It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Nigel Adams on securing this important debate on a topic that, as we move to a large proportion of our energy needs being met by renewables, is vital. John Ruskin said that it was always
“more difficult to be simple than to be complicated”.
An aim of the debate on energy strategy and policy is to make it more straightforward, for when we make it esoteric, we not only confuse most of the public, but I suspect we may confuse ourselves.
My mission is to bring a straightforwardness to energy policy, and at the heart of that straightforwardness, as Graham Stringer said, is that there is no imperative more significant than that of energy security—ensuring that supply meets demand. All the other considerations may have value, and some may have great significance, but unless a Government, though Governments do not do it all themselves, of course, can bring about a set of conditions and establish a framework in which that can be assured, they are failing, which is why biomass, and particularly coal conversion, is so important. It is, as my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price argued, a reliable, predictable and secure means of helping to ensure energy security. It is as plain—in Ruskin’s terms—and simple as that, but the debate deserves more than that, and I want to talk a bit more about the detail.
I recognise that there are many pros and cons involved, and to balance them the Department has set out four guiding principles for our biomass energy policy. They are that biomass must be sustainable, that it delivers genuine greenhouse gas savings, that it is cost-effective and that its unintended consequences on other industries are minimised. All those issues have been mentioned during the debate. Kate Green talked about sustainability, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton raised the issue of greenhouse gas savings, and my hon. Friend Andrew Percy and others mentioned cost-effectiveness. I see my role as ensuring that the principles are applied pragmatically and consistently.
I would like to set out why I believe biomass is an important part of the energy mix.