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Sustainable Energy Bill

1.39 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Maddock.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Annual reports on progress towards sustainable energy aims]:

Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 1:


The noble Baroness said: I should like to preface my remarks on this and the other amendments that I shall be moving by repeating the protest made by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon at Second Reading, a protest made also by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip. The way in which the Bill has been dealt with first in another place and even more importantly in your Lordships' House means that there is a major risk that this important Bill will not receive proper scrutiny. In the other place the Bill was received with enthusiasm by the Minister, who then proceeded to introduce a series of amendments which completely emasculated it. In the words of my honourable friend the Member for Christchurch in

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Committee in another place, the Government completely filleted the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was less flamboyant in his phraseology. He contented himself with saying—if he does not mind my quoting him—that,


    "one could not avoid coming to the conclusion that the Government might be wishing to draw back from some of their commitments entered into in the White Paper".—[Official Report, 12/9/03; col. 613.]

The parliamentary timetable under which we have to work means that we are faced with the alternatives of take it or leave it. Either we accept the Bill in its current form—which waters down the original Private Member's Bill from a form welcomed on all sides and by the Minister himself in the other place, to such an extent that the original Bill is almost completely unrecognisable—or we risk losing the Bill totally. Well, this House is not, at least for the moment, a rubber stamp for the Government. I hope that it will never be so.

While we can still justifiably claim to be the finest revising Chamber in the world we will continue to call on the Government to come here and account for their actions, in this case to explain their reasons for resiling from the original promises that they made at Second Reading of the Bill in the other place. They said:


    "we agree that there is a need to report on policy goals, as required by clause 1";

that is, Clause 1 as originally drafted by the sponsor and not the filleted form we are now asked to approve. In the same passage, the Minister said:


    "The Government have committed ourselves to producing an annual progress report, and we are willing for that to become a legal requirement".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/03; col. 599.]

We on these Benches are in some difficulty. The Bill clearly needs amendment if only to restore it to the state in which it was first presented to another place and the form which the Government said they welcomed. However, we realise that if we press our amendments, the Bill which we support in principle will be lost. It is therefore certain that I will not pursue any amendment to a vote. However, I do expect a considered and credible answer to my amendments from the Government today.

With those prefatory remarks which I hope will explain the philosophy behind all of my amendments, I turn to speak to Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 together.

Amendment No. 1 simply adds the words:


    "with particular reference to achieving a reduction in such emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 based on 1990 levels and maintaining such reduction after 2010".

Those words echo the Government's own stated objectives as set out in the White Paper and in the Labour manifesto and numerous ministerial pronouncements. Those added words put flesh on the Government's preferred wording which simply require the Government to report progress towards cutting the UK's carbon emissions, with no statutory indication of what the UK's objectives might be. As drafted, the Government could produce a report which on the face of it bore no relationship to the 20 per cent objective. The Government could simply report without so much as a blush that they were now 0.1 per cent toward their

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commitment. This amendment will make the Government come clean on their progress or lack of it on the face of the report and not send us hunting out what would by then be an old White Paper to discover what the commitment actually was.

Amendment No. 3 reinstates but to a much more modest extent the specific objectives that the sponsor of the Bill in the other place originally set out in his Clause 1(1)(a). They would create a meaningful report such as the Minister claimed in the other place the Government supported instead of the meaningless waffle that we are now going to be asked to approve. What is needed is for the Minister to explain to the Committee why the Government, while paying lip service to openness and frankness, declined to put into statutory form a requirement to report how close they have come to the objectives they have set themselves and the country. I beg to move.

1.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra: I should like fully to associate myself with the preliminary remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and to support her amendments. Like the Conservative Opposition, we on these Benches are very concerned that the Bill has come to us in a form which has removed from it the objectives to which we consider the Government are firmly committed as a result of the energy White Paper. As we understand it, the Government object to having these commitments mentioned specifically in the current Bill. In those circumstances, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he will in terms confirm the objectives which are contained in the White Paper and to which this Bill must surely relate; namely, the objectives for the reduction in CO 2 emissions, the increase in renewables and the increase in CHP. I will not spell them out; they are clearly stated in the amendment. What we would like to have is either for the Government to agree that those objectives should be stated in the Bill, or, if not, for the Minister to state clearly beyond any doubt whatever that the Government are firmly committed to those objectives.

Baroness Maddock: I have considerable sympathy with the two amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. As noble Lords will know and as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said, the original Bill published by Brian White MP contained specific targets in relation to renewable CHP and carbon dioxide emissions. These amendments would indeed restore those matters to the Bill. However, I regret that it became clear during very protracted negotiations with the Government that they were simply not prepared to accept these specific targets on the face of the Bill. All those who have been involved in the Bill find that difficult to understand as the energy White Paper specifically commits the Government to reporting annually on those very matters.

Nevertheless, with considerable regret, Mr Brian White conceded the point on Report. It had been made abundantly clear to him that to proceed with the clause

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as originally drafted would jeopardise the very future of the Bill. Indeed, as has already been said, we in the House of Lords reach a point where we either have a Bill as it is or we have nothing. It is very difficult in such circumstances to do what we would all very much like to do with the Bill. As I made clear at Second Reading, I share Brian White's profound disappointment at the Government's stance.

We have been somewhat reassured by the Government that they would use the annual sustainable energy report required by the new clause to report on all 135 commitments in the energy White Paper. Like other speakers—and I shall perhaps spell this out in more detail than did my noble friend Lord Ezra—I ask the Minister for specific assurance again that the Government will report annually on progress towards the achievement of 20 per cent of electricity from renewable resources by 2020, the generation of 10 gigawatts of electricity by combined heat and power by 2010, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of 20 per cent based on 1990 levels by 2010, and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 60 per cent by 2050. All those aims were set out in the Government's energy White Paper. I therefore hope that the Minister can assure us.

As for Clause 2, there was a difference at Second Reading about the Government's exact commitment in their energy efficiency aim. We hope that the Government are planning to deliver five megatonnes of carbon savings through household energy efficiency by 2010 and a further 4 million to 6 million tonnes of carbon by 2020 as specified in the White Paper.

The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, gave slightly different figures. I have since received a letter stating that the figures were not as he said. However, today, so that there is no fear of confusion anywhere, I should like the Government to confirm the figures I mentioned.

The Earl of Erroll: Targets on the face of the Bill are a nice idea but the trouble is that a target is a target. It is not a crime to miss it. On the other hand, given that targets in other areas have gone wrong, I understand the Government's worry about having targets on the face of the Bill. However, if targets are not set, we do not know what we are aiming at and we may well miss them.

My main point is that I am worried about references to certain technologies. Technology changes. We should not tie ourselves to existing technologies. For example, I note that there is no mention of multi-fuel fuel cell technology which could deliver great energy savings. Technologies are emerging which could help in this area. Sometimes one can restrict development in certain new areas by tying oneself to existing technology in current legislation. Although those matters should be referred to, the Bill should contain an open clause to include new technology at a later date.


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