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Commons Chamber

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 6 June 2013

House of Commons

Thursday 6 June 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Per Capita Carbon Emissions

1. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland regarding the level of per capita carbon emissions and the future policy of those countries. (158073)

I frequently have talks with my German, Dutch and Irish counterparts. In April, for example, I attended informal energy and environment councils in Dublin, where discussions with other member states, including Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland, focused on the EU 2030 climate and energy framework.

The March European Environment Agency report confirmed that the UK’s per capita emissions are among the lowest in Europe, and in 2011 they fell at double the rate of those of the rest of the EU. Furthermore, the recent emissions trading scheme vote by the European Parliament means the UK has a carbon price six times higher than the rest of the EU, and now we are seeing several countries moving ahead to build coal stations that will not use carbon capture and storage. Is there a risk that we are increasingly acting unilaterally in this area?

Let me reassure my hon. Friend. We work very closely with our European colleagues, and I formed the green growth group, currently working with about nine other member states, including our German and Dutch colleagues. We need to reform the ETS to make sure we have a functioning and effective carbon market in Europe, and we also need an ambitious 2030 target for greenhouse gas emissions. The UK Government have agreed that we will seek a 50% target in the context of winning a global climate change treaty.

What is the point of us closing coal-fired power stations if Germany is opening 20 of them? What is the point of us having a carbon tax and reducing emissions if we thereby release trading permits for other countries in Europe to emit more carbon?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. He is not right about the German position, and I refer him to the April 2013 report by Pöyry, which we commissioned and which is on our website. It examines the reality of what is happening with new coal-fired power stations in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Some 10 new coal and lignite coal projects are under construction in Germany, because the final investment decisions on them were taken in 2005 and 2008, when there was a very different policy environment, but four have been postponed and 22 have now been abandoned, so the situation in Germany is different from the one my right hon. Friend describes.

Carbon emissions per capita statistics fail to recognise the effect of imports and exports on consumption. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will not seek to meet UK targets through policies that close down our energy-intensive industries, thereby exporting jobs and importing carbon?

My hon. Friend is right. We do not want to see carbon leakage; that would not help the climate, and it would not help our economy. That is why I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills a very generous package, working with the Chancellor, to compensate energy-intensive industries for the indirect costs of the ETS and the carbon price floor, and it is also why we have exempted energy-intensive industries from the costs of contracts for difference. We want to ensure we make progress on climate change, but we also want to ensure we keep successful businesses in the United Kingdom.

Energy Bills

This coalition Government are determined to help hard-working families with the cost of living. We have a range of initiatives to help with energy bills. From the Prime Minister’s proposals to get consumers on to the cheapest energy tariffs to our flagship green deal, and from the warm home discount to our promotion of collective switching and building a more competitive energy market, this Government are putting the consumer first.

The Minister must be aware that the respected think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research has produced a report that shows that if the energy market were more competitive, bills could be reduced by at least £70 from efficiency savings alone, so why will he not get behind Labour’s plans to break the dominance of the big six by ensuring that they supply energy into a pool to enable more businesses to access the market and to bring down bills for customers?

The hon. Gentleman will forgive us if we do not take lessons on how to widen the big six from the party that created the big six. When Labour came to office there were 14 major participants in the energy sector; when they left office, the number had shrunk to six. We believe our radical energy market reforms that are going through the House are the way to bring in real competition.

Does the Minister agree that making bills simpler and easier to understand is a big step towards empowering consumers to allow them to make the best choices and get the best deals?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is, as ever, spot on. We have been working very closely with Ofgem to ensure that consumers are not baffled by the information on their bills and that they can make informed choices. Our market reforms will make it even easier for them to get the best deal.

12. This House was told that the green deal would be the biggest home improvement scheme since the second world war, creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of new businesses. If that were true, why does Enact Energy, which has been in the insulation business for 20 years, cite late payments from the green deal as having put it into administration, resulting in the laying off of all its staff? (158087)

Obviously, we are very sorry when any business goes into administration, but I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little hasty. It is very early days for the green deal and for one business that, sadly, has gone into receivership there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new small and medium-sized enterprises that are starting up to come into the new competitive marketplace that we are creating.

What steps are being taken to stop profiteering by the National Grid, which can charge a fortune to move or change a domestic meter?

If my hon. Friend has real evidence of profiteering, we would love to see it. If he shares it with us, we will take steps to crack down on it.

Does the Minister agree that smart metering gives the consumer—the householder—real information on how much energy they are using? How quickly can we get smart metering into every home in Britain, hopefully along with a carbon monoxide detector that will save people’s lives?[Official Report, 12 June 2013, Vol. 564, c. 1MC.]

First, on carbon monoxide detectors, the hon. Gentleman is the champion in this House of that very important technology and I thank him for his engagement with my Department. We are working closely to ensure that the green deal will push through the roll-out of carbon monoxide detectors.

On smart meters, we now have what we believe to be the most ambitious programme in Europe, beginning in earnest in 2014 and completing by 2019. It is very exciting and very radical.

On 12 occasions the Prime Minister has promised to force the energy companies by law to put everyone on to the cheapest tariff, but clause 121 of the Energy Bill clearly states that the power to require an energy company to change a customer’s tariff applies only to people on closed tariffs. There are 25.5 million households in Britain. How many are on closed tariffs?

I cannot give the right hon. Lady the exact figure off the top of my head, so I will write to her on that. The Labour party is in complete denial. The Prime Minister pledged radical action to put everyone on to the cheapest tariffs for them. We have come forward with a solution and we have put it into law; the Opposition had 13 years to do that and did nothing for consumers. We are taking radical action to cut through the swathe of tariffs that they left consumers when they left office.

I have tabled written questions, I have asked Ofgem and now I have asked the Minister, and nobody can tell me how many people will find themselves on a better deal, let alone save money.

Let us look at another promise. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State told the House that the Energy Bill would give Ofgem the power to force energy companies to compensate consumers, something I called for in October 2011. Ofgem is undertaking 15 formal investigations with another 12 cases at informal review stage. Will the Minister confirm that even after the Energy Bill has received Royal Assent and even if there is evidence of wrongdoing in any of those cases, Ofgem will have no powers to force the companies to pay a single penny in compensation to their customers?

It is a big pity that the right hon. Lady first started taking an interest in these matters in 2011 and not during the 13 years for which Labour was in government when it did nothing to address those issues for the consumer. I am happy to say that our Energy Bill takes those issues into account and Ofgem will be able to take them into account as the investigations go through. This Government are putting the consumer first after 13 years of inaction from Labour.

Decarbonisation Target

4. What his assessment is of the potential effect on the UK wind industry of not setting a target to decarbonise the power sector by 2030. (158077)

The Government have listened to a wide range of views on the issue of setting a decarbonisation target and have legislated to set one. We fully recognise that investor certainty is essential to delivering our energy and climate goals at the least cost and have already provided very clear signals to industry about the long-term trajectory of the electricity sector; for example, through our commitment to the levy control framework, through the Energy Bill, through carbon budgets and through our commitment to ambitious long-run targets on renewables, power sector decarbonisation and carbon emission reductions.

