Clause 270 - Prohibition of new coal mines

Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 22 June 2023.

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Question (20 June) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I remind the Committee that with this we are considering:

Clauses 271 to 273 stand part.

New clause 52—Principal objectives of Secretary of State and GEMA—

“(1) Section 4AA of the Gas Act 1986 (principal objective and general duties of Secretary of State and GEMA) is amended as set out in subsections (2) and (3).

(2) In subsection (1A)(a), for ‘the reduction of gas-supply emissions of targeted greenhouse gases’ substitute ‘the Secretary of State’s compliance with the duties in sections 1 and 4(1)(b) of the Climate Change Act 2008 (net zero target for 2050 and five-year carbon budgets)’.

(3) In subsection (5B), omit the definitions of ‘emissions’, ‘gas-supply emissions’ and ‘targeted greenhouse gases’.

(4) Section 3A of the Electricity Act 1989 (principal objective and general duties of Secretary of State and GEMA) is amended as set out in subsections (5) and (6).

(5) In subsection (1A)(a), for ‘the reduction of electricity-supply emissions of targeted greenhouse gases’ substitute ‘the Secretary of State’s compliance with the duties in sections 1 and 4(1)(b) of the Climate Change Act 2008 (net zero target for 2050 and five-year carbon budgets)’.

(6) In subsection (5B), omit the definitions of ‘emissions’, ‘electricity-supply emissions’ and ‘targeted greenhouse gases’.”

This new clause is intended to replace clause 271. The intention is for it to appear at the start of Part 6. It is equivalent in substance to clause 271 but includes some drafting changes and consequential amendments.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I want to make quite a few comments on the clauses, but I hope we are more than halfway through the debate, given how long we spent on it on Tuesday. You were not here then, Mr Gray, but the Labour Front Benchers shared their contributions, which is a luxury that I do not have as the only SNP Front Bencher. I warn the Committee to buckle up for what is now going to be an Alan monologue for a wee while, so be prepared!

First, I want to make some comments about Tuesday’s discussion of the merits of clause 270, which was inserted by the Lords. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Ribble is not in her place; I would rather be saying this with her directly opposite—

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Shortly; I will make the point first. On Labour and the SNP being against opening coal mines, the hon. Member for South Ribble said:

“This is one of the most jaw-dropping moments I have ever had in my parliamentary career. The Scottish National party and the Labour party are arguing against domestic jobs, our proud coalmining heritage and energy security for this country. Is that not flabbergasting?”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2023; c. 356.]

That was a week in which the former Prime Minister resigned and was proven by the Privileges Committee—with a Tory majority—to be a serial liar, and in which Parliament voted to effectively sanction what would have been a 90-day suspension. I find that a bit more jaw-dropping than ourselves and Labour opposing new coal mines.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

To help the hon. Gentleman, I merely say that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble is unfortunately detained in the Chamber because a huge bomb factory was found in her constituency this morning and she needs to raise that on the Floor of the House. I know that my hon. Friend will be here later.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I was not casting any aspersions about the hon. Member not being here; I was just saying that it was unfortunate when I am addressing her comments. I note how important that issue in her constituency is and hope it gets resolved.

On coalmining heritage—I do not think I need to point this out, but I will anyway, as an obvious history lesson—the coalmines were shut down as a result of Maggie Thatcher putting her anti-union ideology ahead of the coalmining industry. At that time she was more than happy to import coal from the likes of Poland and bring it in from overseas while shutting the coalmines here. That is a fact.

Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington

Does the hon. Member agree with the former Labour leader of one of the Aberdeen councils, Barney Crockett, that Labour’s energy policy will wreak more harm on industrial communities than anything that Margaret Thatcher ever did?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

Order. Before we allow ourselves to get into what might be an amusing, if controversial, area, I remind the Committee that we are dealing specifically with clause 270, which prohibits new coalmines in the six months after the Bill is passed. Perhaps we could restrict ourselves to that, rather than getting into more exciting rabbit holes.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Excitement is sometimes quite tempting, Mr Gray, but I will try my best. I am trying to draw together the history of the coalmines and the issue of whether we should go forward with more. On the intervention, it is not usually for me to agree with Barney Crockett, but Labour’s energy policy is certainly all over the place.

