House of Commons
Tuesday 4 June 2013
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords]
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until 11 June (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Deputy Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—
Order. Before I call the first question to the Deputy Prime Minister, hon. and right hon. Members may have noted that there are only four substantive questions to the Attorney-General on today’s Order Paper; six were withdrawn yesterday. It may be helpful for the House to be aware that if we exhaust questions to the Attorney-General before 12.30, we will revert to topical questions to the Deputy Prime Minister.
Regulation of Lobbyists
The Government have repeatedly made very clear their commitment to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. The events that have unfolded over the weekend demonstrate just how important transparency in political life is. We will therefore introduce legislation to provide for a lobbying register before the summer recess. The register will go ahead as part of a broad package of measures to tighten the rules on how third parties can influence our political system.
Given what has happened over the last few days, does the Minister accept that the public expect full transparency on how big business and money try to influence decisions? Will the legislation include not just lobbying companies but in-house lobbyist for-profit organisations?
The aim of any reform in this area must, I think, be to ensure that the activities of outside organisations are transparent to the general public and accountable. As we have said throughout the process, it is important that we get this right. We will announce more details in the coming weeks. The hon. Lady will be aware from the proposals already put forward that the intention is to regulate third-party lobbyists. Let us not forget what this is for: it is about knowing who is lobbying and on behalf of whom.
In order to tackle some of these concerns, the suggestion has been made that we should have a right of recall. Will the Minister confirm that a right of recall would include a recall ballot, so that instead of leaving it to a committee of grandees in Westminster to decide an MP’s future, constituents would have the chance for a final say?
My hon. Friend and I have exchanged views on this subject a number of times, and I look forward to doing so again. As to what we are discussing today, Mr Speaker, you and he will know that there was a draft Bill. We continue to work through its detail and I look forward to bringing forward the further details in due course.
11. Given that MPs across the parties, and particularly those of us elected in 2010, have been calling for action on lobbyists since we were first elected, why has it taken three years, and still no action? When will we actually have a register in place?
Although we all strongly support openness and transparency of the kind that the Minister has described, does she agree with me that the sort of blatant entrapment carried out by the “Panorama” programme at the weekend would not have been prevented by any such register of lobbyists? Does she also agree that there is a risk of doing something simply in order to be seen to be doing something without addressing the real problems besetting us?
Mr Speaker, I do not think you would want me to go into the details of the particular case to which my hon. Friend refers. It is important to draw from that, however, that the public expect us to act, that we have said for quite some time that we shall be doing this and that we are bringing forward the details from now onwards. I think that a number of factors might have gone into the events that we saw unfold over the weekend, and it is important to take a wider look at some of them.
13. Why are the Government conflating the issues of regulating lobbyists with those of party funding, when previously no links whatever were made between them? Is this a shoddy tactic of the Prime Minister and the Government to get them out of a hole, given that they have done nothing about regulating lobbying before now?
I think that our legislative proposals will allow ample opportunity for that and other issues to be discussed. It has been shown in the last few days that there is enormous public concern about the external influences that can arise in relation to people who make laws, and I think it right for third parties and undue influence to be considered.
I am sure that the Minister is as disappointed and disgusted as all other parliamentarians by the allegations made in the media over the weekend. She will be aware that the manifestos of all three main parties contained commitments to make lobbying more transparent, and to give the electorate more power to hold Members of Parliament to account. Does she agree that if these proposals are to be implemented swiftly, and if the resulting measures are to be enduring, all-party support and work will be necessary? Will she ensure that all parties are involved in the work that will take place before the Bill is published?
House of Lords Reform
We have no proposals for a comprehensive new overhaul of the House of Lords. We tried that once, and did not make the progress for which I had hoped. I remain of the view that the introduction of democracy is the only serious long-term reform that the House of Lords requires, but if any minor technical housekeeping changes that are deemed necessary—for instance, kicking out crooks or people who do not attend, or extending the voluntary retirement scheme—require legislative backing, we will of course consider incorporating them in wider Bills, such as the Bill providing for the recall of MPs from this place.
I see no need for a stand -alone Bill on House of Lords reform, not least because the real reform—namely, the introduction of democracy —has not made progress. As I have said, however, there are a few very specific housekeeping measures that we could incorporate, and would be prepared to consider incorporating, in a wider Bill if the need arose during the coming period.
Owing to the opposition of large elements of the Conservative party, the Deputy Prime Minister’s plans for Lords reform came to nowt. Will he now co-operate with our party to ensure that the excesses and alleged abuses in the other place are tackled immediately?
That is pretty rich, coming from a Front Bencher of a party which, despite its own long-standing manifesto commitment in favour of democracy in the House of Lords, could not even bring itself to support a timetable motion to make that a reality.
As I said earlier, if specific housekeeping measures are necessary—involving Members of the House of Lords who have committed crimes and should not be there, or who have never attended and should not be there, or involving voluntary retirement—and if we can sweep those measures up into a wider Bill such as the one providing for the recall of MPs, we shall be prepared to consider doing so.
Order. It is always helpful when Members look at the question on the Order Paper and ask a coherent supplementary that relates to it rather than to something else. That should be a helpful part of the learning curve for the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans).
14. The Deputy Prime Minister may have missed this while dealing with all his other duties yesterday, but his noble colleague Lord Oakeshott suggested that the House of Lords was full up. Does he agree? (157207)
Historically, the House of Lords has been as large as this House, and of course there are—[Interruption.] I will not repeat what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) said from a sedentary position. The question of how many Members of the House of Lords are active is also relevant, and a number of them do not turn up very regularly.
Devolution of Powers
3. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on devolving power from Westminster and Whitehall. (157195)
I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss the Government’s work to devolve power to the most appropriate level, and we are achieving that through local enterprise partnerships, local government finance reforms, giving local authorities a general power of competence, and city deals. We have also accepted in full or in part 81 of Lord Heseltine’s 89 recommendations, which build on that work to decentralise power and drive growth. We have delivered a referendum in Wales, which resulted in the Assembly assuming primary law-making powers, and we established the Silk commission. In addition, the UK and Scottish Governments are working together to ensure the smooth implementation of the Scotland Act 2012, which represents the greatest devolution of fiscal powers from London in 300 years.
Although I recognise the importance of the city deal in delivering opportunities for growth, does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that devolving power to our county councils, such as Essex, can have an equally effective impact on developing local growth?
Devolution at all levels is a virtuous thing. The more we can devolve power and control over money and decision making from Whitehall to the town hall, and from the town hall to local areas, the better. One of the exciting insights of the Heseltine report, which we are determined to act on, is precisely to give local areas, led—not entirely, but in part—by the local enterprise partnerships in each area, a real opportunity to draw down powers and resources from Whitehall, which have been hoarded at the centre for so long.
I welcome what the Deputy Prime Minister has to say about devolving power to local government and the progress made to date. Does he agree that in the medium term we should be looking to local government to be self-financing—not only keeping and setting council tax, but keeping business rates as well? That would be the way towards real power and accountability.
As my hon. Friend knows, the coalition Government are introducing the biggest devolution of control over business rate revenues in a generation. Of course we cannot completely devolve it because that would mean that those areas that had the wealth locally to sustain themselves would be fine, and those that did not would not, so we need some kind of mechanism to make sure there is fairness in the system. However, the reforms, particularly of business rate revenues, that we have presided over are the biggest act of fiscal devolution in a very long time.
Beyond discussions on corporation tax, what conversations has the Deputy Prime Minister had with the Northern Ireland Executive regarding the devolution to it of further powers, including on telecommunications, broadcasting, motor taxation and other economic levers?
Under measures in the draft Wales Bill, candidates for the Welsh Assembly can stand both on the regional list and the constituency list. Therefore, in places like Swansea West a Liberal Democrat candidate can have two lots of election expenses against the sitting Assembly Member. Will the Deputy Prime Minister make sure that that does not happen?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the north-east of England could benefit greatly from the kind of devolution he is working on? It would promote growth in the region, but he also needs to make sure that the rural areas of the north-east have a key decision-making role when that devolution happens.
I strongly agree, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has championed his constituency, particularly on transport links which I know are a bone of contention there and in the region more generally. I also know he agrees with me that the north-east in particular has great natural strengths that could enable it to become not only a national but a European and world leader in renewable and offshore technologies. That is precisely why the industrial strategies of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary have been devoting so much attention to that sector.
Some people in Wales are apparently in favour of devolving crime, policing and the justice system to the Welsh Assembly, but I am wholeheartedly opposed to that. Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that devolution is not a devolved responsibility?
It is no surprise to me to learn that the Labour party, once again, is somewhat forked-tongued in its commitment to further devolution to Wales: in Cardiff it talks a good game about further devolution of powers from London to Cardiff, yet here it continues to want to hoard powers. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Silk commission is in two parts, the first of which, on further fiscal powers, has already reported. We are determined to respond soon enough to that report, which was made on a cross-party basis. The second part of the Silk commission looks at the wider constitutional settlement, and it has not yet been completed.
The Government have confirmed that they will implement Lord Heseltine’s recommendation that economic development spending should be devolved to local areas through a single pot. Alongside the Budget, we published more details on the creation of that single local growth fund and growth deals. The next step is an announcement on the size and content of the fund as part of the spending round. Like all local enterprise partnerships, the Humber’s has the chance to show its ambition by coming up with a strong strategic economic plan to compete with others for that single local growth fund, and attain the wider freedoms and flexibilities available.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the measures he has just announced, coupled with the industrial strategy and banking reform, are all about ensuring that we can have good, successful firms in our local areas that not only generate jobs but, above all, get access to export markets, and that the Heseltine review paves the way for exactly that?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. As we clear up the monumental mess left by the Labour party, we are having to rebalance the British economy and, in particular, to rebalance the overreliance on public sector employment in significant parts of our country towards a much more diverse approach in which private sector jobs growth is restored to health as well. That is why I am delighted that we have presided over the creation of one and a quarter million new jobs in the private sector in the past three years.