When I asked the Prime Minister yesterday to show some leadership and stand up for British business and green jobs by setting a target, he claimed that business was against it, but when the Secretary of State was asked earlier, he could not name a single business that opposed it. Can he now name a business that has thanked him for voting against the target?

The hon. Lady needs to look at what has happened. We have drafted the legislation so that we can set a target and that has been welcomed. She should remember that when the draft Energy Bill was published and we first started to discuss electricity market reform, there were no proposals to set a power sector decarbonisation target—not from the Opposition or from any other party in this House—but I, as Secretary of State, argued in the Government to set such a target, and that is what we have done.

We have very little economic growth in this country at the moment, but last year the CBI estimated that one third of the growth that there is comes from green business. To keep growing, green businesses say they need certainty about Government policy and they want a target in law to decarbonise the power sector by 2030. Why are the Government refusing to listen?

I am afraid it is the Opposition who are refusing to listen. They should look at the Energy Bill, in which we have legislated for the power to set a decarbonisation target—the first country in the world to do so.

On Tuesday, the Government said they opposed the 2030 decarbonisation target, in part on the ground that it would increase bills. If that were so, one would expect Fuel Poverty Action to agree with the Government, but it does not. Instead, it said:

“in failing to set a target for clean energy, the Government has yet again let down hard-up UK households.”

Will the Secretary of State explain his position in the light of that statement and say whether it would also apply to his long-grass target?

I am afraid the hon. Lady has not read the Bill; she needs to go back and do some more research. The difference in the debate has been about when the target is set, not if a target is set. The new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) dealt with whether it should be set in 2014; the Government have legislated to give us the power to set it in 2016, 14 years before it needs to be met. That is an ambitious position and we are yet again leading the world.

On Tuesday, most Liberal Democrat MPs tore up their own party policy to join the anti-green Tories in voting down a carbon target, which would have provided the certainty needed for Siemens finally to commit to coming to Hull. Would the Government have shown greater urgency if it was about jobs in Kingston upon Thames, rather than Kingston upon Hull?

I worry about all the Kingstons in the United Kingdom and as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, I represent all of them. I am working extremely hard to make sure we get investment in the energy sector in this country and we are working with Siemens. The hon. Lady may be interested to know that, in fact, Siemens did not sign the most recent letter from a number of companies about this issue. In our discussions with Siemens, the issues that have come up are contracts for difference, strike prices, ports and infrastructure, and we are working with the company. The hon. Lady ought to get behind us and support us.

One of the key ways the Government can decarbonise power generation is by increasing investment in the nuclear sector. URENCO has a base in Capenhurst in my constituency. In April, the Government announced that they were to sell their one third share in the company, and in May the Dutch Government announced that they would sell their one third share. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the sale?

We will give a full update in due course, but URENCO is owned by three countries—Germany, the Netherlands and the UK—and we are working closely with our partners to take the sale forward.

The Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) was not satisfactory. How does he account for the dramatic decline in levels of private sector investment in the renewables sector?

Since this Government came to power, there has been a very big increase in investment in renewables. It is true that in the past few months the investment has not continued at the rate that we have seen. Why is that? Because people are waiting for the draft strike prices for contracts for difference for renewables, which we will publish next month. We are making real progress on our electricity market reform, and I am delighted to remind the House that on Tuesday this House voted for the Energy Bill on Third Reading by 396 votes to 8. That shows that we have cross-party support for our reforms and we are taking them forward.

Mid-Wales Connection Project

5. What assessment he has made of the level of support for onshore wind in those areas affected by the mid-Wales connection project. (158079)

Financial support for onshore wind from 2013 to 2017 was reduced by 10% from 1 April 2013. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome this morning’s announcement that local people will now have more control over wind farm developments in their area. They will be consulted earlier and they will have more say against turbines that are poorly sited or inadequately justified.

Since power to decide large onshore wind farms—those over 50 MW—is not devolved to the Welsh Government, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the changes to planning policy that will be announced this morning will apply to the wind farms that the mid-Wales connection is being built to accommodate?

I am sure my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on any specific wind farm proposal that is subject to the local planning authority and potentially to the Planning Inspectorate and Ministers, but as he will shortly hear in more detail from the unstarred question which I think you have allowed, Mr Speaker, the planning guidance is to be clarified to ensure that the visual impact of turbines, the cumulative impact of turbines and local factors are taken more clearly into account before consent is given.

I welcome local authorities being allowed to make their own decisions on the merits of wind turbine applications. Does the Minister agree that setting excessive minimum separation distances, as proposed in a private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords last year, or more recently by Wiltshire council, only serves to deny local communities the chance to have their say?

I am not persuaded that minimum distances are the answer, because it is important to take into account the factors that apply to every specific application and these things should be judged locally and individually on a case-by-case basis. However, in the clearer planning guidance that is being issued today it is the visual impact as much as the siting of the turbines that will now be taken more fully into account.

Green Investment

The coalition is committed to growing the green economy. An unprecedented £29 billion of new investment has been announced in renewable energy alone since 2010. We are driving further green investment through the Energy Bill, the green deal and the energy company obligation, the green investment bank, our carbon capture and storage competition, the reformed feed-in tariff, the renewable heat incentive, and our support for low-carbon research and innovation.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his article in The Daily Telegraph today showing that we are working closely with Sweden on these matters. What assessment has he made of the proposed EU anti-dumping tariffs on the Chinese solar PVs?

My hon. Friend is right. We are very concerned by the impact of EU tariffs on the UK solar industry. In the past three years we have added about 2.5 GW of solar here in the UK. We are making great progress but that could be jeopardised if those tariffs go ahead. I have personally been to Brussels with a number of key stakeholders from the UK solar industry to lobby the Commission, and we will continue to fight on for open borders and for the interests of the UK renewables industry.

Will the Minister explain why the UK has fallen to seventh in the world for investment in clean energy since the Government came to power?

There are a number of surveys, but the Ernst and Young survey shows that the UK is now the fifth most attractive place for renewables investment and deployment, up one place on last year.

The announcement by the Scottish Government of the relaunch of the marine renewables commercialisation fund, while welcome, has, as my right hon. Friend knows, created an imbalance between that and Wave Hub in west Cornwall. What can the Government do to ensure that the Scottish Government and this Government work in partnership on marine renewables?

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a keen champion of UK-wide marine energy. Under this coalition, we have opened a marine energy park in the south-west, and also in the waters off the north of Scotland. It is vital that we develop the marine resource right the way around the British Isles. However, I take on board the point raised by my hon. Friend, who is a big champion of marine energy in the south-west, and I will be happy to meet him to discuss it further.

Why does research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance show that investment in renewables has more than halved since this Government came to power?

Actually, as I said, an unprecedented sum of over £29 billion has been invested in renewables since the coalition came to power. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there has been a slight tailing off in recent months, but that is to be expected, just as we expect a real acceleration once the strike price is announced and the Energy Bill is enacted.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I want to pursue further the EU’s imposition of tariffs. Perhaps the Minister could explain how on earth this will do anything to make it easier for people, if they wish, to install solar panels, and how on earth it will do anything to make it cheaper for those struggling to pay their energy bills.

