Relevant documents: 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.
Clause 1: Decarbonisation target range
Moved by Lord Oxburgh
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) The first decarbonisation order must be made before 1st April 2014 and the year in relation to which the decarbonisation target range is set must be 2030.”
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a director of two small companies with interests in energy efficiency and energy from waste, GEO and 2OC, and as honorary president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association. As indicated in the register of interests, I occasionally advise other bodies on matters relating to energy, water and environment.
Other noble Lords have longer memories than I, but I can recall no other Bill for which the external atmosphere has changed so dramatically during its passage through the House. For that reason, a few introductory remarks that range more widely than normal may be appropriate and may answer questions that could be raised by noble Lords later.
The price rises that are causing so much concern today are, in part, attributable to the increase in the world price of gas. Whether we like it or not, we can expect the 20-year ragged upward trend of fossil fuel prices to continue, driven by steadily increasing world demand and partly because reserves and oil are becoming more expensive to extract. Temporary market gluts apart, we have to expect carbon-based energy systems to become progressively more expensive relative to the other items on which we spend our money.
However, looking at today’s low price of natural gas in the United States, we might ask whether we should not completely rethink our energy strategy in the light of possible US shale gas resource. Shale gas appears to be abundant and carries only half the environmental penalty of coal. I answer in the following way. It is widely recognised within the industry that the current low price of shale gas in the US results from overproduction and cannot be sustained. For the large US shale gas resource to become an economically exploitable reserve, the price will need to be around three times what it is today. The fact is that extracting gas from shale requires more energy and is more expensive than producing gas by conventional means. Either most of the gas in US shale will not be produced or its price will be much higher than today.
These considerations apply to the UK as well, except that the operational conditions here are likely to be tougher than in the US. If the UK shale gas resource is exploited, its main consequence would be a greater degree of resource independence rather than lower prices. That said, in almost any realistic scenario, gas has an important role to play in the UK energy supply for some decades to come, particularly if cost-effective carbon capture and storage technology is developed. The bottom line is that shale gas does not provide a “get out of jail free” energy card for the UK and does not provide a reason for a major rethink of energy policy or for changing the thrust of the Bill.
The original thinking behind the Bill is correct; namely, that it is prudent to spend more in the short term to build a strategic infrastructure that will substantially decarbonise our economy and reduce our exposure to rises in the cost of fossil fuels, which are likely to remain a continuing political concern. For reasons so well known that I will not rehearse them here, we need this Bill urgently so that the first steps in building the new infrastructure can be taken soon and in the right direction. The two defining characteristics of energy infrastructure are the long timescales and the high costs. With sufficient forethought and consistency of policy, both can be reduced. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve. As the Bill stands, important decisions on timing are deferred until at least after the next election, and who knows what other distracting pressures on government time there will be then. This is our opportunity and we should seize it.
The amendment would require the Government to settle next year the outlines of a measured approach to a longer-term UK energy strategy, taking into account the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. Once the bare bones of the strategy and above all its timescale are clear, industry can begin to plan. It is not just major companies that are involved. It is sometimes forgotten that the nominal times taken to extend the grid or build a new power station depend on essential components being available when they are needed. This means having a robust and specialised supply chain, which itself can take a number of years to establish. Without such a supply chain, major components that are urgently needed will probably have to be imported at high cost and with no benefit to the UK economy. More clarity now will help UK jobs and the manufacturing industries.
Major infrastructure investment also needs funds. Investors have the choice of where to put their funds and they will not put their money into a decarbonised energy infrastructure unless they see the Government committed not just by good intentions, but by the wording of the Bill. Investment is about risk; and the lower the perceived risk, the better terms we may expect to obtain. Here I must take the Government to task. At a time when investment in energy utilities in Europe has rarely looked less attractive, the Government appear to have gone out of their way to weaken confidence further. Ministers in departments closely involved with this Bill have on at least five occasions made statements that appear to undermine its main decarbonisation rationale. To make matters worse, the Government now seem to have adopted the language of their critics by describing as “green taxes” those elements of consumer charges that are specifically designated to reduce costs by improving energy efficiency and developing better long-term infrastructure.
The best way for the Government to recover the situation is to accept the amendment today as a reaffirmation of their commitment. The amendment will not guarantee that investment is forthcoming, but it will certainly help. Today, I have said a little about the environmental objectives of the Bill. These are undoubtedly important but, for reasons that I have given, the arguments for decarbonising—energy security and minimising energy costs—all point in the same direction. Others have asked about possible damage to our economy if we are the only country embarking on a decarbonisation strategy now. We are not alone. Around 50 other countries have either enacted or are working on improved energy efficiency and decarbonisation legislation. The Government are making special provisions for those industries which might be particularly disadvantaged by new legislation.
The amendments are about getting on with the job and setting milestones for ordered progress to a new energy structure. They are specifically about setting a power-decarbonisation milestone for 2030. The milestone should be set, if for no other reason than because, the sooner it is set, the less expensive it will be to achieve the energy security and decarbonisation that we seek. Accepting the amendments is the “no regrets” course. Should some miraculous, game-changing new technology appear, or some other unforeseen circumstance arise, the Bill provides Ministers with ways of dealing with the unexpected. There is simply no reason not to get on with the job that has to be done and every reason for doing it now. The amended Bill would be good for jobs, for UK industry, for investors and for the environment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, on his amendment. Decarbonisation is fundamental, and is absolutely what the Bill is all about. The 11th word of the Bill is “decarbonisation”. The Long Title refers to,
“reforming the electricity market for purposes of encouraging low carbon electricity generation”.
The entirety of Part 1 of the Bill is about decarbonisation. The methodology there allows the Secretary of State to set a decarbonisation target. The Bill is about nothing if it is not about decarbonisation.
Of course, the majority of the Bill beyond Part 1 is about ensuring, not just through targets but in practice, that we have decarbonisation. There are many chapters about the nuclear industry. Where one is for or against nuclear, it is a low-carbon technology and it is enabled by the Bill.
The Bill has a whole chapter devoted to the “emissions performance standard”, which is all about decarbonisation. I have a number of issues with it, but the standard is there and it is the practice for ensuring that decarbonisation actually happens. There is a whole chapter on the capacity mechanism, introducing the possibility of electricity and energy demand reduction and management.
Of course, at the core of the Bill, are the contracts for difference, which have taken up a lot of our time in Committee and elsewhere in the House. Contracts for difference would not exist, would not be in the Bill, if there were not a practical and urgent need to get low or zero-carbon technology investment into the generating sector.
There is no point in having this Bill if not for decarbonisation. As we know, this Bill started back in 2010 with a White Paper and has been through many other processes. It is all around one of the four pillars of government at that time—which are still there and which include carbon capture and storage—trying to decarbonise, in this case, fossil fuels, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, will know better than anybody. The second pillar of this energy strategy was emission performance standards, which are in the Bill. The third pillar was the carbon price floor, which has already been delivered. In terms of green taxes, we are already taxing output of carbon emission from fossil fuels. That is practical decarbonisation. In addition, the Government have introduced energy reduction through the Green Deal and the energy company obligation. As well as all these practical actions, do we need another target? That is what I really want to look at.
As this is a coalition Government, there are differences not just between parties but between departments. We have differences between the Treasury and DECC on occasions, and perhaps BIS as well. There are also different directions in which the two coalition parties look. Nevertheless, what the coalition came together for was to provide a specific programme in terms of government for the five years of this Parliament. A key part of that concerned the economy and debt reduction. Another, which both parties shared, was being a green Government with respect to the environment, part of which is decarbonising. The agreement, willingly entered into by both parties, called for a levy control framework that allows contracts for difference and decarbonisation investment to work, with some £7.6 billion by 2021. We have an agreement that the energy company obligation, which is really important in terms of households’ energy efficiency, stays at its present level until the end of this Parliament. We have electricity demand reduction in the Bill. We have an agreement at EU level that a 50% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030 should be negotiated with our European partners. We already have the carbon tax floor and we have emission performance standards legislated for, we hope, when this Bill finally gets through.
We, as Liberal Democrats, ask whether it is more important to deliver targets at this time, when issues of energy—energy bills and energy security—are so fractious, perhaps between all parties. Is it important to make sure that through this Bill we deliver real, practical, £100 billion-worth of investment decarbonisation, or do we go for just another target? I look back at targets, whether they were for fuel poverty being eradicated by 2010, which failed quite considerably, or whether carbon emissions for 2010 were met—they were not in terms of the original obligations. Do they make a difference for business? Yes, I think that they do—the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, is right.
What makes the real difference in terms of investment? It is stability and understanding that there is the right environment for investment in terms of cash flow, in terms of where the market is going and in terms of a determination to deliver a much broader agenda for investing in decarbonisation. That is the area that I feel is of the greatest importance. We should have a decarbonisation target. I am happy to wait until 2016 to deliver real decarbonisation.
My Lords, in proposing Amendment 2A in this group, I will go roughly along the same lines as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. We had to wait six minutes to get any indication of the previous speaker’s attitude towards these amendments.
We have all had approaches from a plethora of organisations; in my years in this House and the other place I can rarely remember such a broad coalition. You normally get the greens and one or two others, but it is quite surprising to get support from across the spectrum of industry, banking and environmental concern for an amendment along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and I are proposing. The amendment I have tabled is in some ways slightly different from the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, in so far as it seeks to define the decarbonisation obligation, which it sees as the level of carbon intensity of electricity generation which may not be exceeded in total kilowatt hours. However, it does not set a target by plucking a figure out of the air. The idea is that it should give the Minister probably longer than the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, which gives the target of
The other fundamental requirement is that having set up a Committee on Climate Change, the Secretary of State should take account of what the committee has to say and what its findings are. It is a very important body, formed of a distinguished group of people from academia and business who take an interest in these matters—and it has a distinguished chairman from this House. However, it is not the only body. We are seeking to establish a consensus that would broadly agree to the figures that would then emerge.
We have international obligations, some of which have been imposed upon us, in so far as we have been forced to troop in and put our hand up in the Council of Ministers. In this instance we seek to fill a gap in the British obligations beyond 2020, a gap that would effectively extend from 2020 and 2030. It is important that any Government can go into Europe with a clear programme so that we are not seen to be chasing an agreement—and equally, so that the target figure we would set ourselves would be arrived at by British agreement and British discussion. A country of 60-plus million people with our diverse industry, economy and geography is that kind of country, the limitations or parameters of operations of which are very similar in many respects to a lot of the member countries of the EU that will be sitting on the Council of Ministers in this area.
Some say, “We mustn’t be allowed to be dragged along by the EU”, but in this instance we would be, in many respects, ahead of the game—not, however, to get our green badge to put on our jacket. Rather, we will have made a rational decision on the basis of sound information and wide discussion, and we would be doing so because it is necessary for us to have a degree of foresight. I will not use the word “planning”, but “foresight”. We have to recognise that the investment requirements of our energy economy are not just only long term. I remember talking here about setting down roads. We know that we have a 2050 target, but frankly, at the moment, after 2020 there is no road map and no signposts or proper targets. We must recognise that we will not have 30 years of doing a bit of this and that, then a mad helter-skelter run between 2040 and 2050 to try to get to where we are supposed to be. This has got to be done on the basis of proper consideration. These amendments give business, the investment community and the people who are engaged in research signals regarding the kind of timescales in which to operate.
I was selected as a parliamentary candidate in 1978 for a seat which had five collieries. The boundary of the seat was the Grangemouth petrochemicals complex. East Stirlingshire in Clackmannan was the kind of place where energy was the life-blood of the local economy. I am not going to dwell on that. Suffice it to say that the number of times I have had to change my mind in the past 35 years has been such that I realise that you cannot chisel things in stone. You cannot pour quick-setting concrete on your ideas and hold on to them. They have changed. We took a very important decision last week, and I commend the Government for getting the strike price although it may not be exactly what we want. We know that the nuclear component will be able to make a contribution. It will be over a period of 60 years, not just 30 or 35 years.
We are talking about a number of other technologies and a number of other things which require support and investment. This investment has a lot of people interested and almost prepared to put their money where their mouth is. People have been writing us letters saying that they would be interested in coming in in the future. The sooner we get this started, the better. We cannot wait till 2016. If something is decided in 2016, it will begin to happen in 2019. We talk about putting off decisions till the next general election. It will be the general election after that. There are too many people in this country who are unemployed. There are too many people who have uncertain industrial futures, whose talents and energies could be deployed if we had a stable path ahead, if we had the opportunity for rational decisions to be made and the flexibility, if things do not go the way we want, to change them. That is why this amendment is suggesting it be done by regulation. In some ways, regulation is not the most democratic of means, but if you get it wrong you can always change it fairly quickly. You can change it on the basis of consultation before you put it into legislation.
There are those who do not wish to have anything to do with carbon reduction because they deny that there is a crisis in this area. The Flat Earth Society used to be their natural home—that has now been changed. Instead, they sit alongside the anti-Europeans who tell us that we are being dictated to. For most people, the need for carbon reduction is understood and appreciated.
We do not need to fear Europe if we have for the next 50 years proposals and policies which can take us into the Council of Ministers and other places with a clear agenda that is in line with the rest of the Bill. This is the thing I find surprising. The last speaker epitomised it. They are in favour of everything but specific action in one particular area.
I can understand that the Whips think that this Bill is the finest work of God and man and therefore need not be amended. I think that is wrong. We need to fill in gaps. We need more specifics. This proposal is the means of providing the specifics which will give the opportunity for rational investment decisions to be taken in the very near future with the prospect of employment and other savings being made with the reduction in carbon in the very near future.
My Lords, this is such an unbelievably bad Bill that it is difficult to see how it could be made any worse. However, no one should ever underrate the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, because he has found a way to make it even worse. I agree with one or two of the things he said. For example, he said that a lot has changed since the Bill was first thought about.
The noble Baroness who is the spokesman for the Labour Opposition probably knows a lot about how the Bill first came into being because I believe that she had a hand in it, but a long time has passed and a lot has changed, including the arrival of what is known as the shale gas revolution, although that includes shale oil. This is of the first importance. I disagree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, but I will reserve judgment on those because your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Select Committee has just embarked on an inquiry into UK shale gas and shale oil and we have only just begun to take evidence. I will reserve my judgment until we come to a conclusion in the light of the evidence, but it is clearly a change of the first importance.