I welcome the Government’s initiatives and investment in the Humber region, and in northern Lincolnshire in particular, and the personal involvement of Lord Heseltine. However, our business community, particularly on the south bank, would welcome further opportunities to discuss future potential with Ministers. Will the Deputy Prime Minister assure me that he, or one of his team, will visit to ensure that that happens?
I know that my colleagues, notably my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Business, Innovation and Skills are in constant dialogue with leading figures from local enterprise partnerships around the country in order to explore ways in which we can work together. The city deals, the creation of local enterprise partnerships, the enterprise zones, the single pot flowing from the Heseltine recommendations and the industrial strategy promulgated by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary all feed into that.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in backing the NEvolution campaign launched yesterday by the north-east’s newspapers, which calls on the Chancellor to devolve more funding and spending decisions to regions like the north-east, as recommended by Lord Heseltine?
Yes, I strongly endorse that. In fact, we have already announced that we are going to implement the vast majority of the Heseltine recommendations—81 of the 89. That really will be a significant moment, when we break from that long, long tradition, which has prevailed under Governments of all persuasions, of over-centralisation in England. In addition to the radical moves—the city deals, the LEPs and the devolution of business rates—it will leave this country significantly more devolved by the end of this Parliament than we found it at the beginning of the Parliament.
To be fair, that might have been a legitimate criticism at the very beginning of the process, as the programme was set up. The programme is now moving at an impressive pace, and the vast majority of any delays are not generated in Whitehall or in government but result from the pace of the commercial decisions taken by the recipients. When my right hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills surveyed the beneficiaries of the regional growth fund, they found that more than 90% said that they were happy with the pace at which it was operating.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (157208)
The proposed new Bill on lobbying tackles the low-hanging fruit—that is, the lobby companies that we know about. Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us what it will do to record lobbying contact elsewhere, such as that which takes place on horseback in places like Oxfordshire?
We will come forward with our proposals shortly, but the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), explained our intentions. Lobbying is a perfectly legitimate activity to allow people to explain to decision makers what the consequences of their decisions could be, and we should not malign a perfectly legitimate activity. It just needs to be made as transparent as possible, particularly when lobbying is aimed at those in government who are making important decisions that affect many people in this country.
T2. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that he is passionate about devolution. Has he had a chance to read the recommendations in the report by his Department’s McKay commission, which address the offsetting consequences of devolution? In this Parliament in Westminster, a lot of legislation is England-only but can be voted on by MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Has he had a chance to see those recommendations? (157209)
It is a very important, thorough and thoughtful report that comes up with some ingenious proposals for how the mechanics of this place could be reorganised to reflect votes that take place on issues that affect only English constituencies. Of course, it requires careful consideration and we are giving it that. It does not endorse some of the more radical proposals for an English Parliament and so on, but is all about the internal mechanics of this place and we will give it all due consideration.
Of course, I too saw the statistics from the King’s Fund and others this morning about accident and emergency waits. They are serious and we need to tackle them. More than 1 million more people are going to accident and emergency than was the case previously. That is for some long-term reasons, as the report acknowledges: an ageing society, the lack of proper co-ordination between social and health authorities and, of course, the disastrous consequences for out-of-hours care of the GP contract, which was so badly bungled by the Labour party. I am pleased to be able to tell the right hon. and learned Lady that the very latest statistic—this is a tribute to everyone working in accident and emergency in our NHS—shows that this is now the fifth consecutive week in which we have met the target of 95% of A and E patients being seen in less than four hours.
I think that answer is complacent. The truth is that there is a crisis in the national health service in the accident and emergency departments. The coalition has been in government for three years and this is happening on the Government’s watch and because of what they are doing: wasting billions of pounds on top-down reorganisation, axing thousands of nursing jobs and cutting social care. Is that not exactly what happened before to the NHS under the Tories? It is happening again, only this time the Lib Dems are helping the Tories to wreck the NHS.
The right hon. and learned Lady says that I am complacent, but we have a laboratory experiment of what happens to the NHS when Labour is in charge: let us look at what happened to the NHS and to A and E waiting times in Wales, where Labour is in charge. Let us not forget that in Labour-run Wales, the last time that A and E targets were met was in 2009. We have met them for the past five weeks.
T4. May I press the Deputy Prime Minister a little further on the McKay report? I believe that it is crucial that the Scottish people have a clear sense of direction as to where the Government will come out on these matters. The English people deserve a fairer settlement and the Scottish people deserve to know where we are going on this. (157211)
I hope I have made it clear that everybody, north or south of the border and in whatever part of the United Kingdom, should be in no doubt that this coalition Government will do whatever we can remorselessly to devolve power not only to Cardiff and Edinburgh, as we have done, or through discussions about further devolution in Northern Ireland, but within England. That is what the economic reforms I have talked about are all about.
T3. Delivering on what the coalition agreement says on Lords appointments will, I understand, require 200 additional peers in the House of Lords, at a cost of £26.2 million by the end of this Parliament. Is that a price worth paying for unpopular policies being railroaded through the other place? (157210)
The hon. Gentleman is getting a little carried away, as ever. Labour has a constant, rather unedifying record of stuffing the other place with Labour appointees. As I said, if only the hon. Gentleman had given us support for giving the British people a say in who should go to the House of Lords, we would not be stuck with this old-fashioned, archaic way of making appointments, which all party leaders are stuck with for the time being.
T5. The coalition was formed to deal with the disastrous economic legacy left to us by the last Government. Was the Deputy Prime Minister won over by the proposals made by the shadow Chancellor yesterday, which—as always from Labour—added up to only one thing: borrow, borrow, borrow? (157212)
We are doing many things, but one of the principal objectives that we have been pursuing over the past three years is making sure that resources help children in the early years, when they make the biggest difference. That is why we are the first Government to deliver 15 hours of pre-school support to all three and four-year-olds; the first Government ever, as of this September, to deliver 15 hours of child care and pre-school support to two-year-old toddlers from the lowest-income families; and the first Government ever to introduce a pupil premium worth £2.5 billion of additional support to children from the lowest-income families. That is the way to break the generational transmission of deprivation and educational under-achievement that has blighted this country for too long.
T8. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the political fee paid by trade union members should not automatically go to one party, and that trade union members should have the opportunity to decide for themselves which party that fee should go to? (157215)
The whole issue of opt-in and opt-out for trade union members and of donations from the trade union movement, which is now pretty well single-handedly bankrolling the Labour party, has of course come up in the cross-party talks on party funding, which unfortunately have proved somewhat elusive. One of the measures that we want to bring forward —it does not apply to trade unions alone—relates to the way in which a number of campaign groups, be they trade unions, animal welfare groups, tactical voting groups, rural campaign groups, religious groups or individuals, spend money to determine the outcome of campaigns in particular constituencies. At the last election, those major groups and individuals spent £3 million—a full 10% of what the major parties spent. We want to make sure that this increasingly important type of campaigning is fully transparent and is not allowed to distort the political process. That is what proposals that we will come forward with soon will do.
T7. Mr Speaker, I know that you know about the 10th “Audit of Political Engagement” report, just published by the Hansard Society. Is the Deputy Prime Minister conscious of and worried about the steep decline in political participation, particularly in the last three years, under this coalition Government? This is the first time that the percentage of people who are certain to vote has gone below 50%; it is now 43%. For young people between 18 and 25, it has fallen to just 12%. What will he do about that? (157214)
The first thing that I would like to do is try to persuade the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to join me in reforming our clapped-out political system. If his party had supported democracy for the House of Lords, would clean up party funding, and had given wholehearted support to electoral reform, perhaps he would have a leg to stand on when it came to greater political participation.
T10. Six hundred Afghan interpreters have put themselves at serious personal risk by having loyally supported British security services in Afghanistan. They could be in even greater danger once our services leave. Will my right hon. Friend back the campaign led by our noble Friend Lord Ashdown to ensure that we honour the Afghan interpreters and offer them and their families secure refuge in this country? (157217)
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that he speaks for many Members across the House. We do, of course, have a moral duty—a duty of care—to those who have risked life and limb for British servicemen and women on the front line in Afghanistan. We will make an announcement later today on those being made redundant as part of our ongoing draw-down. In short, we will offer a very generous package of support for those who wish to stay in Afghanistan and are able to do so. We will also make sure that those who have been on the front line, have served for 12 months and are now being made redundant have the opportunity to resettle in this country, as well as those who are being intimidated, when resettlement is the only option to guarantee their safety. We owe that to them, and we will do it.
T9. Given the parlous state of the Lib Dems, will the Deputy Prime Minister give hope to his party by announcing the date of his resignation, or hope to the country by announcing the date on which he will dissolve the coalition? (157216)
T11. Per pupil funding for schools in Herefordshire has long been among the lowest in the country, although it has risen, I am pleased to say, since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the pupil premium should be targeted on a wider range of deprivation than just free school meals? (157218)
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is as keen an advocate as I am of the pupil premium, which will pay long-term dividends in enhancing social mobility and greater fairness in this country. We consulted widely on what criteria we would use for the allocation of the money, and although no criterion is perfect, the only available one that is workable for teachers and head teachers and recognisable to parents—this is the response we got overwhelmingly from schools throughout the country—is free school meals. That includes not just those who receive free school meals now, but those who have received free school meals in the previous six years.