My hon. Friend and I are absolutely on the same page on this matter. That is why I am fighting this EU proposal very hard. It is not just me; 18 other member states take a similar view to us. We are determined to continue to push the EU Commission to come to a sensible agreement with China and to make sure that the EU stands for free trade and open borders.

One significant form of low-carbon green investment that the Secretary of State spoke about during his speech to the Met Office on Monday is carbon capture and storage. His predecessor told the House in October 2011, when Scottish Power pulled out of the Longannet project, that he guaranteed that there would be no Treasury backsliding on the capital funds for CCS demonstrator projects in the competition. Will the Minister confirm whether that remains the case—yes or no—and whether the £1 billion is still available?

I am grateful for that answer, and I am sure that those in the industry who will be slightly disconcerted by the tenor of some of the remarks by the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), during the passage of the Energy Bill will be gratified as well. However, may I press the Minister a little further? Given that the Cabinet Office project assessment review that I obtained last year said that in the current comprehensive spending review only £200 million was available, will the remainder of the £1 billion be available for the next CSR period? Can he confirm that whatever else he has given up in his less grand bargain with the Treasury on DECC’s budget, that money is safeguarded for CCS in the next CSR period?

I am very happy to scotch the hon. Gentleman’s baseless scaremongering and political point-scoring. The fact of the matter is that we are going forward with the CCS programme, and it is going to be successful, unlike Labour’s failed attempts at CCS. We have two preferred bidders in place, and it is backed by £1 billion, putting the UK at the front of the global race for carbon capture and storage.

Fuel Poverty

Recently published statistics show a modest fall in fuel poverty in 2011 compared with 2010, from 4.75 million UK households to 4.5 million UK households. This is welcome, but we are determined to do more. Our comprehensive policy package includes targeted energy efficiency measures under the green deal and the energy company obligation, direct bill rebates under the warm home discount and, of course, measures through the Energy Bill to back Ofgem’s proposals to simplify the market.

Under the previous Labour Government, the number of people in fuel poverty fell by 1.75 million. In the past two years, the number of households in fuel poverty has gone up from one in five to one in four. When next year’s figures come out, will the number of people in fuel poverty be higher or lower than when Labour left office?

The hon. Lady will know that during the previous Parliament, when Labour was in office, fuel poverty grew in every single year and that, according to the latest figures, it has now gone down. In many ways this is a rather odd debate. The Government commissioned Professor Hills to review how we measure fuel poverty and he has come up with proposals that have gained wide-scale acceptance. We have consulted on them and will respond shortly to that consultation. We believe that the old measurements of fuel poverty, which are still in use, need radical reform so that we can better target fuel poverty policy.

The problem with Government measures such as putting the consumer on to the cheapest tariff—if that ever happens—is that they will not make much difference if the tariff prices themselves and energy prices are high. The main beneficiaries of the green deal are not people on low incomes, but people who will be able to take up the arrangements. What is the Secretary of State doing to help people on low incomes who face high energy bills now, particularly given the high fuel prices over the past few months?

We have a whole range of measures. For a start, the warm home discount helps more than 2 million low-income people, including 1 million of the poorest pensioners, by taking £130 off their bill directly. Schemes such as collective switching mean that we are helping people club together to exercise power in the market to get better rates. The simplification of tariffs proposed by Ofgem will mean greater competition and choice for people. We have a whole range of measures. On energy efficiency, the energy company obligation, through the affordable warmth and carbon saving communities schemes, is helping people in fuel poverty.

The Secretary of State clearly thinks he is doing a great job on fuel poverty. In which case, why does his own Department’s public attitudes survey show that concern about energy bills has risen from 49% last year to 59% this year? Is not this another example of a Government who are out of touch with ordinary people?

I am extremely concerned by energy bills. We need to do as much as we possibly can and some of our new policies will help people. I say to the Labour party that it is this coalition Government who are reforming tariffs to take away the confusion and complexity that the previous Government failed to tackle, who are looking into collective switching to help people get a better deal from energy companies, and who are getting more competition in our energy market. We are taking a whole range of measures to help consumers.

Despite the initiatives that the Secretary of State has referred to, in the real world bills are going up and the energy companies are making massive profits. Thousands of my constituents are having difficulties paying their bills. When did the Secretary of State last meet the energy companies, and did he raise with them the amount of profit they are making and what was their answer?

I think I met the big six together in one group last month. I will have to clarify the date on which we spoke. We discussed a number of issues. I made it clear to them that competition and consumer service are critical. One of the best ways to make sure that companies make reasonable profits is through healthy competition.

Energy Efficiency

This Government’s November energy efficiency strategy clearly sets out the importance of reducing our energy demand and how the UK has an opportunity to lead the world in improving its energy efficiency. Game-changing initiatives such as the green deal, electricity demand reduction and the roll-out of smart meters are central to realising this opportunity.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that helping to improve home insulation is vital when helping to take people out of fuel poverty? What is this Government’s energy company obligation doing to help vulnerable and lower-income families in that vital task?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Energy prices have gone up massively on global markets and we as a Government need to cushion people from those rising prices by helping them with energy efficiency, and through the green deal and ECO we are doing just that. The affordable warmth component of ECO is already making a major difference for people in fuel poverty and helping to tackle it.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s saying that he wants to support people, but there has been a 97% plummet in the number of cavity wall insulation installations, one in four insulation workers has lost their job since December and, according to industry reports, just three people are paying back a green deal loan on their electricity bill. When is he going to make the green deal a good deal, so that the ambition that we all share is achieved?

It is already a good deal. I understand the issue in the cavity wall insulation market, but the hon. Lady will understand that there are very few cavity walls left to fill. The real issue in the building fabric of the nation is solid walls. There are 7 million solid walls that are yet to be treated for energy efficiency. The last Government did almost nothing to tackle that. The green deal and ECO will do something about it. That is where the biggest wins are available and we are proud of what we are doing.

Green Deal

The coalition is committed to helping consumers up and down the UK reduce their energy bills by driving energy efficiency. The green deal went live on time, as planned, on Monday 28 January. By the end of April, more than 18,000 assessments had been carried out. Later this month, we will publish data on the number of green deal plans and a breakdown of measures installed through the green deal and ECO.

It is encouraging to hear of so many assessments, but how many providers does the Minister anticipate will be offering plans by the end of the year?

My hon. Friend is right that the number of companies that are able to offer finance is key. I am extremely encouraged that four companies are already writing plans. The Green Deal Finance Company anticipates that another eight companies will start this month and that a further 20 will begin to write plans by the end of July. We think that about 50-plus companies will offer finance by the end of the year. Ultimately, when to start writing plans is a commercial decision for each company because the green deal is primarily a private sector market that is being created by this Government.

Shale Gas

We have strengthened the regulatory framework to protect the environment and to ensure that hydraulic fracturing is done properly and safely. We want to encourage shale exploration. That is why we have announced fiscal incentives for developers and why we are working on a package of community benefits, such as discounts on bills for residents in drilling areas.

Given today’s announcement about community benefits for onshore wind, will my right hon. Friend elaborate on what community benefits the communities that host shale gas reserves may expect if such exploration goes ahead?

We are discussing that matter with the industry and will consult on more specific proposals shortly. It is important that residents who suffer disruption in areas where there is drilling see benefits from it, either for their local community through grants or expenditure, or, better still, through discounts on their bills, which could be significant.