My noble friend Lord Teverson put his finger on the real reason why the Bill is such a bad Bill—that is, it is not an energy Bill at all but a decarbonisation Bill, as he made very clear. As a former Secretary of State for Energy, I take the old-fashioned view that an energy Bill ought to be an energy Bill concerned with how to provide the people of this country—particularly the poorest—and the businesses and industry of this country, with the cheapest possible supply of reliable energy. Energy needs to be supplied cheaply, efficiently and reliably. This Bill, not being an energy Bill, is about how to supply energy expensively, inefficiently and unreliably. This has become a very sensitive issue. Energy prices in general, and electricity prices in particular, have understandably achieved a very high profile as families up and down the land are suffering from the introduction of a policy which the Bill will make even worse.
I do not know whether noble Lords have had the opportunity to read today’s Financial Times which has a very good leading article on this issue. Like the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, I think that this group of amendments goes to the heart of what the Bill is about. One needs to put the thing into perspective. The article states that, on the Government’s own figures, by 2030 environmental levies will account for 41% of the cost of electricity. I suspect that is a great underestimate but it is the Government’s own estimate. The article points out:
“If Britain never adequately reckoned with the cost of its carbon commitments, it may also have been too optimistic about the benefits. The country accounts for less than 2 per cent of world emissions. The heroic reductions that are planned will have a negligible effect on global temperatures.
This would be true even if the UK’s moderation were not offset by intemperance elsewhere. In fact, investment in energy-intensive industries is already being drawn to countries such as the US where costs are lower. Britain may end up exporting emissions–and jobs–to countries that have shunned such onerous environmental commitments. The halting progress towards a global carbon pact provides scant vindication for those who thought that where Britain led, others would follow”.
It goes on to say, quite nicely, that:
This policy is so damaging that even the Financial Times says that the commitments we have entered into—because there is absolutely no point in doing it on a unilateral basis—should be either repealed or amended.
However, that is not the only objection to the Bill. As I have pointed out, I have some interest in this as I was Secretary for Energy at the time in question. The Financial Times also says:
“Since privatisation the electricity industry has been run on market principles. Price controls were abolished and politicians placed their faith in competition to keep prices low and the grid adequately supplied. Now, the government is becoming the industry’s Gosplan. It decides what plants are built, sets their prices and guarantees financing for their construction.”
This is a Gosplan Bill: those are not my words, but those of the Financial Times, which concludes that the Bill,
“combines the inefficiency of state planning with the expense of private capital, exacerbated by the fear that politicians will retrospectively change their minds ... Britain cannot afford to hobble itself with overly high energy costs as it embarks on the road to recovery.”
That is the considered view of the Financial Times which knows what it is talking about. That is why the Bill is fundamentally flawed and the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, seeks to make it even worse and make the flaws go even further. By 2016, nobody in their right mind is going to have the time of day for this policy.
Nobody who knows anything serious about energy policy has a good word to say about the Bill. The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies is probably the most reputable forum for the study of energy in the country. The greatest expert there, Mr Malcolm Keay, described the Bill as entailing,
“a massive and unprecedented degree of centralisation and detailed decision-making by the Government.”
This is quite extraordinary. Prior to the changes we made in 1979, the previous Labour Government’s policy of nationalisation was of the highest parliamentary standards compared with the discriminatory system in this Bill where the Secretary of State has the power to sign contracts—with no effective parliamentary scrutiny whatever—with particular energy suppliers, on a completely arbitrary basis, to decide how much should be supplied, at what price and for how long. This makes old-style nationalisation something one would look back to with nostalgia. It is worse than a return to the past: it is a return to something even worse than the past, which was bad enough. The policies we introduced in the 1980s worked and served the country very well. A final witness for the prosecution, as it were, is Professor Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University, who is widely regarded as the country’s greatest authority on energy policy and who has condemned the Bill with bell, book and candle.
This is quite appalling. Over all the time that I have been in this House, which is a long time now, I have never come across a Bill as bad as this. I therefore support the Government wholeheartedly in opposing the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. The amendment is certainly within the logic of the Bill but it would just take it further and make it even worse.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, cites as his authority the Financial Times. I want to address the question of energy prices by turning to the authority of the statutory committee set up by this Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change. I declare an interest as a member of that committee. Through rigorous detailed economic analysis it has uncovered the facts. Between 2004 and 2012 the average household energy bill for a dual-fuel household that uses electricity and gas increased by £520, from £610 to £1,130. How much of that was caused by green, low-carbon measures? The answer is that £30, or 6%, of the energy price increases over that period was due to investment in low-carbon energy generation. Another £45 was due to investment in energy efficiency to help with the affordability of energy for vulnerable consumers, and the rest was largely due to increases in the price of gas.
Turning to the present, 2013-14, the climate change committee has calculated that the increases due to the renewables obligation, the feed-in tariff, the energy company obligation and the carbon-price underpin between them amount to 1% of household energy bills. Let us look forward to 2020. The climate change committee estimates that household energy bills will be 10% higher due to low-carbon investment but—and this is an important but—that 10%, which is small in relation to the overall increase, could easily be offset by investment in energy efficiency such as the installation of new boilers and energy-efficient lighting, appliances, heating and insulation in homes. It is therefore a complete canard to claim that investment in low-carbon energy is the cause, and will be the cause, of increases in energy prices. It is simply not true. What about the commercial sector? The climate change committee estimates that by 2020 1p in every £10 will be added to consumer prices as a result of investment in low-carbon energy.
We should not get confused in this debate by the arguments about energy prices. We should also remind ourselves, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has said, that this country is by no means the only one to be taking serious steps to transition to a low-carbon economy. China, Germany, South Korea, Mexico and many others are taking steps, just as we are. We are not leading alone but should be among the leading nations that are setting an example to the rest of the world.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that if we take no action we are likely to see global warming of between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees by the end of this century, which could be disastrous for our descendants, and that we should take action now. In that context, I commend the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and hope that this House will support it.
My Lords, the description of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, bears no relationship to what I and many others understand to be its nature. It is a curious document that is suffused with the free-market ideology that accompanied the privatisation of Britain’s energy industry in the latter years of the Thatcher Administration. The Bill contains evidence of the dangers of global warming and the effects of carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels, which have been well understood. However, notwithstanding its pieties in that respect, the Bill does very little to promote the cause of climate protection. It poses some ineffective and non-binding constraints on the rates of emission and, in truth, will not help in reaching the targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.
The truth is that the Bill is attempting to appease a powerful faction within the Conservative Party that is strongly opposed to any measures that might be taken to staunch the emissions of greenhouse gases. There is solid and highly disturbing scientific evidence that should alert every one of us to the perils that we face through global warming. However, many in the Conservative Party believe that they are as entitled to their own contrary opinions on such matters as any of the scientists are to theirs. The climate change deniers have a powerful ally in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. He envisages a dash for gas based on fuel that might be conjured up by fracturing the ground on which we stand. This vision has strongly influenced the Bill. Such a dash for gas would utterly negate the purposes of the Climate Change Act 2008, which proposed that the emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 should be 80% lower than those in 1990.
The Labour Party brought the matter to a head in the Commons by tabling a reasoned amendment declining to give the Bill a Second Reading in the absence of a decarbonisation target. In the absence of full support from the Liberal Democrats, the amendment was defeated by 279 votes to 206. Perhaps now we can trust that the Liberal Democrats are not bound by whatever agreement it was that made them adhere to the Government’s position on the amendment, and that they will support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, which surely accords with their natural instincts. There is clamorous support from industry for a binding emissions target. A target somewhere between 100 grams and 50 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, to be set in 2014, would indicate that the UK Government are genuinely committed to their climate change obligations, and give much needed confidence to investors.
The privatisation of the power industry, according to the nostrums of free-market economics, has given rise not to a competitive market but to a dysfunctional oligopoly consisting of six big companies. On the sidelines are a few small independent companies specialising in renewable power generation. Given adequate protection, the independent companies could be expected to provide a large proportion of the new investment in renewable power generation. At present, there is a danger of their being squeezed out of the market by the big six, who are intent on fulfilling their renewables obligations with their own power plants. The Government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change have paid scant attention to the plight of the independent generators. They need to act with urgency to protect these players.
The Government’s free-market ideology and aversion to government sponsorship and national ownership have severely prejudiced the prospects for nuclear energy in the UK. It is an outstanding irony that in their pursuit of a free-market ideology they have bequeathed our nuclear future to two foreign state-owned monopolists, Électricité de France and the China General Nuclear Power Company. These suppliers are expecting a rate of return in double figures as a consequence of a high price for their electricity that is guaranteed for a period of 35 years. This return is supposedly justified by the risks inherent in the project and the difficulties of raising the necessary finance on the open market.
However, in their attempt to attract firms to undertake nuclear projects, the Government have provided a so-called infrastructure guarantee that guarantees 65% of the necessary funds. Surely under such circumstances, it would have been appropriate for the Government to raise the necessary funds by selling bonds and to commission the building of the nuclear power stations directly, thereby taking them into national ownership. Such a course of action would have given the Government powers to ensure that native suppliers would be fully exploited and that our nuclear industry would stand a good chance of revival. Instead, foreign suppliers will predominate and Britain’s taxpayers will have the burden of supporting a much troubled French nationalised industry.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has posed a fairly simple question to the House. There is widespread agreement that we are aiming for a very substantial reduction—80%—in carbon emissions by 2050. There is also wide agreement, embodied in the Bill, that we should have a considerable measure of decarbonisation by 2030. For the most part, there is no dispute about that. When I have discussed this with some of the companies outside, they all accept that that is what we are heading towards. The question is whether we set the figure for 2030 now or wait until 2016, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested at the end of his speech, a bit to my surprise. The argument for 2016 is really quite strong. Under the Climate Change Act, this is all administered by the climate change committee, of which my noble friend Lord Deben is the chairman, and which is engaged in setting a series of five-year ceilings as the measure of decarbonisation, leading to an 80% cut by 2050.
The fifth carbon budget comes up in 2016. It seems to be of the highest importance that the figure agreed for 2030 should be consistent with what the climate change committee comes to in 2016. I think that the effect of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, would be to set now what the figure would be—which would seem to make that extremely difficult if not very doubtful. The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, said, “Let it be done by regulations and then you can change it”. I am not sure that is not exactly where we are anyway. The climate change committee will be setting a fifth carbon budget in 2016, which will of course be part of the then Government’s policy. The question is whether we do it now or wait until then.
I have attended a number of meetings in the past two or three weeks on this subject but will just mention, in passing, one thing that disturbs me. I read the short report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change also came into my possession, which takes the view that the intergovernmental panel is completely wrong. What disturbs me about these two bodies, and I will leave it there, is that they do not argue with each other—they abuse each other. One side calls the other climate change deniers and that side calls the others back a bunch of government stooges. I find that a very tiresome argument. If one is going to have an argument about something, one should have a proper one, not one that just descends into abuse.
One of the most interesting meetings that I attended was the one chaired by my noble friend Lord Deben and also, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. One of the points that my noble friend made was that the climate change committee has always been determinedly technology-neutral. It does not seek to identify how a particular target should be reached. It accepts the international figures and then sets a British target for that. I have found that the people I talk to are worried that this is all very well for this country but that Europe has gone and set a technology target, with a figure for 2020—I cannot remember the exact figure—that has to be covered by renewables. The companies who are having to invest and develop their investment programmes say, “Which are we to believe? Are we free to work towards the 2030 target or do we have to pay attention to this?”. The one thing I agreed with my noble friend Lord Lawson about was when he quoted from that extremely interesting Financial Times article and said that if one thinks there is something wrong—as I think there is with this technology target—the right answer is to renegotiate. One of the questions that I therefore ask my noble friend is: what are the chances of our going to the European Union and saying, “Look, this 2020 target for renewables is really quite inconsistent with the much broader target, which will lead on to our 2050 target”? It seems to me that it is an aberration, and that is unfortunate. We should renegotiate that directive.
The other meeting that I attended was chaired by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and that was extremely interesting too. There we were harangued—well, not harangued, that would be quite wrong as he was very polite—by Mr Andrew Raingold of the Aldersgate Group. He said that industry is clamouring to know now what the 2030 target should be, and we had a bit of that with some of the earlier speakers this afternoon. Indeed, he feels that there is a massive loss of confidence because they do not know what the 2030 target should be, and that is why we having what is described as a hiatus on investment.
I do not think that is right. If one talks to the companies—and I talk to quite a number of them and their advisers—about why they are having a bit of a hiatus in investment at the moment, they say it is because they cannot yet see the full shape of the electricity market reform system which is the heart of this Bill. The Government have gone a very long way now to publish the details but, as I said to my noble friend’s officials the other day, if they were as good at producing investment as they were at producing paper we would not have a problem. However, all the details are there now and they are becoming clearer. With each new publication there is a new element of certainty, and the industry tells me that it wants the Bill through without hesitation. Industry wants it, as planned, before Christmas. Then the regulations can be made next year and the scheme can start effectively in 2014-15.
That is what industry wants. I have not heard any company, until I heard Mr Raingold quoting them, tell me that the real thing they need to know now is what the 2030 target is going to be. I am sorry, but that is not right. It may suit his argument, but it does not actually represent the facts. I find the argument given to me by the CBI much clearer, and others may have seen it. It states:
“The debate over the carbon intensity target should not hold up important policy details … The CBI supports the Climate Change Act and the carbon targets and budgets enshrined by it, and the Bill must deliver the pace of decarbonisation required to achieve them”.
I agree with that. Investment cases will stand or fall on the details of the contracts for difference,
“the capacity mechanism, and the levy control framework—not on a carbon intensity target”.
We ought to be sensible and have the date that we decide on the 2030 target consistent with the fifth carbon budget of the climate change committee, have the two of them together in 2016 and then take it from there. For that reason, I do not think that I will vote for the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. If he puts it to the vote and tests the opinion of the House, I shall be in the opposite Lobby.
My Lords, I am a member of the Committee on Climate Change and was a member of the committee of both Houses that helped draft the legislation. I want to inject a fact or two into the discussion. The first thing the Committee on Climate Change did was to ask, “How much carbon, looking to 2050, do we think the world can have put into the atmosphere without exceeding a dangerous level of climate change?”. On that basis, we then divided that total by an estimate of the population of Britain in 2050. I would be the first to admit that that second figure is a little uncertain but that was the basis of the ambition that we set and of the overall target that was given for our goal for the end of 2050. We then put the committee together and asked, “Feasibly, how do we think we can get there?”. It was decided—I think sensibly—that the first thing to do was to decarbonise power. Once you do that, you can begin to do other, more difficult things. When looking at decadal timescales, you can look at the possibility of having surface transport primarily done by electricity and that will be okay if we decarbonise the power supply.
We then set intermediate goals. One of them was to come as close as we can by 2030 to decarbonising the energy source through renewables and other things. It was seen that the trajectory to that from 2010, which was when we were talking, was still going to involve coal and gas—gas more efficiently than coal. One thing that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, and I agree on is that, given that we have to make that trajectory to 2030 and we will still have to use carbon-producing products to generate the energy, shale gas might be the best intermediate way to get there.
