asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is their response to the decision of the European Commission to start infraction proceedings following the United Kingdom's failure to meet agreed European Union biofuel targets.
My Lords, we are confident that we have implemented the directive properly and in full. We will respond to the European Commission shortly with a robust justification of our 2005 target.
My Lords, in the circumstances, is not the Government's and the Prime Minister's commitment to renewable sources of energy and combating climate change just empty rhetoric? Will the Minister confirm that the EC infraction proceedings and the recommendation of the report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of 2003 demonstrate only that the Government have yet—I repeat, yet—to devise an over-arching biofuel strategy, let alone establishing responsibility for this area of policy?
My Lords, the noble Baroness underestimates the progress that we have made. We have increased the sale of these fuels by five times since last year and we expect to hit our target of 0.3 per cent—we communicated that to the Commission. She will recognise that member states will move at different paces in relation to this directive. That is why it is not mandatory. Of course, some states have targets of nil progress, due to the base from which they start. Britain starts from a low base, but we are making satisfactory progress and we will meet our target.
My Lords, as my noble friend said, our report to the European Commission proudly announced a "realistic target" of 0.3 per cent of fuel sales by the end of 2005. Is he aware that that is one-seventh of the EU-indicated target of 2 per cent for 2005? How can the Government expect to be taken seriously on the climate change initiative when they are prepared to accept such a derisory target?
My Lords, the target was arrived at after full consultation across all interests. As I have indicated, it was recognised that there is a massive difference between a country such as Germany, which has been producing biofuels for more than 30 years, and Britain, which is starting from a very low base. I understand my noble friend's concern about progress. It is important that we hit the target that we have set. We shall respond to the commission, make it clear that we intend to do so and set a more ambitious target for 2010, which is also our obligation. I assure the House that we are on target for the position that we set forward two years ago and we are making progress in this area in the way in which I have indicated.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the innovative project by Somerset County Council, Ford Cars and Wessex Grain to get more than 80 per cent biofuel into production? Can he assure me that the distribution network is being talked about by his department because distribution of that grade of fuel is one of the major challenges?
My Lords, the noble Baroness has lighted upon an important point. We are seeking to make progress in that respect. We welcome all developments and want to encourage them. That is why we have incentives to encourage the development of bioethanol fuels. It is not an easy target to hit. We set ourselves a proper, realistic target because of the factors to which the noble Baroness has drawn attention. We are seeking to overcome the barriers that restrict us from future progress.
My Lords, I am mystified by that answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. More than a year ago, this House passed the renewable fuel transport obligations legislation, which could have meant that we could easily meet our biofuel targets. I simply fail to understand why nothing has been done in the past 13 months. Can the Minister explain why?
My Lords, far from nothing being done, we have seen a five-fold increase in the production and consumption of these fuels in the past year. A 20p rebate on the tax on the fuels is in place as an incentive. None of us can expect Britain to reach the standard of some European countries overnight. It is clear that we have considerable progress to make. A substantial number of other European states are in exactly the same position as us. The difference is that Britain has got a realistic target and will be hitting it.
My Lords, on another "bio-" issue with a European angle, the Minister will be aware that the Commission is taking infringement proceedings against the UK for failing to have proper collection and treatment facilities for raw sewage discharges. Will the Government seek to avoid infringement proceedings for the massive raw sewage discharges into the Thames, which breach the urban waste water directive?
My Lords, that is an extremely important question on which, sadly, I am utterly inadequately briefed, simply because the only connecting element seems to be that its source is a European directive, but a different one. I shall reply to the noble Baroness when she tables a Question on that directive.
My Lords, following on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and accepting the difficulties the Minister outlined and that the EU directive is only indicative on targets, there still remains the question of when the Government are going to trigger the target inserted in the Energy Act by this House with all-party support, including my support from the Front Bench. When will we take the decision to trigger the obligation under that legislation, without which no ambitious target for 2010 can be reached?
My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great authority. I recall sitting at his feet during the passage of the Energy Act. He is right that an amendment made to that Bill is of great importance on this matter. It is on the basis of that amendment that we are producing a fresh target for 2010. It is the basis of our robust reply to the European Commission, to which I alluded in my earlier Answer, about our progress on this matter. My noble friend will recognise that the Government intend to deliver against an enhanced target.