Home Energy Efficiency (Milton Keynes)

I was delighted to visit Milton Keynes in July last year, when I was pleased to launch new guidance for local authorities under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 and to visit, with my hon. Friend, the Lakes estate retrofit project, which is improving homes and cutting energy bills for his constituents.

As part of the pioneer places project in Milton Keynes, the National Energy Foundation has engaged with 30 local traders to promote the benefits of becoming green deal installers. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to roll out that scheme nationally?

My hon. Friend has done a huge amount in the Milton Keynes area to work with small and medium-sized enterprises and traders in the supply chain. Nationally, we have provided more than £2 million to support the training of 1,000 go-early green deal assessors and 1,000 advisers as part of our support for the developing market. Since last autumn, DECC has organised a series of 12 roadshows, which have reached more than 1,600 companies across the country. My team has worked most recently with Energy UK to deliver a further regional roadshow programme. It is early days for the green deal, but the prospects are exciting.

Will the Minister agree to my hon. Friend’s request to go to Milton Keynes, because he could then pop down the road to Wellingborough to meet councillors and constituents who are worried about applications for wind farms that, although not in the constituency, would affect them? That would be a great opportunity to explain our new policy.

I would be delighted to return to Milton Keynes, and to visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), particularly if there is an opportunity to compare notes with Mrs Bone.

Off Grid Gas

18. With reference to the findings of the all-party parliamentary group on off-gas grid, what plans he has to help residents living off the gas grid. (158095)

I am grateful to the all-party group on off-gas grid for its informative report. I chaired a round table in May with colleagues from that group, consumer groups, local government and industry, as a result of which a better consumer code of practice is being circulated by the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers. Fuel Poverty Action is developing recommendations on information sharing and vulnerable customers, and Ofgem is considering connecting electricity and gas priority service registers to other markets, including heating oil.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the developments that have been made as the all-party group continues its good work. Will the Minister review the progress that has been made and meet the group again so that further representations can be made and we keep the providers of that type of power up to speed?

I reassure my hon. Friend that the round table I was privileged to chair was not a one-off event and I shall be organising a further meeting on 11 September to chase up progress. I am happy to meet specifically the all-party group, as well as continuing to chair the round table.

Topical Questions

Since my Department’s last question time, the remaining stages of the Energy Bill have been completed and approved by this House by 396 votes to 8. The Bill has been introduced into the other place as we make further progress to build the world’s first ever low-carbon electricity market.

For consumers, I published the Government’s response to the discussion document, “Ensuring a better deal for energy consumers”, which confirmed the Government’s backing for Ofgem’s market reforms that are designed to improve competition in retail markets and help consumers. Today, along with the Department for Communities and Local Government, we have published the Government’s decisions on onshore wind to give communities a greater say, setting out an industry-proposed fivefold increase in benefits for communities in England, and keeping financial support for onshore wind at the rate of 0.9 renewables obligation certificates.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland has more than 7,000 households living in fuel poverty, and since this Government came to power the energy bill of the average family has leapt by more than £300 a year. Will the Minister please tell the House why the Government have halved support for people in fuel poverty while giving millionaires a tax break?

We have not halved fuel support and will increase it over the lifetime of the spending review. We are changing and reforming it to ensure that it is more effective, which the hon. Gentleman ought to support.

T2. One way we can reduce the cost of heating and carbon emissions is through the use of biomass boilers, which can save households hundreds of pounds each year. The Government have a target of installing 1 million biomass boilers in the UK by 2030, but some are concerned that the target might not be met. Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to achieve the target, and meet businesses such as Baxi UK in my constituency to discuss the issue? (158098)

I know that my hon. Friend does a huge amount for businesses in his constituency, and I would be happy to meet him, Baxi UK, and representatives of the industry in my Department. The coalition Government are committed to delivering not just cheaper bills but cleaner energy, and biomass boilers are part of that strategy. The good news is that we have recently announced that renewable heat payment vouchers for biomass will increase to £2,000 until March 2014, and later this summer we will provide details for the scheme that we will be launching for domestic renewable heat initiatives next spring.

Apparently, more than 5 million homes could still benefit from cavity wall insulation, so there is still a lot of work that could be done.

The Government have claimed it is too early to set a decarbonisation target for 2030, but next month they will publish their electricity market reform delivery plan, which will determine our energy mix and its carbon intensity. In the absence of a legally binding decarbonisation target, will the Secretary of State at least confirm that his long overdue delivery plan will be in line with our legally binding carbon budgets, or will the Government be rewriting the fourth carbon budget?

No, the plan will be in line with our legally binding obligations. As I have explained to the House, before we set the decarbonisation target in 2016 we will give National Grid guidance on setting the EMR delivery plan to ensure that it is on path to meet our decarbonisation targets in the least-cost way.

T3. The Minister will be aware that I represent Thoresby colliery in my constituency, one of the most efficient and profitable pits in the country. Is he optimistic for the future of coal mining in Nottinghamshire, and does he remember my invitation to visit? (158100)

I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. He will know that deep-mine coal in this country has suffered a number of setbacks this year, including the serious fire at Daw Mill colliery. I assure him that my officials continue to work with the company to do our best to ensure its continued viability. We are also in touch with the situation in Scotland to ensure that everything possible can be done to replace some of the jobs that were lost when the company there went into liquidation.

T4. On some energy issues, such as setting a date for a decarbonisation target, the Government appear to be extremely slow, but on others, such as the exploitation of shale gas, they want to rush ahead at great speed without looking at environmental and safety considerations. Will the Secretary of State commit to looking properly at those considerations before any extraction takes place? (158103)

In 2016, we will be the first country to set a decarbonisation target, so the idea that we are being slow on that is preposterous. On shale gas, we are behind other countries—she may have noticed that the US has already gone into it. We are determined to see whether this country can benefit from shale gas, but we will ensure that we protect the environment and take the public with us. That is the right way to get the benefits for the country that shale gas might well offer.

T6. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on today’s announcement that local opinion will no longer be trumped at the planning stage by national policy. However, everyone in my constituency wants to know whether that applies to the six large wind farm applications, over which planning power is not devolved, and which are currently being heard at the UK’s largest ever public inquiry, which started yesterday. Everybody in my constituency is desperate to know whether those applications are subject to the new policy. (158105)

My hon. Friend will know that the public inquiry has started, and that it would be inappropriate for a Minister to comment on it. I am sorry, but I cannot give him the answer he looks for.

T5. Will the Secretary of State explain why, at the same time as energy bills are soaring, research from Energy Bill Revolution and the Association for the Conservation of Energy shows that help for people most in need is falling? (158104)

I have not seen the research to which the hon. Lady refers. Given that we have introduced the warm home discount, which targets some of the poorest households in our country, taking £130 directly off their bills, I would be surprised by such findings. I reassure her and the House that the Government are not complacent on the challenge of fuel poverty. We know we need to do as much as possible, which is why we commissioned Professor Hills, why we consulted on many of his proposals, and why we will respond. We will shortly produce a framework on fuel poverty and produce a strategy by the end of the year. The Government believe that that should be a high priority.