To get there, we also need industry to see that we are committed to getting there, to get it in turn preparing and talking of massive investment, but on the premise that there will be support and continuing commitment to those goals. This is primary legislation and the goals that have been accepted by the Government are legally binding, and I am in the habit of asking, on the Committee on Climate Change and elsewhere, “What does legally binding mean?”. I have not yet had a satisfactory answer. In so far as that phrase means something to some people, we have a legally binding interim target of decarbonising electricity by 2030.
That is why at the draft stage of the Bill the Committee on Climate Change recommended that it include not a vague statement of aspiration but the explicit wording essentially equivalent to that of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. In some sense, you could say we are legally committed to it but it would make common sense to vote for that amendment, as it is consistent with the history and where the facts lie. There are no two ways about it.
My Lords, I declare my interests in various forms of energy as listed in the register. I cannot declare the probably seven-figure annual sum that I do not receive because I do not allow wind turbines on my land in a very windy part of Northumberland. I say that not to elicit the House’s sympathy, obviously, but to emphasise the point that the Government would be right to resist this amendment because it would hit the poorer even harder and reward the rich even more, by encouraging enormously expensive renewable energy, particularly the wind industry, particularly offshore wind. Effectively, this amendment would lock in now the wrong technologies, the ones that we know are inefficient in producing decarbonisation and which are immensely expensive.
We have heard a lot already today about the interests and needs of producers of energy. As I said in Committee, it is much more important that we think about the needs and interests of consumers of energy. We do not build power stations for the people who build them or the people who plan them; we build them for the people who use the electricity that comes from them, and thereby provide jobs with that electricity.
We know three things now that we did not know at the start of the summer when the Bill first arrived in this House. The first is that the public are right royally fed up with rising energy bills and are not going to take kindly to further increases, which is what we are talking about. Secondly, wind in particular—as with a lot of renewables—needs even bigger subsidies than we have been led to expect. We were told that the strike price for offshore wind would come down from around £150 per megawatt-hour to about £100. That target has now been abandoned; it is coming down to £135. That is an extremely expensive product—about three times the price of wholesale electricity at the moment. The third thing we have learnt—and I am going to come on to this at the end of my speech—is that climate change is happening more slowly than expected.
If all three of those points are taken together, it would be completely mad to lock in a target now for 2030. It would also be potentially callous because it would encourage an increase in the price of electricity.
My Lords, what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has just said was factually incorrect. Climate change temperature has fluctuations. The noble Viscount does not understand the statistics properly; it is basically the same problem he had with his thesis. It fluctuates; it goes up; it flattens a bit. But the statement made by the noble Viscount, as if it were a flat generality, was inaccurate.
My Lords, I shall repeat the statement. Later in my remarks I shall come back and justify it. Climate change is happening more slowly than expected. Far from locking in highly expensive energy, as we are doing, we should be reconsidering the huge cost that we are afflicting the most vulnerable with to comfort the most comfortable. Offshore wind costs about four times as much as gas: £270 per megawatt-hour is the total cost, including connections and system costs, for offshore wind compared with about £66 for gas. We are asking hard-working families to pay over the odds for their electricity in order to provide subsidies to generate power and in order to provide subsidies not to generate power. Last year, £30 million was paid to wind companies not to produce power at a time when it was not needed. Furthermore, we are asking them to pay over the odds to pay for the short-term operating reserve, which is the balancing mechanism by which we make up for the fact that wind is unpredictable. That consists largely of fleets of diesel generators, which are being increased in number by the national grid towards 8 gigawatts, combined with open-cycle gas turbines—both of which are higher carbon than combined-cycle and extremely expensive.
Moreover, we are asking hard-working families to pay over the odds to upgrade the grid and the network costs involved in that, specifically for wind. We are asking them to pay for a carbon floor price, the specific purpose of which is to make fossil fuels look less cheap compared with renewables. Finally, we are asking them to pay over the odds to compensate energy-intensive industries for these costs that we are putting on to them. All of these things end up on people’s bills at the end of the day and they are not paid through general taxation, where the richest could pay more of them: they are paid through people’s electricity bills. Green levies have risen by about tenfold in 10 years, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. By 2020, about £13 billion, if you include system costs and VAT, will be spent every year, compared with about £2.9 billion today, on the support for renewable energy, particularly wind. The biggest part of that will be going to offshore wind. People’s bills will go up as a result of green subsidies by 33% by 2020 and 41% by 2030, according to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
My Lords, I invite the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, to explain to the House why he disagrees with the climate change committee’s calculations to which I alluded earlier.
So does the noble Viscount accept the climate change committee’s calculation that less than 10% of the addition to energy bills for households by 2020 will be attributable to investment in low carbon energy, and that that could easily be offset by greater energy efficiency in the home?
My Lords, why are we to assume that greater energy efficiency in the home will only happen if we invest in renewable energy? We will be able to invest in greater efficiency in the home later anyway. The idea that we will get more efficiency in the home because we invest in renewable energy has never seemed very sensible. As for the cost of renewables towards energy prices, we can agree or disagree about the figures but it depends on your assumptions about what will happen to wholesale gas prices.
What have we achieved with the £2.9 billion we are spending this year on subsidies to renewable energy? We produced about 1% of our total energy from wind and solar this year. If you take total energy—including transport, fuel and everything else—wind provides only about 1% of the energy we use in this country. After accounting for the back-up—wind needs about 80% back-up to make sure that energy is available when it is not blowing—we have cut our carbon emissions through the use of wind and solar by probably less than 0.5%. That is surely a very small return on our investment.
All we are really doing is driving carbon emissions abroad, as has already been mentioned. Professor Dieter Helm, who has also been mentioned, said that carbon production in Britain fell by 15% while consumption rose by 20% between 1990 and 2005. We are consuming the carbon, it is just that somebody else is producing it. As Professor Helm also said, if we follow the Leader of the Opposition’s proposal and decarbonise altogether by 2030, “we may actually make global emissions higher than they would otherwise have been” because of this effect. Unilateral decarbonisation is like building a flood bank at the end of your garden when your neighbour does not.
The noble Lord, Lord May, challenged me on the point about climate change. We have heard that the position on climate change has become more certain. Those who have come to that conclusion are obviously reading a different Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Summary for Policymakers than I am. The one I saw said that it is now 95% sure that more than half the warming since 1951 is man-made. That is a slightly weaker statement expressed slightly more strongly than six years ago, and a statement about the past not the future.
In what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in its latest report about the future, you find more uncertainty than six years ago. Let me give nine separate examples of ways in which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has retreated to a slightly less alarming and less certain position than six years ago. First, it acknowledges the pause or standstill in temperature for the first time, which has taken place for either 15 or 17 years depending on whether you look at surface or satellite temperatures.
Secondly, it acknowledges for the first time since its report in 1990 that the medieval warm period was at least as warm as today on a global level and therefore that today’s temperatures are not unprecedented in the last thousand years. Thirdly, it acknowledges for the first time that Antarctic sea ice is slowly expanding not retreating, which was not predicted by its models. Fourthly, it acknowledges that 111 of its 114 models overstated warming in the last 15 years.
Fifthly, it acknowledges that the range of equilibrium climate sensitivity is lower than it was six years ago. It says that it cannot now give a central estimate, whereas six years ago it gave a best estimate. Why can it not do that? The average of 16 separate estimates of that quantity made by empirical studies since 2011 is 60% cooler than the ECS that was assumed in the IPCC models. The noble Lord, Lord May, says that it is important to make a calculation of how much carbon we must produce by the middle of the century, but that depends upon your estimate of equilibrium climate sensitivity. If it turns out that it is as low as the range is now suggesting, and as the latest studies suggest, that changes the calculation entirely.
The sixth thing that the IPCC acknowledges is that transient climate response is lower. That is the more immediate policy-relevant number because it tells you how much warming actually happens by a particular point in the future rather than what takes a lot longer later. Seventhly, it acknowledges that sea-level rise, which is definitely happening, is lower than some authorities, such as Professor Rahmstorf, have tried to persuade us that it is. Eighthly, it says, using the words “very unlikely”, which it specifically defines in statistical terms, that a collapse of the Gulf Stream is very unlikely, that a collapse of the west Antarctic or Greenland ice sheet is very unlikely and that an explosion of methane from clathrates on the ocean floor is very unlikely.
Ninthly, it says that it has low confidence in a number of tipping points that were previously thought to be possible concerns: the collapse of tropical forests, of boreal forests and of the monsoon, an explosion of greenhouse gases from the Arctic permafrost and an increase in megadroughts. It says that it has low confidence in these things. These are major retreats. We know that the harm being done by climate change will arrive considerably later in this century. There is the harm being done now by decarbonisation policies: biofuels driving people into poverty, and wind costs driving up people’s energy bills and causing them trouble in heating their homes.
These problems are arising now and we are being dangerously close to callous if with higher energy costs we tighten even more the noose around the necks of needy people in this country. This week the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, has said that she thinks we should slow down this transition to renewables until we are more certain.
At the risk of being tedious, can I ask for a response to this account of what the IPCC said? This is not printed by some bunch of touchy-feely greenies, but comes from the Economist of a week or so ago. It stated that,
“the upper 75 metres of the oceans have warmed by 0.1°C a decade in the past 40 years and there is no sign of this slowing down. Water expands, and ice melts, as temperatures rise, so sea levels have risen 19cm in the past century and the Arctic sea ice has shrunk by about 500,000 square kilometres a decade since 1979.
These facts matter because the oceans cover seven-tenths of the Earth’s surface and are its primary heat sink (90% of the extra warming over the past 40 years has gone into the oceans). By most measures—though not all—global warming is continuing.
But what about the pause in air temperatures? Isn’t that a fact? Indeed it is. But right now it matters more to climate science than climate policy”—
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will understand that we are at Report stage. I am conscious of the rules at this stage and if there are frequent interruptions it gets very difficult. We should try to keep the rules on these matters.
My Lords, I will try to be brief. There has been no increase in sea surface temperatures over the past 10 years or so. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, says that shale gas does not provide an excuse to rethink this target, but the shale gas break-even price has come down dramatically in the United States as a result of increased experience of how to develop shale gas. Fields that were once thought to be break even at $6, $8 or $9 are now breaking even at $3, $4 or $5. Then if you add gas liquids—some fields have gas liquids and they are much higher value—and so on, it is very possible that we will see shale gas have the same effect on prices in this country as we saw in the United States.
I feel we must retain flexibility to research low-carbon technologies, to explore the possibilities of solar, carbon capture and storage and other forms of nuclear and, above all, to see what shale gas can do, but we should not lock in an expensive target now.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and Amendments 1 and 2. At the heart of this debate is the question of why decarbonisation is important. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, it sits at the heart of the Government’s Bill, and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, seeks to strengthen the position of decarbonisation at the heart of energy policy. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, told us that climate change is happening more slowly than expected. He justified that with some somewhat selective pickings from the fifth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reality of that report is that its overwhelming conclusion is that the atmosphere and the oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and are continuing to diminish, sea level has risen and each of the past three decades has been successively warmer at the earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.
Climate change is real and is happening. I wish the noble Viscount were right. I wish that it was not happening. I take no pleasure whatever in the fact that it is.
It is rather good to have on the record the noble Viscount’s opinion that climate change has been happening, and I have to say to him that it is a process that it is continuing.
I am the chairman of the Environment Agency in England. We are already seeing increasingly erratic and extreme patterns of weather here in the UK. Last year, in 2012, the first three months saw us in near drought. That was followed by 11 serious flooding events during the summer and autumn. In March, the River South Tyne was flowing at 28% of its average flow for that time of year; by June, two months later, it was running at 408% of its average flow for that time of year. I cannot say that the erratic weather patterns that we are now increasingly seeing in the UK are directly attributable to climate change, but I can say that this is precisely the sort of effect that climate science tells us we are going to see an awful lot more of over coming decades unless we do something serious about decarbonisation.
It looks as if we are heading for at least a 2 degree rise in global temperatures, and probably more, and the consequences of that for flooding, water supplies, agriculture, movement of population and human health are incalculable. Therefore, it is important for all of us to do what we can to take carbon out of our activities. Decarbonising energy production over the next 20 years is not just a “nice to have”, a luxury, or something to be thrown aside the first moment that some flak appears; it is essential if we are going to have anything remotely resembling a coherent and sustainable energy policy in the future.
A decarbonisation target is not just important because of climate change; it is essential in order to give confidence and certainty to the burgeoning renewables and energy efficiency industries. Putting clear targets in place will stimulate innovation and enable long-term investment and planning to take place. Energy, perhaps more than any other field of government policy, needs long-term thinking and, if at all possible, cross-party thinking, too. We have to put the parameters in place and make the target clear but achievable, then the ideas, investment, work and economic benefits will flow. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Oxburgh seeks to do precisely these things and I fully support it.
My Lords, we should start by recognising that the latest report of the IPCC is very clear. It is the product of the world’s most distinguished scientists and is looked at by the Governments of the world. The report is clearer than it has ever been that climate change is happening and that it is largely being caused by humankind. That is the summation. We could go through it and pick out the bits we want in order to make our particular point, saying that the position is worse or better than it seems. The truth is that the likely increase in temperature will be within a range of between 1.5 and 4 degrees centigrade, which is almost precisely the figure that the very first IPCC report put forward. There is a continuity, and that continuity now seems to be more certain.
These are, of course, carbon equivalents. In addition to that, there are the concerns related to other climate-changing effects—not least the fact that we now know that clouds amplify rather than diminish the effects of climate change, unhappily for those who used to put forward the argument that they were the future. We also know there is a severe likelihood of melting permafrost having a serious effect, in addition to methane. All these are in addition. We do not know by how much, but we do know that they are adding to rather than subtracting from, climate change.
The one thing we have to accept is that most of those skilled in this matter are warning us that climate change is a real danger. That puts those who disagree into difficulty because what they are asking us to do is to bet on them against those skilled in climatology and the like. They are asking that we should accept their interpretation against that of the IPCC. They may be right—I am not for one moment suggesting that they might not be—but it would be the foolish father of a family, a foolish government or a foolish company that bet the future not on the majority view of scientists, but on the relatively small minority of those who disagree. Therefore I am not surprised that more and more governments around the world are taking this view, as the GLOBE report—I declare an interest as its president—by the London School of Economics shows. They recognise that it is not possible to ignore climate change and still maintain their duty of care.
