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Energy Bill (Carry-Over Extension)

Volume 570: debated on Monday 18 November 2013

I beg to move,

That the period on the expiry of which proceedings on the Energy Bill shall lapse in pursuance of paragraph (13) of Standing Order No. 80A shall be extended by 13 weeks until 27 February 2014.

The Energy Bill, which is due its Third Reading in the other place tomorrow, was introduced in this House on 29 November 2012. As set out in Standing Order No. 80A, as a carry-over Bill it will fall if it does not receive Royal Assent within 12 months of its First Reading, and that date is now approaching. Given the strong support for the Bill on Third Reading in this House, when 396 hon. Members voted in favour and only eight opposed it, it is only right for us to safeguard against this.

The Bill is a large and significant one that has properly received a great deal of scrutiny in this House and in the other place. Fundamentally, it is vital for securing the United Kingdom’s energy future and ensuring that the crucial investment in energy infrastructure that we need over the next decade comes forward. That investment will be incentivised by the provisions in the Bill to reform the electricity market—the most significant reform since electricity privatisation. The Bill contains a number of other important provisions, including putting people on the cheapest tariff, tougher consumer redress, tackling fuel poverty, and strengthening nuclear regulation.

The Government remain committed to securing Royal Assent by the end of the year. The extension to the end of February simply allows for a sensible contingency. Let me assure Members across the House that extending the time for considering the Bill will not have a detrimental effect on the timetable for electricity market reform. We remain on track for publishing the final electricity market reform delivery plan and for contracts for difference to be available from next year.

This Bill is vital for investment and for security of supply. Of course it is right that we should allow its parliamentary passage to continue, and I look forward to the House’s co-operation in this matter.

I am pleased to be able to address the House on this brief but significant piece of business. I am grateful for the Minister’s explanation of the Government’s reasons for seeking to extend the time available for consideration of the Energy Bill, and for his making it clear that they still intend that it should receive Royal Assent by the end of the calendar year. He was not in post at the time, as he will recall, but I am sure he was familiar with our deliberations in Committee, where it was made clear that that was the Government’s intention after the Bill had been subject to some delay.

May I press the Minister on whether he intends that the amendments made in another place, where the Bill will have its Third Reading tomorrow, will be debated before or after the Chancellor’s autumn statement on 5 December? Of course, the Minister is not part of the Government’s business management team, but it is important for the House to know which will be the case.

Some significant issues were raised during the debates on the important amendments made in the Lords, most notably on the amendment from the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Teverson, which I understand involved a licensed rebellion against the Government by Liberal Democrats. Not for the first time, the Energy Secretary was non-committal when asked about this recently. Will the Minister therefore update the House on the Government’s attitude to the Lords amendment? If he cannot tell us that, perhaps he could give us his own opinion on the matter.

The Minister may be aware that last week the devolved Parliament in Edinburgh undertook to provide an emergency statement on electricity market reform in relation to Government Lords amendment 66. The Westminster Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir), is not in his place this evening, but the Edinburgh SNP energy spokesman suggested that it was a constitutional outrage that there had been no prior discussion with the devolved Government. There is currently a predilection towards creating grievance and diversion in Edinburgh that I hope we will be rid of in less than a year’s time. Nevertheless, will the Minister explain whether there has been any discussion with the devolved Administrations about the closure of the renewables obligation? He is well aware, as I am, that about a third of the financial support for renewable energy in the UK goes to Scotland, which has less than 10% of the consumer base. It is spread across the board in Britain, which works in all our interests—we share the risks and rewards. The Scottish National party asserts that that will continue post separation if those of us in Scotland vote that way, for reasons I still fail to understand, next September. Will the Minister be clear on discussions with devolved Administrations? Powers relating to the promotion of renewable energy currently exist in the Scottish Parliament.

This is an important Bill which, as the Minister said, we supported on Third Reading. We expressed reservations on some areas of energy policy that have not been addressed, but it is an important, much-delayed and much-needed Bill. We do not intend to oppose the motion and hope the Government do everything they can to ensure that its passage is complete before the end of the calendar year, as the Minister indicated. Industry and the investment community need to get on with the urgent work of renewing our energy infrastructure and capacity in a low carbon, sustainable way for the future.

As someone who voted against the Bill on Third Reading, I will not oppose the time extension. The later the Bill is put on the statute book—if it is put on the statute book—the more grateful I will be. It is significant that on Second Reading in the other place, my noble Friend Lord Lawson made one of the finest speeches in any debate in recent times. He was absolutely dismissive of much of the content of the Bill.