T12. The International Development Committee, of which I am a member, says in a report today that smallholder farmers have a vital role to play in global food security. Will the UK Government champion their vital role as food producers, job creators and protectors of the environment? (157219)
Absolutely; the hon. Gentleman makes an important point that it is the smallholding farmers who in many ways are the backbone of the rural economies in which they operate and very much hold the keys to the future prosperity of the countries in which they are located. At the Rio summit last year we made a significant announcement of additional DFID funding for smallholding farmers, and I know that the projects included under that programme are already proving to be a terrific success.
Unlike the Labour Government, who were always in a minority in the other place, the current Government have a de facto majority of 68, yet have still managed to suffer 71 defeats, and counting. Is that an illustration of how bad coalition policy is, or is it merely another example of why the Deputy Prime Minister needs to stuff the other place with ever more peers?
I will send to the hon. Gentleman the figures for the stuffing that took place under the Labour Government. I repeat that if he wants to join me in advocating lasting, meaningful, democratic reform of the House of Lords, why on earth did he not support it when he had a chance?
The crisis in emergency medicine recruitment and retention reveals failures in work force planning and training dating back many years, but will my right hon. Friend insist now that the Department of Health look at issues such as pay and overseas recruitment in an attempt to tackle the crisis and prevent pre-emptive measures such as the downgrade of accident and emergency services in Cheltenham?
I certainly pay tribute to my hon. Friend for representing his constituents as fiercely as he does on issues such as the A and E department in his local area. This Government will put an extra £12.7 billion into the health service by 2015—a policy of extra resources for the NHS rejected by the Labour party. That includes an increase of 6,000 in doctor numbers, and waiting times and infection rates on the whole are at record low levels. Yes, of course there are issues that need to be dealt with at a local level, but on the whole that is a record of which we can be proud.
Some of these matters are for the House authorities and the other place rather than for Government legislation, but we are working flat out to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on this package of legislation, dealing, as I say, with the influence of non-political parties with regard to lobbying and support for campaigns at a constituency level. We will publish those proposals shortly.
Under the Deputy Prime Minister’s version of recall, an MP could refuse to come to Parliament, could refuse to hold any kind of surgery or see constituents, could switch parties at a moment’s notice, and could even go on a two-year holiday without notice, and would still fail to qualify under his proposals. How will that empower voters?
The hon. Gentleman and I have spoken, and I know that he and the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) feel strongly that we should move towards an unqualified Californian approach —a model that is not without its problems given some of the political practices in California. We are trying to strike a balance, and that will be reflected in our final proposals, to give voters and the public a back-stop reassurance that if someone commits serious wrongdoing and they are not held to account, they can be held to account by the public. Equally, we should not introduce a proposal that in effect would become a kangaroo court and a free-for all for everyone simply to take political pot shots at each other.
The Attorney-General was asked—
In the past three years, the conviction rate for rape has continued to increase steadily. In the calendar year 2010, the conviction rate was 59.1%; it then went to 61% and then to 64.3%, which reflects the commitment of the Crown Prosecution Service to robust prosecution of rape offences.
Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The Director of Public Prosecutions has led the training of specialist CPS rape prosecutors, 800 of whom have now been trained, and they have done a wide range of units to ensure that they are fully aware of all the ways that it is necessary to prosecute such cases.
Some of the victims are children, and one reason why conviction rates are low is the way in which they are treated during the trial process. It is disgusting that small girls are further abused by grown men, being taunted for hours on end as liars. What will the Solicitor-General do about it?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the way in which the cases are conducted, and there is a role for advocates and judges in ensuring that cases are dealt with properly. “The Advocate’s Gateway”, a guidance document by the Advocacy Training Council that has had input from the legal profession and the judiciary, has recently been launched. It deals particularly with this issue, and I think it will make a major contribution to the way in which cases are handled.
Is the Solicitor-General satisfied that the CPS is making timely application for special measures in cases involving young victims in sex offences, and that lessons have been learned from some of the cases that went badly wrong?
The Solicitor-General will be aware that in the year up to September 2012, 1,243 sex offences resulted in a caution. Does he agree that it would be helpful to know a lot more about those cases, and to look at how they might impact on the conviction rates and how those offences are dealt with?
Yes, research is important in this area. I sit on a ministerial group on violence against women and girls that is trying to examine these issues, with the help of the voluntary organisations. The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I will look into it.
Given the recent appalling cases involving young victims and witnesses, does the Solicitor-General not agree that the damage done to those young people as they go through the court process is far too great? Is there not a sense of urgency to the issue? This simply cannot wait. Young people should not be put through such appalling damage during the court process when they have already suffered such distress and harm.
Yes, I agree. It is right to bear in mind the fact that all those in the legal profession, including the judges, are concerned about the issue too, because what has been happening has been wrong. I agree that the matter is urgent. I welcome “The Advocate’s Gateway”, which is a useful initiative to which all parties have signed up. It should make a major difference. Proper case management is the key.
Community Resolution Orders
Yes, it is in here somewhere.
None. [Laughter.] No—there is a bit more: the Crown Prosecution Service is not involved in the use of community resolutions, which are out-of-court disposals that enable a police officer to deal proportionately with appropriate offences in a timely and transparent manner.
There is real concern that the orders are being used increasingly to resolve—or supposedly resolve—domestic violence incidents. In 2012, nearly 2,500 of the orders were issued rather than cases being put before the CPS for possible prosecution. Does the Minister share my concern that the orders may be being used as an easy disposal, rather than taking domestic violence seriously?
The point to make is that the decisions are made by officers at the time. They are not orders, but decisions made when there has perhaps been an apology or some reparation. In cases of domestic violence, that would be inappropriate. The guidance is that the resolutions should not be used for such cases. Obviously, I will mention the matter to the Home Office, which is the place to direct the question.
I declare an interest as a special constable. Presumably, the Solicitor-General should be interested in liaising with the Home Office about the most serious offence that a police officer could deal with under a community resolution order, rather than its going through the justice system. Will he assure the House that he will establish that threshold with the Home Department?
As my hon. Friend will know from his background in the special constabulary, community resolutions are designed for dealing with low-level matters, when the person involved does not have previous convictions and it is possible to reach an agreement between the parties. Clearly, any serious offence should be dealt with in a different way.
Social Media (Abusive Communications)
I have held discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the CPS public consultation on the interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media. The public consultation closed on 13 March 2013 and the final guidelines will be published shortly. I would like to emphasise that libel itself is not a criminal matter unless it is grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing or threatening.
My constituent Jordan Agar died tragically the day after his 16th birthday in a motorbike accident. Tragically, his mother was then contacted by a fake Facebook profile set up in Jordan’s name with messages such as “Don’t worry mum, I’m not dead. I’ve just run away.” When apprehended, the 21-year-old culprit was given a caution; having once remained anonymous on the internet, he then remained anonymous under the law. What can be done to make sure that mothers such as Jordan’s never have to go through such a thing again?
I am troubled to hear my hon. Friend’s story. Obviously, it is impossible for me to comment on an individual case. What is clear is that the interim guidelines, already in existence, provide, particularly under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, clear grounds on which such a message could be prosecuted because it is offensive, shocking or disturbing and harasses the person who receives it. The harassment aspect would normally take it straight into the criminal domain. The guidelines are designed to strike a balance. Sometimes things that are merely offensive will not be criminal, but what my hon. Friend described seems to me to be well on the wrong side of the line.
Social media are also being used by those involved in propagating terrorist activity. Is the Attorney-General to be part of the new taskforce? If not, what discussions is he having with social media providers about the use of social media for those purposes?
First, I advise any Minister, Cabinet Committee or, indeed, taskforce if that advice is required. Secondly, as I suspect the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have had quite a lot of involvement in considerations of whether contempt of court, for example, is taking place, or whether issues may arise in respect of misuse of the internet. I can be in a position to help my colleagues in Government on all those things, but the policy lead will obviously lie elsewhere.
Obviously, libellous or criminal messages on social media are illegal and wrong, and action can be taken on them. However, can the Attorney-General assure us that he will be cautious about proposing excessive controls on social media, which are an important form of free expression for many people of different opinions and views who want to communicate with each other? It is the modern form of communication, particularly for younger people in our society.
Yes. Although the final guidelines will, I hope, be useful, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the interim guidelines published by the DPP. Those make it clear that there is a distinction that one should try to draw. Such material may be, for example,
“Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment”
“the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion”
where no action should be taken, even if it is offensive, shocking or disturbing. Equally, there will be cases where an individual is specifically targeted, or where the activity may amount to a breach of court order, or may involve threats of violence or material that is
“grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.”
In those circumstances, action will be taken. I assure the hon. Gentleman that within the Crown Prosecution Service there is a strong understanding of the need to preserve the right to freedom of expression.
Serious Fraud Office
The Serious Fraud Office is reviewing whether it should investigate allegations that UK-based oil companies were engaged in a LIBOR-style rigging of oil prices. If the SFO does decide to investigate, will it be able to do so within its budget this year of just £30 million?
The Government have made it clear that the director of the SFO should never have to turn down a case on the basis of cost. Any allegations of the type described, if brought to the SFO’s attention, are assessed within the context of its remit to investigate fraud, bribery and corruption. If there were a need for further resources outside the envelope in which the SFO is currently operating, then the director could come to me and I could go to the Treasury to seek the necessary funding.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, but ultimately it is rather outside my remit. There are circumstances in which compensation can be paid to victims of crime, including from assets that may have been recovered. The Crown Prosecution Service and the SFO will operate according to the rules that are laid down.
The new director of the Serious Fraud Office has said that we should have a sensible debate about the introduction of the new offence of corporate criminal liability, so that companies could be prosecuted for fraud, as they are under the Bribery Act 2010. Does the Attorney-General agree that it is a good idea to have such a debate, or does he agree with some of his colleagues that instead of being built on, the Bribery Act should be watered down?