For that reason, I welcome the Government’s Energy Bill. As the Committee on Climate Change will serve any Government to do their job properly, and in speaking as its chairman I speak independently, I remind the House that the Government have already committed £7.6 billion in order to achieve what we need to achieve by 2020. In many ways, what the Government have done has been remarkable. The question is therefore whether the Committee on Climate Change is right in suggesting that a carbon intensity target for 2030 is a sensible way forward. I put it to the House that it is, for several clear reasons.
The first reason is that, having spent that £7.6 billion, if there is a cliff at the end of 2020 so that people do not realise how we intend to deal with things later, we will not get the investment we need and, in particular, we will not get the supply chain investment that is crucial for securing the jobs which should come from a green economy. This is not a climate-change reason at all; it is a business reason. As somebody who comes from the business world, it seems clear to me. The letter in today’s Financial Times, if that is a popular read at the moment, shows a large number of business people who are making that point. It is certainly true that most of those who are concerned with the industries we are talking about see it clearly.
The second reason it is so important is that statements made by prominent people unfortunately appear to have caused some to fear that we will not keep to our direct trajectory. I am not one of those; I am absolutely sure that we will. My noble friend Lady Verma, her team and the entire Government have made it clear that we have a statutory requirement to deliver by 2050 an 80% reduction in emissions, and that we will do that. I am therefore in no way concerned about this, but a lot of businesses are. I had a phone call over the weekend from a distinguished individual to ask whether I was sure that we are still going to do these things. If he as a man of considerable ability and an investor thought that, I can understand perfectly well why so many others do. So the second reason is to ensure that clarity.
The third reason is that we need a non-prescriptive mechanism. I served my noble friend Lord Jenkin for a long time as his parliamentary private secretary; I acknowledge and admire him enormously. He is right to put his finger on whether we need this in these circumstances, first, because of the concern about the European Union renewables target. I admit that when this Government came to power I tried to get them to go back on the decision of the previous Government to sign up to a renewables target, because I thought that it covered far too great an area. That was a mistake. It was a misunderstanding of the difference between energy and electricity and should not have been agreed to. However, we have it, and all the pressures will be to have a bigger renewables target. If I may for one moment lapse into party politics, I do not think that that is a very Conservative way forward. I do not think that you should choose winners in that way. It is one thing that worries me a bit about nuclear energy, because you have to if you are going to have it at all. That is why I am in favour of this non-prescriptive target. It merely gives the level of decarbonisation that we will need in 2030 in order to reach the 2050 target. Of course, those who do not believe in any of this will be opposed to it, and therefore it would be wrong of me to detail each of the differences that I have with those who have spoken. In case anyone should need to know them, I will make sure that the reasons why the interpretations of the documents are not right are available to the whole House, and why the noble Lord, Lord May, is correct.
The fourth reason why it is important to have this target is that it is the only thing that is consonant and consistent with what the Government are seeking to get in Europe. In other words, if we have this target, it is possible for the Government to say, “We prefer this target over a target for renewables”. Surely that is better for Britain, better for science, better for the future, and better for price. Furthermore, at the moment we are negotiating for a level of ambition in Europe that can be met only if we have such a target, so this fits in with the Government’s demands.
I have two further things to say. First, the Government have, as you would expect, put forward arguments against this amendment. I hope my noble friend will not mind me saying that one of them does not actually stand up. It is that, somehow or other, we cannot make this decision until we know what is happening in the European Union. The Committee on Climate Change took this argument very seriously. It spent a great deal of time looking at it and concluded that, whatever possible likely scenario happens in the European Union— unless it goes backwards—this particular proposal fits. Therefore, I do not think that we need to be concerned about that.
I come to my second point. If climate change is dangerous, and all the evidence shows that it is, what is the insurance worth? Everybody in this House has fire insurance costing around £140 or £150 a year. We all know that it is 99% likely that our house will not burn down, but for the 1%, we pay the premium because it is too frightening not to. We have something here that is 95% likely, and the cost we are charging this year is £60. By 2020, it will be £100. If we have the carbon intensity target, to that £100 will be added £20 a year. This is based on the most detailed and precise research. Frankly, the figures that have been quoted elsewhere are not true. They come from bodies like the TaxPayers’ Alliance, who want to have a big figure in order to frighten people. I do not think that that is helpful. You have sensible people on both sides—sensible people who think this is not the right way forward and sensible people who think it is the right way forward. However, let us not try to frighten anyone with figures that are not true.
If we want the jobs here, we need this amendment. If we want to reassure the country and the world that we are serious and that they can place their confidence and their business here, we need this target. If we want to keep ourselves in line in order that we do not end up with an impossible task later on, we need this target. Above all, what is the downside? Actually, the Government know that they have to reach this target. All they are doing is putting into legislation now—and getting so much for it—what they know they have to do. Surely the House should support the amendment on an all-party basis and make sure that this good Bill becomes a better one.
My Lords, I take a very different view from my noble friend Lord Deben. I thought that his last comments were quite inaccurate. He said that we will get jobs here because of the amendment but the wind farms that proliferate in Scotland do not bring any jobs here, as they are all made overseas. I have talked to the companies that say that they need this amendment in order to invest here. They are all worried about investment, but not because they are worried about whether this amendment will go through; they are worried about whether Britain will remain part of the EU or not. That is where they will invest. They are not worried about whether they will invest in a tiny little island on the north-west coast of Europe; they will invest in Europe, and if we are not part of Europe we can have as many amendments as your Lordships like, but the investment will not come here. I think that my noble friend Lord Deben was quite wrong and misleading to the House to stress that last point in the way that he did.
It was also confusing—as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, was confusing—to talk about climate change as though it was something new. My ancestors sailed to Newfoundland and the new world long before Columbus got there. They had settlements in Greenland. Between that time and now the Tiber has frozen over, and if the historians are correct, the Nile has frozen over. Climate change has happened. If one wants to talk generally about climate change, yes, we all agree that it is happening, has happened and will happen in the future. The specific argument is about what percentage of that climate change is related to the carbon emissions of the past 200 years or so, which is a different and much more specific argument.
Before I address Amendment 1, I will chide the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, who, sadly, is no longer in his place. It is very unfair to the House to put down a starred amendment on the first day of Report. It is a bad way to treat the House, and a bad way for the amendment to be treated. None of us is discussing it; none of us has been able to look at it and give it the attention it is due. Considering that the House reassembled at least three weeks ago, it is quite unnecessary to have a starred amendment for the first day of Report.
I turn specifically to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I agree with him that shale gas is not a panacea, for two reasons. As I said in Committee and in earlier debates on energy in this House, the cost of extraction of shale gas will be considerably more than most people realise. In this country it will be very hard to be allowed to extract gas. There are all those who say, “We mustn’t burn coal and gas—but you can’t do anything that will make it better. If shale gas makes it better we’re going to block the roads and stop the development and research”. That will make it increasingly hard to try to develop shale gas to its potential—to what it could do, regardless of the costs of its investment.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, criticised the Government for putting nuclear energy into the hands of two foreign companies. Who is to blame for that? In the 1950s we were the world leaders in nuclear energy and had a huge advantage. We could have a number of small nuclear reactors all around the country, very low carbon—or, rather, with no carbon emissions at all—and this amendment would not be necessary. We have thrown away the lead we had in nuclear energy, which was a huge mistake. Even in 2003 the Labour White Paper, quite rightly condemned as a disaster by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, last Thursday, ruled out any option of nuclear. We have shot ourselves in the foot on one of the greatest resources we have, to decarbonise this world.
I disagree, therefore, with my noble friend Lord Deben on this amendment. What we are now talking about is whether the decarbonisation target comes in in 2014 or in 2016 because it will be part of the fifth carbon budget. That is now written into the legislation. What are the consequences if we go ahead by ourselves? Again, I disagree with my noble friend Lord Deben on this. It will affect Europe because there will be continued carbon leakage. There is no doubt, regarding investment, that if people and companies look at this country and see that the rules are tighter here than in the rest of Europe, they will move their resources and production elsewhere.
I think it was my noble friend Lord Ridley who mentioned the amount of leakage there has already been. It is important in Europe that we act as one and that we have the same targets. When Sub-Committee
D looked at energy and produced its report
No Country is an Energy Island: Securing Investment for the EU’s Future, it was clear that one of the problems in Europe is that each country is doing its own thing. Here is a chance, on the question of energy, to get a more European approach to stop the carbon leakage.
That carbon leakage, on an international scale, is costing the EU dear. It is one of the great drawbacks to getting any growth back into Europe. Businesses in America are thriving. They are taking business that emigrated to the Far East back into the US because of the cheapness of shale gas. There are downsides in going ahead by ourselves. If there is carbon leakage, it is going to affect our international competitiveness. We need every bit of help we can get for our businesses.
When we looked, in Sub-Committee D, at the question of energy, it was quite clear that there is what is termed a trilemma. The trilemma is the green issues—how to decarbonise as quickly and as safely as possible— security of supply, and affordability. Getting that balance right is an almost impossible target, not just for this Government but for any Government.
The evidence to date proves to me that that scenario is out of kilter. There has been too much emphasis on the green issues, not enough on security of supply and affordability. That is another reason why I think we should wait for 2016. I do not see the justification for moving forward now as this can be done in a much more rational and less costly way in two years’ time.
I have never spoken against a Labour amendment in my 28 years in this House, but I propose to do so today because I am troubled by this misguided amendment. I should make it clear I am not a climate-change denier—an offensive word, from which I have suffered. I am a questioner. I accept that the globe is warming mildly, 0.8% of 1 degree in 131 years, although the surface stopped warming 17 years ago. I accept that the warming is almost certainly linked to carbon emissions and human activity, and I support curbing those emissions in a measured way. The questions that concern me are how much warming will happen, how damaging it will be, how we react in our policies, and how sensitive the climate is to carbon emissions. I note that this century carbon emissions have rocketed, but there has been no further warming of the surface of the globe.
As regards extreme weather, I say to my noble friend Lord Smith, for whom I have the greatest respect and affection, that I believe the IPCC said it could find no evidence that extreme weather was occurring globally. I am troubled from a Labour position—not a denier position—that reactive policy-making, as is the case with this amendment, is not justified by the evidence, and I am troubled by the consequences of that for ordinary people. These policies hurt the poor, given rocketing energy prices, although there seems to be argument about how much the relevant figure will be. The noble Lord, Lord Turner, tried to set it very low. Last week I received an answer from the Department of Energy and Climate Change that put a figure of 9% on green taxes. However, they will increase significantly by 2020. The increases may not look much to noble Lords but will be painful for ordinary people. Such increases will hurt jobs as high energy costs make industry uncompetitive. Indeed, Grangemouth stated that one of its reasons for being unviable was the high cost of energy. Not much notice has been taken of the fact that its rescue plan contained a proposal to build a terminal to import shale gas from the United States. It is sad that it has to import it from the United States. The greens, of course, oppose shale gas.
I oppose the amendment because it entrenches the rapid switch to inefficient and grossly expensive renewable energy sources. I understand that those of a strong green faith—and we are frequently dealing with faith—support this amendment. As has been made clear, their main priority is the rapid decarbonisation of our planet regardless of the costs. However, as a Labour person, I believe that other priorities should be balanced with that—not against it—such as protecting jobs and protecting the public from fuel poverty. Under recent green energy policies, but not wholly because of them, fuel poverty threatens to rise, affecting more than 6 million people. The figure will rise further if these renewables policies are imposed to the extent intended.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and read the briefing from my Front Bench. I question at least three of its main arguments. The first is that gas prices will remain very high and so renewables will not seem expensive by comparison. However, we simply do not know what energy prices will be. I do not share the certainty of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, in that regard. In 1974, I was in No. 10 when we were hit by a 400% increase in energy prices which no one had forecast. In the 1980s, in the City I managed top energy analysts and they did not know what would happen with energy prices, and, of course, firms such as Shell and Centrica spend billions of pounds hedging because they do not know either.
It is a mistake to do as is proposed in this amendment and further lock in the commitment to the massive use of renewables at high prices with no escape if, for instance, gas prices halve. I do not know what will happen. I do not think that those who have put their name to this amendment know either although they claim to. It is possible that shale development could reduce gas prices, as it has in the United States. I am not convinced by the opening dismissal of that on the basis that shale prices in America mightincrease in time, because shale supply will increase greatly throughout the world. However, most greens oppose shale, perhaps because if we had shale we would not need the inefficient and expensive windmills which blight our countryside.
The second assertion I question is that renewable prices will fall in the medium term because greater efficiency will cut energy use. That may be but, again, we do not know. I hope so, but it is speculation. The Green Deal to increase efficiency of use, which I support broadly—though not in all of its implementation—is a testing point. However, according to the department, only 54 households have signed up so far: not much increased efficiency of use there. We need more flexibility in our approach and, although I have rarely supported the proposals of a Conservative Government, the Government are actually right on this.
A third disputable assertion is that we must commit to huge renewable investments now, with tight targets and huge subsidies. It has been quoted that business is very keen to have this. Of course they are keen: I have floods of leaflets through my door asking me to invest in these green projects. As they say, this is a bonanza; we are guaranteed an annuity of a huge real return. However, who pays for these huge subsidies? I can tell you, and you know. If we stick to the current regressive consumer subsidies through energy bills, it is customers—especially the poor—who pay. Or, if we switch to taxation and debt to pay them, it is the taxpayer and a higher deficit pay. Neither of those courses is particularly attractive to me, as a Labour person.
As it often is with extreme green climate policies, the price paid, either way, comes soon, higher and painfully while the alleged benefits, some of which may happen, are vague, unquantifiable and distant. An additional worry is that the Labour Party is now focusing successfully on cutting the cost of living and even imposing an energy price freeze. The amendment will, most probably, raise the cost of living and is in conflict with a future energy price freeze.
I may be dim, and I may not have been in the Labour Party for long enough to understand how it appreciates these things—it is 60 years this month since I joined—but the amendment is, surely, incompatible with our main policies. I suspect the electorate will see through it. I cannot see why I, as a Labour person, should support the amendment: it hits jobs and is likely to increase fuel poverty. Politically, I am aware that yesterday’s big poll showed that 60% of the public oppose green taxes so I am not sure that is a great flag to wave before the next election. The poor should not pay the price of green dreams.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, I shall not be supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I am also a Labour person but an independent Labour person, so I shall not be supporting the Labour Party this afternoon. However, I want to say one or two things about the amendment and the debate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, in a detailed critique, settled many of the arguments that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was absolutely right to say that the Bill is not about energy but decarbonisation. The two things are quite different. I have been asking a lot of questions about energy and decarbonisation, and the latest reply I received from the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was that the Government are responsible for 14% of the average bill paid by consumers for energy. The companies, for which I hold no brief, are getting between 5% and 6%. They are being demonised for increasing the bills and yet the Government are responsible for three times as much of the bills as the companies are.