We are debating opening new coalmines, but the reality is that there are now not too many people, even of working age, who have actually worked in coalmines—that is how long ago they were shut down—so there is not even a skillset out there that would be able to operate much of the mines. I realise that technology has moved on—the proposed mine at Whitehaven will use modern technology—but skilled labour will still be hard to get and the Government’s immigration policies will prohibit skilled miners coming from elsewhere.

Labour and the SNP are against coalmines, but we need to look at the wider context and consider the comments of Chris Skidmore, who was commissioned by the Tory Government to undertake a net zero review. His report was supported and commended by Members on both sides of the House, who agreed with its recommendations. Before the decision on the Whitehaven mine, he said:

“Opening a new coal mine in the UK would send the wrong signal across the world. We are international leaders when it comes to tackling climate change. To act differently, having pledged the ending of coal, would be to surrender that leadership.”

After the decision to grant planning permission for the coalmine, the right hon. Gentleman stated that if the recommendations in his report, such as on net zero tests, were part of the process, the coalmine would have been refused. He added:

“I obviously personally believe the coal mine decision is a mistake.”

A senior Tory parliamentarian is saying the same things as us. He is against the opening of new coalmines, and by default therefore supports clause 270. On international leadership, he effectively said that by opening new coalmines, the UK can no longer claim to be world leading on climate change.

I understand the importance of the jobs that go along with coalmines. My constituency needs new jobs, but we cannot use the phrase “local jobs” to justify bad decisions. Prioritising jobs above everything else leads to a race to the bottom. We could create jobs by chopping down all the trees in the UK and burning them, but that is a ludicrous proposition, so we cannot use new jobs as a justification.

If we want to talk about jaw-dropping comments, I was surprised to find that the hon. Member for South Ribble was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the COP26 President, Sir Alok Sharma, so it is worth while to look at what he said about the proposals for opening new coalmines. He said:

“Over the past three years the UK has sought to persuade other nations to consign coal to history, because we are fighting to limit global warming to 1.5C and coal is the most polluting energy source…A decision to open a new coalmine would send completely the wrong message and be an own goal. This proposed new mine will have no impact on reducing energy bills or ensuring our energy security.”

Our comments were deemed jaw-dropping, but I assume that those of the COP26 President, who led the worldwide negotiations on emissions reduction, and those of the chair of the net zero review should not be regarded as jaw-dropping and should be respected.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

The hon. Gentleman said the proposals will not improve our energy security, but will he comment on what will happen to the steel industry if we are not able to produce the electricity needed to move to arc furnaces in the timeframe outlined by the clause? As I said at the end of the previous sitting, we keep identifying areas that will be powered by electricity, but we do not seem to have the ability to catch up with that. On energy security, will he comment on what will happen if we are unable to generate the electricity that the steel industry needs?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I am happy to comment on energy security, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that those were not my words but the words of the former COP26 President. He said that the proposed new mine will not deliver energy security. I am sure that, like me, the right hon. Gentleman respects the President of COP26 and believes that he did a good job.

This argument about supplying coke and coal to the steel industry has already been debunked: 85% of the coal from the new coalmine will go abroad, so it will not provide energy security by supporting the steel industry in the UK. That is a bogus argument.

Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington

The hon. Gentleman says that that point has been debunked, but I actually debunked the debunking in the previous sitting. I am sure he heard those comments. On the issue of 85% being for export, that all depends on whether we want a UK steel industry and whether we want to grow it. Does he agree that we should be growing the UK steel industry and using 100% of that coal here?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I want to debunk the hon. Gentleman’s debunking of the debunking. Let me come to the comments of the chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Deben, who the last time I checked is a Tory and was a Tory Minister.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

On that very point, will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I am trying to answer the other point first.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

This is an important point. The chair of the Climate Change Committee condemned the opening of the new coalmine and said that opening it would mean the UK emitting 400,000 tonnes of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He also pointed out that 85% of the coal will be exported because it is high in sulphur and therefore not suitable for the UK steel industry. A former chief executive of British Steel, Ron Deelen, said:

“This is a completely unnecessary step for the British steel industry”.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

The hon. Gentleman is being exceptionally generous with his time. He said that exporting 85% of the coal does not add to our energy security, but does he accept that if we have energy at home and do not have to import it, that is energy security by definition?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I agree, which is why I want to see more renewables deployed. That is why I keep arguing for pumped-storage hydro, but the Government have fought that. It would give us storage and additional security and resilience. Obviously, I want the UK to become a net exporter of energy overall—that is the ideal place to get to—but renewables and storage are the answer.

Plenty of other senior Tory voices are saying that we should not open coalmines, so I do not see why the SNP and Labour should not be on the side of science and of such otherwise-respected senior Tory parliamentarians. It is also ludicrous that we are still effectively banning onshore wind in England but the Government will not accept a ban on opening up new coalmines and burning fossil fuels. When we talk about trying to lead the world on energy change, that is rank hypocrisy.

I realise the reality is that the transition will use some carbon fossil fuels. We need to understand that. That is why I believe in a just transition and have tabled a new clause that asks the UK Government to follow the lead of the Scottish Government by setting up a just transition commission. I have also tabled a new clause about net zero impact assessments. That in itself should underline Government policy and make the decision-making process transparent, so that we fully understand the impacts of policy decisions on net zero.

The Minister said it was important we ensure that industries that rely on coal can rely on domestic sources of coal, but that is a vacuous comment, because any coal mined in the UK goes on the open market and to whoever pays the most money for it. Having a new UK coalmine does not mean that that coalmine will automatically supply UK-based steel makers.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Would the hon. Gentleman accept that any new piece of energy infrastructure or production from the North sea, or indeed on the land in the UK, can be subject to whatever licence terms the licence issuer, which is the Government, decides? Would he therefore accept that, if the licences have specific restrictions, what he says may not necessarily be true?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I cannot disagree with that premise—that could happen—but it is interesting that an ardent free marketeer is advocating for special conditions to be put on licences such that oil, gas or coal could be sold only in the UK. I think the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that international companies would be loth to accept a licence on that premise. We would be better off nationalising the industry than putting conditions such as those on licences, but in theory the hon. Gentleman is right: we could make that a condition of the licence.

To return to Tuesday’s debate, for me it seemed that there were mixed messages about the possible burning of coal for electricity generation. The right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell stated:

“I believe that we cannot just disregard the opening of coalmines, because this is about where we generate all this electricity from. If we cannot generate that electricity, we need back-up plans, including these mines.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2023; c. 376.]

Could the right hon. Member tell me how many new coal mines he envisages opening for the burning of electricity?

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell 11:45, 22 June 2023

I do not know, but what I do know is physics. The physics says that we have to maintain a baseload. If we are unable to maintain that baseload, other options may have to be looked at, as Germany has done.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

The whole point is that coal is not being used to support baseload. Even if we believe in the concept of electricity baseload, it is not coal that is doing that. Coal is being used as a back up to the back up for when peak demand is hit, so that argument is wrong. Coal is not used for baseload.

The hon. Member for Workington stated:

“We are far too parochial on the subject of net zero and emissions.”

He seemed to be saying that if we do not do it, somebody else will, which is not showing international leadership. He went on to say:

“if we can export to Germany or somewhere else where people make large quantities of steel using coking coal, that is a reduction in total global emissions that we should champion.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2023; c. 373.]