This evening’s short debate presents me with the opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister what, if anything, will be done to respond to Japan’s recently announced initiative to abandon its climate change targets? That follows the decision by the Australian Government and, earlier, by the Canadians. What does my right hon. Friend think are the implications for the assumed international consensus? Has it been altered by those recent decisions? Where will that leave us if we are justifying imposing significant increases in the price of electricity for consumers on the basis that we are setting an example and leading the world in our opposition to global warming and in our determination to reduce carbon emissions? That leadership does not seem to have resulted in anything significant. Indeed, it seems to be going in the opposite direction.

I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend gave some indication of how the Government will respond to what has happened in Japan. Japan is where the Kyoto agreement was negotiated. The consequence of the Japanese redefinition of its targets will probably be more carbon dioxide emissions, and we will not be able do anything about that. If we turned off all the lights, closed down all our heating systems and did not use any energy at all, we would still not be able to counter the consequences of the recent Japanese decision. Does that not show that, far from being able to lead the world, the political climate in the rest of the world is changing and we are slow to react to that?

I assume the thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument is that an extension will allow more time for that to be debated.

I hope so, yes. I am enthusiastically supporting the extension in the hope that wiser counsel will ultimately prevail and the Bill will be revised significantly before it reaches the statute book.

Like the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), I, too, as one of those who voted against the Energy Bill, hope that the extension will give the Government the opportunity to look again at the targets set in it and at the policy they seem to be following, which appear to be at odds with the Prime Minister’s commitments and the concerns expressed by the Opposition about fuel poverty, the cost of energy and the increasing difficulties that people in this country have, week to week, in meeting their energy bills.

Just this week, there have been discussions in Poland about climate change policy, but the Polish Government have made it clear that they intend to keep on burning coal. As the hon. Member for Christchurch said, the targets in the Bill, for which an extension is now sought, seem to be at odds not only with what has been said by other European nations, including Poland and Germany, but with what is happening in other parts of the world. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity afforded by the extension to consider the direction of energy policy—the commitments the Government are now making to look at the cost of energy, and the Opposition’s attempts to pillory the Government over that issue—so that we do not go down such a route. There is a certain irony that the Opposition, who have been complaining the most about energy prices, support such an energy policy in debates in the House.

Order. The motion is very narrow and I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to run a little, but I do not want to get down into Opposition policy, because we are not discussing that. I am sure that he is now coming to the end.

I will not be roaming, I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker—I would be in trouble when I go back home if I get too close to Rome.

The point I am emphasising is that we have an opportunity for reconsideration. In the light of comments made in debates in this House and the other place, and the concerns we know people across the United Kingdom have about the cost of energy, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves whether the policy in the Bill to rely increasingly on renewables, which is the most expensive form of electricity generation, while turning our backs on some of the cheaper forms of electricity generation, which is not being done—

Order. I think—[Interruption.] No, Mr Wilson, you will sit down for a moment. The bottom line is that the motion relates to an extension of time. I have allowed a little leeway, of which you have now taken complete advantage, but I am sure that you have now finished.

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me say to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) that I am grateful to him for supporting the Bill, particularly on the grounds that, as I think he said, the investment it brings forward is urgently needed. Why would that be? Because the years of neglect mean that we have rapidly had to address the missing investment in our infrastructure. I am, none the less, grateful for his support.

The hon. Gentleman asked me three specific questions. First, he asked when the amendments made in another place are likely to be considered. I cannot confirm the exact date. That is a matter for the usual channels, and it will be announced shortly. I can, however, tell him that we are absolutely determined—I know he shares that determination—to make sure that the Bill reaches the statute book by our original deadline of Christmas.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman asked about the amendment passed in the other place on the application of the emissions performance standards to coal-fired plant. He described that as a “licensed rebellion” but I do not recognise that term. Indeed, I am not sure what that is, as I have not heard of it in this place or, indeed, in the other place, so he needs to look into that in a little more detail. We will set out our position on all the amendments made in the other place when we come to consider them shortly.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman asked about the Scottish Minister’s remarks about the back-stop to end the renewables obligation in Scotland, along with its ending in England, by March 2017. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to make it clear that that point had been discussed at length with the Scottish Government before that Minister’s remarks in the Scottish Parliament this week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the Scottish Government about it. It has been discussed with them and there is nothing new in the amendment we have tabled.

Finally, let me respond to the two substantive points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), both of whom opposed the Bill on Third Reading, as they were entitled to do. The change in the position of the Japanese Government on climate change will of course be discussed at the annual review meeting in Warsaw next week, which will be attended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Governments do adapt their positions on these matters from time to time. I assure my hon. Friend that this country will play a leading part in those negotiations.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman spoke about the price that our constituents are paying. They will of course welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to examine the green levies that are applied on top of the price of electricity to ensure that the burden is no greater than is necessary, that the levies are being spread fairly across the population and that the recent increases in electricity bills will not be repeated.

With those reassurances, I hope that the House will pass the motion.

Question put and agreed to.