If I may say first, there is no question, as far as I am concerned, of the Bribery Act being watered down. It is true that the interpretation of the Act has at times given rise to difficulties, including unnecessary ones for businesses in understanding what it requires of them, so an educational process may be required.
On changing the rules on criminal liability, I am the first to recognise that it is an important issue and one that will obviously require major debate and consideration in this House. There are compelling arguments for why that should happen, but equally perfectly sound arguments have also been made about why it should not happen.
Has the Serious Fraud Office maintained close and effective working relationships with the fraud departments of the Home Office so that those smaller cases reported to Action Fraud that highlight more widespread and more serious frauds can be prosecuted on behalf of the individuals concerned?
I think there is widespread recognition that smaller fraud, which falls outside the SFO’s remit entirely, has long been a Cinderella area for law enforcement. The economic crime command was set up in the National Crime Agency precisely to try to ensure that smaller fraud is dealt with better at a regional policing level and in order to put in place structures to enable that to happen more effectively. It is a subject of legitimate anxiety across the House that fraud problems faced by constituents often cannot be dealt with adequately. The SFO is involved with the economic crime command and sits on the economic crime co-ordination board, so it can provide its professional input.
Deputy Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—
Why do the Government move at the speed of a striking cobra in further impoverishing the already poor with the bedroom tax, and why, in the case of reforming the parasitic incubus on the body politic of lobbying, do they move at the speed of an arthritic sloth?
On both counts, of course, we at least have moved, unlike the Labour Government, who for 13 years ducked any meaningful reform of the welfare system, which in our view should be guided by the simple principle of making sure that work always pays. We also want to make sure that the details of the provisions that we are going to introduce to govern the influence in the political process of non-political and third parties are properly crafted, and we will publish them very shortly.
I stress again that we should not regard the word “lobbyist” as a bad term. It is a perfectly legitimate activity but, as the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) explained earlier, the focus of our attention will be on third party lobbyists who, on a commercial basis, provide lobbying services to an array of different clients.
The Deputy Prime Minister said several times earlier that all he is prepared to do now on Lords reform is housekeeping measures. When did the scale of his ambition as the greatest constitutional reformer since 1832 reduce to the level of housekeeping?
The Liberal Democrats used to be the party of minority but, thanks to the courageous leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister, he has just answered questions from the Dispatch Box in parts 1 and 2 of Question Time, with five or six Liberal Democrat Ministers sitting alongside him. Can I say how many Conservative Members want him to continue as Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister?
The Government have said that they will increase social mobility by ensuring that children are given
“a healthy start in life”,
“improving the child maintenance system”
“making the higher education system more…diverse.”
Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that the best way of doing that is closing down Sure Start centres, introducing charges for using the Child Support Agency, and trebling university tuition fees?
As I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises, the latest figures—the situation is evolving—suggest that more youngsters from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university than ever before, notwithstanding the controversial changes. I am very proud of the fact that we are the first Government to introduce 15 hours of free pre-school support for all three and four-year-olds; to give two-year-old toddlers from the lowest-income families 15 hours of pre-school support; and to introduce the £2.5 billion pupil premium.
Improving social mobility starts with the early years and attainment at school. However, will the Government fully consider the role of developing strength of character and resilience in young people and their potential role in reversing the woeful social mobility of recent decades?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is passionate about this issue. I read with great interest the papers from the conference on character he hosted back in February. It is a slightly amorphous term, but none the less an important one to grapple with as a factor in determining how well children do, and particularly in determining how well they do in, as it were, escaping the circumstances of their birth and realising their aspirations. I hope that a number of the early years policies I have alluded to, and reforms in the welfare and tax system that ensure that work always pays and that people in low-income work retain more of the money they earn, will help to boost social mobility in the long run.
I would be happy to have further discussions with the hon. Gentleman on those matters. I can confirm that the electoral registration transformation programme seeks to work with all appropriate bodies throughout the system to combat fraud. He makes an important point on the integrity of the electoral system. We are committed to combating fraud and the perception of fraud wherever it arises.
Will the Minister agree to consider the huge fees, often of up to £20,000, paid to returning officers, who are generally highly paid chief executives of councils? That is a huge amount of money and the Government are looking to save money. I believe that that should be part of political reform.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question—I know he has probed that issue many times before. Returning officers are entitled by statute to recover expenses incurred, as set out in the order made for each poll. As my hon. Friend will know, through the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, we have put in place a facility whereby some or all of the fee payable can be withheld in the event of unsatisfactory performance. I am sure he, like the Government, will want to see that new system bed in, after which we ought to return to the issue.
Points of Order
Would it be appropriate to record the fact that, 100 years ago today, Emily Davison was very seriously injured while campaigning for the right of women to vote? As a result of those injuries, she died four years later. In praising her, should we not also record all who campaigned, including the suffragettes who went to prison and were forcibly fed, simply for the right to have the same vote and democratic rights as men? As far as you know, Mr Speaker, has there been any apology at all from the two political parties that did their best at the time to deny half the adult population their democratic right?
It was perfectly reasonable for the hon. Gentleman to draw attention to this very significant anniversary, as he has just done. I think I am right in saying that, in recognition of the significance of the anniversary and of the great contribution to public life of Emily Wilding Davison, an event is to take place in Westminster Hall early tomorrow evening, as a result of the prodigious last-minute efforts of the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), of which I was kept well informed. In fact, it is my intention to join in on the occasion.
So far as the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order is concerned, I cannot say I am aware of any of the matters he describes, but it would be unseemly of me to comment further.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When the Prime Minister was asked yesterday whether there would definitely be a vote in this House before arms were supplied to the opposition in Syria, he replied that
“Parliament has that opportunity whenever it wants to.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2013; Vol. 563, c. 1241.]
Given that some of us suspect a decision to supply arms to the rebels in Syria might be taken during the recess, have you, Mr Speaker, had any indication from, or via, the usual channels that the Prime Minister would propose to recall Parliament, so that there could be a vote before such a serious step was taken?
I can say to the hon. Gentleman that I have received no indication of any plans one way or the other so far as Her Majesty’s Government are concerned. In the event that the situation the hon. Gentleman describes—which is, so far, hypothetical—were to arise, I would be obliged to deal with the matter under the current terms of the relevant Standing Order governing recall, a Standing Order with which I fancy the hon. Gentleman either is, or will shortly become, familiar.
More widely on the merits of the matters being debated, having known the hon. Gentleman for 30 years this October, I know what an incredibly persistent woodpecker he is and I feel sure that he will return to the matter at every conceivable opportunity.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Would I be right in thinking that you could recall Parliament only at the request of the Prime Minister, and not necessarily as a result of a submission made by a delegation of Members from all parties? This matter needs to be cleared up well before the summer recess, in the event that the Government decide to send arms to Syria.
The hon. Gentleman’s understanding is broadly correct. Specifically, the requirement of the Standing Order is not that the request has to be made by the Prime Minister, but that it does have to be made by one of Her Majesty’s Ministers. In so far as the hon. Gentleman is highlighting this point as evidence of his belief that the Standing Order is unsatisfactory and a constraint on Parliament, I note very much what he says. It is what it is, and it will be up to Members, if they judge it necessary, to deploy their collective wits to try to ensure an opportunity for Parliament to debate and vote, if that is what they seek. I hope that that is helpful; we will have to leave it there for today.
[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 12, page 1, line 5, leave out
‘a decarbonisation target range is set, that’
‘such a target range is set’.
Amendment 13, page 1, line 8, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.
Amendment 14, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
‘(4) Subject to section 2(1) the decarbonisation level must not exceed the level deemed consistent with a low-carbon trajectory as advised by the Committee on Climate Change’.
Amendment 15, page 2, line 2, leave out from
‘and the first decarbonisation order may not’
to ‘Climate Change Act 2008’ and insert—
‘a decarbonisation order must be made by 1 April 2014’.
Amendment 16, page 2, line 6, leave out ‘A’ and insert—
‘Subject to section 2(1), a’.
Amendment 17, in clause 2, page 2, line 30, leave out from ‘The following matters’ to ‘target range’ and insert—
‘Before exercising the power to make a decarbonisation order the Secretary of State must obtain and take into account the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.’.
Amendment 18, page 2, line 32, leave out ‘The matters are’ and insert—
‘In providing its advice to the Secretary of State the Committee on Climate Change must take into account the following matters’.
Amendment 19, page 2, line 46, at end insert—
‘(3) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice to the Secretary of State, the Committee must publish that advice in such manner as it considers appropriate.
(4) If in making a decarbonisation order the Secretary of State makes provision different from that recommended by the Committee, the Secretary of State must, on making the order, publish a statement setting out the reasons for that decision.’.
Amendment 20, in clause 3, page 3, line 2, leave out from ‘a report setting out’ to the end of subsection and insert—
‘and publish a delivery plan setting out proposals to achieve the duty in section 1 to ensure that the decarbonisation target range is not exceeded.’.
Government amendments 51 and 70.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in particular to my interests in the energy industry. In doing so, I emphasise, as I have done before, that my views on climate change and on the need for Britain to move more swiftly to a low-carbon economy and to cut its dependence on fossil fuels were formed two decades ago when I had ministerial responsibility for this area of policy.
I have not changed these views at any time since and have repeated them publicly and privately on many occasions throughout the past 20 years. My views have never been influenced at any time or in any way by my financial interests, all of which were acquired after I left the shadow Cabinet in 2005. That was 12 years after I accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus on this subject and began campaigning for a more urgent response to the challenge of climate change. Various bloggers, columnists and others, including one or two of my hon. Friends, who imply otherwise and who ignore the scientific consensus, invariably overlook my strong and consistent support for nuclear power, which is a low-carbon technology that should be part of Britain’s energy mix.