The hon. Member has still not explained how the UK shipping coal to Germany is going to reduce global emissions—I still do not see how that follows—but I do share his concern that a lot of emission reductions have come from that offshoring manufacturing and industry. That is something we have to stop, so I fully agree with him on that, but opening a coalmine to export coal to Germany is not the way to re-shore industry.

Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington

The hon. Member is being incredibly generous with his time. On the point on how shipping coal from the UK to Germany lowers emissions, if that happens instead of coal being shipped from the US, Russia or somewhere further afield, then the shipping emissions are greatly reduced. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell points out, it is also much cleaner coal to start with.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I understand the point that Government Members are trying to make but, at the end of the day, if we are shipping coal to Germany, we are still increasing UK shipping emissions. We are increasing emissions from the UK to about 400,000 tonnes of CO2. In the global context, there is no saying whether those coal emissions are getting displaced if the coal is going to Germany, so we cannot guarantee a reduction in global emissions. We would be putting more coal on the market, which is coal somebody else will snap up elsewhere. The likelihood is that we would actually increase emissions.

I should have said in my opening remarks that I represent a former coalmining area, so I recognise the devastation caused by pit closures. My area recovered some jobs through open-cast coalmining, but even that industry collapsed a few years ago, leaving us with devastating blights on the landscape and huge craters that needed filling. Unfortunately, again, there was no help from the UK Government when we needed it. I understand the legacy of coalmining and I want support for these areas, but opening new coalmines is not the way to do it.

We cannot turn back the clock. What we need to do is create jobs for the future. We need green-based jobs in coalmining areas such as mine, using geothermal energy and making use of the closed mines. Let us make them an asset for the future, providing clean energy and reducing energy bills at a local level.

The Committee will be pleased that I am bringing my monologue to an end. I hope that my comments are going to convince the Government and Conservative Committee members that there is no need for new coalmines going forward. I would be delighted to hear the Minister, in his summing up, say that he is not going to move against clause 270, but is going to retain it and listen to those of us who want it.

Clause 271 is to be replaced by new clause 52. I welcome the Government’s change on that and their making reaching net zero a statutory duty of Ofgem. Will the Minister tell us whether new clause 52 and Ofgem’s new statutory duties will make it much easier for Ofgem to allow anticipatory investment? That has been one of the issues, so we want to make sure that it can do that and do that forward plan-ahead, rather than building more constraints into the grid while upgrading it at the same time.

Turning to clauses 272 and 273, it seems like for ages Energy Ministers have stated their support for the principle of the Local Electricity Bill—community electricity generation and the sale of electricity locally—but they have always said that the Bill was not the right solution to facilitate that. The original drafters and MPs who have tried to bring forward private Members’ Bills have changed the Bill to try to address the concerns of Ministers, but that still was not enough.

The cross-party group of peers who drafted clauses 272 and 273 to mimic the effect of the Local Electricity Bill again tried to address the Government’s concerns. I fail to understand why the Government are still against the two clauses. It is worth pointing out that 323 MPs overall, including 128 Tory MPs—let alone myriad local authorities, environmental groups and individuals—have supported the Bill. The feet-dragging makes no sense. I commend the hon. Member for Bristol East for pointing out that the Minister himself was a signatory to the Local Electricity Bill. I wonder what about a ministerial car made him change his mind about supporting it.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Not of one down here!

Community energy schemes have seen almost no growth for six years, despite renewables clearly being cheaper than ever. Of course, that is tied in with the removal of feed-in tariffs, which were very successful in delivering the likes of small-scale hydro across the highlands, for example.

The Government are pressing ahead with voting to remove clauses 272 and 273. What are their proposals for facilitating community energy generation and providing the certainty of price that groups and companies need to be able to move forward? The Minister must be aware that the smart energy guarantee does not deliver at present and, as I say, there has been no growth in community energy schemes in six years.