When I was in the Labour Party before I was expelled for supporting Labour people instead of Tories—defecting Tories, incidentally—I opposed from the Front Bench the privatisation of the gas and electricity industries and I believe that was the right thing to do. It may very well be that the Labour Party, because it now apparently believes in socialism, will consider whether it wants to renationalise those industries if it gets into power at the next general election. However, that is by the by.
My other point is that like most other sensible people I believe that climate changes but like other noble Lords I believe that it is not necessarily carbon emissions that are causing the climate to change at present—if there is any significant climate change at all. However, the Government, Opposition and virtually everyone else say that climate change is due to carbon dioxide emitted by humans and their activities. That may or may not be true but unfortunately the Government do not deal with the problem. If climate change is due to human activity, why on earth are we not doing something about the predicted increase in the population from the present 7 billion to 9 billion? That really is going to exacerbate the problem. An extra 2 billion people will be emitting more carbon dioxide and their activities will add to the problem. Why do the Government not have a population policy? That would meet the problem without the Bill and without the amendment.
Then, of course, there is the possibility that carbon is not the real problem, that perhaps it is not global warming we ought to fear but global freezing. I am old enough to remember a lot of climate changes in my life and there seems to be some sort of circle. They come around now and again. However, suppose the people in the 1970s who said we are going to have a new ice age are right. Then we would be wrong in trying to reduce. If the warmists and the people who believe in carbon dioxide causing global warming are right, we would need extra carbon dioxide to deal with the ice age rather than less. This is becoming quite an issue. I read in the Daily Express today an article—
I am sorry I have gone downmarket a bit. I am quite sure noble Lords will want to take more notice of the Financial Times, which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, rather than me, but I saw this in the Daily Express. It is not the view of the Daily Express; it is the view of Professor Mike Lockwood of Reading University, who said that,
“erratic and extreme weather patterns could be the norm in 20 years. He said the risk of harsh winters and wet miserable summers has gone up to 25 to 30 per cent compared with 10 per cent a few years ago. Weakening sunspot activity is to blame for a ‘major change’ in the UK’s weather he told BBC TV. He said: ‘The sun is ‘quietening’ really rapidly. We think it is actually quietening more rapidly than at any time in the last 10,000 years’”.
We are entitled to take Professor Lockwood’s view into account as well as the views of other people. If he is right then we should be taking a completely different course on climate change. I hope that the Government will take note of what he said. Finally, I hope that they will indeed take some action to ensure that the people of this country—the energy consumers—are not put to further expense by additional green measures. Perhaps there could be a reduction in the cost of those as well.
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene at a late stage in this debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, for tabling the amendment that we are discussing because it has enabled this extremely wide-ranging debate over a whole lot of matters that are not specifically aimed at the wording of the amendment. I am bound to express the view, which the House might agree with, that having had this debate at the start of Report I hope we will not have to repeat it.
The debate reminds me so much of the distinction between climate and weather. This morning, I tried to set out to come here. Every road I attempted to pass down was blocked by a fallen tree for about the first three hours of the day, and it was impossible. Of course I am here—that is noble Lords’ misfortune but that cannot be helped. The fact of the matter is that that is weather, and weather is only a part of the climate. This debate makes me think more and more of weather. However, the conclusions we come to and set in our debate will create the Bill and will set the climate. That is the significance of what we are discussing.
The second thing I wanted to say is that it is entirely appropriate to have this debate here. I ask noble Lords to set their minds back 200 years, although that may not be possible. It was a whole series of British innovations, by people who thought originally and did not accept the limitations under which they worked at the time, which set off the Industrial Revolution, which of course is largely responsible for creating the world as we know it today. It is appropriate that we have this sort of wide-ranging discussion because you could, in one sense, say that our predecessors brought about the conditions which we now have to take steps to correct. It is a pleasure to be doing this.
I want to come back to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, where he implied that shale gas was not perhaps that significant an issue. For me, disregarding the fact that the amendment is only making two years’ difference in the way we take our decisions, this is the reason why it should not in fact be passed, The thing about shale gas is that it is very much an unknown quantity: it could be a game-changer but it might not be. I do not think we should hasten towards long-term decisions, which will set the investment climate, unless we are fairly sure of the ground on which we stand. Shale gas is not a British or a United States issue but a global one. We know that there are large deposits in the Mediterranean and I understand that there are large deposits in many parts of China. There are presumably large deposits elsewhere in the world, so this is an issue that we have to take care of.
So far as I am concerned, shale has the potential—I would put it no higher than that—to be a real interim technology that can change the nature of the game. Some of the environmental lobbies do not like it, as it is a fossil fuel. When I was first here, a Member of this House at the time said to me that we should remember that all our energy sources are nuclear. We can have our nuclear power station here or we can have it 98 million miles away, but we should remember, when we discuss fossil fuels, that they are nothing more than geologically stored solar energy. Those who deride these technologies need to put their thinking caps on.
The second thing about shale gas is that it would enable a revolution in electricity generation, because of not one but two factors. In conjunction with carbon capture and storage, it should be possible to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation to almost, if not completely, zero. However, much more important than that, the technology is very clean. One of the things that appals me about our electricity generating industry is that, historically, because it has been a pretty dirty technology, it has had to be sited very far from large communities and conurbations. With clean technology, we could site power generation on the urban fringe, which could bring about a revolution in power generation, because we could use the waste heat productively in the community to heat homes. That is a major consideration as far as I am concerned. It is all very well having a nuclear power station out in the Severn estuary but it means that the energy efficiency of that power station is somewhere between only 40% and 50%, rather like an internal combustion engine. If we want to get efficient generation, we have to find a way of using that waste heat. That is, in a sense, a red herring in terms of the debate, but it is the reason why I do not think that these amendments should pass. I think we need more time to find out what we are really dealing with.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak at the end of this debate—a wide-ranging debate, something on which other noble Lords have commented. I am delighted to add my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, this afternoon. I will not get drawn into the debate that we have had about the climate science, because other noble Lords have done that far better than I could: the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Finsbury, Lord May, Lord Krebs and Lord Deben, have all, very clearly and lucidly, explained the dire situation and the threats that we face with climate change. I am also not going to comment on individual technologies, as it is very clear to me that the debate we should be having today is about the principle of decarbonisation, not about individual technologies. Nothing in any of these amendments dictates that we use renewables, do not use shale gas or use nuclear. They are entirely technologically neutral, which is one of their great assets and benefits. It is fair to say that on this issue we, as a party, and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, are very close to DECC Ministers. We are not here to debate whether or not we should set a decarbonisation target but simply to debate when that target should be set. The Bill has been amended during its passage to state that a target will be set in 2016. The lead amendment is really about timing, and I have a few words to say about why it is right to set that target now.
The main reason is that, without this amendment and without bringing forward the setting of this target, the Bill largely lacks purpose. It is an enabling Bill which includes many measures that enable the Secretary of State to do things at his or her own discretion, but does not require anybody to actually do anything very specific. Therefore, despite the fact that we have been deliberating the Bill for many months—indeed, years now—investors are not celebrating the fact that it is nearly complete and are not yet clear about what the Bill actually delivers. There is still insufficient clarity of purpose, too much doubt about the Government’s commitment to cleaning up and modernising our electricity sector, and too much control now being given to the Government, who, unfortunately, are equivocating about the need for low-carbon investment. The Bill does not enable enough competition to ensure a broader range of projects and investors are delivered by it. The Bill is an enabling Bill and lacks a clear purpose. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, is intended to address that failing.
I have no doubt that the Minister will say that it is not targets, in and of themselves, that will drive investment. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has already indicated that that is what he believes. That would be true if we could point to detailed elements of the Bill that gave certainty. The mechanisms that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, alluded to, which I have no doubt the Minister will also allude to, including the contracts for difference, the strike prices and the capacity mechanism, are not being celebrated by industry; in fact, quite the opposite. We are hearing very strongly that, for example, the strike prices being offered for offshore wind do precisely the opposite of enabling investment and actually deter it. The same is true of the capacity mechanism, which we were told would bring forward investment in gas power generation. Again, this part of the Bill is not being celebrated. It is being lamented because it does not appear to give the certainty investors need. We need to see action, not just targets, but unfortunately, without a target, it seems clear that action will not be delivered.
This is a modest and very moderate amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, could, had he wished, have put in place an amendment that dictated a target in the Bill. He has not done that; he has merely asked that the target be set by April next year. One might say, “Well, of course that’s sensible”, but in other parts of the Bill there are numerate and precise numbers which, when the Government see fit to try to encourage gas investment, they seem perfectly happy to put on the face of the Bill. I am alluding to the energy performance standard, which is incredibly prescriptive and detailed. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has not followed that; he has made a moderate and necessary amendment and I hope that the Members of this House will find support for it.
If we want to get to the real reason why this amendment is potentially going to be blocked by the Minister, it is not because we do not have a fifth carbon budget. It is absolutely clear to me that if the noble Lord, Lord Deben, as the chair of the CCC, can advocate the setting of this target, then there is clearly no link between the need for a carbon budget and the need for a carbon intensity target. The two things do very different jobs, and it is merely a ruse to state that we must wait for it.
It is also wrong to say that we cannot move without Europe. The situation in Europe is that we are being asked to consider a renewables target, as many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Deben have alluded to. We may not want a renewables target in 2030, but we may be dictated to by Germany to have one, which seems absolutely certain that that is what it wants. If we had a decarbonisation target set early, we could then influence that debate and prevent the setting of a technology-specific target in favour of a decarbonisation target.
It seems clear that these reasons for opposing these moderate amendments are not the real ones. The real reason is that there is a complete lack of cohesion within the Government on whether we want to seriously pursue our climate change targets. One need look no further than Prime Minister’s Question Time just a week ago when a panicked Prime Minister was making up policy on the hoof. Without a real response to Labour’s challenge on how to bring prices down, he has now started blaming green electricity, or indeed social, environmental and energy-efficiency policies for those price rises.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, that it is absolutely consistent for us to call for a decarbonisation target while wanting to see changes to the way that our electricity market is run. We have a regulator that is not fit for purpose, and an oligopolistic energy market that needs to be broken open so that we can have true competition and transparency and see that we are not overpaying for the electricity that is generated.
The real nub of this debate is: why can we not set the target now? Why are the Government insisting that it be set after the next election? It is purely political expediency because they have been unable to arrive at a sensible position in government. I really hope that Liberal Democrats—who have this as part of their party policy—will stand up and vote for this amendment because it is absolutely clear that, although many things are being attempted with this Bill, the bargain that has been struck is not yet balanced. The levy control framework that has been wrested from the Treasury is only a promissory note. That £7.6 billion that may be spent on clean energy will be spent only if strike prices are agreed at the right level. If all of the control that is being given to government means that the strike prices are continually set at the wrong level, we will see no investment and we will have sacrificed clarity of purpose for a bargain which will not ultimately deliver what I think the Liberal Democrats believe it will.
As I said, I am not going to get involved in the debate on climate science. However, I will say that if we are thinking that this amendment will somehow damage our competitiveness, that somehow Europe and the UK are out on their own tackling climate change, then that is absolutely incorrect. The most dynamic economies—China, Germany, California, South America—all now accept that the only future for energy is clean energy, and that we must act together to globally decarbonise. I am sure that we will see in Paris in 2015 the passing of an international framework that will demonstrate that we are not alone and that the big economic powerhouses of the US and China are behind this too. We will therefore move forward in tandem and it will not be a race to the bottom as some would prefer.
In the other place, this amendment was lost very narrowly; had 12 votes gone the other way, it would have been put into the Bill. That, of course, is in a situation where there is a large government majority.
Here, in this House, the balance of power is such that on issues of great importance we can send a strong signal to the Government that they have got something wrong and must institute a rethink. This issue of when we set this target is not a huge issue but it is one of those important issues where we must cause the Government to rethink.
The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh should be commended for tabling these moderate amendments. I hope that if the opinion of the House should be tested, we will be able to cause the Government to rethink this important issue.
My Lords, these amendments have attracted significant debate across the House today and I am extremely grateful for the insights of all noble Lords who have spoken. However, the Government do not agree that the Bill should be amended as proposed and I shall set out the reasons for this.
The provisions in Part 1 set out a logical, measured approach that enables the Government to set the UK’s first sector-specific carbon intensity target in law. Once set, the provisions place a legal duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the target is achieved. This brings with it important responsibilities. It is not something that should be rushed into. A target would have significant implications for the power sector, consumers and the wider economy. It is therefore vital to understand fully, based on evidence, whether a target represents the best approach to meeting our economy-wide carbon budgets cost-effectively and, if so, what level it should be set at.
The right time to consider this is in 2016, not 2014 as proposed by Amendment 1, as 2016 is when, in line with the requirements of the Climate Change Act, we will be undertaking extensive analysis to set the level of the fifth carbon budget in law, incorporating advice from the Committee on Climate Change. At that point we can consider a decarbonisation target within the broader context of the trajectory of our whole economy towards our 2050 target.
Moreover, in 2016 we will have a better understanding of how low-carbon forms of electricity have developed, the commercial deliverability of carbon capture and storage, the uptake of electric vehicles, and how the market is responding to the reforms included in this Bill. We will also have a clearer idea of a future climate change package both at the global and the EU level. These are important considerations when looking at the UK’s targets for 2030. By contrast, the noble Lord’s proposed approach would mean rushing to set a target in less than six months. As it stands, there are significant uncertainties now as to the energy mix that will best meet our objectives of secure, sustainable and affordable energy. This would make setting a robust target challenging.
In terms of investor certainty, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, the Energy Bill as it stands will,
“provide sufficient incentives to attract investment in low carbon forms of energy”.
“The incentive structures contained in the Bill are far more important than targets or aspirations, because they are the mechanism for action”.—[Hansard, 18/6/13; col. 192.]
This is not forgetting that since January 2010 there have been announcements that could see more than £29 billion of investment in renewable energy. This speaks for itself. Clearly, a decarbonisation target is not the only way to encourage investment.
On Amendment 2, I fully agree with noble Lords that there should be a role for the Committee on Climate Change. In line with its responsibilities under the Climate Change Act, it is due to provide advice on the level of the fifth carbon budget. This covers the 2030 period. This analysis is perfectly sufficient to advise on a decarbonisation target range and it is therefore unnecessary to include further provisions in the Bill.
