Energy Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 29th March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Palmer Lord Palmer Crossbench 6:30 pm, 29th March 2004

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment because I believe that we have the opportunity to make a major step forward in achieving our national aims of cutting CO2, improving local air quality, increasing the sources of supply of road fuels and boosting the productivity of our farming sector at an affordable cost. I remind your Lordships that I am the unpaid president of the British Association for Bio Fuels and Oils, more commonly known as BABFO. I know how disappointed the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, is not to be able to speak to the amendment.

The United Kingdom is moving towards a position of net imports of road fuels. World prices are also rising. Brent crude has been close to 30 dollars per barrel for some time. Political uncertainty in areas where we have to buy oil makes it sensible to build a domestic industry from our own sustainable resources. I cannot think how many times in this Chamber I have mentioned that North Sea oil will not last for ever.

In today's climate with world terrorism, a degree of self-sufficiency must be welcome. We still import 18 per cent of our petrol products. That figure is due to rise by 2 per cent this year.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned in Grand Committee, at present about half a million hectares of land lie idle under set aside—a scandalous waste of a natural resource. A similar area of land has been arable and could be brought back into cultivation for fuel. Such a move would be a major national gain in productivity, as the agricultural overhead costs relating to that land are effectively already being met by existing businesses. Such a productivity gain should be attractive to the Chancellor.

The Treasury has already provided a 20p per litre rebate for biodiesel and the same is promised for bioethanol by 2005. However, that is simply not enough to provide the kick-start to the industry that we need as biofuels cost twice as much as fossil fuels before VAT and duty.

I find that one of the most depressing things is how, once again, this country is being left behind by our European partners. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned what is happening in Brazil. Other countries are far and away advanced in technology, in usage and with a more relaxed tax regime than we are in this country.

One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is, as a farmer in Scotland, I discovered by chance that my oilseed rape was being exported to Austria and Germany and made into fuel. If they can do it, why cannot we?

Everybody I meet is lost as to why the Government will not embrace this with open arms; every countryside body supports it; every farming body supports it; every environmental body supports it; and all the farming press support it. Only last week, two well respected magazines mentioned this very amendment. One even had a half-page form for farmers to fill out and send to their MP.

All this leads one to believe that biofuels should no longer be left in the wilderness and just to confirm that, on 11 March the other place debated biofuels. It is one of the most interesting and informative debates I have ever read in the other place. I wish I had time to quote all 36 columns from Hansard. Every speaker, from all sides of the House, argued the case for biofuels in a most constructive manner. All speakers, without exception, were pro-biofuels. Indeed, the amendment we moved in Committee was even mentioned.

In the words of the honourable lady, Mrs Spelman,

"no one has dissented on the matter under discussion. This is quite extraordinary".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/04; col. 1741.]

Indeed it is and I so wonder why. Yet it was sad to read at col. 1746 that the Minister said that the "case was persuasive" and yet the Government felt unable to support the amendment.

The amendment would ensure that all the benefits I have described would accrue to the nation as a matter of certainty. I commend it to the House and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will accept it. After all the years of fighting for this cause, we are so nearly there.

I leave your Lordships with one final but perhaps vital thought. A tonne of fossil fuel not burned today is available for future use, but every tonne of biofuel not produced today is lost for ever.