Thursday, 1 July 2010

Caroline Lucas Questions; Afghanistan, Energy...

I have been watching Prime Ministers Questions for years, but rarely is there such a good question. Its one of the Elephants in the room, the country is in an unwinnable war for no clear reason, yet its rarely mentioned. So top marks to Caroline for doing so on what I think is her first question at PMQs.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)
Homecoming parades for our very brave soldiers in Afghanistan are incredibly important, but so is an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Given the growing agreement that there is no military solution to the crisis there and that the head of the Army himself has said that we should start talking to the Taliban soon, would the Prime Minister not agree that we should start talking now, so that we can save more lives on all sides and bring our troops home?

And the response...
David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)
May I first of all welcome the hon. Lady to the House? Winning her seat was an incredible achievement for her party, and I know that she will make a huge contribution during this Parliament.

We discussed Afghanistan at quite some length in the House yesterday. Of course there is no purely military solution; very few insurgencies are ended by purely military means. But I think it is important to continue with the strategy this year of the military surge, to put pressure on the Taliban-and, of course, there should be a political track. But as I said yesterday in the House, we have to recognise that there is a difference between the Taliban linked to al-Qaeda, who want to do so much harm not just in Afghanistan but across our continent as well, and those people who have been caught up in an insurgency for other reasons. Should there be reconciliation and reintegration? Yes, of course; there is, and we can go further. But I think that the things that the hon. Lady is talking about would not be advisable.

After this excellent start, I cant wait to see whats next.

Outside PMQs she has also been very busy in Parliament...

Bills Presented: Energy Efficiency (30 Jun 2010)
“I welcome the Minister's statement today, not least because I was getting a bit worried about the Government's commitment to this agenda. The Chancellor's Budget statement contained absolutely nothing about energy efficiency, and a mere 23 words on the proposal for a green investment bank. There was a little more detail in the Budget report on measures to bring forward a low-carbon economy, but that was still only six paragraphs out of a total of 121 pages. That gave us a bit of a sense of what the Government's priorities might be, and it shows that we still have a long way to go, in spite of the Minister's fine words.

Although the first of those paragraphs stated:

"Climate change is one of the most serious threats that the world faces",

I still do not see anything like the kind of urgency that we need if we are to avoid the worst of climate change. If I compare climate change to the kind of military threat with which we are more familiar, we need a response commensurate to the response that would be forthcoming if we were facing a military threat. We need that degree of single-mindedness and that level of resources.

The Committee on Climate Change reported today, and it is scathing about what it calls the "light-touch" regulation policies of the past decade. It made four recommendations that it says should be acted on within a year, including a new national programme for energy efficiency in buildings. The chief executive of the committee said:

"This is not going to happen from the bottom up. We need crunchy policies that provide strong incentives."

I am not sure that I know what crunchy policies are, but they are certainly not the late and voluntary measures that we have seen so far. We need urgent action now.

Let us take housing as an example. More than a quarter of the UK's CO2 emissions come from the energy that we use in our homes. If all the 6.1 million homes with uninsulated cavity walls installed cavity wall insulation, we could save 3.9 million tonnes of CO2 a year, and £690 million on energy bills. If everyone with a gas, oil or LPG boiler upgraded to a condensing boiler, the UK would save 6.7 million tonnes of CO2 a year and £1.3 billion in energy bills. If all the 13 million homes with insufficient loft insulation topped up to 270 mm, the UK could save nearly 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year and £560 million in energy bills. Those three measures alone could reduce the UK's emissions from the household sector by nearly 10%, so we need to see faster action.

As others have said, it is the existing housing stock that is the real challenge. New build homes will be required to meet a defined zero carbon standard by 2016, but at least 85% of the homes that will be in use in 2050 have already been built. Worryingly, there is no set of standards for existing homes to meet in order to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in emissions.

The Government have given sketchy outlines of some of their intentions. We have heard a little more about the green deal proposals, and I am grateful to the Minister for that. But I am not convinced that a market mechanism alone will be enough to generate the level of take-up that we need to achieve large scale energy efficiency improvements for the housing stock. Current proposals focus all their attention on the up-front capital costs, relying on this market-led solution, but they risk ignoring other barriers that need to be addressed, such as lack of consumer awareness, and particularly the belief that measures could cost much more than they actually will.