I am grateful for this opportunity to debate amendment 11, which stands in my name and the name of hon. Members from most parties. It is based on a unanimous recommendation made last July in the report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee on the draft Energy Bill. I am glad to say that the Government accepted many of the Committee’s recommendations, and by doing so materially improved the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team on their response to our report and on the outcome of their negotiations with the Treasury on a range of issues, including the levy control framework.
For a variety of reasons, however, the need for the amendment is even greater now than when my Committee’s report was published. First, despite some positive signs on the Government’s support for low-carbon electricity generation, the publication of the gas strategy on the very day of the autumn statement confused many investors. The possibility that the Government might sanction 37 GW of new gas-fired generation capacity rests uneasily with their acceptance two years ago of the fourth carbon budget, which covers the period 2023 to 2027, and raises the fear that the purpose of next year’s review of the budget is to water it down and weaken the incentives for low-carbon investment.
As a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, I want to compliment the hon. Gentleman on his chairmanship. He has done an excellent job. Does he agree that unfortunately the Government have dragged their feet over the Energy Bill? They did not give us enough time to scrutinise it. The Bill then disappeared for a while and came back at short notice. Does this smack of a Government who are putting their heart and soul into energy?
It is certainly true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that we waited a long time for the draft Energy Bill. I think that the industry, the non-governmental organisations and the academic world were all hoping to see it appear a lot earlier than last summer. Our Committee was given a very limited period—about half the time normally given to Select Committees to comment on a draft Bill. We completed our work—with great assistance not just from my colleagues on the Committee, but from the staff—in about six weeks. Having received our recommendations at the end of July, we waited another five months before the actual Energy Bill was published, although I recognise that some of that period was used in the negotiations on which I have already congratulated the Secretary of State. The Public Bill Committee stage was completed in the first week of February, however, and we have now waited a further four months to get to Report, so the matter has not been conducted with the urgency that I think the needs of the situation required.
The understandably envious glances cast across the Atlantic by the Treasury at the transformation of the US gas market in the wake of the exploitation of shale gas have not passed unnoticed. Not surprisingly, there are now doubts in the minds of many prospective investors about the depth of the Government’s commitment to decarbonising electricity generation.
Incidentally, the Energy and Climate Change Committee was one of the first bodies to urge the Government, more than two years ago, to approve more exploration and testing to establish the scale of Britain’s recoverable shale gas reserves. If our dependence on imported gas can be cut and if consumers can be partially protected against fluctuations in international gas prices, which have been the main cause of the rise in domestic energy prices in the last few years, that is wholly to be welcomed. However, my Committee also warned, in a more recent report on shale gas, that it would be rash to base energy policy on the assumption that Britain will soon be a major shale gas producer. The opposition to exploring for shale gas in Sussex, which is already emerging, is a foretaste of the battle for public opinion, which must be won before domestic production of shale gas on even a modest scale can occur. The case for a diversified energy mix is therefore as strong as ever.
Secondly, although we hear regular warnings about a looming capacity crisis in electricity generation and the consequent risk of power cuts, there is a curious complacency about the Government’s attitude. Investment in new generating capacity is now at a low level. The nuclear talks between the Government and EDF remain unfinished. Even if, as I now hope and expect, they are brought to a successful, albeit belated, conclusion, it will be 2020 at the earliest before a single kilowatt of electricity is generated by a new nuclear power station in Britain. New investment in coal is unlikely to occur until an economically viable form of carbon capture and storage is available. Despite the huge potential market for CCS, there is no sign anywhere in the world of that happening. I am an enormous fan of CCS—it is the single technology that the world most urgently needs to address climate change—but we might have to wait another decade or even longer for a breakthrough on that front.
Meanwhile, coal can be imported cheaply from America, so our remaining coal-fired power stations are running flat out. Gas generation—the great white hope of many people—is currently so unprofitable that, far from large-scale new investment taking place, some plant is currently mothballed. Critically, potential investors in gas generation are holding back until the details of the Government’s proposed capacity mechanism are known. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to publish the details as soon as possible.
With a decision on nuclear still awaited and with fossil fuel generating investment at a standstill, it might be thought that money would pour into low-carbon renewables, but even there the picture is unclear. For example, according to new figures from Bloomberg, the flow of funds is actually slowing down. Doubts about whether a future Government will remain committed to supporting low-carbon technologies after 2020, fears that instead they will bet the farm on another dash for gas, and a lack of clarity about the level of strike prices to be proposed for the new contracts for difference regime have all unsettled investors. The only certain consequence of this is that investment will be slower and the risk of a capacity crisis greater.
What the hon. Gentleman has just said exactly echoes what businesses in my constituency are telling me. The lack of certainty and the suggestion that the Government will now delay setting targets until 2016 mean that businesses simply do not know within which parameters they are operating. They do not know whether they should go ahead and invest in the technology.
I agree with the hon. Lady and will develop that very point.
The element of perceived political risk is leading investors to seek higher returns from their investments in the UK energy market. Higher returns to investors mean higher prices for consumers. Amendment 11 directly addresses these issues. By itself, it would not immediately alter the low-carbon pathway on which the Government have already embarked, most notably in its acceptance of the fourth carbon budget. However, the prospect of the fourth carbon budget being watered down in next year’s review is simply another unwelcome uncertainty. The amendment would remove that uncertainty by requiring the Secretary of State to set, no later than 1 April 2014, a decarbonisation target for 2030 for electricity generation.
But will my hon. Friend concede that if we put up more wind farms, we would also have to build gas-fired power stations as back-up because the wind might not blow? That would be an awful lot dearer than just building the gas stations. How much is he planning to add to people’s electricity bills?
I recommend that my right hon. Friend look at the latest report from National Grid, which shows that the amount of back-up required for wind farms is extraordinarily low. More importantly, on the broader point about costs, I am sure he will be aware—because he takes a close interest in these matters—that nothing in the amendment would affect the cost of electricity between now and 2020 because the support for low-carbon technologies during that period is capped by the levy control framework. The amendment would have no impact on electricity prices for consumers for the next seven years.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend also takes a close interest in what electricity prices will be in the 2020s, and it is theoretically possible that approving this amendment could lead to higher prices during that period. That would depend heavily on an assumption about what gas prices will be doing in the 2020s, and I would not be confident about making such a forecast. If he is really concerned about the cost to consumers—a concern that I share—he should address his attention in the short term to the Treasury, which has imposed a minimum floor price for carbon. That will have the effect of raising electricity prices before 2020. It is an imposition that applies only in the United Kingdom and therefore puts us at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the European Union. I hope he will join me in making continued representations to the Treasury to drop that policy.
As currently drafted, the Energy Bill gives the Secretary of State a power to set a decarbonisation target for 2030, but it does not compel him to do so. It also prevents him from exercising that power before 2016. Suggestions that the amendment would force him to set the target at 50 grams per kWh in 2030 are mistaken. It would merely require him to set it in accordance with advice received from the Committee on Climate Change. There is nothing in the amendment that would require him to set a particular figure. If the Committee were to recommend a figure higher than 50 grams per kWh, the Secretary of State would have to heed that advice. If he did not do so, he would have to explain why.
The Committee on Climate Change itself would not have a completely free hand in determining its advice to the Government. It would still have to take account of all the matters referred to in clause 2(2). I remind the House of five of those key points. The Committee would have to take account of
“scientific knowledge about climate change…technology relevant to the generation and storage of electricity…economic circumstances, and in particular the likely impact on the economy and the competitiveness of particular sectors of the economy…fiscal circumstances, and in particular the likely impact on…public borrowing”
“social circumstances, and in particular the likely impact on fuel poverty”.
My hon. Friend began by saying that the whole purpose of his amendment was to provide certainty. He is now saying, “This won’t be certain because it will depend on half a dozen things that we cannot forecast.” Why does he imagine that people will invest on the basis of a legal obligation to do something in 2030 that it is impossible to do now, and that they will not invest on the basis of subsidies that are available now and that can be removed only as a result of breach of contract?
I am not sure that I completely follow my right hon. Friend’s concerns. Those points in the Bill will simply ensure that, in the event of an unexpected substantial change in economic circumstances or the emergence of a new technology, the Committee on Climate Change would have an opportunity to review its advice. Indeed, I would hope that it would want to do so in normal circumstances anyway. Moreover, investors are accustomed to having to adjust their decisions and expectations in the light of changing events.
I am seeking, through the amendment, to remove another element of uncertainty. I want to ensure that the Government’s current commitment to moving down a pathway of slowly decarbonising the British economy and reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, which is particularly relevant to the electricity generating industry, is reinforced by accepting an obligation to set the target in secondary legislation during the next 10 months. I believe that that would be wholly helpful to investors. It would give them a more secure and predictable framework in which to make their decisions, as well as having an effect on the returns that they might expect.
In Northern Ireland, Airtricity’s electricity prices have gone up by 17.5%, and Northern Ireland Electricity’s prices have risen by 18%. What elements of the Bill will give consumers confidence that prices will not rise above affordable levels, given that prices are heading in the wrong direction at the moment?
On the wider point about future prices, it would be dishonest for anyone to suggest that we could protect consumers against the probability of higher energy prices. The world’s demand for energy is expanding very quickly, particularly in the Asian economies, and that will probably lead to higher prices. What the Government can do, and what the Bill is aiming to do, is at least to minimise those price rises. A number of measures can be taken to achieve that, including improving competition, ensuring that consumers are better informed and deploying various smart technologies on a large scale. Also, as I have said before, it would be helpful if Britain were able to go ahead and identify the scale of our recoverable shale gas reserves and then exploit them. That would certainly reduce our dependence on imports, and it might give us some protection against price fluctuations.
