of tomorrow.
I shall end by making a plea on behalf of my part of the world. This ties in with climate change, and trying to get people around the place in an environmentally sustainable way, and trying to get the local economy going. If I had sufficient time, I would like to address many of the myriad other issues that plague those of us who live in rural areas, but I shall, for now, make a plea about Devon’s roads. We have a lot of them: we in Devon have 8,000 miles of roads to maintain—3,000 more miles than any other authority. It is a huge road network. We beat the Liberal Democrats to win Devon county council in the local elections in May. In the run-up to the election, the Liberal Democrats pledged £2 million to fill potholes, but nobody will be surprised to learn that when the Tories won and looked at the books, we found that there was absolutely no provision at all for spending money on filling in the potholes. This is a huge issue for Devon’s economy. Almost 8,000 miles of roads are enormously vulnerable to environmental change. They are vulnerable to flooding, for example, as they get washed away on a regular basis. I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind Devon’s special situation when it comes to the maintenance and repair of our vital infrastructure.
I welcome certain measures in the Queen’s Speech, although some of them have been announced before. However, if we take out flooding, there is very little for the rural communities, who have felt abandoned for so long by this Government. That is the case even in respect of the Bill on communications. At first sight, it looks as though it is legislation
“to ensure communications infrastructure that is fit for the digital age”.
Some of us thought that might mean that we would finally get broadband access in remote and rural areas, but it transpires that this is in fact a new enthusiasm of Lord Mandelson that is more to do with copyright protection than extending and rolling out the broadband network, which was promised years ago by Tony Blair, but which has not materialised in many areas.
Tonight should be about Copenhagen and about flooding, however. Again, I express my sympathies to the people of Cumbria, but please let us not forget that we in Devon have tremendous problems ahead of us, and we need a Government who are prepared to support us.
I apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did apprise the Speaker of my being unavoidably detained by a Minister of the Crown.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who, unfortunately, is not in his place, talked about the centrality of social justice and sustainability to the debate in Copenhagen. He was right to do so, and I intend to talk a little more about those issues. It has taken a long time for us to recognise that local decisions have a global impact, but it has become impossible to ignore the reality. Humans have always changed and been changed by the natural world, but the prospects for human development now depend on our wisdom in managing that relationship.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said—unfortunately, he is not in his place either—one of the key factors will be population. I think he might have said that that is the elephant in the room—well, I like elephants! The global human population has more than doubled since 1960, with the growth mostly taking place in the poorer countries, but consumption expenditure has more than doubled since 1970, with the increases mostly occurring in the richer countries. During this time, we have created unimaginable wealth, yet half the world still exists on less than $2 a day.
Population and the environment are closely related, but the links between them are complex and varied, and they depend on specific circumstances. The key policy questions must be how to use available resources of land, energy and water to produce food and shelter for all, how to promote economic development and end poverty so that everyone can afford to eat and, in doing so, how to address the human and environmental consequences of industrialisation, energy consumption and the loss of biodiversity.
Understanding the ways in which population and the environment are linked means examining not only how affluence, consumption, technology and population growth interrelate, but previously ignored social concerns such as gender roles and relations, political structures and governance at all levels. The relationship between the environment, population and social development is now much better understood and there is broad agreement on the means and the ends. The Copenhagen summit is our opportunity to implement those means and to achieve the ends. Achieving equal status between men and women, guaranteeing the right to reproductive health, and ensuring that individuals and couples can make their own choices about family size will also help to slow population growth rates and reduce the future size of the world population through choice. When given choice, women tend to have fewer children than their mothers did; they want more for their children, but not necessarily more children.
Among other things, slower population growth in developing countries will contribute measurably towards relieving environmental stress and promote sustainable development. I do not believe that there can be sustainable development unless women are in charge of their own fertility. The programme of action of the 1994 international conference on population and development was agreed by 179 countries and there was a consensus that there should be universal access to reproductive health by 2015. Last year, the United Nations finally agreed that that should be a new millennium development goal target under MDG 5, which relates to maternal health. We are so far adrift on that MDG that the Prime Minister has said that we are not likely to achieve it until 2165 at the present rate.
Changes in the size, rate of growth and distribution of human populations have an enormous impact on the environment and on development prospects. We know that people and human activity are altering the planet on an unprecedented scale. More people are using more resources with more intensity and leaving bigger footprints on the earth than ever before. That is borne out by statistics that 10 years ago were just a matter for conjecture.
We have increasingly seen hurricanes, landslides and floodwaters. I want to add my expressions of sympathy to the people of Cumbria. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) talked about how difficult it is to imagine the devastation that floodwaters bring. Unless one has seen it, it is inconceivable. I know that because we have suffered immense flood trauma over many years in my constituency. I want to thank our Government for investing £40 million in five phases of the flood defence work in the upper Calder valley that has made an immeasurable difference to the people who live there. It is not just about homes, but about jobs. In a semi-rural area such as mine, we cannot afford to lose one job. When companies are constantly flooded, they think twice about whether they want to remain and to keep investing in the local area. I am very grateful for that investment and I have to say that every time there are flood warnings, we hold our breath. This time, we held our breath and the flood defence system worked. Not one single home has been flooded.
I also want to congratulate the Government on making it possible for the Environment Agency to do riparian work on the banks of rivers where it was unable to do so in the past. Of course, absentee or unknown owners meant that riverbanks were not reconstructed, and that just added to the dilemma. That was certainly the case in my constituency, where there is a confluence of two rivers and a canal to boot, as well as some very steep-sided hills. Now that the Environment Agency can search out those landlords and retro-charge them, that is making a big and important difference in my area.
We know that wet areas are becoming much wetter and dry areas are becoming dryer. El Niño and the Asian monsoon are becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Inevitably, areas that are already affected by famine will be growing less food while many of the richer lands will grow more. Many continental coastlines are also at risk and contain much larger populations. These regions are already home to half of the world’s population and they have population growth rates that are double the global average.
It is very clear that the activities of the 20th century have set us on a collision course with the environment. We now have to decide what we can and what we must do about it. The British are well known for our ingenuity, which has got us a long way in the past. I welcome the Government’s thinking out of the box on climate change, especially with the low-carbon transition plan. We need to concentrate on how we can apply that ingenuity in the future so as to ensure the well-being of human populations while still protecting the natural world. How can we protect and promote fundamental values such as the right to health and human dignity while providing for sustainable development at the same time? We know that sustainable development is based on a balance between the three pillars of economic development, social development and environmental protection. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said earlier, development cannot be sustainable without social justice.
While the rich 20 per cent. of the world’s population consume 80 per cent. of the world’s resources at a completely unsustainable rate, some 3 billion people struggle to survive on less than $2 dollars a day without adequate access to education, health care, food, water, sanitation, shelter, decent employment or, as we heard earlier, clean energy sources—or, ultimately, to a liveable environment. Poverty must be acknowledged as a serious threat to humanity and our planet and the fact that many children and their children will be condemned to a life of abject poverty, starvation, illiteracy and ill health is inhuman, unjust and unacceptable in the 21st century.
Finally, it is widely acknowledged that this country is a world leader in family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights. Population is definitely an issue in relation to climate change, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acknowledged in his reply to my question on 5 November. Therefore, I ask the Government to take a lead at the Copenhagen conference, as international agreements and national policies on climate change are much more likely to succeed in the long run if they take into account population dynamics, the relationships between the sexes and women’s well-being and access to reproductive health services and opportunities. I hope that the Government will take advantage of their lead position in the world on these issues to do just that.