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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 7:32 pm, 24th March 2014

My constituents will be very disappointed about a number of things that were not in the Budget—the lack of real support for new house-building, for young people and long-term jobs, and for small businesses in my constituency. Furthermore, there is no break in the cloud as far as the continued savage attacks on local government services are concerned.

However, I want to talk about something that clearly is in the Budget, and has been in Budgets for the past two or three years. As my hon. Friend Angela Smith mentioned, it is a policy that has nothing to do with what happened under the previous Labour Government; I am talking about the Chancellor’s own policy—or policy mess—on carbon price support.

When the Chancellor announced that he was freezing the carbon price support at £18 to about 2020, I was not too upset; in fact, I was interested to see this latest development in his astonishing zigzag policy. After all, in the 2011 Budget, when the Chancellor invented that particular policy, he said that the carbon price support was designed to

“encourage further investment in low-carbon generation by providing greater support and certainty to the carbon price.”

The figure was revised wildly upwards in Budget 2013, and then radically downwards in Budget 2014. The Chancellor’s steering of the carbon price support, which started last April and supposedly goes on to 2020, has been rather more “Keystone Cops” than keystone policy.

Essentially, support for energy intensive industries, which my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge mentioned, is coming out of the money raised from the policy being steered wildly upwards in Budget 2011 and onwards. I have always thought that the right thing to do is to support the EU emissions trading system and get it into good order for the long term. However, when the level was revised wildly upwards in Budget 2013, as a result of the then perceived crash and the possible long-term inertness of the EU ETS, I thought that that level of unilateral levy was likely to be unsustainable.

What this policy mess demonstrates is that we cannot do things unilaterally and in isolation without there being consequences. After all, in the Energy Bill, the carbon price floor was prayed in aid as giving out a long-term signal that would render changes in the emissions performance standard superfluous. Even at the end of the Energy Bill, when the Opposition moved an amendment to include existing coal-fired power stations in the EPS, the same argument was used—the floor price would have long-term continuity, which would mean that we could rely on it as an instrument to ensure that there would be little or no unabated coal in the system in the 2020s. We did not need any other instruments.

Now, with the freeze on carbon price support, it is likely that coal will trade allowances far further forward into 2020, and measures in the Budget to support carbon capture and storage are, ironically, less likely to be taken up as a result of that calculation. It is also likely that the reliance that gas has put on the consequences of carbon price support to make coal prices over the period less competitive will mean that advance gas investment will be dampened, which has consequences for the extent to which additional funding for the capacity payment market may also be necessary. It is an additional amount of money coming on the back of trying to make sure that there is less money available over the period of this particular policy.

Furthermore, it is not really true that, as the Red Book says, the buying power of the levy control framework, which sets out the amount of support available for low carbon and renewable investment until 2020, will be unaffected by other Budget decisions. It directly means that renewable obligation buying power, part of the levy control framework system, will be changed because the obligation was based originally on 2011 assumptions about the level of carbon price over the period. The relationship between the strike price and the reference price for contracts for difference will change, which means that we will be paying more out of a fixed fund to make up the difference between strike and reference price. The buying power of the levy control framework will certainly be reduced and there will be a smaller quantum support to go into new entrant projects for renewable energy over the period.

The Government should state to the House what they consider to be the consequences of their decision on carbon price support and set out measures that will need to go alongside it to maintain the position that they themselves had previously said was dependent on the trajectory of the carbon price. Above all, what all this shows is that non-joined-up government has consequences.