The amendment is not so revolutionary as some people seem to think. It seeks to bring forward by a couple of years something that the Government are contemplating doing anyway. If it is true, as the Secretary of State said yesterday, that we are heading for a substantial decarbonisation of electricity anyway—I am sure that, if he said it, it must be true—what possible objection could there be to the amendment? There is now widespread support for such a measure. Only two weeks ago, the Committee on Climate Change published a report recommending that a target for reducing carbon emissions from electricity generation by 50 grams per kWh to 2030 should be set in legislation, with the flexibility to adjust it in the light of new information. The amendment provides for precisely that.
A wide range of businesses and trade bodies have backed the proposal. The Aldersgate Group, whose members include Microsoft, Marks & Spencer, Aviva, Sky, Pepsico, British American Tobacco and many others, is a strong supporter. Many companies with an interest in the supply chain and with the potential to create jobs in Britain want to see the amendment accepted. A wide range of voluntary bodies is also campaigning for it, including the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reform Church and the Quakers in Britain. I mention the Churches because, in the recent debate on gay marriage, I found myself on the opposite side from most of those organisations, and I am delighted to be allied with them on this issue.
I am listening closely to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that the purpose of setting a decarbonisation target now is surely related to the supply chain? Companies are looking at bringing developments on stream around 2020, as many of them have a long lead-in time, and they want to know now that there will be a market for them after that date.
That is certainly one of the reasons for the amendment. It would help to create more jobs in the UK if the supply chain companies received reassurance in that regard.
Even among hon. Members there are signs of enthusiasm for my amendment. At the Liberal Democrat party conference last September, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury proposed a motion to establish a
“target range of 50-100g of CO2 per kWh for the decarbonisation of power sector in addition to existing carbon reductions.”
If every Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who supported the Chief Secretary on that day were to join me in the Aye Lobby at 4 o’clock, the amendment would be carried. I am sure that all my hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches are keen to take this opportunity to strengthen their well-known reputation for consistency.
My hon. Friend will be well aware that one of the biggest road blocks to achieving progress in this area is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not the Liberal Democrats who are standing in the way of the progress that we need to make. My hon. Friend needs to work with his own colleagues to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come on board.
I say to my hon. Friend that there are two people who could give a decisive signal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon by voting for the amendment: one is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the other is the Energy Secretary—both members of my hon. Friend’s party, with which we are delighted to be in coalition.
Given that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to reduce this issue to a political knockabout, it would be interesting to ask him, if he is so committed to his amendment, what meetings he has sought with the Treasury to discuss it.
I frequently pass the time of day in the warmest possible terms with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when we are voting in the same Lobby, which from time to time we are.
Even the Government seek powers in the Bill as it stands to introduce a decarbonisation target, but for some reason they do not want to do so until 2016 at the earliest. The problem with the Saint Augustinian coyness and this promise of possible future chastity in the matter of greenhouse gas emissions—“but, please God, not just yet”—is that by 2016 many investment decisions will have been made. If these lock Britain into a high greenhouse gas emission future, they will either prevent us from meeting our climate change commitments or else will lead to the construction of fossil fuel generating capacity, which will subsequently have to be scrapped.
The year 2016 is also after the next general election. Delaying a decision until then creates another needless but harmful element of doubt about the Government’s true intentions. I therefore urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to support this amendment. Doing so will remove an element of uncertainty whose presence hampers investment, increases the risk of a capacity crisis and raises electricity prices unnecessarily. The amendment will not impose on the Government today any commitments that they do not already claim to embrace. Furthermore, it will not remove the need for even greater priority to be given to demand-side measures and to energy efficiency—issues that I wholly support. By itself, the amendment will not raise electricity prices in the next seven years by a single penny because the total sums spent on subsidising low-carbon electricity in the period up to 2020 has, as I have mentioned, already been capped by the levy control framework.
I am listening to the things that the amendment will not do, but will my hon. Friend tell my constituents in Winchester and across the beautiful Hampshire downs what a decarbonised power sector will look like in my constituency and in many other constituencies by 2030?
That is quite a challenge because we cannot predict exactly which will be the most cost-effective technologies. I very much hope, incidentally, that we will move swiftly away from a situation in which the Government set the strike prices for contracts for difference on a centrally determined basis, and that they will allow different technologies to bid in an auction process so that we can be sure that we are getting the best value for money. It may well be that some technologies that we do not yet know about will offer better value than offshore wind farms, for example, which look to me as if they are going to be at the costly end of the spectrum. Even today, it is possible to see solar and an array of wind farms—I visited them in my constituency last Friday—operating. The farmer who showed me these with great pride—he was lucky enough to make his investment before the rates were cut a year and a half ago—pointed out that his sheep enjoyed sheltering under these panels and that there was some evidence to demonstrate increased productivity from the sheep as well as the generation of renewable power.
I think I have probably said enough about the Treasury’s floor price for carbon for the House to realise that I am not a supporter of it. I stress that we need to recognise that it is raising prices, adding to consumer and business bills and making British business less competitive relative to the rest of the EU, and it manages to do so in a way that does not cut carbon emissions by a single kilogram.
Without amendment 11, the Bill, whose early passage through Parliament is desperately needed for economic and security reasons as much as for environmental ones, will be needlessly weakened. I commend the amendment to the House.
I am pleased to join the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) in supporting amendment 11 and voting for it later today.
The Secretary of State is in a bind. His party believes in a 2030 decarbonisation target—it is Lib Dem party policy, after all. His party put the issue in its manifesto. Many of his MPs went further and actually signed a separate pledge in support of a decarbonisation target. Have they not learned the Lady Bracknell rule of politics: to break one pledge may be regarded as a misfortune; to break two looks like contempt for the electorate? The Secretary of State is, however, a decent fellow and he has told me from that Dispatch Box that he favours a 2030 decarbonisation target and would be happy to implement one were it not for the fact that he struck an agreement with the Chancellor. I understand that he refers to this agreement as “the grand bargain”. Hardly: it is more of a Faustian pact.
The Secretary of State was right to negotiate £7.6 billion under the levy control framework to support renewables up until 2020—but a bargain this was not. Old coal will be allowed to provide base load beyond 2023; gas will be incentivised to provide base load right the way up until 2045. All pretence of meeting our carbon budgets and emissions targets will be abandoned, and the jobs and growth that leadership in low-carbon industries would generate will be lost. The combined value to the UK economy of all this is worth many times more than the paltry £7.6 billion that the Secretary of State has negotiated up to 2020. A grand bargain? Not since Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage has a worse deal been struck.
Just 10 days ago, the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change produced its report on the electricity market reform. The report compared and analysed the relative benefits of investing in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies through the 2020s rather than investing in gas-fired generation. The report finds that investment in low carbon would save consumers between £25 billion and £45 billion. If, however, one uses the higher-end estimates of gas and carbon prices, the Climate Change Committee’s estimate then rises to £100 billion.
Of course. The hon. Gentleman must be forgiven for not having a memory retention of more than 10 seconds. I did, in fact, say that the lower-end figures were £25 billion to £45 billion, and that the higher end of the spectrum led to the estimate of £100 billion. There we have it. If we compare the £7.6 billion that the Secretary of State has negotiated with the lower-end range of £25 billion to £45 billion, we see what the Climate Change Committee has said the gas strategy might cost us in comparison with a low-carbon investment strategy.
Critically, the Climate Change Committee says:
“Only if the world abandons attempts to limit risks of dangerous climate change would a strategy of investment in gas-fired generation through the 2020s offer significant savings.”
Is it not the case that the climate has been changing for the last 4.5 billion years, while surprisingly there has been no increase in temperatures for the last 15 years, so growing numbers of people think the whole thing is hogwash, and they are going to support quite reluctantly what the Government are doing as the least worst option?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the climate has been changing over billions of years. If, however, he cared to read the report from the Met Office and from meteorologists around the world, he would find that the fluctuation over the past 10 years, to which he referred, relates to the context and background diminishing rather than the effect of emissions reducing. Again, if he bothered to read the report, he would find that it says that once the background comes back to normal or back to the average, the effect of the increased emissions would then produce a correspondingly sharp rise in climate change. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there have always been changes in the climate and there are risks that we must factor in, but when we do so, we must take full account of the scientific data. Failing to do so is the mistake he made in his intervention.
So here we have the United Kingdom Government, who proclaim themselves to be a leader in the international climate negotiations in the run-up to the United Nations framework convention on climate change agreement in 2015, adopting a national strategy that their own independent expert advisers have told them will make economic sense only if the world abandons its attempt to avoid dangerous climate change. If it were on “Mock the Week”, we should all be in hysterics.
This is not the advice of some partisan body funded by industry. It is the advice of the independent committee that we established and expressly charged with the task of advising Parliament on the most cost-effective measures that can be taken in order to deliver on the UK’s legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. What that committee is telling the Secretary of State is that the £7.6 billion that he has negotiated needs to be set against at least £25 billion to £45 billion of increased costs to the UK public. The House should not wilfully choose to disregard the advice of the Committee on Climate Change unless it hears very specific evidence from Ministers that refutes its conclusions. To disagree with the Committee without such evidence would be wilfully to embrace higher energy prices than are necessary to our emissions objectives, and to accept lower economic growth and the likelihood that this policy will fail.
Amendments 11 to 20, which we will press to a vote this afternoon, require the Secretary of State to set a 2030 decarbonisation target for the electricity sector by 1 April 2014, at a level that
“must not exceed the level deemed consistent with a low-carbon trajectory as advised by the Committee on Climate Change”.
