Report (2nd Day)

Part of Energy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 8th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 7:00 pm, 8th March 2011

My Lords, this has been a fairly substantial debate that justifies at least one decision which the House came to the other evening: that we would not be able to rush consideration of this and the other amendment and deal with them within the time limit that we had at that time. I am grateful to my noble friend for having generated quite a significant debate on the issues.

It is a little unfair to suggest that this amendment comes somewhat late in the Bill, as we discussed it extensively in Committee. I indicated from the opposition Front Bench that we did not find parts of it entirely acceptable at that stage. In particular, we could see Treasury colleagues bridling at the concept of hypothecated taxation, which is an additional complicating dimension to the proposals. My noble friend Lord Lea has worked hard, and harder, to take out that part of his amendment and still retain the merits of the original amendment.

This amendment has come in its proper place in our consideration of the Bill. It is not as though we are at the last stages of our consideration of this Bill in Parliament. The Bill started in this House, and our job in a sense is to clarify the issues and to make amendments where we think amendments should be made so that our colleagues in the other place can address the Bill with the benefit of the considerable expertise that this House brings to bear on matters of this kind. We therefore owe my noble friend a considerable debt for having raised these issues.

Does this matter fit within the Bill? I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, but I fear that that point can be made about every Bill that is likely to come before the House. I can think of Bills that relate to energy, Bills that relate to the environment and green issues, and Bills that relate to a Treasury position. All will say that their Bill focuses on particular issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, spelled out accurately, and that we should not try to drop a load of matters into it that are not extraneous but that bring other dimensions into the Bill that are not its primary purpose.

The danger is that we fail to address the very issues which my noble friend Lord Lea has worked so hard to address. How do we get coherent energy policy that is transparent enough to be conveyed effectively to our fellow citizens? Of course I presume, as my noble friend Lord Lea did in his opening remarks, that we are all straining towards the same objective. We all know that to hit the carbon reduction targets and to tackle the energy crisis over the next 30 to 40 years we will need a consensus that goes beyond all of us in this House. It will have to be a consensus that obtains on Governments who are 20 years away and who will be composed of the next generation or the one after of our fellow citizens, so of course we seek to be consensual. However, to be consensual we need to take our citizens with us.

The merit of this amendment is that my noble friend is struggling to identify the framework in which we establish degrees of transparency and orderliness on issues that span government departments and successive Bills on energy and other matters but that need to be seriously considered. My noble friend must be right when he says that the danger is that we identify meritorious things for subsidy and are then involved in an accumulation of individual actions and support that lack coherence and that do not have a strategy that is necessary for the task that we face.

I respect the reservations of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, but surely it must be right for the Government to face up to the complexity of this issue. We ought to take as many opportunities as we can to identify this complexity. If by accepting this amendment we send a signal to the other place that it, too, must engage in this debate, and even if at the end the Government are not convinced that they can make the strategy in this amendment workable-and we know the strength of the Government when it comes to their majority position-at least we will have significantly advanced the cause of identifying for our fellow citizens crucial aspects of energy policy that it will certainly be difficult to win their support for and agreement to. Excessive division on some objectives would render nugatory the whole consensus that we require in such a crucial area.

I hope that the Minister, when he comes to respond to this amendment, will take it warts and all and accept that its broad proposals are worth continuing to debate, given that we are far from the final stages in Parliament of consideration of this very important Bill.