[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair] — European Commission Annual Policy Strategy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:28 pm on 2nd July 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 3:28 pm, 2nd July 2009

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. In my constituency, there are currently many controversies, not about wind turbines, but about planning on a variety of issues. It is about a lack of democracy. It is frustrating when a whole community is united in a particular objective, and their rights and views seem to be trampled over. There is a balance to be had, because there is sometimes a “not in my backyard” attitude—although I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman’s constituents of that—which could mean that we never have any renewable technologies anywhere.

We need more incentives for communities in the form of benefits that will accrue. The community can see a real benefit when the money and funds for renewable energy projects are put in place. There is, perhaps, even a profit-sharing basis for that. In Shetland, for example, fabulous projects have been put in place by the oil industry. Where there is a community benefit, that can help.

We should also recognise that onshore wind is not the only answer. Offshore wind, for example, is perhaps less likely to attract criticism, and many marine renewables are on the sea bed and do not seem to have the same impact on a landscape. Those things need to be developed, because as an island with huge potential—whether in respect of the Severn barrage proposals, in the Pentland firth or elsewhere offshore—we need to ensure that we are using the resources.

Technology transfer poses a challenge. Page 4 of the document says that

“both the copyright and the trademark systems should be modernised to make them responsive to the needs of business and consumers”.

That is the sort of statement with which everybody agrees, but there is a real challenge in getting the correct balance. For example, we do not want patents on low-carbon technologies to become a barrier to transferring them to developing countries, where that technology is needed because their economies are growing. If we are effectively saying to those countries, “You can’t develop on the same trajectory of carbon emissions that we did”, it is only fair that we give them assistance to enable them to develop low-carbon economies. Equally, with that kind of technology transfer there can be a barrier to investment in new technologies. It is important that such vital measures are not prevented by technology transfer. It is difficult to get it right. The £60 billion fund to assist with technology transfer globally to developing countries, which was proposed by the Prime Minister in his recent speech, could help. A lot of environmental groups have suggested that that does not go far enough, but at least it is a step in right direction.

Mr. Ellwood mentioned carbon capture and storage. I agree that the Government have not made nearly enough progress on that vital issue, but I disagree with what he said about the feasibility of CCS. As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I can say that we have looked into CCS and come to the conclusion that, although there is currently no commercially viable project on the scale that would be necessary, each element of the technology has been tried and tested. It is about having the right incentives in place. If business gets a clear signal that new coal-fired power stations will not be allowed if it does not include CCS, the investment will come. The Government should have been bolder in that regard.

We can argue about whether we can achieve Britain’s cuts in carbon emissions without CCS. Some would argue that nuclear could help to fill that gap, although I am not a fan of it. However, in respect of other countries, members of the EAC met Government officials in China and heard about the number of coal-fired power stations that they are building and will continue to build. It is clear that there is no way that we, as a planet, will achieve our objectives if we do not have CCS technology. It is important that that technology can be retrofitted to existing power stations, rather than just having technology that is pre rather than post.

We have suffered a financial crisis of confidence in the banking sector, with consumers throughout the country not being sure where to put their money and unsure what was going on as everything seemed to collapse. It is important that we consider the competition issues that have been raised by the nationalisation or recapitalisation of the banks and the merger of Lloyds and HBOS, which the Government have waived competition rules to allow. There is a great danger that we set ourselves up to repeat the mistakes from which we have already suffered. The enforcement of competition rules, which are mentioned on pages 3 and 4, is important in aiding recovery.

Lloyds now boasts on its website that it has more than 50 per cent. of the UK market share of social bank accounts and Goldman Sachs says that it controls 30 per cent. of the UK banking market overall. I do not see how that can be healthy in the long term. It will be necessary to break up the banks, particularly when they are re-privatised back into the private sector. Paraphrasing Mervyn King’s recent statement, if banks are too big to fail, then they are too big. In such circumstances, the Government have to bail out the banks. The lack of competition is a problem, and it is not good for customers, either.