I am most grateful to the 43 Members on both sides of the House who have chosen to add their names to the amendments. They, like the hon. Member for South Suffolk and me, believe that a 2030 decarbonisation target is essential to the success of the Bill. Let me repeat those words: “the success of the Bill”. We are not trying to wreck the Bill, for it is too important to play politics with. Ministers should distinguish between those who bring a spade to bury their endeavours and those who, like the hon. Member for South Suffolk and me, bring a spade to shore them up. I am conscious that the Government Whips have been given a good deal of extra work by the amendments, and I will happily buy a refreshment for any of them who feel aggrieved by having to argue with their colleagues against both common sense and principle.
So far, we have identified a number of arguments that have been adduced in the Government’s defence. Front Benchers have been keen to tell their troops not to worry, because they have introduced a provision to set a decarbonisation target in 2016. Well, that is not strictly accurate. The Secretary of State did not need to give himself the power to set a decarbonisation target in the Bill, because he already had that power under the Climate Change Act 2008. What the Government actually do in the Bill is make it illegal for him to set a 2030 decarbonisation target before 2016. There is no compulsion for him to set it even after that date; there is only a permission and an acknowledgement that he may do so.
The Government specifically claim that the enforced delay makes sense, because by that time the Committee on Climate Change will have published its fifth carbon budget, which covers the year 2030. They say that it is best to consider the committee’s budget recommendation along with any decarbonisation target. Interestingly, the committee itself does not agree with that view. In fact, it has repeatedly disagreed with it. In its recent report on electricity market reform, it is quite explicit in saying:
“We recommended to the Government in summer 2012 that a carbon-intensity target aimed at reducing 2030 emissions to around 50 gCO2 /kWh should be set under the Energy Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament.
In response, the Government has taken a power in the draft Bill which would allow it to do this in 2016. It has argued that setting a target any earlier would be premature, given that the fifth carbon budget covering the period 2028-2032—and setting the economy-wide emissions limit for 2030—will not be legislated until 2016.
However, it is not necessary to wait for the setting of the fifth carbon budget to take a decision on the 2030 carbon intensity target, given clear evidence to show that investment in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies is a robust strategy with low regrets and significant potential benefits across a wide range of scenarios.
Neither is it necessary to wait for the fourth carbon budget review in 2014 to set a carbon-intensity target. Although the Government has linked its approach to EMR implementation with the review of the fourth carbon budget, it will remain economically desirable to invest in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies whatever the outcome of the review, given the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act.
Moreover, delay in setting the target will allow current uncertainties to be perpetuated, with adverse consequences for supply chain investment and project development”.
The committee concludes:
“We therefore continue to recommend to the Government and to Parliament that a carbon-intensity target aimed at reducing emissions to around 50 gCO2/kWh should be set as a matter of urgency.”
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there are already many positive signals for investors in the marketplace? There is the 2050 target, there is the levy control framework that enables billions of pounds to be contributed by central Government, and there is the Government amendment to the Bill, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and which allows the Secretary of State to take those measures in 2016.
Is the hon. Gentleman not as concerned as I am—and, indeed, as Professor Dieter Helm was when he gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee—about the possibility that including additional targets that impose restrictions on the marketplace will simply lead to higher costs for both British business and consumers?
I agree that it is important to address the question of what the costs to British industry and British consumers will be. As the hon. Gentleman will accept, the independent Committee on Climate Change has already addressed that question, and, indeed, its remarks and recommendations were based precisely on its assessment of the likely costs and benefits and the signals that currently exist in the market; but he has made a fair point. We certainly need to ask what signals exist, and what effect either costs or benefits are likely to have on our national well-being.
It is heartening to know that the Government want to hear what the Committee on Climate Change wants to say in three years’ time. Perhaps they will now extend that courtesy further by not just hearing but listening to what the committee is saying today.
The other argument that the Government Whips have deployed against the amendments is that sector-specific targets without road maps are meaningless. That is, to a degree, relevant to the point made by the hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). This is not only about the targets; it is also about the road maps relating to the implementation of those targets, and that, of course, is precisely why we have a levy control framework. It is also why the EMR report of the Committee on Climate Change calls on the Government to extend to 2030 funding allocated to support the development of less mature technologies under the framework, to present
“options to support mobilisation of new sources of finance, including roles for the Green Investment Bank and Infrastructure UK”,
and to publish in the EMR delivery plan
“the amount of capacity that the Government intends to contract”
over the next period.
The final argument that we have heard from Ministers is that they do not wish to sacrifice jobs and growth for the sake of the environment. That is the most fallacious argument of all. It was dealt with very well in some of the pre-Committee hearings. Andrew Buglass from the Royal Bank of Scotland told the Energy Bill Committee that there is a cliff edge and that cliff edge is making it very difficult for supply chain investors to invest in the UK. Overcoming the insecurity created by the 2020 cliff edge does not require more public money or even the promise of more money. It requires coherence in the form of a 2030 target that proves to industry that the demand for low-carbon energy will continue to rise beyond 2020.
The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), has previously quoted comments made by Mr Buglass in an Energy Bill Committee sitting, observing that Mr Buglass stated that a 2030 target
“is absolutely critical from the conversations I have with potential supply-chain investors because they quite rightly point out that it is very difficult for them to take investment to their board if they really only have visibility on three or four years-worth of work.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 51, Q154.]
We must put that target in place if we are to incentivise potential investors and achieve the investment in low-carbon industry that we need.
I support the decarbonisation target. Does my hon. Friend agree that this issue is not just about what DECC is doing, but what the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is doing? There are many investors looking to invest in constituencies across the country, but they will not make that investment if the uncertainty arising from the Government’s current position persists. It is therefore vital that we get some kind of assessment of where that investment can go, because that will help to create the green jobs that we all want.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the great mistakes this Government have made on energy policy is to confine it simply to energy itself, and not to consider it in the wider context of British industry. That is why I am delighted that the new Minister for Energy, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), has a spanning brief over the two Departments. I hope he will be able to bring that to bear, because we must see how our energy policy is related to our exports. Unfortunately, last night the Government did not accept the amendments on carbon capture and storage, but we must understand that the growth of CCS as a new technology in this country will impact not only on our own energy policy here in the UK, but much more widely in terms of the exports and the impact we can make on climate change across the globe and in countries such as China and India, which will be using coal for the next 30 or 40 years. That is the true prize. Our own energy consumption and our own emissions are small compared with those of the rest of the world, but the impact that our industrial policy can make is enormous. That is why we have to integrate energy and business, as my hon. Friend says.
Potential investors in the UK have a policy risk concern; they are concerned about what the future shape of our energy policy might be. Siemens told us if we wait until 2016 to set a decarbonisation target for 2030, it and many of its competitors are likely to delay or cancel planned investment in the UK. The Energy Secretary is shaking his head. I know he is not shaking his head to indicate he disagrees that that is what Siemens said, as he has read the Hansard Committee reports and he knows that is precisely what it said. He may disagree with those comments, but that is what industry is telling us, and we ignore what it is saying at our peril.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Siemens. In Germany emissions per capita and per unit of GDP are higher than in the UK, and in the UK they are falling more quickly, yet he seems to think that the best way forward for us is to have targets and increasingly to act unilaterally. Why are our European neighbours going in the opposite direction?
That point is often made; it is often said that Germany is getting rid of its low-carbon nuclear and is embracing coal as the fuel for the future. The hon. Gentleman is diligent on these matters, and I am therefore sure that he has examined the Pöyry report commissioned by his Government—by DECC—which was published in April 2013 and which made it clear that this is not a sustainable pathway for Germany. It concludes:
“It is our opinion that there will be no major new unabated coal or lignite projects in Germany for the foreseeable future beyond those currently under construction. Our view appears to be endorsed by the German companies: three majors have very publicly announced that they have no intention of building additional coal-fired power stations in Germany until at least the end of the decade.
The Netherlands has many parallels to Germany in that legacy circumstances are responsible for a wave of new coal-fired power stations, but that these conditions are highly unlikely to repeated.”
It then goes on to talk about Spain.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the decision on nuclear in Germany was taken at a time when highly political conditions were in play. Those conditions are not going to be replicated in the future, and, importantly, the business sectors in these countries have seen that this is not a credible future pathway.
Order. Before the hon. Member for Ynys Môn intervenes, I should point out that although the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) is, as usual, entirely in order as there is no time limit, he is a sensitive fellow and I therefore know that he will wish to take account of the fact that several other Members might also wish to volunteer their opinions in the course of the debate.
I will be brief, but my hon. Friend’s comments on the German issue have provoked me to intervene. He is right that there may be no new-build coal power stations in Germany, but German business is concerned that it will be importing nuclear from France or coal from Poland, and that carbon issues will therefore be imported.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, as I have tried to give way as much as possible and I wish to respect Mr Speaker’s advice. I am conscious that I have spoken at great length, so I will now conclude my remarks.
Earlier this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer received a letter from many of the companies referred to by the hon. Member for South Suffolk, in which they make the situation very clear:
“Projects can take 4-6 years from investment decision to construction and operation. We are already close to the point where lack of a post-2020 market driver will seriously undermine project pipelines. Supply chain investment decisions depend on reasonable assurance for manufacturers that a production facility to be constructed during this decade, costing hundreds of millions of pounds, will have an adequate market for its products well into the 2020s.
Postponing the 2030 target decision until 2016 creates entirely avoidable political risk. This will slow growth in the low carbon sector, handicap the UK supply chain, reduce UK R&D and produce fewer new jobs.”
The Government must reconsider.
These amendments have attracted significant debate and interest across the House. Let me say, first and foremost, that the Government share the view that decarbonisation of the electricity sector, done in the right way, is vital. It will help us to: deliver secure and affordable energy for the long term; diversify our energy mix: insulate the economy from price spikes in the international energy market; and meet our long-term, legally binding goals on renewable energy and climate change. It is because decarbonising energy generation is one of the central pillars of this Government’s energy policy that we introduced these new provisions into the Energy Bill, in order to take that critical step of enabling a legally binding decarbonisation target range for the electricity sector to be set in 2016. That would be the first of its kind in the world.
