Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:04 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of The Bishop of Bath and Wells The Bishop of Bath and Wells Bishop 4:04 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I thank the House for its indulgence in allowing me to speak in the gap today, and I am sorry that you are not hearing the rather more mellifluous tones of the right reverend prelate the Bishop of London, who was expected to speak today. Sadly he has been called away to the bedside of Lady Runcie, the wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who is believed to be in the last hours of her life.

It is a tribute to Members of all parts of this House that although there is debate on the various issues in the green agenda, it has not become a denominator in party politics. This is one of the most depressing aspects of political life in the United States, and it is vital that the environment does not become a political football. But there is a temptation, in a time of economic anxiety, for the green agenda to lose priority. I believe that one of the reasons for that is that the "economy", in common parlance, is conceived in narrow financial terms, such as the inflation rate or gross national product. The gross national product is, of course, calculated excluding externalities such as costs to the environment. If we want sustainable prosperity then our accounting practices must be developed to include such factors.

A focus on sustainable prosperity suggests that growth without limits is not a plausible option. At the same time, all the world's wisdom traditions regard human beings as accountable tenants for the earth, responsible for the web of life from which we have emerged. Perhaps "economy" is best understood as the laws of home and management, and truly sustainable prosperity and well-being requires us to broaden our concept of the economy.

Here I must declare an interest as a member of the Church of England's attempt to put its own house in order as a response to the green agenda. The programme goes under the name of Shrinking the Footprint. Indeed, my own residence, which is the rather splendid palace in Wells, has become the first residence to have instituted a truly green restaurant, shop and education centre on an ecclesiastical property. It is also developing a community garden, very much following many of the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, in her speech, and I am particularly pleased about that. Why? Because it helps make the global local, and the local global, and if people are to understand these things, they have to be able to see them being worked out in their reality.

That in some ways draws me to the main purpose of my short speech. In view of the somewhat abrupt change in the level of feed-in tariff incentives for installing solar photovoltaic panels, I believe that it is important that we continue to recognise this as the most practical and potential way for so many people. Will the Minister give me a response to three quite specific requests which affect all places of worship? Would it be possible to allow places of worship until 31 March to complete and install projects in the pipeline with the benefit of the current FiT regime? Speaking for my own churches I believe that some 200 were actively planning to install panels when the cut came into place. Secondly, would the Minister give consideration to including churches alongside other community projects for a specific community tariff after 1 April? We have been working closely with the Jewish community in this particular area. Finally, would the Minister consider exempting churches-because of their special characteristics which often preclude the kind of alterations necessary to get close to even a C-rating-from the need to obtain energy performance certificates, providing that some other suitable benchmarking audit system can be put in place?

I want to give just a note of praise to the chairman of Shrinking the Footprint, the right reverend prelate the Bishop of London, who has an alternative benchmarking scheme which has been developed with expert partners in the Diocese of London. To offer a little help to the Government, that could, with government approval, become a national test of energy efficiency in respect of church buildings. Thank you.