At the moment, community energy schemes account for just 0.5% of the UK’s electricity. According to the Environmental Audit Committee, that could increase twentyfold in 10 years, so something like 10% of energy by community generation could be achieved in 10 years if the right conditions are put in place. Even if that is overstated and the reality is only 5%, that would still represent a huge shift in generation and would provide local grids with stability and resilience. That would be much better value than the new £35 billion Sizewell C nuclear station.

If we consider nuclear, price certainty is not a new concept. It underpins the contract for difference auction rates, and it is what is provided for Hinkley Point C. A great example of the potential scope for community energy generation is a study being undertaken in my constituency by the Newmilns Regeneration Association, which is investigating the installation of solar panels on the brownfield site of the former Vesuvius factory. The aim is to sell electricity to local industry, reducing its bills and helping it to be sustainable, and for Newmilns to be a net zero town going forward. The national regulatory authorities believe that the Local Electricity Bill, or the alternative in the form of clauses 272 and 273, needs to be in place to facilitate trading of the electricity that would be generated. That is why I fully support the clauses’ retention in the Bill.

Clause 272 would provide guaranteed income for electricity for small-scale renewable energy generators, and clause 273 would enable community schemes registered under the clause 272 guarantee to sell the electricity they generate locally. The Committee Clerks circulated additional written evidence today, in which professors from the University of Manchester say there should be no fear about clauses 272 and 273, because they will not unduly affect the prices that suppliers have to pay for electricity; at worst, the effect will be marginal. They also recommend that the Government retain the clauses. I really hope that they do.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Labour, Stretford and Urmston

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Gray. After a fairly lively start to the morning, I want to focus predominantly on the matter about which we are all largely in agreement: the addition of new clause 52 to replace clause 271.

I will briefly address clauses 270, 272 and 273, which we have debated at length. I do not wish to add anything particularly new; I will just reiterate colleagues’ comments about the clauses’ importance. The Minister and the hon. Member for Hyndburn previously supported clause 270, so I am bewildered by their shift, given that, as we have heard, building a new coalmine will not make a material difference to the British people’s energy prices, yet it certainly grates against our broader net zero ambitions.

It is a real shame that the Government intend to strike clauses 272 and 273 from the Bill, not least because all we seek is surety for smaller generators that their investment is worthwhile. The other day, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test gave the example of a hydro turbine that costs in excess of £1 million. It is incredibly difficult for a small-scale producer to make that investment without a guarantee, which the clauses would provide, that it will see a return in the form of a guaranteed purchase by energy suppliers. None the less, although we have not heard in detail why the Government are opposed to the clauses, we are where we are.

As I said, I want to focus most of my comments on new clause 52. I am a little surprised that the Government feel the need to rework clause 271, but we should none the less take the concession for what it is. New clause 52 is incredibly welcome, as it will legally require Ofgem to ensure that its decisions assist the Government’s drive to deliver net zero by 2050. Reaching net zero is, of course, one of the most urgent and challenging tasks that we face as a nation, and it is right that we pull every lever at our disposal to achieve it. I am pleased that the Government have conceded that the new clause is a necessary step, given that they previously stated that Ofgem’s existing decarbonisation objective was sufficient. That objective was set in 2010, it is limited to targeting greenhouse gases only, and it has no specific timescale attached to it.

The move to update Ofgem’s duties so that it has a statutory requirement to support the UK in reaching our net zero emissions targets has huge backing from every part of the energy industry, as well as from consumer campaigners and climate activists. It was recommended by the Skidmore review and by the Climate Change Committee earlier this year. Crucially, it has the support of Ofgem itself. Ofgem’s CEO, Jonathan Brearley, said that the net zero duty is

“the best option, not only from a climate perspective, but to ensure a secure, low-cost energy future.”