Amendment 2A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, proposes setting annual carbon intensity limits on electricity suppliers. I do not support this amendment for three key reasons. First, the government reforms in the Bill support market-based mechanisms to incentivise a cost-effective transition to low-carbon power. Introducing an annual carbon limit on suppliers would be contrary to this approach. Secondly, the proposal would introduce confusion around accountability. The Government’s provisions clearly place legal responsibility for meeting the target range on the Secretary of State. This position should be maintained since it is he or she who is responsible for setting UK energy policy and is ultimately accountable to Parliament. Lastly, this is a blunt instrument which could have unintended consequences. We are not convinced that the proposal would not undermine our security of supply objectives. We are also concerned that the amendment may lead to an increase in consumer bills if the costs of compliance are passed on from energy suppliers to consumers.
The Government are not willing to accept these amendments today. However, we considered the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, in Grand Committee. This proposed that the Secretary of State explain the actions to be taken to stay on track to meet the target over time. The Government support the aim of transparent reporting and I therefore commit to the House that, where carbon intensity is reported to have increased year on year for three consecutive years, the Government will explain the reasons why, and, where appropriate, report additional actions to address it within the annual statement of grid carbon intensity.
In conclusion, I hope that noble Lords can see the drawbacks of rushing to set a target next year. We want a much more measured approach. We all want to see decarbonisation continue—and this Bill enables that—but we must all be mindful that any targets set now will impact on consumer bills. Without having the more detailed information that is needed across all sectors, and without looking at our position against our European partners and more widely globally, setting a target would put us in isolation and make us uncompetitive against our partners.
We have to be sensible and see this as an opportunity to debate the subject but to set it in the appropriate context. We do not know which technologies will realistically be able to be deployed in the 2020s. As the EEF has warned,
“should current assumptions about the development of carbon capture technology, the level of investment in nuclear power, the cost of offshore wind or the future price of gas prove wrong the UK could end up committed to an unrealistic and extremely costly target”.
We need to keep these issues very much in mind. Ultimately, what we decide will be borne by the consumer. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in this very interesting discussion. I apologise for the fact that what I had intended to be a rather narrow, technical discussion has turned into a debate that has been much more like a Second Reading. Nevertheless, I think it has done a great deal to clear the air. I am extremely sensitive to the question of consumer prices and there is a real debate to be had about to what extent some of the measures that we have been talking about should go on to energy bills and to what extent they should be borne by general taxation. I am not taking a position on that but it is well worth discussing.
I think I found something with which I could agree in almost all the speeches that have been made, from whichever side of the House—even in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. There are things about this Bill that I do not like but we have to have a Bill and we have to have it urgently. However, I think his cover is blown: on the basis of his comments today, we can be pretty sure that he is moonlighting as a leader writer for the FT. I also agree with those noble Lords who have questioned the overly prescriptive nature of the EU targets. We could well do without them and I would like to see the Government do what they can to renegotiate or indeed disregard them. On the other hand, to believe that what I and my co-proposers have suggested today will have any additional impact on consumer bills beyond that to which we are already committed through existing agreements is a misunderstanding.
On the 2030 target, I have to say that, given the length of time this proposal has been around, the “rushing” argument is a little bit rich. We know precisely the views of the Committee on Climate Change. We have had them from several members of the committee today. We know what the committee expects and what its forward look demands for 2030. Waiting for the next carbon budget is a little bit of a procrastination and I do not think that it is a serious, substantial objection.
If one takes the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, that one is unconvinced that human intervention is having a significant effect on long-term climate—
I thank the noble Lord. I was about to go on and say that I think his position is rational in that situation but that he is entirely wrong in his assessment of the science. There is also a political argument to be had over what one subsequently does.
This is something on which I feel it is necessary to test the opinion of the House, so I would like to do that.
Amendment 2 not moved.
Amendment 2A not moved.
Clause 5: General considerations relating to this Part
Moved by Lord Whitty
3: Clause 5, page 5, line 22, after “electricity” insert “in general;
( ) the strategy and objectives to be set out under section 136 of this Act for addressing fuel poverty;”
My Lords, I do not think that this issue will take us quite as long as the previous debate. Indeed, it could be disposed of relatively straightforwardly as the Government could quite easily adopt this amendment. Frankly, they would be very wise to do so. If the Minister cannot do that, she can at least indicate that she will bring forward an equivalent but better drafted amendment at Third Reading.
This amendment concerns the issue of fuel poverty and its relativity to electricity market reform. Noble Lords will recall that when the Bill went through the House of Commons and first reached this House there was hardly any direct reference to fuel poverty in it—a glaring omission. The organisations concerned with fuel poverty and the people who suffer from it thought that was a serious omission and quite shocking in many ways. But we have moved on from that: in Clause 136, much later in the Bill, the Government have come up with a provision requiring them to provide a strategy on fuel poverty that will apply to the whole range of energy policies.
There are those who have doubts about the coalition Government’s commitment on this front. There has not been a great track record on fuel poverty so far. The hesitation and delay in bringing fuel poverty into this Bill has been worrying, as has the recent furore within the Government. As far as one can make out from the various statements by the Prime Minister and Secretary of State, there is still an argument going on in the Government. Many in the Conservative Party appear to have in their sights not only green levies in the strict sense of the word but also those levies that provide for resources to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of the fuel poor. I will be generous today and accept that the Government have agreed that a new strategy is to be provided, one which this Bill will give legislative requirement for. We can have a substantive discussion on fuel poverty at that point in the procedure of the Bill, sometime next week.
The point today is that the Government have inserted in the clause that we have just dealt with that fuel poverty is one of the matters that Ministers must have in mind when setting decarbonisation targets. In relation to the electricity market reform, there is no such reference. I suggest that reference could be made most appropriately here in Clause 5. Clause 5 stipulates the issues that have to be taken into account in electricity market reform: decarbonisation, referencing the Climate Change Act, prices for consumers both domestic and industrial, and energy security. The environmental and economic dimensions of electricity market reform are there but the social dimension—that of fuel poverty—is omitted.
Now that Clause 136 is part of the Bill—whether or not we improve it when we get to that point—surely we should now make sure that the Bill’s major intervention in the market, the complete reform of the electricity part of the market, is stipulated. We can obviously have the substantive arguments on Clause 136 later but that clause’s very existence and the Government’s acceptance of the need for it must mean that the social dimension of electricity market reform should be recognised and reflected at this point.
It would be sensible for the Government just to accept this amendment, although they could argue that it should be in both parts of Clause 5 rather than just one. It would be equally sensible if the Minister told me that she would come forward with a much better amendment at Third Reading. But, given the logic of what is now the Government’s point of view and for the House to recognise the importance of tackling fuel poverty as an equal part with the other strategic objective of the energy policy, we should adopt something like this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have great sympathy for the words spoken by the noble Lord. He and I and one or two others in this House have campaigned on fuel poverty for a number of years, although he will remember that, when as a Minister he wrote his draft fuel poverty strategy, he hoped to eradicate it by 2010. That indicates what a difficult issue this is. I am grateful to the Government for, after cross-party lobbying, putting into the Bill a strategy for fuel poverty. I am very pleased about that.
This is very pertinent at the moment. I do not know if noble Lords noticed that as the storm went through the temperature dropped. I only just made it in on my train today. As I walked across, I could feel the temperature dropping. Elderly people particularly are getting very worried about how they will pay their fuel bills this winter. We know but many do not understand that if you are older and have heart problems, problems with blood circulation and so on, you do not need to get very cold for it to have a serious effect.
I have campaigned on this issue for as many years as I care to think about. In my 20s, I lived in Stockholm in Sweden where pensioners did not die in wintertime because they were too cold. They did not have arthritis. They lived in properly heated houses. Here we are in 2013 and we have still not managed to achieve that. I recognise that it is a very difficult problem but I hope that my noble friend can at least give us some warm words in response to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Many noble Lords care passionately about this issue. It is time, as one of the richest nations in the world, that we dealt with it.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest: I am a vice-president of National Energy Action and the president of Energy Action Scotland. The Government have made some moves on this issue in the course of the Bill’s passage, but it would help if they would add to the list of objectives they have set themselves the one concerning fuel poverty mentioned in this amendment tonight. That would be a signal that this is not an issue of party conflict, and indeed that the Government have recognised that one of the deficiencies in the Bill was that insufficient attention was initially given to fuel poverty.
Now that we have had recognition, we can probably argue about the niceties when the appropriate time comes. We are all in favour of the earliest possible elimination of fuel poverty. It is not just about prices. It is about handling our grossly inadequate housing stock. Before too long we may well have to look afresh at the Green Deal that at the moment has, as far as I know, attracted something like 57 successful completions—one for every one of Heinz’s varieties; that is perhaps all that one could say about the proposal. People may find the money and find it attractive to accept the Green Deal at the 7.5% interest that is being charged, but I very much doubt it.
More has to be done on this. It would be helpful to have a clear indication that an opportunity is available with this amendment to put in the Bill, as one of the overarching targets of the Government’s energy policy, that we should as a high priority be able to eliminate fuel poverty. If we all agree on it, why is it not there? It is not a particularly controversial amendment. It is one that would enhance the credibility of the Bill and make easier the passage of future elements in it, which I am sure that the Minister is looking forward to bringing before this House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his amendment and all noble Lords who have taken part in this short but important debate. It gives me an opportunity to lay out the Government’s objectives for reform throughout the development of the EMR proposals. These objectives have been set out in the published documents, from our White Paper in July 2011 and within Clause 5, to reflect our aims of reform. This does not mean that other aims, such as minimising fuel poverty, are not important. I agree with noble Lords that this area is incredibly important to us all. As outlined in Clause 5(2)(d), the Secretary of State will have regard to the likely cost of electricity to consumers. This means all consumers, including the fuel poor.
Our analysis suggests that, as a result of EMR, household electricity bills will be on average around 9%, or £63, lower per year over the period 2016 to 2030, relative to what they would have been if decarbonisation were achieved through existing policy instruments. The impact of EMR will be to reduce fuel poverty compared to what it would have been without those policies in place.
However, we should not be complacent. With or without EMR, electricity prices are likely to increase over time due to rising fossil fuel prices and the rising cost of carbon. This is why we have in place a strong package of measures to support low-income and vulnerable households with their energy costs. The energy company obligation ensures that help goes to low-income and vulnerable households to enable them to heat their homes more affordably on a long-term basis. Through the affordable warmth and carbon-saving communities obligations, we anticipate that support should reach around 230,000 low-income households each year. In addition, this winter around 2 million households will get help under the warm home discount scheme, including over 1 million of the poorest pensioners, who will receive £135 off their electricity bill.
In the last financial year, winter fuel payments helped over 12.5 million older people in over 9 million households with their fuel bills, providing between £100 and £300 tax-free to help pay for heating bills. During the same period, 5.8 million cold weather payments were made, targeted at those households that are most vulnerable to the cold. This Government are committed to helping the fuel poor, now and in the future. That is why earlier this year I proposed amendments to the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act, to put in place a new, rigorous and flexible framework for measuring the Government’s progress in tackling fuel poverty in England. As we move forward with ensuring a safe low-carbon future we must be absolutely sure that we do not leave the fuel poor behind.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the Prime Minister’s announcements last week on green taxes and the review of their impact on the fuel poor. The Government are looking at how to get people’s energy bills as low as possible to help the very families to which the noble Lord refers. We are already increasing competition by bringing new players into the market to offer consumers real choice. The most vulnerable are getting direct help with their bills this winter. We will continue this work to make sure that consumers get a better deal. No one is talking about changing support for large-scale renewables or feed-in tariffs. We want to make sure that those who need help get help. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, finds my explanation reassuring and on that basis will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I also omitted to declare an interest. I am chair of a charity that deals with research into fuel poverty.
I am a bit disappointed by the Minister. It is correct that the Government have a number of policies coming on-stream that are directed at dealing with fuel poverty. Unfortunately the start of their period of office saw a substantial reduction in support given to tackling fuel poverty through the abolition of the Warm Front scheme, which was taxpayer-funded. For the first time in 30 years we are without a taxpayer-funded scheme to deal with fuel poverty. In so far as the objection to the ECO and other green tariffs is valid, it is partly because they are made on a poll-tax and not a progressive-taxation basis.
While the Government’s strategy has some commendable features that I hope move it in the right direction, it is not a sufficient answer to the failure of successive Governments to meet the targets that were set—as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said—back in 2000 to eliminate fuel poverty in general. It was actually by 2016 rather than 2010 so we still have two years to do it, but we definitely need a new strategy, which Clause 136 recognises. In view of how the Minister has portrayed the current schemes dealing with fuel poverty as being adequate, I suspect that we will have a few arguments when we come to Clause 136. I am glad that it is there.
I hope that the Minister will go away and think about the point that I am making: electricity is the main form of energy that the fuel poor use. They rely on it disproportionately for their heating. Any electricity market reform part of this Bill should reflect that interest. The way that we deliver electricity, the choices that we make in terms of the source of that electricity and the kind of tariffs and levies that we impose on that electricity make an enormous difference to the way that they impact differentially on the fuel poor. It is correct that we are concerned about the cost to consumers in general—that is already in the Bill—but there is a differential effect depending on the nature and the mix of the policies that fall on the fuel poor. Before we leave electricity market reform, that should be reflected there.
I shall not push this tonight because I am not sure that my amendment fully reflects what I am saying, but I hope that the Minister will think about, at the beginning of the major section of this Bill dealing with electricity market reform, saying that one of the things with which we are concerned is the minimisation of fuel poverty. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Jenkin of Roding
4: Clause 5, page 5, line 24, at end insert—
“(f) the desirability of promoting effective competition between persons engaged in, or in commercial activities connected with, the generation, transmission, distribution or supply of electricity or the provision or use of electricity interconnectors, wherever appropriate”
My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and those of my noble friends who I shall mention in a moment.
The House will realise that this is an exceedingly complicated Bill. Anyone coming to it for the first time would recognise that. At the heart of it are the Government’s proposals for electricity market reform. The objectives were mentioned in the previous major debate. They are security of supply—the lights must not go out—support for low-carbon generation and affordable prices for consumers. From the outset, Ministers have been determined to say that to achieve these objectives, tougher competition is going to have to come. It is true that the regulator, Ofgem, has had some responsibility for this, but the general perception has been that it has not been as effective as it might have been.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Ed Davey, mentioned a problem on “Newsnight” the other day. He said, “We need more competition … We think the big six have been a real problem”. I have the figures. The big six have no less than 92% of the supply to consumers. The remaining small companies have a mere 8%. Generation is nearly as bad. It is an oligopoly. That is what we are faced with. I do not believe that existing arrangements for dealing with competition are strong enough, so there was a very positive welcome when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in the Commons the other day:
“So I can tell the House today that we will be having a proper competition test carried out over the next year to get to the bottom of whether this market can be more competitive. I want more companies, I want better regulation”.—[Hansard, Commons, 23/10/13; col. 293.]