Amendments 51 and 70 refine these provisions by adding the target range duty to the list of considerations to which the Secretary of State must have regard when exercising certain electricity market reform functions, such as when making regulations relating to contracts for difference and the capacity market. That will help to ensure that, when a target decarbonisation range is set, the Secretary of State is obliged to take his duty to meet that target range into account when exercising his functions in respect of electricity market reform.
The Minister referred to the amendments introduced in Committee as ones that enabled the Government to set a target, but he is as aware as I am, and as many others are, that that is not what they do; they say that the Government “may” set a target. If he is now saying that the Government will set a target, will he support the amendments proposing to change the wording from “may” to “must”?
The amendments we introduced in Committee allow the Government, if they so wish, to set a target. I will come on to deal with that point, but let me turn first to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). I do not believe that these amendments take the right approach for the following reasons.
First, now is not the right time to set a target range. Hon. Members say that doing so will improve investor certainty, but this Government are already giving clear signals about the future of our electricity sector, and I shall address that in a moment. Secondly—this answers the point made by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex)—it would be a mistake to impose a legal obligation now that a target range must be set. Decarbonisation of the electricity sector is inextricably linked to that of the entire economy, so a decision to set a binding target range should be taken in 2016 when we consider the trajectory of the whole economy towards our 2050 target. Thirdly, the Committee on Climate Change is the wrong body to set a legal constraint on what the level of the target range should be.
I wish to expand on each of those three points. Hon. Members say that we must set a target now because investors need greater certainty. The Government agree wholeheartedly that investor certainty is essential to delivering our energy and climate change goals at the least cost. That has been a fundamental part of our policy to date and it will continue to be a high priority. However, it is very important to recognise that we already have legal targets and measures that clarify the long-term future of electricity generation in this country. They include: the 2050 target to cut emissions by at least 80%, which is likely to require the entire electricity sector to be decarbonised; the fourth carbon budget that runs up to 2027, which requires this country to halve its emissions in the whole economy—we have set out in the carbon plan the likely implications of that for the electricity sector; and the 2020 EU renewables directive, which will mean 30% of electricity generation coming from renewables in 2020, compared with around 10% today. We shall also be arguing, as the Secretary of State announced last week, for the most ambitious greenhouse gas emission target ever to be set in the European Union of 50% by 2030.
In addition, we have committed ourselves to providing clarity on the trajectory of the electricity sector up to 2030 by issuing guidance to the National Grid Company on an indicative range of decarbonisation scenarios consistent with the least-cost approach to achieving our overall 2050 carbon target. Of course, we must also not forget that what matters most for investors now is not simply words and aspirations, but funding. That is what we have got through the Government’s decision to increase support for low-carbon electricity year on year to £7.6 billion by 2020, a tripling of support between now and 2020 which provides a clear and durable signal to investors.
Was my hon. Friend, like me, struck by the comments made by the chief policy officer of the CBI at the weekend? She said:
“It is clear that investment decisions will stand or fall on the details of the Contracts for Difference, the capacity mechanism, and the levy control framework—not on a carbon intensity target.”
My hon. Friend anticipates me; I was certainly due to quote the CBI in support, and I will come to that in a moment.
Finally, in this regard, I should mention this Energy Bill, which puts in place the most significant reform of our electricity market since privatisation, in order to attract the £110 billion of investment we need over the next decade to replace current generating capacity, upgrade the network and cater for rising electricity demand. That will provide further support for investors. For example, the Government’s delivery plan, which is due to be published in draft in July, will provide draft strike prices for renewables projects that wish to take up contracts for difference. They will provide further certainty about potential future revenues to developers of such projects, at an earlier stage than under the renewables obligation. We expect this approach to bring on significant investment in renewable technologies, enabling the Government to meet their objectives on renewable energy, decarbonisation, security of supply and affordable energy for consumers.
This Bill has already been welcomed by investors. John Cridland, director general of the CBI, has said that it sends a
“strong signal to investors that the Government is serious about providing firms with the certainty they need to invest in affordable, secure, low-carbon energy”.
The chairman of ScottishPower has said:
“our investment plans will create 4,500 jobs…along with thousands more jobs in other industries, and a further increase in the £1 billion we spend each year with UK suppliers.
We are able to make that sort of investment because we have confidence in the UK, and in its energy policy and regulatory regime.”
The Minister states that trajectories are already in place, not only for electricity generation and decarbonisation, but in this Bill. Bearing those in mind, will he now, this afternoon, rule out the implementation of any element of the gas strategy that his Department has recently published, particularly the one suggesting that a possible scenario might introduce gas to twice the emission levels put forward by the targets he has set out today?
No, I certainly will not do that; gas is a key part of our carbon plan, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at the gas strategy as a whole.
Setting a target now to come into effect next April would mean not waiting to consider what is happening in the wider economy, for example, the progress being made in the commercial deliverability of carbon capture and storage, how that could contribute to decarbonising our energy supply, and the take-up of electric vehicles in the coming years. Therefore, setting a target now risks imposing additional costs on the economy and on consumer bills in the future in order to meet the target, and that would not be helpful for anyone.
The Government believe that the right approach is to make a decision on whether to set a target in 2016, when we can consider the whole picture. That already means setting the target range 14 years before it is due to be met. That is even longer than is required under the Climate Change Act 2008 in respect of carbon budgets, which are set 12 years ahead. Setting it now—in effect, asking Ministers to set it at Christmas—means that we would be doing so 17 years ahead. I suggest to the House that there is no certainty for investors in setting a target before we can possibly know how we can meet it.
That takes me to my second point, which is that the Secretary of State can only make a decision on whether to set a target when considering the trajectory of the whole economy towards our 2050 target in a way that is consistent with the overarching framework provided by the Climate Change Act. The timing is important. There is significant interaction between the electricity sector and other sectors of the economy, especially those, such as heat and transport, that might well become more dependent on electricity as we move into the 2020s and 2030s. That will in turn have an impact not only on overall demand for electricity but on when that electricity is needed.
Such questions must all be considered together when thinking about the best way to decarbonise electricity generation as part of a least-cost route to meeting our obligations under the Climate Change Act. It is therefore vital that a decision to set a target range is not taken in isolation, which is the approach suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk and the hon. Member for Brent North, but in the context of considering the pathway of the whole economy towards our 2050 target. That date will be in 2016 and not before, because 2016 is when we are due to set in law the level of our economy-wide fifth carbon budget, which will cover the corresponding period between 2028 and 2032. At that point, we will be able to consider the pathway of the whole economy towards our overarching 2050 target and understand better the most cost-effective way to achieve that. If at that point in time it is decided that a target range is the right approach, we will have the legal authority under the Bill to act swiftly to set a binding target at the right level.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) was right to say in an article last weekend:
“My difficulty with the target…is that we would be requiring it to be set without knowing that it can be met, and that cannot be a responsible decision for government to make, when the costs of getting it wrong would have to be picked up by consumers for decades to come.”
His argument is that given the uncertainties about the relative costs and potential of different low-carbon technologies, it would not be right for a Government to set a target now without first having thought through precisely how a particular level would be achieved. I agree with him and believe that that is why we should consider setting a target range in 2016 in the wider context of setting and determining how we will meet the fifth carbon budget.
That takes me to my final argument, which is that amendment 14 requires that the level of the decarbonisation target range must not exceed that recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. I fully agree that there should be a role for the committee and our proposed approach takes that into account.
Some have not passed climate change legislation, of course, which is why they are not bound to set targets.
By waiting until 2016 to make a decision on whether to set a target, the Government can take on board the advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change on the level of the fifth carbon budget, covering that period, as part of its responsibilities under the Climate Change Act. That advice must include views on the whole economy, including the electricity sector.
It would be wrong to blur the lines of accountability between the Committee on Climate Change and the Secretary of State, as the role of the committee is to advise the Government and not to set policy. That point was made neatly by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), who was the Minister in charge of the Climate Change Bill in Committee in 2008. She said:
“The committee will have a vital role in providing impartial advice and scrutiny, but we do not think it appropriate for an unelected body to make, or be seen to be making, policies. The individual decisions that will directly affect families, communities and businesses should be made by Parliament and the Government.”––[Official Report, Climate Change Public Bill Committee, 3 July 2008; c. 285-286.]
That could not be clearer and I agree that it should be for the Secretary of State to decide the level of any decarbonisation target range, because it is he who ultimately bears the responsibility and is accountable to Parliament. Of course, he should take into account the committee’s advice, just as he does now when setting the carbon budgets, but that advice should not impose a legal constraint.
In conclusion, I do not doubt the good faith of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk and the hon. Member for Brent North. I do not doubt their intentions or their environmental commitment. Nobody can know for sure how our economy will change over the next 17 years, yet my hon. Friend wants to impose this obligation on us now, from April. If he is so sure about the future growth of our economy and so sure about the path of energy supplies and the changing pattern of energy costs, there is only one thing I can say to him. He quoted St Augustine, and I am only reminded of Melbourne’s remark about Macaulay, when he said, “I wish I was as certain of anything as he is of everything.”
One thing about which I am pretty certain is that the world’s concern about climate change will be more intense in 2030 than it is today. The probability is that through a combination of emissions trading systems and carbon taxes there will be a high carbon price in 2030, and I believe that the most competitive economies in 2030 will be those that have reduced their dependence on fossil fuel consumption.
I can certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the concern might well be more intense, but whether we will be so certain, I am not so sure. Indeed, I have read a report of a speech delivered by my hon. Friend during the recess, in which—I was somewhat puzzled to see this—he said about climate change that
“the causes are not absolutely clear. There could be natural causes, natural phases that are taking place.”