Ofgem’s support is most welcome, and the new duty makes its responsibility for ending our reliance on fossil fuels crystal clear. Making net zero one of its core duties will empower Ofgem to deliver the long-term investment in our electricity network and grid that the National Infrastructure Commission has said is critical to achieving the large-scale shift to renewable energy and low-carbon transport and heating that we need. Indeed, there seems to be a broad consensus in the industry that the lack of a clear duty that specifically refers to our net zero targets is a key reason for the historical underinvestment in the grid. This overdue duty can play a key role in reversing that trend and putting an end to a situation in which the absence of investment in the grid has made it very difficult for new renewable infrastructure to be connected to it.

Placing this duty on a national regulator that was created to serve consumers is, in effect, a statutory recognition that the needs of consumers and the planet are very much aligned. The long-term investment that will help us to achieve net zero will also mean sustainable, cheaper forms of energy for consumers and an end to the volatility in the market that has caused such misery to millions of households across the country in recent years. I therefore fully support new clause 52, and I pay tribute to everybody, across parties, who was involved in bringing it to this stage.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) 12:00, 22 June 2023

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

Well, I hope it will remain a pleasure—I am sure it will. Here we are on day eight, sitting 15 of the Committee. There has been a comprehensive debate on the clauses, and I thank all Members on both sides and from all three parties represented for their full contributions. I will respond to some of the points that were made.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston just referred to the Ofgem net zero duty. I am delighted that the Committee has welcomed the Government’s commitment on the duty and our new clause, and I pay tribute again to Members across the House and in the other place for their constructive dialogue on the issue. I confirm to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun that the measure will allow for anticipatory investment. I have engaged with industry and others, and they are confident that that is the case and welcome this step.

Community energy projects can have real benefits for the communities in which they are based, which is why so many Members supported the private Member’s Bill on the issue. However, the Government and I do not believe that every consumer should have to bear the cost of such projects. That does not seem a fair way to fund them.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

Will the Minister explain why he does not think that consumers should bear the cost of community energy projects but does think that they should bear the cost of new hydrogen, through the hydrogen levy? That seems rather inconsistent.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

As the hon. Lady knows, we are listening and acting on the concerns raised by many in this place and the other place, including on Second Reading in the Commons, when issues regarding the hydrogen levy were raised. I am sure that we will have much more to say on that when the Bill comes back to the Floor of the House.

I am also not convinced that the Lords amendments tackle the real issues faced by community energy groups: high start-up costs and lack of expertise. I have had positive engagement with Members on that. The Government are therefore considering other options that could tackle such issues in a fairer and more proportionate way ahead of Report stage. I hope that members of the Committee and those who are following our proceedings with interest are reassured by those comments.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun spoke at length, as did other Members—I hope to cover most contributions in my response—about coal. The hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned exporting coal to Germany. It is rather ironic that the only reason that Germany is importing coal is its nonsensical position on nuclear and new nuclear power—a position that is shared by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. The hon. Gentleman might want to take that away and consider it.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that he disagreed with the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble that the debate in Committee the other day was one of the “most jaw-dropping” moments of her political career, given the events of the week. I concur with the hon. Gentleman that that was a bit surprising, given that this was the week that a former leader of Aberdeen Labour claimed that Labour’s energy policies were the “final straw”—this is a Labour councillor saying this—and that

Margaret Thatcher never delivered a more brutal put down of an industry than that delivered by Keir Starmer in Edinburgh.”

In the same week, a Green Minister in the Scottish Parliament faced a vote of no confidence, the Whip was withdrawn from a former SNP Minister, and a person of interest in an ongoing police investigation professed their innocence but could not do the same for another person of interest, to whom she is married. The last week was quite an exciting week for politics—I agree.

Our reliance on coal is rapidly diminishing, but there is still a need for it in industries such as steel and cement, so now is not the right time to make these licensing changes. I thank colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, for highlighting the role that these industries play in our constituencies, where they provide jobs and contribute to the economy.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

On coalmines, what does the Minister think about the suggestion from the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden that any new licences could be supplied on the condition that the coal be sold only on the domestic market?

