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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
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My Department has responsibility for international negotiations on climate change. Last month, we published our manifesto for the Copenhagen climate talks, which are due to conclude in December. Yesterday's decision by the G8 leaders to unite around the scientific consensus that we must avoid temperature increases of more than 2° was a welcome step towards shaping an ambitious Copenhagen deal. We hope that that will be reflected in an agreement today by the developed and the developing countries.
Earlier, the Secretary of State referred to trials being undertaken by his Department to tackle fuel poverty for those not on the gas grid. Given the Prime Minister's warning this week that we are again facing rising oil prices, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give to my constituents and to those in the rest of the country that they will be able to heat their homes effectively this winter if they rely on oil?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. The volatility of the oil price is a problem for consumers in Britain and for our economy. It is hard to take steps to stabilise it, but there are regulatory and other measures that we need to look at. I would say to his constituents and to others who are off the gas grid that, first, we need to ensure that they get the best deal on electricity prices, and I am pleased that the regulator has taken action on that. Secondly, we need to help them to connect to the gas grid when they can. Finally, we also need to offer them alternative technologies, and that is the kind of action that we are piloting.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear about the G8 communiqué. This is the first time that the world has signed up to a 2° objective. The key issue for today, which is most important, is to get unity between the developed and the developing countries around that 2° objective. Why is that important? It is important because it will drive the action that countries need to take. Frankly, we need more ambition in the run-up to Copenhagen, but a 2° agreement will drive that action.
No, because we have rightly said that we are going to have zero-carbon homes here from 2016. It is right to set that standard—we are one of the few countries to have done so—and it will apply to every new house. We are also taking action to trial the new technologies to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and we will have more to say about that in the coming months.
CESP places an obligation on the energy suppliers and the energy generators. It will provide for about £350 million of energy-saving measures specifically directed at low-income areas. There are 284 eligible areas in Wales, a substantial number of which are in my hon. Friend's constituency. I am concerned that we should have a proper balance encompassing the rural areas and I hope that there will be projects in Wales. This will be a new type of programme, whereby we will go house to house and take whole-house measures, amounting to a real step forward in terms of a proper community-based energy efficiency programme.
Considering that the carbon capture competition has already slipped by one year, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give that there will be no further delays in the process, especially considering that only one bidder is capable of getting to the 2020 deadline? Will he guarantee that the deadline will be met by next year—before the general election?
The hon. Gentleman is not right to say that only one bidder is capable of meeting the 2020 deadline. Three consortiums are involved—ENR, RWE and Scottish Power, I believe—and all can meet the timetable. It is right that we need to get on with it, which is why we announced the new conditions and why we announced the levy mechanism for which we intend to legislate. I am confident that speedy progress can be made.
Liquefied petroleum gas is a vital heating source in parts of my constituency, but in some ways it is a forgotten fuel in terms of regulation. While acknowledging the changes to regulations on estate infrastructure for distribution, which will come into force later this year, what more can be done better to regulate this market so that my constituents get a more competitive deal?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on a really difficult problem. We have looked very carefully at this market, and the truth is that it is made up of a very significant number of small companies and competition is a matter for the market itself. I agree the issue is crucial for people who are utterly dependent on LPG and we will continue to keep it under review. It may be, however, that we have to introduce new technology to these homes through our fuel poverty programmes so that in due course they are no longer dependent on that fuel, particularly if we cannot find a means of reducing its cost to the householder, which I acknowledge is significant.
I was delighted that the Secretary of State visited Green lane in Cookridge in my constituency in connection with the British Gas green streets competition. Will he join me in publicly congratulating the street's residents who won the competition by decreasing their usage by 35 per cent. What lessons can the Government learn from that excellent initiative in order to roll out something that will benefit all households up and down the country?
I was very pleased that the street won the competition after my visit—although I should say that I cannot claim cause and effect. The competition was very informative in showing what communities can do together to save energy and there was huge enthusiasm in that street for the initiative and what it had been able to achieve. I agree that we need to roll out that sort of project more widely. That is what CESP is all about: a street-by-street, house-by-house approach to bring communities together to tackle carbon emissions.
I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the tremendous opportunities to exploit the coal reserves on the north-east coast, particularly by using the underground gasification method. Will he support the moves and request by the north-east to set up a strategic environmental assessment as a matter of urgency?
My hon. Friend's question follows up on an interesting visit I made to his constituency to meet the wide range of representatives that he gathered to discuss underground coal gasification technology. We want to move forward on that, so we will obviously come back to his group in order to do so.