T7. When will the British Geological Survey review of shale gas reserves be published? Given that IGas recently found that there are 20 times the previous estimates of reserves, does the Minister agree that shale represents a major strategic advantage for Britain, in meeting energy demand and decarbonisation? (158106)

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the BGS report will be published before the summer recess. There have been a number of optimistic estimates of the amount of shale in the UK. Shale clearly has enormous potential. It would therefore be irresponsible of us not to encourage exploration to see exactly what is down there.

The Teesside Low Carbon consortium, comprising some of the country’s top companies and experts, was rightly disappointed when its innovative project for capturing and storing the carbon created by our energy intensive industries was rejected by the Government. We know that the project is on the reserve list, but is there any real hope that the project, which would take huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, and which has the potential to drive thousands of jobs in an area where unemployment is as high as 10%, will receive financial and other support from the Government to make it a reality?

Let me be clear: this project was not rejected but placed on the reserve list. We are working with our two preferred bidders to take forward the carbon capture and storage competition. Should one of the two bidders drop out, we will of course look again at the situation.

Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), Kellingley colliery in my constituency is a profitable, high-performing deep coal mine with 700 highly skilled employees. Will the Minister update the House on what is being done to ensure its viability?

I think my hon. Friend knows that we have been working flat out to help the company to restructure since the fire at Daw Mill. That has involved intensive work with a number of other Government bodies. I understand how frustrating it is for him and, in particular, for those who work in the colliery not to have had an announcement yet, but I am hopeful that we will see progress in the next few days.

Further to that question, the Minister will know that UK Coal has applied for a loan from the Government that would be paid back when the insurance comes through from the Daw Mill fire. What is happening with that loan?

The position is that insurance payments are now coming through to the company, so the financial situation is not quite as the hon. Gentleman describes it. I want to assure him that the Government are doing everything they possibly can to safeguard the financial future of the two collieries, and to assist the company in necessary restructuring following the disastrous fire at Daw Mill earlier this year.

Many village halls, such as the one in East Brent in my patch, have applied for Big Lottery awards for all funding to install PV solar panels and use feed-in tariffs as an invaluable source of income to make repayments on loans to complete their projects. It is a feature of the lottery that it is funded not by Government but by individuals, and that that grant funding is made completely independent of government, as is stated on its website and in its literature. Ofgem seems to have decided in February 2013 that lottery funding is—

Order. It is my ambition in this Parliament to educate the hon. Lady that the second sentence should usually end with a question mark. That is what we want.

It is, Sir. I must explain myself. Will the Secretary of State investigate Ofgem’s administration of the scheme and the lack of information provided to everybody involved, so that it reverses its decision to categorise lottery money as state aid?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for her constituents in villages, helping them with community halls and so on. I am aware of this issue—it is not just grants from the lottery, but grants from elsewhere in government that prevent installation of micro-technology receiving feed-in tariffs under the Ofgem scheme. This matter has been raised by a number of hon. Members and I hope we are able to look at it in due course.

The Secretary of State does not have to compete with Back Benchers. There is no obligation for the answer to be as long as the question.

Earlier, the Minister mentioned that the Government’s policies would result in energy bills being about 7% lower, but is that not correct only if people go out and buy new energy-efficient TVs, washing machines, dishwashers and combi gas boilers, and that if people do not their bills will actually be higher under this Government?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The methodology of the bills and prices report includes examining how often average households replace these types of goods—it is statistically robust.

I thank the Government for listening on wind. Communities across north Yorkshire will be delighted by this decision. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), is already popular in north Yorkshire, but I am sure that they would join me in wanting to give him a collective hug to thank him for this decision.

I am married to a girl from Yorkshire, but I think that a further hug would probably not be appropriate.

It is important that communities understand that they will now have more say against developments that are inappropriate and not properly justified. Too many communities have felt under siege from wholly inappropriate applications, and this measure will now bring them much-needed and long-awaited relief.

The Minister referred to the coal industry in Scotland. I am sure he knows of the devastation in my constituency and in that of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne). What recent discussions have taken place with the Scottish Government to address the serious environmental consequences of restoration work not going ahead?

We are in touch with the Scottish Government. I have ensured that an official from my Department attends meetings of the taskforce set up following the collapse of the Scottish company. We will learn lessons from what has happened in Scotland, and if the British Government can help, of course we will.

Will my right hon. Friend explain what role he sees the energy efficiency strategy playing in reducing demand for energy?

My hon. Friend will know that earlier this year the Prime Minister launched our first-ever national energy efficiency mission. We are determined always to pursue the cheapest option, including where the cheapest option is saving energy rather than building new plant, but we will do that in a way that is good for consumers and gives us lower bills as well as cleaner energy.

Order. If we are to accommodate the several remaining colleagues, very short answers will be required.

Will the Secretary of State have another go at answering my earlier question? He said he met the energy companies last month. Let me put the question this way: when he met them, did he raise any concerns about the level of profits they were making, and, if so, what did they say?

I do not think that profits were part of a specific conversation. This issue is about the whole market: how we ensure more competition and more investment and how we protect consumers from rising global prices by ensuring that they help us deal with energy efficiency.

In order to save money and improve Government efficiency, would the excellent Secretary of State agree to close his Department and transfer its responsibilities to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? He, then, could become the Business Secretary, freeing up the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), to concentrate on his campaign to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. It would be a win, win situation for everyone.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Liberal Democrats always listen to the hon. Gentleman’s advice, because it is always meant as a helpful contribution. I can tell him, however, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) is a fantastic Minister of State and does a brilliant job not only in my Department, but in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so we are already very well connected.

The Secretary of State told me earlier that he was concerned about all Kingstons in this country. On that basis, would he agree to meet me and a delegation from Kingston upon Hull to discuss what more the coalition Government can do to support Siemens coming to Hull?

I welcome the Minister’s support for biomass boilers, but the renewable heat incentive was announced in October 2010. Why is it not possible to open up the domestic scheme for payment before spring 2014?

It has been much more challenging than we anticipated, not least because when we entered government we found that the previous Government had done absolutely no work on this whatsoever. This is the first renewable heat scheme of its type in the world, and heat is much more difficult to quantify and value than exporting electricity, but it is good news. We prioritised industrial heat and are now moving on to domestic heat, and I am looking forward to the scheme’s launch this spring.

The Minister claims that the energy company obligation will help people in fuel poverty, but is it not true that nearly 60% of the funding will go to households that can already afford to pay, not to those people in fuel poverty?

It is anticipated that more than £500 million of the ECO funding will go directly to the most vulnerable and those who need it most, but the balance of the energy company obligation is intended to support roll-outs street by street. It was the specific nature of previous Government schemes under Labour that made them so bureaucratic and ineffective. Our view is that we ultimately need to focus on properties, not just the individuals who live in them.

The co-firing of biomass at power stations such as Drax brings enormous opportunities to growers and farmers in Thirsk and Malton, but will the Minister or Secretary of State assure the House that unfair subsidies to imported wood chip are not undermining our home-grown produce?

The hon. Lady will know that our schemes apply to all companies, wherever they are from. We need to ensure that we invest in renewables such as biomass, but in a way that meets our sustainability criteria and creates a proper, fair market.

