[Mr. David Amess in the Chair] — Biofuels

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 5th June 2008.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 3:30 pm, 5th June 2008

It is easy to agree. There is no point in having a policy that is counter-productive. Of course, I would argue that we have to be clear about our standards. However, to be fair—and I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South—we have firms up and running in this area which believe that they are doing the right thing because they were given the policy lead from this place, with some of us kicking the Government up the backside and saying, "You are not going fast enough, far enough and firm enough in terms of policy", and now we are saying that it is the wrong policy. It is easy for us to say, "We have lots of wrong policies"—some of us would argue that we have wrong policies in some areas—but occasionally we have to be honest and say, "Okay, we may have got it slightly wrong, but we cannot keep changing policies; otherwise, the instruments with which we are trying to encourage the changes to happen, to deal with the thing called climate change, will become confusing and it will be so messy out there." It is not just hon. Members who are saying that. If we had that much power as parliamentarians, all hon. Members would be here doing whatever they do to the best of their ability, feeling that they were great agents for change. The agriculture people were arguing that they wanted the changes because, as I said earlier, they felt that they had to get greater investment to use the land for things other than food.

There is also the biofuels industry to consider. I am sympathetic to that industry. A number of firms have set up in that area and have been successful in encouraging the use of biofuels. However, the non-governmental organisations are also involved. I have to say that it is easier for them to suddenly change sides than to manage Chelsea! That goes on as day follows night. I remember being lobbied and it was not just happening for me. My hon. Friend Paddy Tipping, who has been the greatest advocate in the House for what we tried to do, and I were being pushed by NGOs to say, "You've got to realise your climate change obligations and bioenergy is one of the ways in which you can do that." Okay, we may have got it wrong: we may have needed to graduate this and we may need more balance in the arguments.

I shall now return to what I was saying, because I have gone out of kilter. If I read my notes I might get back into some semblance of order. The problem is not biofuels, which are a drop in the ocean, relatively speaking in terms of land use; the problem is that we have failed to address food security. I have some ownership of that issue, because I had a debate in this Chamber on Tuesday on food security, in which I tried to make that point. The Government responded well, saying, "Yes, we've got a problem; we've got to do something about it." It is not just a British problem and is certainly not just a European problem: it is a worldwide problem.

But calling for a moratorium is a bit like chucking the baby out with the bathwater. It is not as simple as saying, "Let's have a moratorium; it's the easy way out. Let's just produce more food", because all hon. Members know—my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South mentioned it—that food is wasted and that a cheap food policy has not always delivered all the things that we wanted it to.

All I am asking for is some balance when looking at the arguments, some stability in policy evolution and some guarantees to companies that are taking a risk and investing in this area, but now, all of a sudden, are being told that they should forget the obligation from April, because they will not get any more investment owing to the policy being changed. Given my politics and from my perspective, I can be a bit rude to business now because I have already been a bit rude to farmers. I am not sympathetic in this regard just because people take risks. However, it is a bit worrying when the context of that risk is entirely driven by something external to themselves and they are told a message which then changes completely. I could go on in the same vein as my hon. Friend about companies that have been in that position and now feel a bit uncertain, to put it mildly.

To me, biofuels were never the answer. How long does a Select Committee report last? Probably less time than my Select Committee thought ours would last, because ours was a bit more optimistic and progressive in respect of where we saw the opportunities for biofuels. We may have been too optimistic, but considering this matter purely pessimistically and saying that biofuels are no answer at all to the problems of reducing carbon is unduly negative. We must get other things right. We certainly have to get the agricultural subsidy regime right, because although it might be daft to subsidise agriculture in the way that we do, it is certainly daft to subsidise alternative non-food production. However, that is because we have got the subsidy regime wrong; it is not to do with biofuels per se.

I hope that my contribution has been helpful, even if I have brought a note of rancour into these wonderful consensual debates.