The Secretary of State rightly congratulated the G8 on its 2° target as a limit on global warming, although to do otherwise would be to invite inevitable catastrophe, but will he tell us what that translates into in terms of the more important measure of the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in parts per million—or was that question too tricky for the leaders of the world?
It translates into the target aim of 450 parts per million. I was talking about this to John Holdren, the chief scientist of the US, yesterday. Now that we have this 2° target, the key task for developed and developing countries from here on up to Copenhagen is to say what the pathway is—including the mid-term targets we need for 2020—towards meeting that challenge. Now that the leaders have agreed to the objective, at least at the G8, we now need a 2° deal out of Copenhagen.
Yesterday the Energy and Climate Change Committee was told that a 500 kW tidal turbine would shortly come on-stream at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney as a result of co-operation between a small innovative company in Bristol, Tidal Generation Ltd, and Rolls-Royce in my neighbouring area. What can the Government do to encourage such co-operation, and to help small innovative companies involved in marine energy to bring their ideas to market and overcome the financial difficulties that they experience in trying to obtain support?
My hon. Friend is right to congratulate the parties concerned on their initiative. The marine deployment fund is intended to encourage precisely that form of technology. I believe that marine energy has great potential for Britain. Government must play a strategic role—I have mentioned the low-carbon industrial fund—to encourage the kind of co-operation that my hon. Friend has described.
If the Prime Minister is right and oil prices are going to rise dramatically again in the immediate future, what action will the Secretary of State take to prevent British industry from becoming less competitive, and to prevent the most vulnerable from having to bear additional costs that they cannot afford?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. We need to ensure that all the necessary mechanisms are in place to prevent speculation on the oil price, so that changes are based on the fundamentals rather than on speculation. That is why we are examining the regulatory systems—for instance, through the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, which is the international regulator.
One of the arguments for the transition to low carbon is that it will make us less dependent on fluctuations in the fossil fuel price. We need the right regulatory systems, and we also need to undertake that low-carbon transition.
Yesterday saw the publication of Oil and Gas UK's annual economic report, which showed that oil and gas would play an important part in the energy sector for the foreseeable future. Key to that are enhanced recovery and lengthening the time for which reserves will be developed. How can the Government help to ensure that the industry does not shut up shop and go elsewhere, but continues to develop the North sea? Will my right hon. Friend arrange to visit Aberdeen to observe the showcase of the offshore oil and gas industry, and also—
My noble Friend Lord Hunt greatly enjoyed his visit to Aberdeen. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's championing of the oil and gas industry. The initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget in relation to the new field allowance was designed to bring about investment in the North sea, but—through the PILOT group, with which my hon. Friend is importantly involved—we also want to continue our discussions with the industry about how we can best help it in future.
May I stress to my right hon. Friend the need to regulate the use of fluorine-based gases, or F gases, in supermarket refrigeration units? They are up to 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. The industry itself is asking the Government to regulate to create a level playing field. May I urge the Secretary of State to discuss such action with his opposite numbers, so that it can be expedited as soon as possible?
The matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I will undertake to discuss it with him.
The Secretary of State and the leaders of the world have defined dangerous climate change as a change of more than 2°C in the average temperature. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the average temperature in Cornwall is more than 2° higher than that in the north-east of England? Will he assure people that if they move from the north-east of England to Cornwall they will not suffer any great danger, and that any dangerous consequences—
Order. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that the whole principle of topical questions is that they should be brief, and that only one question should be asked.
For the second time today, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is slightly confused on this question. The point about rising temperatures across the world is that it will drive temperatures up across Britain, so moving from Cornwall to the north-east will not solve the problem. The right hon. Gentleman is one of the few people in this House who does not seem to take the problem of climate change as seriously as I believe he should. I am looking forward to meeting him to discuss this further.
There is very poor availability of information to compare the prices and performance of the different energy companies. A very nice lady from Centrica British Gas, Catherine May, told me it leads the way in implementing the Government's scheme for insulation in the homes of the elderly, but it has halted the processing of new applications and other companies do not do anything at all. When will we see a proper comparison of the prices and performance of the different energy companies?
The whole point of the Ofgem probe was to get to the bottom of complaints about poor information to consumers from the energy companies, and a number of changes to licence conditions will be made to try to remedy those problems. As regards the commitment of individual companies to the carbon emissions reduction target—CERT—which was, I think, the other point my hon. Friend was making, we are conscious that we need the information from each of the energy companies in order to make that assessment, and I will be talking to them about that.