And so say all of us. That is obviously necessary. We await with interest what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is going to say in his statement later this week, or perhaps even tomorrow. What is this review going to involve? It is already clear that it is likely to take some time and involve not only Ofgem, the regulator, but the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition and Markets Authority. I will return to this towards the end of my remarks.
Three amendments in this group are tabled in the names of my noble friend Lord Roper, the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Cameron of Dillington—a very cross-party group—and me. Our purpose is to make the determination to have tougher competition explicit in the legislation and that it should apply, where appropriate—it certainly is to the bit of the Bill I shall be coming to—to the Minister as well as to the regulator.
The part of the Bill with which I am chiefly concerned is Chapter 3 of Part 2 which introduces the capacity market. I briefly describe that as a managed-auction system to give clear incentives to generators to invest in new capacity. This can mean keeping open plant that might otherwise have been closed, bringing into production plants that have been mothballed—there is a good deal of that at the moment—or building new plant. It can also include measures to reduce demand.
The capacity market offers a real opportunity for Parliament to give the industry the opportunity to get more competition. That is what the Prime Minister was talking about when he said he wanted new companies—he was absolutely right—new entrants and smaller independent generators. They struggle to compete with the big six. Unlike the big six, which have strong balance sheets, smaller companies have to raise funds from the market for their investment. Unless they can see a reasonable prospect of a decent profit, they will not be able to do so. Investors will not come forward. That is the purpose of the capacity market; it is to give them the incentive to do that.
One would have thought that if everyone really wants more competition, it would be in the Bill. Yes, it is; there is quite a lot in the Bill. When you look at other clauses in the Bill—in particular Clause 47, dealing with power purchase schemes, Clause 127, dealing with the strategy and policy statement and Clause 132 on the modification of supply licences—they are specifically for the Secretary of State, and in all that, he has to promote competition. But when the Bill comes to the capacity mechanism, for some reason—and I have to confess that I had some difficulty understanding what it is—the competition duty does not apply to his role as the official with responsibility for the capacity market. That is the only instance in the Bill where there is no obligation on a Minister to be responsible for promoting competition. Yet the Secretary of State is in overall charge of the capacity market. Why? What is the difference?
The Government have done very well trying to spell out to the industry the complex details of the structure of electricity market reform: the contracts for difference, the capacity market and all the other features. They are not all quite there yet, but they are nearly there. The object of the exercise is quite clearly to create conditions where investors, particularly smaller and independent investors, can raise money in order to invest in the additional capacity which we certainly need and which will help consumers because it will bring more competition. It is not quite true that they have yet succeeded in doing that. The terms set out for the operation of the community charge—I perhaps do not need to go into detail—have been described to the Minister, who has been very good and met the people concerned, but they are not yet sufficient to enable them to do that. They will have the objective of doing it, but nothing will be achieved. Therefore, there have to be changes.
I have heard it said that the changes will have to be for the regulations, but as the House well knows, if regulations come before the House, they cannot be amended. They can be either rejected or accepted. That is not very satisfactory. Therefore, we must have clear authority imposed upon the Secretary of State to run the regulations in such a way that they generate the competition they want. That will require some changes in what has already been distributed and made clear to the industry. Ministers must be under a clear statutory duty when exercising their responsibilities for the capacity market to do so positively to promote competition. That is the simple purpose of Amendment 4, which adds to Clause 5 a sixth duty to promote effective competition in the several activities set out in the amendment. The other two amendments we have tabled, Amendments 42 and 43, specifically make this duty effective for the purposes of the capacity market set out in Chapter 3 to make it explicit that the duty for promoting competition covers Ministers as well as the regulator, Ofgem. Taken together, these amendments would enable potential investors to insist that the regulations and rules are drafted so they really will enable independent generators and new entrants to raise the funds they will need to invest in the new capacity in competition with the big six. Last week, the Prime Minister said he wanted new companies. This is the way to get them.
I referred a moment ago to the proposed high-level review. The first auction for the capacity market happens next year. For that to go ahead, the regulations have to have been finalised and approved by Parliament, and must be in force. The review we have heard about will be over the next year and it will be too late. I hope that when my noble friend replies to this debate, she will not take refuge in the review as a substitute for what we are asking here; it is not. I suspect that my noble friend, who is very bright on these things, has fully taken that on board.
We need these amendments now. I ask my noble friend to accept the amendments as they are tabled, or undertake to bring forward her own amendments, which have the same impact, when we reach Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of this amendment. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is applying it mainly to the capacity issue. I wish to address a very specific, simple point with respect to the operation of contracts for difference. In order to attract investment, this Bill allows—almost encourages—electricity suppliers to pass on to consumers the difference between the strike price and the reference price should the strike price exceed the reference price. However, there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that the suppliers return money to consumers should the reference price exceed the strike price. This might well be the case should the price of gas continue to rise, as several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Oxburgh, have suggested it may.
The Minister kindly discussed this with me and said it was the Government’s position that intervention was unnecessary as the market should ensure that suppliers reduce their charges in order to remain competitive. I am not fully convinced of this and favour a specific requirement that suppliers should return what might be described as a windfall profit to consumers if the reference price exceeds the strike price. The noble Lord’s amendment at least requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of promoting effective competition wherever appropriate. In this case, it would surely be appropriate. How else can we protect the consumer?
My Lords, I very much like the thrust of this amendment and I hope the Government will take it seriously. I would like it to have included the issue of how one generates more competition. Interestingly, at least half of Germany’s renewable energy is generated by municipalities, co-operatives and individuals. That means that there is very widespread support for renewables, leading to some real competition. That is why the big boys are increasingly angry about renewables—they are bringing the price down and they are serious competition.
My concern is that it is difficult to see, as the Government have admitted, the sort of competition among the six that we would expect. I notice that the Opposition are now seeking to make significant changes on this, but one must admit some of the things that have gone wrong are the very changes they made last time. I think there is a certain cross-party understanding that things are not as they ought to be. The Prime Minister, I understand, has said he wants the six to become 60, and I notice that the Minister for Energy wants 600. That is certainly much closer to what I would like because this is a way in which the public as a whole could have a greater say in the way electricity is produced and would be more supportive of a much more competitive market.
Whether they accept this amendment or not, I hope that the Government will recognise that if we could only achieve a more competitive system, it would help explain to people the real costs of electricity. One of the difficulties is that we are forgetting that the biggest cost is actually for gas, so we are all talking here about what are in that sense marginalities. Therefore, achieving competition so that people feel there is a good reason to reduce their bills would be very helpful.
The biggest difficulty is that not one of the six has suggested that this is the moment to get new customers by not putting their prices up. They have all merely said, “everyone else is putting their prices up, so we’ll put them up as well”. That suggests we do not have quite the competitiveness that we want. The Prime Minister has made that point and the Opposition feel it too, so we should consider this as a very real issue in a way that does not just encourage another few big or even medium-sized companies. I want to see a world in which it is much more likely that people come into the industry because it is at that level of innovation that you really get the competition that in the end leads to lower prices.
The noble Lord, Lord Broers, and my noble friend Lord Deben have widened the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Jenkin to other, rather important issues on competition in the course of this Bill. Although it may take us a little time to get from six to 60, or even 600, this amendment is important because of the immediate impact upon independent generators when the capacity mechanism comes into operation next year.
As my noble friend Lord Jenkin points out, the Bill and the proposed rules for the capacity market would make it virtually impossible for independent generators to raise project finance and compete with the big six. My noble friends Lords Jenkin and the noble Lords, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Berkeley, have talked to a number of them and they really do not see how they would do it. We have also talked to their bankers and they do not see how this would be possible for independent generators. That is why it is very important that the regulations and other provisions for the capacity market are drawn up in a way that is fair to smaller generators.
As my noble friend Lord Jenkin has said, we would obviously prefer it if the Minister were able to accept these amendments today. However, there may well be technical problems with them, so we hope that if she were not able to accept them today, she would be able to give us some indication that she will bring back something covering this ground at Third Reading.
My Lords, as this is my first intervention on Report, I must declare an interest as a farmer with a renewable scheme on my land.
Most of what needs to be said in favour of these amendments concerning competition has already been said and as a co-signatory I very much to support them. However, I want to underline the fundamental point involved. It has become obvious to anyone reading newspapers in recent months that the electricity industry needs a huge amount of investment. In Europe it amounts to trillions of euros, and in the UK it is hundreds of billions of pounds. This investment is needed for generation, transmission, distribution and supply. If we do not have that investment, to believe some of our journalistic forecasters, we are likely to get power cuts with all the economic and social tragedies which that might involve. This investment cannot be provided by the government. It has to be provided by the private sector; that is, you and me or, rather, our pension funds in most cases.
The other issue on which anyone reading our newspapers in recent days and weeks will have come to a conclusion is that the oligopoly of the big six is not the political flavour of the month. While being aware that the root of the problem is the rise in the price of gas—I was going to say feedstock—there is something to be said for the fact, which I read in a newspaper, that this oligopoly has some sort of stranglehold. We have a vertically integrated oligopolistic situation within our electricity industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has pointed out. If you wish to deal with this stranglehold, it is crucial that you stick to the golden rule of in no way deterring investment in the panoply of the electricity industry. Investment is crucial. Either freezing electricity prices or putting a windfall tax on the big six does not conform to that rule.
What would conform to that rule, which you have to do, is to increase competition, which ensures that everyone can compete. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has said, that could involve very small competitors at every stage and in every sector of the electricity supply chain. Competition is vital to the success of the Bill and to the entirety of electricity market reform. The Bill will be judged on its long-term effects on the security of supply and on the decarbonisation of the electricity and, above all, on how effective it is attracting competitive investment.
My Lords, I support Amendment 4 and will speak to my Amendment 5. Both concern competition. We had a good debate in Committee on Amendment 5, and there is a lot of support around the House for requiring the big six to divest themselves of their retail section and keep it completely separate. I found that to be a very good solution in many discussions on the European railway market, which is some way away, but separation seems to bring growth, competition and efficiencies. That is what we have in the UK, whereas looking across the Channel to France, the traffic in the rail freight and passenger sector is falling badly and the quality of the network is pretty bad, too.
I believe in fair competition and transparency in all the dealings. I liked the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, of local generation. I remember visiting Denmark with a Select Committee about 10 years ago, to see how each village has its own little grouping of windmills. Of course, the villagers got a reduction in their electricity price and felt a sense of ownership; that is terribly important. They exported the surplus to the grid and imported it when there was no wind.
“prices, profits, barriers to new entrants and how easy it is for customers to get the best deal”.
I hope that they will add “fairness and transparency”. It is an excellent review, but my worry is that the big six welcomed it with such open arms. Is something going on which we do not known about? Ofgem probably needs a strong review. It has recently come up with some interesting figures addressing the price rises which we have all seen in the press, showing that the wholesale costs contribute only about an additional £10 to household charges. This means that that element of the average annual bill has gone up from £600 to £610. The regulator therefore estimates that the companies’ average net profit margin has more than doubled. The regulator is therefore doing something right; that is of course why the big six do not like it.
I do not think that competition is working for the smaller generators, as many noble Lords have said. A DECC analysis shows that 98% of the domestic supply market is dominated by the utilities; that is not quite the same figure as that given by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, but it is in the 90s which is, at any rate, much too high for any kind of competitive situation. The fact that there are eight small suppliers active in the market is a bit paltry if they each have only 0.25% of the market share.
I have had several meetings with people from the big six. Their response to these arguments is quite interesting. They say that there are many synergies upstream and downstream, with vertical integration. I wonder whether this gives them an unfair advantage in the market, and whether the consumer sees the benefits. They then say that it enables them to engage in wider dialogue. Well, of course, it does; but they have three representatives on each of the Ofgem working groups while the small independents are lucky to be able to field one. Yes, it is engaging a wider dialogue—in aid of their commercial advantage. As several noble Lords have said, the managing of uncertainty and hedging is one of the big problems.
Do the Government want the independents there, or are they happy to see what you would almost call a “cartel” of six as a fully functioning market? How would that market work? I am pleased that the Labour Party and Caroline Flint, MP—our shadow Secretary of State—are now supporting this. I know that the party has changed its view on this over the years but, if we have seen the light, that is very good. Caroline Flint is saying that separating the energy companies into the different parts of the business is a good thing, requiring energy companies to trade their energy in an open market by selling into a pool, with transparency. That is also fundamental. Then there is the introduction of a simple tariff structure so that people can compare prices; back to transparency again.
I expect the Government to welcome these two amendments since they both put the issues of competition into the Bill. They are necessary to ensure that competition is transparent and fair, and the lack of that, I am sure, contributes to rising prices.
Several noble Lords have mentioned the independence of the regulator. There is always a debate about to what degree Ministers should instruct regulators, to what degree regulators should be seen to be independent and to what degree they should act totally independently; we could have a big debate about regulatory capture, which I do not intend to have tonight. It is important for Ministers to be able to give this kind of guidance to the regulators in the next few years. We have the big six involved in these working parties while controlling 98% of the market. Having a duty to promote competition in the Bill seems to be a necessary protection for the smaller independent operators.
I would like to see the split of retail from generation. If the Government want real, transparent and open competition, they will either accept these amendments or possibly come up with their own similar ones at Third Reading.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jenkin has yet again put his finger on a hugely important issue, but it is a little bit of motherhood and apple pie. We all want competition and there is no disagreement about that. Indeed, the Bill is all about competition, and the Government’s policy that has already led to more competition. It is worth remembering that in 2000 there were 14 major energy suppliers, but by 2010, within 10 years, they had shrunk to six. In the past two years, seven more energy suppliers have joined the market. The mere fact of what the Government are doing has already started to improve the position with regard to competition. Therefore, the question is: how do we expand that without in any way damaging the Bill?
This part of the Bill covers the trilemma which I mentioned on the first amendment that we debated. It covers the core matters of decarbonisation, security of supply and least cost. It is a very difficult balance to get right. As such, I think that this part of the Bill was quite well framed. It seems to be the wrong place to bring in something about competition when the whole Bill is about competition. It could also open up opportunities for other amendments such as securing the efficiency of the rural economy by having cheap energy. There are many other things you could add to this list once you start to move away from the core principles.
That leads me back to the question of how we get more competition without damaging the Bill. I would ask my noble friend Lord Jenkin: what is the situation where there is little competition? I am particularly keen on tidal energy. Living beside the Pentland Firth for the part of my life when I am allowed out of this place, I think there is huge potential for energy generation there. However, if I set up an energy company to try to exploit that, and the noble Lord down in Sussex set up a company, would he be able to say that he did not get a fair crack of the whip because there was not enough competition? If that is the case, what happens if he goes to judicial review on the wording of this amendment? That will only delay matters. My real concern is that we might be introducing something here that could delay the much-needed investment about which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and I were given a lot of evidence when we sat on the sub-committee together and which he has expanded on tonight. I agree with him totally.
