[Mr. David Amess in the Chair] — Biofuels

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:44 pm on 5th June 2008.

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Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Leader's Parliamentary Private Secretary, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities 3:44 pm, 5th June 2008

I would be delighted to, and if the hon. Lady could be a little more patient, I shall come to that point. At the beginning, I said there was a need for balance in this debate. I am trying to say that an awful lot of the report makes eminent good sense, but that there is a different side to the matter, as Labour Members have already indicated.

As I was saying, we should not subsidise fuel from unsustainable resources, as we are currently doing, for example, with most of the bioethanol we get from the United States. Energy companies have the opportunity to buy their biofuels from good suppliers, even if they are sometimes understandably more expensive. It is therefore vital that incentives are put in place now rather than in two years' time to encourage the production and purchase of high-quality sustainable biofuels that have the highest CO2 savings and the best environmental credentials possible. The key point is that the renewable transport fuel obligation must be recalibrated so that suppliers get a better financial deal when more carbon is saved.

Similarly, sustainability standards should be mandatory from now on and should not be postponed until 2011. If the Government set strict environmental standards, the fuel companies will have no choice but to face up to their obligations to meet them. To delay action on that issue—like delaying action on any environmental issue—would damage the very environment that we are all trying to protect.

I shall give a further example of where regulations are too lax. Currently, when reporting on the biofuels they supply, energy companies can claim that they do not know what the land that they are using to source biofuels from was used for previously. That is not only ridiculous, but incredibly irresponsible. Companies should not source goods if they do not know the conditions in which they are being produced. To do so is the equivalent of high street retailers in the west sourcing goods from sweatshops in the far east and pretending they do not know that the workers are paid a pittance for their efforts. Will the Minister explain why that ignorance loophole exists and tell us whether he agrees that it can be used to hide where some biofuels are in reality being produced?

To ensure that biofuels are not replacing valuable natural habitats or carbon sinks, there should be a punitive presumption in the biofuels standards. If energy companies cannot confirm where the biofuels are from, they should be classed as replacing rainforest, and therefore deemed unacceptable. Such a premise would ensure that energy companies take seriously their obligation to confirm that the biofuels they are selling come only from sustainable sources that do not harm natural habitats.