May 12, 2006
Nick Hurd supports the Bill as a small step towards creating greater government accountability for tracking carbon through the economy and to think more about microgeneration and energy efficiency.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I, too, rise to support the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on his tenacity in building consensus on it. However, the House should be honest in acknowledging that it is a quite modest measure. It will certainly not transform the landscape of domestic climate change policy. For that, we need to look to the bigger beasts: the outcome of the energy review that the Minister is conducting and, critically, the decision taken on the national allocation to the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme this summer. A recent report by the National Audit Office to the Environmental Audit Committee highlighted the latter as the policy decision that would have the greatest impact on carbon emissions reduction in the short term. Those will be the real tests of the appetite of the Government and the House for reducing carbon in our economy.
The Bill is welcome, however, because it takes a small, positive step in the direction of promoting greater accountability to the House on the progress made in tracking carbon through the economy and the progress of the Government in reducing it, as the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) rightly pointed out. A second important step will be to force central Government-and, to a lesser extent, local government-to think more about microgeneration and energy efficiency.
The increase in accountability will be hugely important, because the lack of accountability is undermining the effectiveness of the international process to reduce carbon. Many countries will not meet their Kyoto targets, yet they will suffer very few penalties for that failure. This country probably will meet its Kyoto targets, although , as the Government now acknowledge, there are significant doubts about the 2010 target, and there is complete uncertainty about the 2050 target. It is very difficult for the House and all other interested parties to get to grips with the reality of how carbon tracks through the economy, and with the probability of success for the various policy measures that the Government are implementing. That makes it difficult for us to hold the Government to account.
The desire for greater accountability, transparency and rigour in the review process underlies the cross-party consensus-on the Conservative Benches, at least-in suggesting the creation of an independent body, which could add tremendous value to the ability of the House to understand what is really happening with emissions and to assess the probability of success in meeting the longer-term targets. I suspect that that would have a much greater impact than the measures introduced in the Bill, but I welcome what is on offer today.
I echo the sentiments on microgeneration expressed by the hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow), with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Environmental Audit Committee. Microgeneration has the potential to play three important roles at a time when energy policy must necessarily shift from focusing only on the cost of energy to considering the more complex set of issues with which the Minister is wrestling, including security of supply and the impact on climate.
The sources of energy and technology that we are considering under the banner of microgeneration will have three important benefits. The first is reducing carbon. The second is reducing the waste of energy in our system. It was pointed out in Committee and in the debate that, if we are to believe the reports, two thirds of our energy is wasted between the point of production and the point of consumption. If it is true, that statistic ought to be a matter of considerable concern to the House in a new energy age in which security of supply, efficiency and affordability will become increasingly pressing issues. The third benefit, as the hon. Member for Hove pointed out, is that microgeneration will bring people closer to their source of energy. The evidence is that, where that happens, it is successful in changing attitudes to demand and to energy conservation.
Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hurd: I am happy to give way to a fellow member of the Environmental Audit Committee.
Colin Challen: I indeed have the pleasure of serving with the hon. Gentleman on the Environmental Audit Committee. Is there not a fourth benefit that arises from some of the other benefits that he mentioned: reducing fuel poverty? He said that £5 billion-worth of domestic energy is wasted each year. Surely, if some of that money was saved, it could be put into fuel poverty measures, making life better for everybody.
Mr. Hurd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making an extremely valuable point that I had not thought of.
The point that I was trying to make is about the importance of energy efficiency to this debate, because it is surely the low-hanging fruit in climate change policy at a time when concerns about the costs attached to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change are a drag on the international process, not least in the United States. Like other economies, it is concerned about the implications for economic competitiveness. Rigorous pursuit of greater energy efficiency in producing, distributing and conserving energy must be the ultimate win-win approach to ensuring that we reduce carbon emissions and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of our economies.
I welcome the Bill, but I want to conclude my speech by expressing one regret, which is about the cautiousness with which it engages local government-a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) pressed vigorously in Committee. He was right that the Bill raises an interesting debate about centralism versus localism, which the Minister enjoyed in Committee, but the fact that recycling is arguably the one green activity that has been successfully transformed from a niche activity to a mainstream one has come about because local authorities have played a critical role in making it easy for people to do-they have made it simple for people to do the right thing. I see an opportunity for local government to perform a similar role in the space that we are discussing.
We have heard both in the Chamber and in Committee about beacons of excellence. We have heard today about Brighton and Braintree, and Croydon was mentioned in Committee. If the Government are not prepared to engage more with local government on the Bill, they should be doing more to promote best practice across the country. I hope that the House, and certainly Opposition Members, will hold the Government to account on that opportunity.