Clause 1 - Sustainable Energy Policy

Sustainable Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:58 am on 24 June 2003.

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Question proposed [18 June], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following:

New clause 1—Annual reports on progress towards sustainable energy aims—

'(1) The Secretary of State must in each calendar year, beginning with 2004, publish a report (''a sustainable energy report'') on the progress made in the reporting period towards—

(a) cutting the United Kingdom's carbon emissions;

(b) maintaining the reliability of the United Kingdom's energy supplies;

(c) promoting competitive energy markets in the United Kingdom; and

(d) reducing the number of people living in fuel poverty in the United Kingdom.

(2) ''The reporting period'', for the purposes of subsection (1), means the year ending with 23 February in the calendar year in question.

(3) Accordingly, the report must be published in that calendar year within the period beginning with 24 February and ending with 31 December (''the publication period'').

(4) A sustainable energy report may either be published as a single report or published in a number of parts during the publication period, and any such report or part may be contained in a document containing other material.

(5) A sustainable energy report must be based on such information as is available to the Secretary of State when the report is completed (except that if it is published in parts, each of those parts must be based on such information as is so available when that part is completed).

(6) For the purposes of this section a person is to be regarded as living in fuel poverty if he is a member of a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at a reasonable cost.'.

And the following amendments thereto:

Amendment (a), in

line 3, after 'towards', insert—

'( ) each of the following aims (''sustainable energy aims'')'.

Amendment (b), in

line 10, at end insert—

'( ) each of the following goals (''sustainable energy goals'')

(i) the generation of 20% electricity from renewable sources by 2010;

(ii) the generation of 10GWe of electricity by combined heat and power by 2010;

(iii) reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide of 20% based on 1990 levels by 2010;

(iv) reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide of 60% based on 1990 levels by 2050;

(v) carbon savings as a result of measures to improve domestic energy efficiency of 5 MtC by 2010 and a further 4 MtC by 2020.'.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

It seems a long time ago that we debated this new clause at length. In that sitting, I outlined the reasons why I was happy to accept the new clause in place of my original clause 1. I am also happy to report that agreement has been reached on amendments to the other clauses. Although there are points to be made on those clauses when we come to them, we should make progress. I set out previously why the new clause would be improved by my amendments and why I was surprised that the Government were resisting them, given that, on Second Reading, they committed themselves to producing an annual progress report, and said that they were willing for it to become a legal requirement.

The new clause goes a long way towards achieving that, and I am pleased that the Minister's comments indicate that the four overall aims of the energy policy in the White Paper will be covered. I am grateful to him for his reassurance that every commitment in the White Paper would be met and for his reaffirmation of the goals, aims, objectives and targets. I am also grateful to all hon. Members who pressed for that.

We have rehearsed the arguments, and I thought that a good case was made for my amendments. However, we should not risk the Bill falling on this issue; a general reporting duty in legislation is better than no reporting duty. The Government are committed to report on detailed targets, so I shall not press my amendments and will accept the Minister's new clause.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

Let me begin by reiterating what my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), said a couple of weeks ago. I, too, am delighted that the Bill is before the Committee. It has taken longer than he or I would have wished for the detail to be sorted out, but with the cross-party consensus that has been stimulated by it, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) will be able to secure some worthwhile legislation in his name as a result of our deliberations.

I am pleased that he will not press the proposed amendments. I know that he and others rightly attach great importance to the Government reporting on delivery of all the energy White Paper commitments against all our targets and goals. That is our firm intent. The reporting requirement in new clause 1 fully

reflects the spirit of the clause while avoiding an overly prescriptive approach. It encompasses all four of our sustainable energy policy goals—cutting carbon emissions, maintaining the reliability of energy supplies, promoting competitive markets and tackling fuel poverty—in a way that will be durable.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I am interested in what the Minister says. He was not at the sitting the week before last. We all agree with the spirit of the goals, but the problem is that there is very little agreement as to how to achieve them. The purpose of targets, surely, is to know what has to be achieved across the country in order to work towards it. The spirit is fine words, but not a lot of substance.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The substance is here as well. We shall report on progress towards the achievement of all 135 of the commitments in the White Paper, and that will provide the information for which members of the Committee and those outside the House are looking to the Government to provide. We are providing a framework against which we can report fully and openly on the development of sustainable energy policy and on progress towards the aims that all of us share. That is the right way forward. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East for the spirit in which he has approached the discussions, some of which have been heated. I am delighted that we have reached a position on which all of us agree. I commend the new clause to the Committee.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I have to say that we are very disappointed. I do not disagree with a word that the Minister has said in relation to the spirit surrounding the better use of energy, sustainable energy and conservation of energy. The point that we argued two weeks ago, however, was that fine words are one thing, but concrete targets—and this Government love targets—are quite another.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

