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Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman mentions Sir Ben Gill's taskforce. Is he aware of other
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reports, including one by the Scottish Executive, that supported the renewable fuel obligation? The Scottish Executive report also pointed out that such an obligation could create 2,000 jobs in rural areas of Scotland.

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point and I hope that the Minister will bear it in mind when he responds.

The Bill would also require an annual report on greenhouse gas emissions, which is a sensible idea. Indeed, hon. Members may have noted that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and I have suggested something similar. We should have targets, an annual debate with a Government response, and external audits of what the Government are doing.

Mr. Forth: Some stress has been laid this morning on targets and reports, but how impressed has the hon. Gentleman been with the Government's track record on the plethora of targets that they have set in the past eight years and the avalanche of reports and reviews produced? What results have flowed from those, and why is the hon. Gentleman so optimistic that the reports that the Bill would generate would have any more positive results?

Norman Baker: There is a tendency to set targets for a long time hence and then find that they have not been met. The Bill would have annual targets, externally audited, with a requirement to report to Parliament. That is a much more vigorous and sensible approach than the use of targets so far, which has been rather loose.

I am delighted to support the Bill and that it has cross-party support. It is strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats, as shown by the strong turn-out of my colleagues, and I hope that it will have a safe passage through its remaining stages.

10.25 am

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): Action to tackle climate change is a vital global challenge and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on introducing the Bill. I am very pleased to be listed as one of its supporters and I hope—the signs are encouraging—that it will have enough support from other hon. Members and the Government to receive a Second Reading this afternoon, along with the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill, on which I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead).

As we have heard, the Bill would encourage and facilitate domestic micro-generation, the promotion of community energy, and the development of a renewable heat obligation. All that makes very good environmental sense and very good economic sense, but I want to say a word on why it also makes such good political sense. That is not only because it responds to a growing concern among many of our constituents that if climate change is really such a threat, we should do more about it. It is also because people are enthusiastic to do more about it in their everyday lives.
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Mr. Forth: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to open his post this morning. I have of course opened mine, as I do every morning, and studied it carefully. By coincidence in today's post, I received the results of a survey conducted by MORI on behalf of EDF which asked what the most important issues were for the people of this country. Global warming and climate change came a poor seventh in the list. I point that out because I do not want the House to run away with the idea that everybody has global warming and climate change at the top of their personal agendas: they do not.

Mr. Smith: One can draw whatever conclusions one wants from surveys that arrive in the post. All I can say is that in my regular street surgeries in Oxford, one of the main issues raised recently was not the Terrorism Bill, nor even the NHS or education, but climate change, the importance of plastics recycling and the environment in general. In my surveys of young voters in particular—I am sure that other hon. Members have had similar experiences—climate change, and the need for more local action, are consistently some of the top issues raised.

It is crucial that such matters be not left to G8 summits and world conferences, but that people see what they can do in their own homes and neighbourhoods. Micro-generation enables people to think globally and act locally. I am pleased that the Bill includes a duty on the Secretary of State to promote community energy. In Oxfordshire, at Watchfield, we have an exciting project to build Westhill wind farm—the first in south-east England. One of the reasons it will be the first is the difficulty that community renewable energy schemes face. Projects with a capacity below 5 MW and a significant community buy-in are unattractive to conventional developers, who prefer the wholesale energy market. Advice and risk finance are difficult to obtain. The Bill will help by allowing the Secretary of State to allocate funds to promote investment in community energy schemes and provide them with advice. A lot could be achieved with modest amounts of money including, for example, for grants that could be repaid by successful schemes.

A conference will be hosted in Oxford next April—the world's solar cities conference—where local authorities and local initiatives across the world will share ideas and expertise. I hope colleagues will encourage constituents to take part, and I shall circulate details. It would be great if delegates from the UK were able to tell others what a boost progress on the Bill is giving micro-generation.

If we are to give the Bill a Second Reading, we need to keep our remarks brief so I shall mention only a couple of barriers that I am glad that the measure addresses. Obtaining green energy certificates for micro-generation can still be difficult and expensive. In some cases renewable obligations certificates cost more than a micro-generator is worth. Ofgem should tackle the regulatory burden of the certificates by making them accessible for the householder, so that micro-generators can benefit from Government support for renewables. I welcome the provisions that would minimise the cost and administrative burdens of domestic micro-generation.
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Like community energy schemes, micro-generation suffers from the structure of the traditional energy market. Unlike large generators, householders are not in a position to undertake complex commercial negotiations with energy suppliers. I especially welcome clause 7, which takes a crucial step forward in requiring energy suppliers to offer to buy micro-generated energy from householders at the market rate. Household energy generation would be put on the same terms as household energy supply—a straightforward and commonsense approach which empowers consumers who are producers.

Taken together, those steps and other aspects of the measure would ensure that micro-generation makes a significant contribution to hitting the 10 per cent. target for energy from renewable sources by 2010. As other Members have pointed out, the Bill offers real opportunities to address fuel poverty, as well as benefits to poor countries through technology transfer.

In conclusion, climate change, energy conservation and sustainable energy are vitally important, as more and more of our constituents recognise. This is a crucial time for taking the decisions and action necessary to determine how to meet our commitments on climate change and put the future of UK energy production on a sustainable basis. The Bill tackles regulatory and financial barriers that hold back community energy and the potential of micro-generation. It will promote sustainable energy, improve community involvement and encourage people to save energy. Passing the measure will help to ensure that climate change and sustainable energy are at the very top of the political agenda. Its provisions are good for the environment, good for the economy and will enable people to combat global danger with local action. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.32 am

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I add my support for the Bill. I have received more letters on climate change than on any other subject. Since the election, I have received more than 50 representations, including one from the Southfield school for girls. I commend the students and their head of geography, Mrs. Christine Lunt, who lobbied me on climate change on their own initiative, not in response to any campaign. As the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) said, it is clear that the younger members of our communities hold strong views on climate change.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend has just boasted that he received 50 representations since the election. Will he remind me of how many voters there are in his constituency?

Mr. Hollobone: There are 81,000 voters, so I concede that 50 is a small percentage, but it is still the largest number of representations that I have received on any issue. In my view, that reflects serious concern in the Kettering constituency.

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