Onshore Wind (Planning Policy)

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Housing if he will make a statement on planning policy in relation to onshore wind.

The coalition agreement pledged to decentralise power to local people. We are committed to giving local people far more ability to shape the places in which they live. Through a series of reforms, this coalition Government are making the planning process more accessible to local communities. Planning works best when communities themselves have the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives. However, current planning decisions on onshore wind do not always reflect a locally led planning system.

Following a wide range of representations, including the letter of 30 January 2012 to the Prime Minister from 100 hon. Members, and in light of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s call for evidence, it has become clear that action is needed to deliver the balance expected by the national planning policy framework. We need to ensure that protecting the local environment is properly considered alongside the broader issues of protecting the global environment. Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has published the response to his call for evidence on onshore wind and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is publishing a written ministerial statement that will set out a number of key changes that I know the House will wish to consider. Let me set out the key elements for the benefit of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris).

First, we want to strengthen the voice of local people. The submissions to the call for evidence have highlighted the benefits of good quality pre-application discussions for onshore wind development and the improved outcomes they can have for local communities. We will amend secondary legislation to make pre-application consultation with local communities compulsory for the more significant onshore wind applications. This will ensure that community engagement takes place at an earlier stage and may assist in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development. It will also complement the community benefits proposals announced by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Secondly, on better planning guidance, the national planning policy framework we published last year includes strong protections for the natural and historic environment. However, I know that local communities have genuine concerns that insufficient weight is being given to environmental considerations such as landscape, amenity or heritage. We need to ensure that decisions get the environmental balance right, in line with the framework, and that any adverse impact from a wind farm development is addressed satisfactorily.

We have been equally clear that this means facilitating sustainable development in suitable locations. Put simply, meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location. We are looking to local councils to include in their local plans policies that ensure that adverse impacts from wind farm developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily. Where councils have identified areas suitable for onshore wind, they should not feel they have to give permission for speculative applications outside those areas when they judge the impact to be unacceptable.

To help to ensure that planning decisions reflect the balance in the framework, my Department will shortly issue new planning practice guidance to assist local councils and planning inspectors in their consideration of local plans and individual applications. Briefly, the guidance will set out, first, that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. Secondly, decisions should take into account the cumulative impact of wind turbines and properly reflect the increasing impact on the landscape and local amenity. Thirdly, local topography should be a factor in assessing whether wind turbines have a damaging impact on the landscape. Fourthly, great care should be taken to ensure that heritage assets are conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance, including the impact of proposals on views important to their setting.

We will be writing to the Planning Inspectorate and to all councils to flag up the new guidance and its operation. This Government firmly believe that renewables have an important role to play in a balanced energy policy. However, as a localist Government, we also firmly believe that planning works best when local people are able to shape their local environment.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I should like to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is a shame that this was not announced to the House first. Should the Department of Energy and Climate Change have been briefing the media on this announcement 24 hours before it was announced in this place, especially when its planning element comes from the Department for Communities and Local Government and is time-sensitive and commercially significant? What will be the impact of the policy change on proposed developments that are currently in the planning process, particularly those that are in the planning appeals system and whose appeal has been concluded but the result is not yet known? Will the proposed change be retrospective for schemes that have been granted planning permission against the wishes of the local communities or councils, but whose construction has not yet started?

For too long, developers have ridden roughshod over the views of local communities and local councils on inappropriately sited wind turbines. Can the Minister elaborate on how the new policy will be communicated to the Planning Inspectorate and local planning authorities, and on the timeline that will be involved?

There might have been some confusion within Government Departments about these matters, but I wholeheartedly welcome the planning changes. I really believe that this could be the beginning of the end of unwanted onshore wind farm development in England, and I welcome the Minister’s statement.

Order. This policy announcement should of course first have been made in this Chamber through an oral statement offered by the Government. Right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that it was precisely because that offer was not made, which it should have been, that I granted the urgent question from the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). We look forward of course to the Minister’s reply.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The two written ministerial statements are important, but the Government will always note what you have to say on these matters. That is important in this regard.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s wholehearted support for these important changes. I know that he has been an ardent campaigner on these matters, and I very much respect that. It is important that constituency Members of Parliament should feel able to do that. He asked which proposals would be affected by the changes. I must be careful not to mention any specific named applications, but when something has been determined at local level, we clearly cannot reopen it. The changes will not be retrospective. When something is in the planning application system but no decision has been made, local planners and the planning inspectors will now have to give clear consideration—as they would in any other circumstances—to this guidance. That will give comfort not only to Members of the House but to many of the constituents they represent.

I am grateful to you for your ruling, Mr Speaker. Once again we have had to learn the details of a Government policy from the press rather than from a statement to the House.

We know that planning approvals for wind farms in England have fallen from about 70% of applications in 2008 to 35% in 2012, which raises the question of why this guidance is being introduced now. We accept that there are clearly locations in which it is inappropriate to put wind turbines, and we welcome the greater incentives that will be provided to local communities that accept wind farm developments. Pre-application discussions with communities are clearly a good thing, and should be happening in any case, but can the Minister tell us what the threshold will be for the more significant applications that will trigger compulsory consultation, and do the Government intend to make the same changes for fracking planning applications?

It has been reported that local communities will, in effect, be given a veto over new wind farm planning applications. A senior Conservative source is quoted in the newspapers as saying:

“This is a bomb proof set of safeguards”.

That is not, however, what it says in the written ministerial statement, and neither did the Minister say that in his reply. Can he therefore tell us what will in fact be the case? Will there be a veto: yes or no? If so, how exactly will this power of veto operate?

Reference has also been made to significant local opposition. How will this be assessed and who will decide whether it is significant? Will local authorities still finally determine the planning applications? What will be the position in local communities where a local plan has not yet been drawn up or approved by the Planning Inspectorate? Do the Government have any plans to change the process for deciding on planning applications for wind farms generating more than 50 MW?

As we know, onshore wind is the cheapest form of renewable energy, so what assessment have the Government made of the likely impact of these changes on our carbon budgets and on the cost of electricity for consumers in general?

The hon. Lady raised a number of points, and she will forgive me if I say that the details on carbon emissions are not within the bounds of the planning decision, which is what this urgent question is about.

Let me deal with two particular issues that the hon. Lady raised. She rightly raised the question of what a “more significant” development is. This will depend on a number of issues. As hon. Members may understand, it may be about the scale and number of turbines, but it could also be about the height, size and massing of them. Clearly, we do not want to ensnare someone who is thinking of having a small turbine in the back garden. That is not the purpose of the approach; this will be set out clearly in the secondary legislation.

The hon. Lady then raised a broader point about retrospectivity. She did so quite imaginatively, I thought, in a number of different ways. Perhaps I can reiterate the point. Where a determination has been made, there will not be a retrospective change, but where an application is in the system, we expect the local planning officers and, if the case is in appeal, the inspectors themselves to give clear and careful consideration to the issue, in the knowledge that it has the potential to be a “material consideration”, which she will obviously understand has a legal implication as well.

