Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Marland Lord Marland The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 4:20 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for initiating this debate. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all noble Lords here in saying that our thoughts are with the former Archbishop and his wife at this very difficult time and I quite understand the reasons why the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is not in his place today.

The reason I am very grateful for this debate is that it is very important, as a number of noble Lords have said, that we keep the green agenda at the forefront of people's minds because there are signs that people's attitudes are changing towards it. Therefore, it is fundamental that in a debate like this we pursue the green agenda. It is very important for me because I learn a lot. We have seen today a broad canvas of ideas, views and information that I find extremely valuable, as I am sure everyone else does.

The delivery of this agenda is clearly critical. Before I get to the excellent work that the Government have done, I will deal with one or two specific points from noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, as a native of Essex, along with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith-I am glad to see that the natives are not revolting from Essex-asked quite reasonably about scrutiny. Here we have it before our very eyes. We have eminent Lords and Baronesses challenging us on every occasion as to government policy, and, of course, the Committee on Climate Change, which does a fantastic job, sets targets for us. Therefore, I do not believe for one moment that there is no scrutiny in this area.

The noble Baroness asked about the Green Deal. Clearly it is a very complicated project, made more complicated by the very significant and excellent input from this House in the legislation. We have a very good working dialogue, as the noble Baroness referenced. Yesterday we had another session where we sought to inform each other and move the matter along. We want to get it right, and it is very important that we get it right for consumers, that there are warranties in place to protect them and that we do not go off half-cock. We are committed to getting this off the ground in 2012 and, as the noble Baroness knows, no one is more committed to it than I am.

I will deal later on with her points on solar PV, which a number of noble Lords mentioned. As for CCS-carbon capture and storage-we did pull the plug on the first coal-powered power station. I was responsible for the negotiations. I was not prepared to commit taxpayers' money to something that was being incorrectly priced by the only winners we had in the project. However, we are working to a very fast and hard timescale and I am convinced that by this time next year we will have established a winner for a gas carbon capture and storage project. It is quite clear that the Chancellor has committed the £1 billion of funds available. Through that, there will be leading technology, jobs and growth.

My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith asked whether the targets for 2020 were the right ones or whether those for 2050 were right. I think that he preferred the latter. It will come as no surprise to him that we have targets for both. We look at both very carefully and have to interweave them because, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said, there is no one product fits all policy for delivering energy to the country. We will have to deal with all manner of policies, get the mix right and deal with inclement weather. For example, if there is another nuclear incident in Europe it will lead to the destabilisation of our nuclear policy. We will have to deal with that. Therefore, we will have to have flexible targets. However, the noble Lord is quite right to say that we have to look to 2050.

As always, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his support and various comments. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, rightly referred to the Humber estuary with its wonderful deep waters. We were delighted that Siemens decided to move there. I know the area well and looked very carefully at potential sites where more infrastructure buildings could be put. The area of the Humber estuary has a very knowledgeable workforce and I believe that it can become one of the great offshore gateways. Like the noble Lord, I was disappointed that the Statement on Durban was not debated here. Of course, that was an opposition decision. I was rather relieved that I did not have to stand on my feet for another 40 minutes.

The views of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, are well known. I will not engage with him on the IPCC. It is not something that we can unilaterally change. It will require international agreement. Some of his points are well known, and quietly we have made our position well known to the IPCC. I am also grateful that he was right on the euro.

The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, criticised the carbon price floor. I do not know how we will get nuclear power-or even thorium nuclear power-off the ground unless we have a carbon floor price that sets out a very clear pathway and an encouragement to the nuclear industry, as well as a negative view of those who are producing high-carbon electricity. Therefore, I think that the carbon price floor is a very positive step. Of course, we could go on for a long time on the subject of thorium; we have had some good exchanges on that.

We welcome the great knowledge about food shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer -much more knowledge than I was able to deal with. Her main point was about landfill. The Treasury has done the right thing in raising the landfill tax by £80 a tonne by 2015. Capturing methane and turning it into electricity is a positive way forward to make sure that landfill is dealt with properly. Push and shove methods are far better than very prescriptive policies.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, gave us a very good overview from his position as an eminent scientist. He complained that we do not have enough quangos. I do not complain about not having enough quangos. I am interested in delivery and do not believe that quangos in general are delivery bodies. Obviously some are, but they often get in the way of delivery, which will be so fundamental to what we must do. I was also grateful for his words about my gusto.

As always, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made a very intelligent contribution. The work of Oxfam should not be denied; it has been very formative. We are delighted that it is subscribing to the climate change agenda. As he rightly-and often-says, we are all in this climate change thing together. There is no point pretending we are not and it is a fundamentally wise thing to say.

Listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, I must say that I thought that I might go out and kill myself. He was so gloomy and in despair over my own great party, and I could not really agree with a single word he said. However, he is right to tell us about the economies and great benefits of the low-carbon technology. It would be interesting to know what Adam Smith himself would have made of it all.

We were grateful for the intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, with his great knowledge of councils. He quite rightly said, as did the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, that we should not set up grants where all people end up doing is chasing them. That indeed is what the solar panel FIT became-a grant-chasing product-with disastrous consequences.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells raised a number of items. I have worked very closely with the Church of England on "Shrinking the Footprint" and have attended a number of events. We think it is a remarkably good scheme. It is so good because it shows leadership, and that is what the green agenda is all about: showing leadership, and showing people the reasons for doing it and why they should be doing it. We are very grateful for the leadership-from all churches, actually-on this issue, but I know that he is not expecting me to make special exceptions for his churches, even though I am a great admirer of his wonderful cathedral in Wells.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked me questions way beyond my mandate. It is bad enough having to know what is going on in your own brief, let alone other people's. Fisheries-for heaven's sake! He has time to withdraw-he can tell me afterwards-but if he really insists on me writing on our fisheries policies, the ecosystem, the natural environment White Paper and our policy on that, I am totally happy to write to him or get someone even cleverer than I to do so. He is quite right that it is about joined-up government.

However, I must rebuke noble Lords. I felt that, as in "Hamlet", you doth protest too much. You should lift your eyes upwards and not down, navel-gazing. Look up and think of the achievements that you have made and that we have made. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, because he was so positive in what he had to say about what is going on. He did not bring any party politics into it-which was a bit of a change, actually, I must confess. It was being recorded and may well be on YouTube. The noble Lord was positive, and because he was positive and because my Secretary of State is so positive, we are leading the world in the climate change agenda; and because noble Lords throughout this House have been positive, we have been able to keep the green agenda at the forefront.

To those who criticise this Government for not doing anything-there is only one thing that we have done that is predictably different from what the previous Government had done, and that is stop the feed-in tariffs on solar PVs. Why did we do that? Because we did not think it was fair on taxpayers to spend £8 billion to achieve 0.1 per cent of our electricity demand. There are far better ways of committing that money for heavy lifting-and there was a scam. There is still a scam going on. Last week, my phone went at my home. "Mr Marland"-shows how out of date they are, six years out of date-"I have got a government-backed scheme guaranteeing this for solar panels. Are you interested?". I said, "I think you have got the wrong man here" and put the phone down pretty quickly. But this scam is still happening and it is not in the best interests of taxpayers. Let us get it off the agenda and let us stop moaning about it. Let us move on to the really big points of nuclear, of clean gas, of all the things that will keep the lights on in this country-and renewables. Let us not run away from renewables. Renewables will be fundamentally important, because they give us security of supply and help us with regard to our agenda.