My hon. Friend has just said that the Government love targets. I think that he should use a different tense. The Government loved targets. They used targets with complete indiscretion and showered them all over the place. It was only after a few years in government that they realised that targets had to be met or people would think that they were not achieving anything. Having woken up to that rude fact, they are now slamming the gears into reverse and shying away from any target whatever.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. That was the point that I was developing. The following targets have been set: 10 per cent. of generating capacity provided by renewables by 2010, 20 per cent. by 2020, 5 GW of combined heat and power by 2000, and 10 GW by 2005. Those targets were in Labour party manifestos and bandied around by the Government, and yet sadly, when it comes to achieving them, the Government seem to bolt for cover. There is no point in making such grand pronouncements, and saying how much one wishes

to achieve targets, if one will not put one's money where one's mouth is.

I regret the way that this situation has come about. We have had a long discussion, and I know that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, to whom I pay tribute, has been trying very hard to get the Government to budge on the issue. However, by removing the great chunk represented by clause 1, we have ended up with what can only be described as a watered-down, pale shadow of the original intention of the Bill. I very much regret that.

I have yet to decide what to do, and I shall have to see how the debate goes. I regret the position that we are in because, if one believes in sustainable energy—and the Government say that they do—it is no good having fine words; we must have concrete action. That is reflected by the energy White Paper as a whole. It full of aspirations and has pretty pictures of windmills, but there is not much in it. The Bill is now a damp squib, which is very regrettable.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I join the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) in saying that it is a disappointing day for those of us who are strong supporters of the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East must be among the most disappointed in the Room.

The Minister referred rather glibly to the 135 targets in the White Paper. Of course, it is a White Paper, and the difference between that and a Bill, which becomes an Act, is that a White Paper can be set aside without so much as a glance if the Government choose or if they believe that circumstances have changed, whereas an Act of Parliament cannot be. It would have been of great significance had the Government been prepared to accept proper, defined targets that offered the possibility of measuring the outcomes.

I have a great deal of time and respect for the new Minister. I am sure that he will learn a great deal about the subject in a very short time, but he would accept that any Government, let alone his own, would be well equipped to produce an annual report that says, ''We have made substantial progress towards our aims set out in the White Paper.'' Surely he can see that he has foregone a wonderful chance to set a measurable target to which the Government could work and design their policy.

We are dealing with the question of spirit, as the hon. Member for Blaby put it, and with good intentions and good will. Phrases such as ''substantial progress'' can be touted without producing the policy changes that are needed to deliver what I am sure the Minister wants to see, what was set out in the White Paper and what I know the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East intended should happen when he presented the Bill to the House, which is the UK moving towards achieving its carbon reduction targets as set out in the Kyoto agreement. I find it depressing that the promoter of the Bill says that he does not intend to press the new clause and the amendments today. That is far from incorporating the spirit of our aims into the Bill, so I find it a dispiriting morning. It would seem that the Government have forced the promoter, against his

better judgment, to give up one of the fundamental intentions and benefits that would have flown from his original Bill.

It is with great disappointment that I heard the words of the Minister and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. It is a moot point whether there is now a Bill of substance and body that merits the support of the House.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Like Committee members from all parties, I share a great disappointment at the climbdown in the face of such Government obstinacy and such a failure to incorporate meaningful, ambitious targets that would have signalled a step change in Government energy policy. There is only one question that we have to ask to get to the heart of such Government intransigence. Why do they not want the targets set in the Bill? That is simple. Either the Government do not think that they can meet those targets, or they are reluctant to introduce them, because they fear there is a good chance that they will not meet them. They are not prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure that they will be met. They are not prepared to be sufficiently ambitious in policy terms and to match those ambitions with real resources.

This all comes down to how ambitious the Government are in the field of sustainable energy—how committed they are to the sustainable energy agenda and the issue that Committee members are grappling with. I am sure that the Minister wants to make progress and that he shares the broad aims of the Bill. However, that is not what we are here to do. We are here—at least, I thought we were—to tie the Government down to making real progress in a challenging area. Progress will not be made simply by wishing for it, or by warm intentions; it will be made only if there is a real, meaningful change in how the Government make energy policy across Departments.

I am sure that it will be difficult to meet challenging targets. In ensuring that they are met the apparatus of government will be required to apply itself and Ministers will be required to expend political capital. However, surely that is what Ministers are here for, and that is why Governments stand for election. We enter politics to effect change. I am sorry that the Bill will now water down to wishy-washy commitments the very things that nearly all Committee members believe in strongly. At the end of the day we will not have a real agenda for change, or an ambitious programme mapping out an exciting but demanding future. Instead, there will be more warm words that could mean nothing.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 6.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 1 - Sustainable Energy Policy

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 1 disagreed to.