The purpose behind this approach is very clear, but I am not sure that the hon. Lady was. We believe in making sure that local communities have a clear voice, and we want the balance between the global environmental issues and the local environmental issues to be made clear. The policy has been clear; sadly, as many hon. Members have found, it has not been applied appropriately on the ground. We intend to make sure that planning inspectors and the planners themselves on the ground are able to do so.

In congratulating my hon. Friend on this statement, may I ask whether he will extend the principles he has enunciated to offshore wind farms, where exactly the same principles apply, particularly in the case of the much-despised proposal for an offshore wind farm in Christchurch bay?

My hon. Friend is always adept at tempting Ministers, but I think I shall keep my feet on dry land.

May I return to a point the Minister did not answer a minute ago? Will he confirm that this change does not give a veto to local authorities and local communities over all wind farm applications? Will he confirm that what he has done is to put into the guidance matters to which the local authorities will now have to have regard in considering applications? These are in fact matters to which local authorities currently can have regard, and to which the best local authorities will already have regard.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is that the policy has not changed. The frustration that many Members have experienced is about the way in which it has been applied at a local level. He is right to say that we are now making sure that these matters are dealt with in the appropriate fashion at the local level. These will now be material considerations, which is an important aspect. The policy has been clear. The sad part, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, is that the application has been inconsistent. That problem will now be solved.

Is the Minister aware that the beautiful county of Northumberland has a large number of wind farm applications, and that there will be a welcome for this coalition Government’s recognition that visual and cumulative impact should be more effectively recognised in the system and that communities where appropriately sited wind farms are built should get a greater benefit from that?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; I have often felt that issues of amenity and landscape are things that people do care about in terms of their environmental considerations. This guidance will help to ensure that the balance is right now.

The Minister has not made it clear whether this will apply in Wales and England. Irrespective of that, will he confirm that it will mean more wind farms in urban areas and fewer in rural areas, and that more electricity will therefore be generated in Labour constituencies for Conservative constituencies, with the Liberals blowing in the wind, as normal?

The borough of Kettering is enthusiastic about its successful and expanding wind farm at Burton Wold, but we do not want wind turbines all over the countryside. Can the Minister assure my constituents that they can use the very good example of that wind farm to protect against the spread of wind turbines everywhere else?

That is the thing that people feel; the cumulative issue is often the concern that local communities have. That is why this guidance will strengthen the arm to make sure that it is a genuine material consideration. People will now feel that they are to contribute to the planning process, and that is good for the process itself.

There seems to be a lack of understanding among Labour Members. This is not about vetoes; it is about making sure, in a legal system, that we have appropriate and due consideration of the material issues—topography, amenity and heritage. On this idea that we have a blanket veto here at the Dispatch Box, I know that that is how they liked to do it in the Labour party in the past, but we let local people decide.

While I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s statement, as I am sure most of my colleagues do, may I just point out to him that it contains no reference to general aviation and the Ministry of Defence, both of which have enormous concerns about the impact of wind farms? May I give just one example? As one of the few currently licensed aviators in this House, I was flying on Monday past Popham, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), where there is a huge concern about 22 wind turbines, each the height of the London Eye, and the massive impact they can have on general aviation. May I ask the Minister to take into account those concerns, which are certainly shared by my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Winchester (Steve Brine)?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and we do need to consider that issue, although of course what he is referring to is strictly outside the nature of this statement. Perhaps I, or indeed the Secretary of State, might like to take a flight with him to see this directly.

I realise that the announcement on the planning changes refers to England, but given that the Government appear to have had time to brief the media, did they also have time to discuss any of this with the Scottish Government, as there will be concerns that it will perhaps be tougher to obtain planning permission in England and that that will have knock-on consequences in Scotland?

Clearly this is a devolved matter, but if the hon. Lady is directly concerned, she needs to talk to the Scottish Government, as we are already doing.

I have tried to push the Minister on this important issue, but will he just clarify whether the current applications at judicial review are included in the change in guidance?

The key point is that if a determination has been made, that cannot be undone, whether that is at the local level or at the planning level, and that, I think, incorporates any other aspect where there is a decision about this. Once a decision has been published, that clearly cannot be changed by this guidance.

E.ON wants to build a wind farm consisting of 25 wind turbines in the middle of my constituency, generating 64 MW of electricity, which is therefore over the 50 MW threshold. The final decision will be made by the Secretary of State. Does this announcement today mean that if the local planning authority is opposed and the local community is opposed, the Secretary of State will say no to it?

It is cute of the hon. Gentleman to try to tempt me into that area. He knows that these are quasi-legal decisions, and I am not going to comment on any individual application. What we have done today is make sure that the balance in discussions is correct at the local level and at the appeal level, so that there is an appropriate level of decision making. I am not going to be drawn into individual applications, as he will understand.

I welcome what the Minister has said—as, I am sure, will many of my constituents, particularly those in Denholme who have been battling against a wholly inappropriate proposal for a wind farm—but can he tell us what safeguards will be provided for local residents? My constituents have become accustomed to Labour-run Bradford council’s practice of sending its councillors over to parts of the constituency, riding roughshod over the wishes of local councillors and residents, and imposing unpopular decisions on them. What safeguards will be introduced to stop Labour councils such as Bradford imposing decisions on my constituents, contrary to the recommendations of the guidance?

Our key purpose in making these changes is to ensure that the voice of local people is stronger. My hon. Friend is evidently experiencing a difficulty with the local Labour council, which I must say does sound shocking, but I am sure that, in his usual terrier-like manner, he will ensure that it understands what it is doing wrong.

Whether we are talking about a change of policy or a change of guidance, will the Minister tell us what prior consultation he has had with local planning authorities?

The call for evidence produced responses relating to some 1,100 applications, in respect of both the planning and the energy aspects. Those responses have been very useful, and have come from all the parties to whom the hon. Lady has referred.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. In my constituency, the council’s draft local plan proposes the development of 40 new wind farm sites on green belt land. What message would my hon. Friend send to a council which is intending to impose those sites, in environmentally sensitive areas, on local communities that are deeply opposed to them?

I think the message would be that the Government have listened carefully to what local people say about the way in which planning has been applied and why they are concerned about it. We want to ensure that their voice is clear and loud and listened to.

Does the Minister agree that today’s announcement is a further demonstration of the Government’s commitment to the principles of localism in planning, which—starting with neighbourhood plans—ensure that local communities have a greater say both when supporting and when opposing development in their areas?

The Secretary of State and I are strongly committed to ensuring that local voices are heard in the planning system. This is a legal process, and we need to ensure that it is conducted appropriately, but as my hon. Friend says, we are a localist Government with clear localist principles.

There is an increasing perception among many people who have opposed wind turbine applications in my beautiful part of Yorkshire that local wishes have been overruled in favour of energy suppliers and landowners who have been pocketing the subsidies. Does the Minister agree that if such applications are to be approved, they must have the support of those local communities and they must benefit those local communities?

I know that my hon. Friend is an ardent campaigner on this issue, and his constituents are fortunate in that regard. He is right: we must ensure that local voices are very clear so that proper, balanced decisions are made, and people are not made to feel that their own considerations have been ridden over roughshod.

I agree with my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) that there is a logic to extending community powers relating to onshore to offshore wind farms. As the Minister knows, there is a plan to build a rather large wind farm off our constituencies, and its proximity to the coast is concerning residents.