My concern is that this opens up the potential for a legal challenge. What about nuclear? As I said on Amendment 1, we were the world leaders, but now we have to go overseas. Can that be a possibility for a legal challenge? I would say to my noble friends Lord Jenkin and the Minister on the Front Bench that, since we all agree on this, can we somehow get it into the Bill? This is the wrong amendment in the wrong place, but the principle is absolutely right. Can we have a form of wording that gives effect to competition but which does not open loopholes that those who dislike a particular form of energy or want to delay a scheme could exploit to the disadvantage of all?
My Lords, I do not want speak specifically in favour of the spirit of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about the vertical integration of this industry. It has seemed to me over the past 12 months in particular that there has been, if I may say, a growing corporate arrogance in the energy industry. Power seems to have gone to the heads of many of those six organisations. They feel that they can do what they like to their own customer base and that they do not have to pay much regard to democratically elected Governments or Parliaments, let alone your Lordships’ Chamber.
I was particularly struck by this one evening when I visited my 94 year-old mother. She had just had a letter from British Gas which said that she would have to pay an increase of 10% on her bills for the year. Then it kindly went through—in very small type, which was not easy for a 94 year-old—all the reasons for the rise. It gave as the top reason, the first on the list of bullet points explaining why energy prices had gone up, not one of the reasons that we know are actually the reasons for the price increase; instead, it blamed the Government. It is a dual fuel tariff, so the charges are affected by the various bits of government legislation. I think that reflects a real arrogance. It is very difficult indeed to fix this competitive area, as noble Lords are trying to do. It is time to think what has previously been the unthinkable and say, although perhaps not tonight, “Yes, it is credible that we split supply from production”. That should be seen as a real way forward.
However, we have another problem, which leads to the arrogance that we are seeing within the industry. The companies know that we know that some £100 billion needs to be invested to keep the power lines going to make sure that we keep the lights on in terms of capacity. That is a dilemma for any Government. Nevertheless, we should start thinking what has previously been the unthinkable: that this arrogance is not acceptable. We expect them to be more responsive, not necessarily to us but certainly to their customer base and to the nation in terms of their pricing strategies. They should know that if we cannot solve the competitive issues, that split could indeed happen.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for tabling this amendment. It enables us to have a debate about what I believe is an obvious missing element in the entire Bill, which is the need and the desire to promote competition. It is clear that there has been a quickening of pace in the thinking about energy policy since the conference season. That is largely because the Labour Party has called time on the existing system which is operating in our electricity market. We stated clearly that if we win the next election we would make dramatic reforms to introduce greater competition. It is evident that we have an oligopolistic system and that there is an insufficient downward pressure on prices. Otherwise, why would British Gas and other members of the big six opt to spend half a billion pounds on share buy-backs when they could have used that money to keep prices down for their consumers or to stop the price rises they have recently announced? It is absolutely clear that something needs to be done.
The amendments tabled go some way to trying to crowbar this issue into the Bill but, unfortunately, I do not think they go far enough. We certainly support the desire to put the requirement for further competition into the general considerations. We cannot see an argument against that and it seems very sensible.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that the Bill was all about competition. That could not be further from the truth. What the Bill actually does is deliver a system that will largely be determined by administrative negotiations between the Government and single parties quite often representing the big six. We have seen the first such announcement to emanate from this Bill, the contract awarded to EDF to build Hinkley Point C. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, was responsible for negotiating it. I have no doubt that he would have found it much easier to negotiate a price and length of contract that was better value for consumers if we had had more competition. What we needed was more competition in our choice of vendors of nuclear reactors. We were choosing one from one, which is never a good situation to be in.
I shall put that aside because I have used it as an illustration that the Bill does not introduce or increase competition, but narrows it. Later this evening we will debate—very briefly, I promise—my Amendment 7, which seeks to state that this contract for difference process must very quickly pass to a competitive process. It cannot continue as this bilateral, negotiated discussion behind closed doors with one or two very large companies that already play a dominant role in the market. In the interests of consumers and of competition, we must open up the whole process to competition so that we can keep prices down.
This group also contains the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which would split the big six. Again, we are very sympathetic. Rather than crowbar it into the Bill, we have already stated that we would use legislative powers on election to do exactly that. The argument in favour of the big six and vertical integration has always been that they need the balance sheet of the supply industry to be able to raise the finance required to invest upstream in generation, but that is not what they have been doing. They have not ploughed their profits back into investment; there has been a hiatus in investment.
The renewables industry, which has grown the most, has not relied on the big six. More than half of the investment that has gone into renewables has come from independent investors: new, independent companies. We should seek to support those companies and see them prosper. However, they report that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get power purchase agreements from the big six because they control the vast share of access to customers. Why is this? It is another clear signal that there is not enough competition in the market. We now have yet more contortions added to the Bill, such as purchasers of last resort and buyers of last resort, provisions that have been put in precisely because the big six are not offering decent contract terms to the independent investors. If that is not a signal that something is wrong, I do not know what is.
I will briefly touch on the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, to Germany. I fully support the idea that the big six should become the big 60, and ultimately the big 600. We need to democratise our generation of electricity. The signs are that it is already starting, from the man on the street fitting solar panels to communities coming together to find PV for their schools or building wind farms. Real change is happening and we must endeavour to make it happen more quickly and substantially. Only then will the big six or their equivalents be challenged. This is happening already in Germany, where after a relatively short period RWE, the giant of the German electricity industry, is claiming that its business model is broken. The support for decarbonised, community-owned power has broken that industry, which is a good thing, as it has been responsible for a huge amount of carbon emissions over the decades and has shown itself to be incapable of adapting quickly enough to the new, modern needs of electricity.
I will not go on any more. We have covered the main points: the big six system is broken and we absolutely need more competition in this market. The Bill, by introducing contracts for difference, makes it possible and credible for us to make the decisive move to split vertical integration and halt the market power that is gained from having generation and supply in the same companies. We are in principle supportive of this, and we look forward to the Minister’s response. It is a sticking plaster, but nevertheless a very important one.
My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Jenkin and Lord Roper, and the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Berkeley, for their amendments. They all relate to competition within EMR and the electricity market. I should like to reassure noble Lords across the Chamber that I fully recognise the importance of effective competition in the market. I also recognise my noble friend’s desire to help independent gas-fired generators in particular. My noble friend tabled Amendment 4 in Committee, and I have considered carefully the points he made. In particular, he said that this amendment would,
“help the Government to achieve their stated desire of having greater market competition”.—[ Official Report , 18/7/13; col. GC 339.]
However, I still do not think that it will deliver the competition that he rightly seeks. We will make a difference to competition only if we take action and deliver actual reforms that are designed for that purpose.
The list of matters to which the Secretary of State must have regard in Clause 5(2) is about balancing different objectives: balancing the need to decarbonise against ensuring security of supply, and at the least cost to the customer. However, competition does not fit into such a list. We are not balancing competition against delivering decarbonisation or cost to the consumer. Competition is one of the means of minimising cost to the consumer, and the purpose of EMR is to move us to an electricity market where low-carbon generation can compete fairly on price. Amendment 4 could cause confusion as to the practical effect on the design and implementation of EMR. Noble Lords will recognise that we do not have the luxury of time at the moment, and that to understand the effect of such a change would undermine our efforts to quickly implement EMR and bring forward investment.
Amendment 5 seeks to abolish the vertically integrated business model. While I certainly recognise that vertical integration plays a part in perpetuating barriers to market entry, it also delivers some benefits for consumers through lower costs of capital, efficient risk management and economies of scale. These benefits cannot be discounted without a clear sense of what the effects of a prohibition on vertical integration might be. There is no clear evidence that the divestment of retail businesses will increase competition or lower consumer prices. Instead, we should focus on delivering reforms that we know will increase competition. For instance, it is crucial to ensuring a reliable electricity supply that independent gas-fired generation and other forms of reliable capacity can compete in the electricity market. That is precisely what the capacity market is intended to achieve. It will do this, for example, by offering longer-term contracts to each plant, which will enable them to spread their cost of capital over a longer period. This is particularly important to independent players as they rely on securing project finance rather than financing from their balance sheet, as many of the big players do.
We have sought to factor competition into EMR, designed by running competitive auctions in the capacity market and signalling a clear intention to move to competitive allocation of contracts for difference as soon as possible. Of course, CFDs themselves will enable new low-carbon generation to compete in the market. More widely, Ofgem is taking forward an ambitious package of reforms to improve market liquidity and meet the needs of independent suppliers and generators.
Under these reforms major energy companies will be required to quote and trade at prices across a range of products up to two years ahead of delivery. This will allow independent generators and suppliers to lock in prices well ahead of delivery and will therefore enable new entrants to the market. Furthermore, I amended the Energy Bill in Committee to allow for the establishment of a power purchase agreement scheme. This will make it easier for independent renewable generators with CFDs to access the electricity market by guaranteeing access to an off-taker of last resort at a specified discount to the market price. This will provide investors and lenders with more certainty over maximum long-term route to market costs, which in turn reduces risks and therefore costs.
Noble Lords will be aware of the work we have done to simplify retail tariffs and make it easier for consumers to switch. However, I can reassure noble Lords that the Government are listening to the concerns raised, and I agree that more can be done. That is why the Prime Minister has announced an annual review into the state of competition in the energy market. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, this review will be led by Ofgem in conjunction with the Office of Fair Trading and will draw on the expertise of the new Competition and Markets Authority. The details will be developed by the regulators and we do not want to prejudice that. The assessment may look at prices, profits, barriers to new entrants, and how easy it is for customers to get the best deal. My department will publish more details shortly.
I have met with a group of independent generators and lenders and have very much taken their concerns on board. We have indicated our willingness to look at the length of capacity agreements for new plant to ensure that we allow a long enough period to provide certainty to investors and encourage new capacity in the market at the best possible price for consumers. We are proposing a higher cap in the first capacity auction. We will continue to engage with independent gas generators and other stakeholders and have committed to further discussions during the consultation period with a view to securing the right design parameters that will support new investment in reliable capacity.
I am sorry to interrupt, but I forgot to ask a question in my contribution, particularly on the capacity mechanism, in which I know the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is very interested. What representations have the Government had from independent gas generators on the penalty prices? We are being told that because of the way that the capacity market is stretched, they will not be able to raise finance with those punitive penalties within the capacity mechanism.
My Lords, while I wait for some inspiration to wing its way down to me, I will continue and respond later to the noble Baroness. I recognise what my noble friend Lord Jenkin and others have said about how liquidity reforms benefit consumers. These reforms make it easier for independent suppliers and new entrants to access the wholesale market. They will increase competitive pressure in the retail market, which will benefit consumers in terms of downward pressure on bills, greater choice, and better service, which is what I know all noble Lords want.
My noble friends Lord Deben and Lord Jenkin, and others, mentioned Ofgem’s liquidity proposal. We want to make the energy market as competitive as possible. An increasingly level playing field for independent suppliers and generators is precisely what will help drive competition, which delivers better value for consumers and business. Ofgem’s proposal to increase transparency in the way electricity is traded will give independent generators a foothold in the UK market and encourage new players to invest.
While I am waiting for inspiration, which has not quite arrived yet, I will touch on the proposals the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has mentioned on the price freeze. We cannot see the Labour Party’s proposals solving the problems of competition. What we see is that we will get price hikes before and after the freeze. What we need is to get a better understanding of where the Labour Party is coming from when it says that it wants to reset the energy market, because we do not know whether that is just jingoistic terminology or if there are some proposals in place.
The inspiration I was waiting for has arrived. We are engaging with industry. It said that it was pleased with our proposal for a higher cap in the first auction. I suspect that does not quite answer the noble Baroness’s question, so perhaps I will come back to the her on that.
I am listening with very great care to what my noble friend has said because this is all very important. She says that she has met the representatives of the industry and of their bankers and funders. Is she now saying that she will take account of what they said and of the three points they raised? My noble friend has mentioned the length of the contract; they say it must be not less than 15 years. There is the question of the penalties, which the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has mentioned. There is then the question of a cap. All three have to be right or, however much the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, says she wants competition she will not get in the new entrants and the independent generators.
My Lords, as I have said, I have taken very seriously what the independent generators and others have said to me, as well as what noble Lords have said. I think, however, that what our proposals are laying out answers many of these fears and the concerns of those generators. We of course agree that there needs to be greater competition. That is what I think this Bill will help to achieve .
I return to the penalties that the noble Baroness and my noble friend have mentioned. We have proposed cutting penalties between 101% to 149% of capacity payments in any year. We are aware of concerns from independent generators at the level of penalties, but it is crucial to balance investability against protection for consumers. The right thing is to focus our efforts on concrete actions that will make a difference by enabling low-carbon generation to compete, by helping gas-fired generators and other reliable capacity providers to remain economic and compete, and to bring reforms to the wholesale and retail markets.
I therefore urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment. I hope I have demonstrated that the Government are taking clear action to increase competition at the same time as actively reviewing what more can be done.
My noble friend went very fast, and at my age it is not always easy to hear everything that is being said. The Leader of the House is waiting to make his Statement about the European Council. I have the impression that she has been impressed by the people whom she has met and the discussions that she has had with me and others on this matter. She has given me every impression that she understands that, if these people are going to compete effectively, they have to be able to raise the finance in the market to do it.
The initial terms which the Government pointed out, as originally indicated, would apply to them would have made them say, “Well, we cannot raise it. We only have 10 years? It is impossible”. There are various other things, and we have mentioned the penalties and the cap. I understand that my noble friend has given an undertaking—perhaps she will deny me if that is not right—that she will consider very carefully what those independent generators have said and the terms and conditions that they will have to have if they are going to enter the market. If they do not, whatever my noble friend has said about competition, it will not happen.
My Lords, I do not want to leave my noble friend in any grey area. I have listened very carefully to him, as I always do, but I think that the proposals I have laid out will respond to him and to those independent generators. I think the proposals and the Bill and what I am taking forward do answer those concerns.
My Lords, I am going to take my noble friend’s word as what I think she is intending to mean. She is not giving any guarantees, but she does apparently understand the case that has been made if the competition is going to work through the capacity market in the way in which the Government have said it would. She has been told very firmly that unless she changes the conditions it will not work. She has given me the impression—and, I hope, other noble Lords as well—that she understands that and will continue talking with a view to getting acceptable conditions. If that is the case, it would seem to me to be quite wrong that I should take the opinion of the House. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.27 pm.