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I would not like to shut down any of the ideas put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden; the Government will consider all suggestions for the future licensing of coalmines. I do not want to go down a rabbit hole and make commitments on matters for which I may not be responsible in future.

I found the comments by my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell fascinating, as I do all his comments. I was particularly interested in his intervention on the hon. Member for Southampton, Test regarding the situation in Germany, which I also referenced.

A number of Opposition Members mentioned the coalmine in Cumbria. The decision by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities followed a comprehensive planning inquiry, which heard from 40 witnesses, and considered matters including the demand for coking coal and its suitability, climate change, and impact on the local economy. The full reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision are set out in a published letter, which should be read in its entirety, but he concluded that

“there is currently a UK and European market for the coal,” and that

“it is highly likely that a global demand would remain”.

Alongside that, the UK is working to support the decarbonisation of steel and other industries that still rely on coke and coal through our £315 million industrial energy transformation fund, which helps businesses with high energy use to cut their energy bills and carbon emissions by investing in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies.

For those reasons, I do not agree with the hon. Members for Bristol East, for Southampton, Test, and for Sheffield, Hallam. A complete ban is not appropriate, and risks our having to meet future demand for the industries that I mentioned from our own resources. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam—I am sorry that she is not here today—mentioned the Government’s commitment to COP26. As I said in my opening remarks, coal’s share of our electricity supply has already declined significantly in recent years; it has gone from providing almost 40% of our electricity in 2012 to less than 2% in 2021. I do not agree with professions from Opposition Members that we are surrendering our lead on climate issues to the Biden Administration in the USA. It is not for me to question the decisions of that Administration, or to say whether they are for good or ill, but they have just approved a drilling licence in the Arctic circle, so I suggest that our lead on these issues remains extant.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Remember, we are talking about comments from not just Opposition Members; comments about us losing our international lead were made by the right hon. Member for Kingswood, who did a net zero review; the COP26 President, the right hon. Member for Reading West; and the chair of the Climate Change Committee. That is three senior Tories who are saying that the UK is losing its international lead.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I recognise that. I speak with my right hon. and hon. Friends on thisissue and others, and I understand the concerns, including those of Committee members. However,I reassure all right hon. and hon. Members that phasing out unabated coal power generation within timeframes that keep 1.5°C within reach remains a key UK Government priority, and the Government are leading on that. That builds on our COP26 energy transition legacy, which included securing agreement to accelerate efforts

“towards the phasedown of unabated coal power” in the Glasgow climate pact, our co-leadership of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, and launching an international just transition declaration at the Glasgow summit. I would be very surprised if we did not return to some of these issues on Report, but I hope that the Committee will carefully consider my remarks.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

I had not expected to be given that privilege, Mr Gray. I remain unconvinced by the Minister’s arguments, and I refer him again to the fact that comments about the UK losing its international leadership have come from senior members of his party. He really should reflect on that, instead of arguing that opening new coalmines is the way forward.

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

Division number 9 Energy Bill [Lords] — Clause 270 - Prohibition of new coal mines

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 270 disagreed to.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

On a point of order, Mr Gray. May I ask for clarification of the voting process on clause 271 and Government new clause 52? As I am sure all Committee members are aware, new clause 52 will effectively replace clause 271, with the consent of each side. However, although we will be voting on clause 271 stand part today, we will not be voting on new clause 52 until the end of the Committee’s business. We could therefore conceivably end up with clause 271 being dropped but not replaced by new clause 52. Is it within procedure to retain clause 271 but assume that new clause 52 will replace it in due course, or are there other ways of doing it?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

Well, I am answering the question in that case. The answer is that I will put the Question on clause 271 now and, depending on what the majority decides, it will either remain in the Bill or be removed. At the end of consideration, we will come to new clause 52. If there is a majority for it, it will be added to the Bill. If there is not, it will not. The two are not conditional on each other; they are entirely separate.