I understand that. My hon. Friend is another powerful campaigner, and I think it important for his campaign to continue. However, as I said earlier, I think it wiser for me to keep my feet on dry ground.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on his urgent question, and also on his consistent and informed leadership on this subject from the Back Benches. I welcome the announcement of a change in the planning rules relating to wind farms, but may I suggest that if one wants to look green one builds wind farms, whereas if one wants to be green, one should build them only where they will be effective and acceptable to local communities?

As I said in my statement, we have an energy issue to deal with, but renewables must be sited appropriately. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that, and we want to ensure that it happens.

There will be joy in North Yorkshire at this decision, which will be good for the environment and good for the countryside, but may I tempt my hon. Friend to specify the more significant onshore wind farm developments, and explain how that term will be interpreted?

I am delighted to be tempted by my hon. Friend, and as I said earlier, what is more significant is trying to make sure we do not unintentionally snare the small single turbine in someone’s back garden. This is about making sure we have consideration about the massing, the size and, indeed, the height, and we will set that out clearly in the secondary legislation.

I find myself much in accord with the Minister’s expressions of support for balance, as that is absolutely right, but I have some concerns that the pendulum might swing too far the other way. Will he be carefully monitoring things as the new guidance is implemented?

In joining colleagues in welcoming the announcement, may I pay tribute to the work of the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) on this issue?

May I push the Minister to be clear that where an appeal has concluded taking evidence but the inspector has not published their decision, today’s announcement will be taken into account, because that will give great comfort to my constituents, particularly those in Tydd St Giles, who are awaiting a decision on 17 July?

Where no decision has been published, as would be the case for local planners at that stage in the process, planning inspectors will now have to give consideration to this change in the guidance.

My constituents in Bury North will warmly welcome this statement. Many of them can already see a massive wind farm development over at Scout Moor, but it is very often the individual turbines going here, there and everywhere across my constituency that create a great deal of concern. Can the Minister confirm that these guidelines will apply to individual turbine applications, as well as those for large farms, which may already be affecting the landscape?

As I said earlier, we are trying to make sure that the principal concern people have about the impact, and particularly the cumulative impact, is properly and clearly set out in the guidance. That will make sure that decisions on the kinds of application to which my hon. Friend refers will be influenced in the same way.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on leading the campaign against wind farms in this House, and I have a sneaking feeling that I can detect the hand of the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) in this new revised policy.

Until now, planning applications were refused for wind farms, but on appeal were granted. Under this new guidance, as I understand it, if local councils act properly and say no to a wind farm, normally they will not be overturned on appeal. Am I right in thinking that?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that there have been a number of contributions in this particular debate. What I would say to him is that we want to make sure the system is balanced. What most constituents have been concerned about—I am, perhaps, speaking now as a constituency MP—is that they feel their views are ridden roughshod over. That is what my hon. Friend referred to, and that is what we are seeking to correct.

I note the Minister’s emphasis on significant and cumulative impact. Does he agree that minimum separation distances, as espoused by Wiltshire council, are arbitrary and therefore totally incapable of taking that into account?

We are not promoting buffer zones, as I think they are known in that context. We are a localist Government, and we want to make sure that the councils, which are accountable to their local electorates, take the appropriate decisions. The fact that we have specifically highlighted the issue of cumulative impact can, I think, give my hon. Friend some reassurance.

In addition to the turbines we already have, sometimes turning, in my constituency, we have 70 further ones consented, the largest development being for 34 turbines on the Isle of Axholme, which was granted by the previous Government on appeal, against the wishes of local people. Just yesterday another wind farm application was rejected, and a couple of weeks ago I spoke at an appeal against yet another wind farm application. Therefore, while I welcome the announcement, as will my constituents, may I urge the Minister to do a full and thorough review of how the appeal system works, because it is often at that point that my constituents are let down, not by their democratically elected councillors?

I understand that point, and the Secretary of State, the planning Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and I are all very much aware of the need to make sure planning at the local level and at appeals runs appropriately, and we will always give consideration to representations.

I welcome the statement, which will also be welcomed by the constituents of Harrogate and Knaresborough, where there have been significant concerns about developments of a proposed wind farm along the Knabs ridge area. Does the Minister agree that the measures announced will help to address the confusion and anger about the fact that local landscapes and local environments can be damaged in the name of protecting our environment?

I know that my hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner for local people in his glorious part of Yorkshire. I think he is absolutely right and he can now say to his constituents that this is a Government who are on their side.

This is wonderful news and the result of a long campaign. I welcome the announcement, because in Northumberland we have sporadic applications and sporadic wind farms that have no impact other than destroying the landscape in a very bad way. Cumulative impact is a massive issue, but how will it go into a local development plan when a local authority has not completed a local development plan thus far?

As I said in my opening remarks, we want to ensure that the guidance, as part of the balancing of the new planning policy framework, shows a clear understanding of the issue, especially the cumulative impact, and that that is reflected in the policies in the local plan.

I congratulate the Minister on today’s statement and associate myself with those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on the leadership he has shown on this issue.

I would like some clarity if possible from the Minister about the position as it affects Wales. Applications for large wind farms over 50 MW are not devolved to the Welsh Government. It seems logical that the new provisions should apply to those applications, so can he reassure me that that is the case?

As I think you will know, Mr Speaker, the process relates to England only. There is a sensitive legal issue, to which my hon. Friend refers, but I understand that the Secretary of State for Wales is attuned to that and is in contact with the Welsh Government.

Does the Minister agree that today is a victory for the Conservative party, which has finally brought some sanity and good sense to a very dubious energy policy?

The sad part about this has been that the Labour party seems not to have any understanding of why local voices matter. Members of this House have raised local issues time and again, and I agree with my hon. Friend; this is about localism and giving power back to local people, and we will ensure that that happens.

The Minister’s announcement will be widely welcomed by my constituents, particularly those in Humberston who are fighting an application in the neighbouring constituency. With particular reference to pre-application consultation, and because of the widespread impact such turbines have, can he assure me that a consultation area will cover neighbouring council areas so that everyone can be involved?

It is important that a wide range of local voices are involved, but clearly those matters and where the boundaries must lie in any individual application are a matter not for central Government but for local government.

People in my part of North Yorkshire will be thrilled with the announcement this morning. May I add my gratitude to the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), for championing these changes? Will the Minister assure the House that local councils will be given the correct level of support to implement the changes? They often come up against very clever and expensive lawyers from development companies and need far better support.

We will write to all local planning authorities and to Sir Michael Pitt at the Planning Inspectorate. I take my hon. Friend’s point and I know that the issue is foremost in the mind of the Secretary of State. May I add my strong congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)? We have listened and we have improved the guidance for the better.

The Minister mentioned specifically that meeting our energy goals should not mean overriding natural environment considerations. Will he confirm that he will include in his amendment to the legislation the higher planning authorities that will make judgments about equally ugly pylons and the need to underground electricity transmission lines across the beautiful Somerset levels?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. Today, clearly, we are considering the question of onshore wind turbines, so I think it would be wiser if I did not draw myself into the even more vexed question of pylons. I know that the Secretary of State and I will consider her question should it have any due implications.

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