We need to ask ourselves how realistic the proposals are, particularly at a time of economic difficulty, and whether all the people whom we need to target will be willing to opt in. Many households that could pay for energy efficiency measures may not do so as long as those actions remain discretionary, and economically disadvantaged and fuel- poor households will need significant extra support beyond CERT to be able to act.

If the Government want mass take-up of energy efficiency measures, legislation must introduce mandatory standards for domestic heating and insulation in the form of an energy efficiency rating. The legislation could stipulate, for example, that by 2020, where technically feasible, all dwellings should reach an energy efficiency standard no lower than an E rating, as measured on the energy performance certificate scale. That requirement could apply to all landlords, social and private. Failure to comply would mean that the property could not be let, for example. The requirement would also have to be introduced in the owner-occupied sector, where failure to comply would mean that the property was not fit for sale.

It is on such a scale that the Government need to think. If they backed a major programme of public and private investment in energy efficiency and renewables, we could all reap big rewards. I have been part of a group calling for just such a green new deal for quite a long time before the Government adopted the green deal as their own branding. A serious investment in building new energy systems, including energy efficiency, combined heat and power, and renewables, for millions of homes and other buildings would amount to a £50 billion-plus programme per year.

That is what we need-a ground-breaking programme based on Government investment to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, to stabilise the economy and to reduce emissions. Those are the kind of measures that we need-particularly when we have one foot still in a recession-not the savage public spending cuts announced by the Government, which are likely to trigger a double-dip recession.

Even if the Government were not as ambitious as that, there are other measures that they could consider to achieve mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards. Able-to-pay households could have the necessary work funded through a mechanism such as the proposed green investment bank, while for low-income households work could be funded through a system of 100% grants on top of CERT expenditure. Those grants might also be funded through the green investment bank and accessed through local authorities, but the Government would be responsible for repayment.

We have not yet even been told whether the Government will retain the previous Administration's target of insulating every home in the UK, where technically possible, with cavity wall and loft insulation by 2015. That target did not go far enough or fast enough, but it was at least a welcome acceptance of the principle of setting standards affecting the energy efficiency of privately owned or rented homes. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify the situation when he replies. According to the National Insulation Association, we still need to insulate another 15 million lofts and 9 million cavity walls by 2015. Are the Government still committed to achieving that? The previous Government never did produce a plan to deliver that target, and I know that green councillors working on large-scale, free, area-based insulation programmes are still waiting with bated breath for such a plan.

Perhaps part of the finance for a mass street-by-street insulation programme could be obtained if the Government followed the example of the German Government, who have implemented a windfall profit tax on the production of nuclear electricity. In the UK the tax could be levied, for example, on British Energy. Currently, assuming carbon prices of at least €10 per tonne, EDF, which owns British Energy, is receiving around £350 million a year in windfall profits from nuclear electricity production that would still be generated without any carbon price at all. That money is not being used to reduce carbon emissions, but is simply being swallowed up by the company. If instead a windfall tax were levied, the revenue could be used to pay for a whole raft of energy efficiency measures.

There is also a case for levying a windfall tax on the fossil fuel utilities, while we wait for the reform of the emissions trading scheme to come into effect in 2013. As hon. Members will know, at the moment carbon permits are given away, not auctioned, and that means that the fossil fuel companies, too, are receiving windfall profits.

I also hope that the Government will give proper consideration to both a stamp duty rebate and some form of equivalent grant for homes that do not reach the stamp duty threshold, so that we take maximum advantage of the house-moving process for incentivising costly and disruptive whole house retrofits.

The decent homes standard for social housing comes to an end this year, and it has been successful in improving the energy efficiency of such homes. However, this Administration, as far as I know, is offering no successor to the decent homes standard, although one was proposed by the previous Government in order to provide the framework for social housing providers to make long-term investment in energy efficiency. That hardly sits well with the Government's green claims-nor does the announcement that the previous Government's welcome proposal of a register of landlords is to be scrapped. That register would have provided an opportunity to make landlords in the private rented sector adhere to minimum energy efficiency standards, as well as other standards, for tenants. That sector has the highest proportion of dangerously cold homes, and often houses particularly vulnerable families, but it is not being addressed by any policy measures.

