[Mr. David Amess in the Chair] — Biofuels

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:02 pm on 5th June 2008.

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Photo of Dari Taylor Dari Taylor Labour, Stockton South 3:02 pm, 5th June 2008

It is always a pleasure to speak in Westminster Hall with you in the Chair, Mr. Amess. I extend that compliment to Mr. Yeo, whom I congratulate on securing the debate and on publishing a thoughtful paper on the sustainability of biofuels.

Many of us—not only Members of the House, but other people—are talking about climate change, transport costs, greenhouse gas emissions, land and food scarcity, food prices and deforestation. We are discussing the fact that the west is benefiting while the east is certainly suffering. Those comments have been made time and again, and they all feature in today's debate, which is important. I support biofuels and the work that has been done to date, but I accept that there is a critical need to ensure that it is sustainable in terms of land usage, food and food prices. We are moving in the direction of achieving sustainability through the delivery of a biofuels policy that is of value to us all.

I have companies in Teesside that are very much involved in the production of biofuels. I would hate anyone to believe that a non-scientist would think that she has a very clear and careful understanding of what is going on in the biofuels world simply because she shows an interest. I do show an interest, but my companies are very informative. Some people might see that as a conflict of interest, so it is important that I state that I have knowledge of and a relationship with companies such as Ensus, Agrovista, SembCorp and Petroplus. All of them have, in their different ways, produced information knowing that this debate would take place today. The hon. Member for South Suffolk smiles knowingly, and he is right to do so. Of course, we all want to support our areas. We think that our work is important and, consequently, we want to ensure that the full facts are presented. I shall therefore attempt to produce some facts that are different from those outlined in the excellent report. I do so having knowledge of the companies that I have mentioned, but I should like to persuade the House that I am no easy pushover.

It is not inevitable that I would support companies on Teesside just because they are in an area through which I travel to work—they are not in my constituency—but the work that I have seen being done with waste products, rape-seed and wheat is based on rigorous scientific research. I am absolutely convinced that when I read scientific documents from those companies, they present information factually and carefully. I believe absolutely that those companies have integrity. Of course, they want to develop and produce, but they also want to believe that they are doing something of value in Britain. I have no doubt that at the end of the debate, either the hon. Member for South Suffolk or I, or both of us, will be presenting my companies with the information that his Committee has produced. We will also want answers. It is crucial to this complex debate that we have answers.

The companies that I have mentioned are rigorous and have integrity, and I know from my conversations with them that they, too, are concerned that sustainability is an absolute. They are pinning an awful lot of their hopes to deliver sustainability on the reporting mechanism that has been put in place. That mechanism requires that, at every point, all that is being done within the science is known within the community, so that we know whether there are downsides to the science as well as upsides. I am equally aware that we have to be cautious, because the reporting is referencing the renewable transport fuel obligation, and there is a sense that the relevant body will want positive rather than negative outcomes. Nevertheless, reporting will be fair, accurate and comprehensive. They tell me that if Europe produces a renewable energy directive, they will support it.

We have a serious problem. There are no doubts about oil and energy scarcity, and food prices and food scarcity issues are absolute. I am aware of the problem, and know that we need answers, but I do not want a solution that might last a few years and then we are sunk again. That is the last thing that any of us in this House wants. Today, I am trying to persuade the House that my companies are careful in their scientific exploration and in their delivery—I hope that I am succeeding in part, if not in total.

I highlight in particular Ensus's evidence on the indirect effects of biofuels in relation to a study by the Renewable Fuels Agency. The evidence that I have found has been confidently and carefully outlined, and it adds to the debate. It is factual, but what really strikes me, as a non-scientist, as being valuable is the fact that that evidence is to be scrutinised carefully by a peer review. All of us who have ever been involved in peer reviews know that if there is anything critical to be said, it will be. For most of us, there is nothing better than telling others in the same profession, "You've got it wrong." The peer review is therefore very valuable.

On that basis, I want to persuade hon. Members to consider Ensus's evidence that sustainability is a factor and that viability is an absolute factor. I suggest that they look at some of the evidence that the company produced, because the work that it has completed and the work that it is doing make it clear that biorefining wheat in the right way can already achieve greenhouse gas savings of in excess of 60 per cent., compared with the continued use of fossil fuels. That is a very real bit of information, and we must look at it. If validated—indeed, it has been today—it must contribute significantly to the debate on this issue.

The company's information also notes that the effective use of wheat protein concentrate—the co-product of biorefining—as animal feed can significantly improve the efficiency of the food chain in Europe. That gives rise to the further belief that using wheat protein concentrate in that way can release land outside Europe that is currently used to grow soy that is imported into Europe for animal feed. Releasing that land will have a serious impact on reducing the pressure that leads to deforestation, and that is valuable information. It compares with the information in the Committee's report and should be put into the mix when we decide whether to continue with and invest in biofuels, as I hope we will. It is clear from my reading of the Ensus and Petroplus reports that we could achieve fuel security and carbon savings if we can be absolutely reassured, as I am, that this is the way to proceed.

As I said, I will put the Committee's report into the hands of my companies. I want answers, because this debate cannot be a one-off. I am concerned when the hon. Gentleman says that first-generation biofuels are inefficient. I am concerned when people say that carbon emissions from the machinery used in agriculture and from soil disturbance are problematic in terms of carbon emissions. I am concerned when I hear that nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser applications and emissions from the energy used to convert feedstock into liquid fuel are problematic. I am concerned when I hear that the transport of feedstocks adds to carbon emissions, rather than reducing them. Those serious criticisms must be answered.

When the hon. Member for South Suffolk says that he is concerned with the change in land use, however, I find his argument less convincing. Farms in the north-east are going through a vibrant period, and they know that there is much more to come. Farmers are being given a lifeline that they have not had for years. I am not, therefore, awfully convinced by the hon. Gentleman's criticism.

The report says that food security and demand for biofuels have led to higher commodity prices, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to put other things into the mix. How about poor harvests? How about animal diseases? How about demographic changes? How about the fact that we in Great Britain waste 40 per cent. of our food? If we are to state the case, let us do so completely, not in part. It is important for us all that we do that.