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Hughes on Jobs and Growth in a Low-carbon Economy

March 9, 2012 10:41 AM

Simon Hughes• [Mar 05] Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Liberal Democrat): I AM very happy to follow Chris Ruane, and I pay tribute to the opportunities and success in north Wales. I visited the area when I shadowed the energy and climate change brief in the previous Parliament, and I must say that the whole of the north Wales coast and the area off the north Wales shore is a fantastic site. It gives us not only the success we have had already, but huge potential.

I am pleased to welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to his post, to join his colleagues in the Department's team-

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East, Labour): Where is he?

• Simon Hughes: Clearly, he has gone out for his tea just at the moment. I will tell him off later, but even the ever-energetic Energy Secretary has to have a cup of tea some time.

I am glad that we are having this debate, and I pay tribute to Caroline Flint for choosing this important issue. She knows my commitment to it and I am grateful for the acknowledgement of the work I have tried to do in this area for many years. The Labour Administration had many successes, the Climate Change Act 2008 being the biggest, and the Leader of the Opposition, as he is now, tried hugely hard at the Copenhagen summit, which I, too, attended, to rescue it, as far as was possible, from the disaster that was otherwise afflicting it. Happily, he made sure that there was good progress that could be built on in the years to come.

I have to say to the right hon. Lady that in some areas Labour clearly did not deliver. I do not wish to spend most of my time discussing the past, because we all have a duty to work together to ensure the that we have the best possible present, but the renewables figures I cited were not speculation; they were the figures that are in the record. The energy figures for the EU show that we were the worst at achieving the renewable energy targets we had set. The table is commonly available and the share of renewable consumption as a proportion of our target showed us in the worst possible light. That was not acceptable and this Government will, I know, do better. It was a defeat of the Labour Government in the House of Lords that got the feed-in tariff system going and that was resisted by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the Opposition. The European common energy market was never delivered in 13 years of Labour government. On all those things, the record was not all that the right hon. Lady might wish to make us believe it was.

There was one area in which Labour had a clear position with which I disagreed and with which I still disagree. I am not committed-the Liberal Democrats are not committed-to nuclear power. We do not think that it is the solution-[ Interruption. ] There had to be negotiation for the coalition agreement but we have made it clear that it is neither necessary for the future of British energy policy nor good for investment in jobs. It creates very few jobs compared with community-based and renewable energy schemes, and the criterion negotiated, while we retained our opposition, was that it would go ahead only

"provided there is no public subsidy".

I and colleagues will remain eternally vigilant that there will be no direct or indirect public subsidy for nuclear. It is unacceptable in any other context and we have spent and wasted far too much on nuclear power in the past.

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Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative): Without nuclear, where will my right hon. Friend get the base load supply of electricity that does not depend on fluctuating winds and variable sun?

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• Simon Hughes: The answer is very easy. We still have huge capacity in gas and oil-

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Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative): Oh, so we are back to fossil fuel?

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• Simon Hughes: No. As my hon. Friend Sir Robert Smith knows, we have that capacity and I have argued consistently that it is possible to have clean coal and to ensure that we use the modern technologies through carbon capture and storage to achieve it. If we have a proper energy grid across Europe, we can capitalise on the solar power from the south and the hydroelectric power from elsewhere. It is entirely possible to do that-although that is, of course, a matter of dispute.

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Nicholas Dakin (Scunthorpe, Labour): The right hon. Gentleman was very clear that there should be no subsidy for nuclear. Does he not feel, as many people do, that the carbon floor price, as it is currently constructed, acts as a subsidy for nuclear?

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• Simon Hughes: A very lively debate is going on about that point in the context of the European energy policy, which, as we heard the Prime Minister say earlier, will at last be delivered by 2014. We must ensure that we apply the same rules in that context as we do in all others.

When the coalition Government were formed, we set 23 objectives for energy and climate change policy. I hope that Ministers might either now or by the second anniversary put in the Library a report on how far they have gone towards achieving those objectives. Many have already been achieved and Ministers have set out down the road towards achieving the others. We already have £60 million invested in world-class offshore wind conversion in our ports to produce jobs and many people are being trained as apprentices to work on the green deal. We have a green deal energy efficiency initiative for homes across the country and a decision on the green investment bank, the location of which will be announced soon. Let me repeat what I have said publicly in the past: I do not think it should be in London. It should be elsewhere in the United Kingdom so that the benefits can be spread, and I say that as a London Member of Parliament.

We have a legally binding target for a 50% reduction in UK carbon emissions by the mid-2020s. We have the establishment of the low-carbon technology and innovation centres, a 25% improvement in energy efficiency standards for all new buildings, support for green buses, subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles, a reduction in carbon emissions from central Government buildings of an almost incredible 14% over 12 months and-I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend Chris Huhne-very successful participation in the climate conferences in Cancun and Durban, which has ensured that we are at last on the right road to international agreement and making up for what we did in the past.

Ministers also took difficult decisions after listening to what the public were saying about fuel costs. Fuel duty was cut last April, the automatic fuel duty escalator was scrapped, the planned rise this January was postponed to August and the next planned increase was cancelled. Petrol and diesel are, on average, 10p per litre cheaper than they would have been had the original plans gone ahead. Such decisions are always controversial in the environmental movement and the real world, and fuel prices obviously keep up with other prices, but the Government have responded to meet people's concerns about their family budgets. The saving for the average

motorist will be £144 and the average haulier will be £4,400 better off. Labour raised fuel duty 12 times while in office and planned for six further fuel duty rises after the election. We have done better than that.

I commend what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on taking office about the Government's plan on solar power. He wants to ensure that many more people benefit so that it can continue to be rolled out as a successful project. Combined heat and power equally has a very important role to play.

In conclusion, may I give the newly led administration in DECC my shopping list? First, will they ensure that we have the skill base to deliver the green economy, which is so important? That needs apprenticeships and good training. Secondly, will they ensure that we have energy efficiency in our schools and public buildings, including converting waste to energy more efficiently? Thirdly, will they incentivise community energy? Fourthly, will they not allow themselves to be distracted by the nuclear power persuaders? And finally, will they support the biodiesel industry in the future?

• Full Debate in Parliament

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