The Government's proposed green deal also, as far as I know, splits the incentive-in other words the landlord pays for the measures but the tenant receives the benefit via their energy bills-and that, again, could be a significant barrier to wholesale improvement to homes in the private rented sector, which in England number 3.1 million, nearly 15% of the housing stock.

The best approach to the private rented sector would make minimum standards mandatory and toughen those over time to make it illegal to rent out a property below a certain energy efficiency rating, with very few exceptions. That could start with properties in energy performance certificate bands F and G, and then tighten over a clear timetable. Information on the energy performance of the property through the EPC needs to be of a much higher quality. It needs to be better enforced, and given a higher profile for both landlords and tenants. The Energy Saving Trust and local authorities should have access to the information on EPCs so that action can be better targeted and co-ordinated. Primary legislation may well be needed to get the full potential out of those measures. There should also be financial incentives to support and encourage investment to the standard required by the minimum standards, including an extended landlord's energy-saving allowance, and a reduction in VAT on refurbishment.

Any Government who were serious about energy efficiency would have used their first Budget to reduce VAT to 5% on building repairs and on improvement work to existing buildings immediately, because that measure would have made it much easier for home owners to make energy-efficient repairs and improvements to their properties. That is a win-win agenda. The Government have said that they want to be the greenest Government, and I have said that, unfortunately, that is not a very ambitious target. None the less, if they do want to meet it, they will have to do a lot better..”

The reponse was
Charles Hendry (Minister of State (Renewable Energy), Energy and Climate Change; Wealden, Conservative)
Caroline Lucas made, although it was not her maiden speech, what I believe was her first speech on her own subject. I hope that we will hear from her on a regular basis. I want her to harry the Government and chase us to do better. I want her constantly to say, "Let's raise our aspirations to do the best we can". We are most determined to be the greenest Government there has ever been, but I want to know that we will be truly challenged by people who always want to raise the bar higher. We have to be objective and realistic about what we can achieve, but we should be absolutely clear that we welcome such contributions, and we encourage the hon. Lady in that respect.

Bills Presented: Energy Efficiency (30 Jun 2010)
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)

I am in danger of repeating myself a lot, but given that it will take at least 10 or 15 years to get nuclear power up and running, if it is really the case-which I do not believe-that the lights will go off in 10 years, nuclear power simply will not help us. I find it ironic that this is supposed to be a debate about energy efficiency, yet the hon. Gentleman is spending his time talking about nuclear, wind and coal. Let us talk about energy efficiency. According to the previous Government's own figures, 40% of our existing energy could be saved using energy-efficiency measures alone.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale, Conservative)
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and they are good comments, but we are talking about energy efficiency. Nuclear power is very efficient; it has a low carbon footprint.

One subject that has not been addressed is how we in this country use energy. I use card meters in my domestic home. When I bought my house, an old gentleman had lived in it beforehand, and he used card meters so I carried on using them. When my family was growing up, I was one of those dads who was always saying, "Switch the lights off." Using card meters started to make us change our habits and how we used energy in our home. The Government might want to consider that. Perhaps we could top up through the internet as we might with a T-Mobile phone-excuse me for unintentionally plugging a particular company. We might usefully consider how we obtain our energy.

Bills Presented: Energy Efficiency (30 Jun 2010)
“I am sorry, but I cannot hear all this talk about nuclear power without feeling the urge to leap up-so I have leapt. Will the hon. Gentleman please list those nuclear power stations that have been built, first, on time, and secondly, to budget?”
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)
"It would not take long."

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife, Labour)
I suspect that if the hon. Lady looked at the number of wind farms built on time and on budget she would find that that list would be about the same length as for nuclear power stations.

What a fool this chap is, that would be a very long list of wind farms

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)
The Kirklees example is an excellent one, and Green councillors have been instrumental in that. They were rolling out free insulation-that was the difference; it was free. Where does the hon. Gentleman think that the money will come from for the Government to be able to roll out such a scheme? Does he agree that we ought to be considering mechanisms such as levying a windfall tax on the energy companies, given that they will be getting windfall profits from their involvement in the emissions trading scheme-at least until 2013? Should we not be using money like that to enable such a scheme to be rolled out to everybody rather than depending on people in poor households having to take out what looks like a loan?

Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)
First, I welcome the hon. Lady to the debate. I am sure that she will be a key-and welcome-feature of such debates for the rest of the Parliament. Of course, CERT is already a levy on the energy companies and we have a clear idea of where the money is coming from. She mentions that in Kirklees the scheme is free, and that is an important point. We simply cannot afford to give free insulation to the whole country, even though it worked extremely well in Kirklees. However, through legislation and opening up new markets with new regulation, we can ensure that there is no cost up front to every single householder. Unlike other pay-as-you-save schemes that were trialled by the former Government, there will be no reference to the credit score of the household. It will not be a personal loan, a green mortgage or a charge on the property.

What will happen is that the right interventions for that particular property will be delivered and the costs of those interventions will be rolled up in their entirety and repaid through the energy bill for that property over 25 years. If that owner moves away, the cost will simply transfer to the energy bill of the next occupant. If the occupant changes energy company, the cost will simply transfer to the new energy company. We will make sure, through legislation, that it is impossible for a new energy provider to come in and provide energy without taking on the costs associated with the green deal finance. There is a real golden rule.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)
I am grateful to the Minister for his support of the 10:10 campaign, which aims for 10% cuts in 2010. However, he will know that the campaign will not finish at the end of 2010 and that, if we are serious about tackling climate change, we need 10% cuts year on year thereafter. Can he make any statement now about what will happen at the end of 2010?

Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The important thing about our 10% cut is that it is a commitment made by the Prime Minister and it is being driven from the very top in government. She is absolutely right that 10% in one year is simply not enough, but it will be a terrific shock to the system in Whitehall and a great start. In the committee of which I am a member, and which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I have been very clear that it is only a starting point.

Achieving such reductions will get progressively more difficult, because behaviour change and the simple interventions that can be made at first cannot be repeated once they have been done. The task will require investment, but we are confident that most of that investment will pay for itself. The new models of investment-involving the energy services companies and the private sector, as well as enlightened and progressive facilities management contracts-mean that the cost of the infrastructure changes that will be needed will not necessarily fall on the public purse.

We are pushing very hard to draw in expertise from the private sector, and I am glad to say that that is largely being provided on a pro bono basis. We want to ensure that the Government, instead of being a national embarrassment, become a showcase for the best in British energy conservation. It is not at all impossible that, if we attach renewable energy sources to our estate, the public sector could one day become a net exporter of energy. Those are lofty ambitions and strategies but we will not superimpose arbitrary targets on them. There have been too many targets cluttering the landscape in the past. We know what we have to do, and the best thing that we can do is to get on and do it.

The potential benefits of energy efficiency are absolutely clear. This coalition Government are committed to making the UK a leader in energy efficiency, and to doing so with a completely new level of ambition and at a scale never before attempted. We are radically improving and refocusing existing policy measures, and we plan to bring forward completely new measures to deliver a real step change in ambition and delivery across both households and the business sector.

However, I would say this to the Opposition: there is much that unites us on this whole agenda, and we are building on the work begun by Joan Ruddock and her Front-Bench colleague, Emily Thornberry. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives supported the Climate Change Act 2008 in a constructive spirit, and I hope that we can forge a new consensus across the new House of Commons on energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty. We should send a strong and united message to business and consumers alike that the time for action is now, and that we are united in laying out a new and clear framework for the long term.

I am glad to report that the new coalition has hit the ground running. We have a strong and ambitious green agenda, with energy efficiency at its very heart. The green deal will be at the centre of this Session's flagship Energy Bill, along with other measures to drive low-carbon transformation and build energy security. It is clear from the Chancellor's Budget, which committed to introducing a floor price for carbon, and yesterday's publication of the work of the green investment bank commission, that we are making real progress already. There is a great deal more to do, and time for action is short, but I know that, by focusing on energy efficiency at the very outset, we are starting in the right place.

There is more here.
She has so far been more productive than any number of MPs from other parties, long may this continue.

1 comment:

江婷 said...

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