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Greg Clark: Labour presenting families with the bill for a decade of dereliction

Can I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his Statement? After the even more advanced briefings in the weekend press, we are all generously well-informed as to today's policy announcements.

In fact, like the Minister, I read all the best bits months ago in the Conservative Green Paper, The Low Carbon Economy, which - I'm reliably informed - has lingered on his desk. That being the case, of course I welcome his remarks. 

This area of policy is crucial for Britain; its consequences will affect our lives and those of future generations. Investments worth billions of pounds need to be made over a very short period of time. There is plenty of risk in that - the risks inherent in the capital market, in future energy prices, in the technologies. But for too long, public policy in this country has been a source of additional risk for investors. 

I am determined that instead of amplifying uncertainty, our policy - in its clarity, rigour and consistency - should be a haven from it. That means this is an area in which we should not pursue narrow, short-term partisanship but where the long-term interests of the country must come first. But if we are to have a fresh start, will the Secretary of State be candid in accepting that we start from a poor position? 

Over 12 years we have had 15 energy ministers, but no energy policy. Does he recognise that while other countries have spent the last decade diversifying their supplies of energy, Britain has become even more dependent on imported fossil fuels - threatening our energy security, our economic competitiveness, and our climate change objectives?

Can the Minister explain why, despite some of the best natural resources in the world, no other major European country generates less energy from renewables than we do? Does he accept that we have the least efficient homes in the whole of Europe apart from Greece and Belgium, a consequence of which is soaring fuel poverty? And does he recognise that he is now presenting Britain's consumers with the bill for this decade of dereliction of duty?  Everyone knows that if you do things in a last minute rush you always pay more than if you'd planned and acted ahead of time.

So while we welcome the intention of these proposals we will judge them against the rigour, the ambition and the urgency of the policies in our Low Carbon Economy paper.  So:

  • Will he confirm that the home energy efficiency scheme will be available to every household in the country, not just a few pilot areas?
  • Will he tell us why, with the roll-out of smart meters already underway in America and elsewhere, he won't set an earlier target than 2020?
  • Does he accept that the required carbon capture from a power plant must, by any logic, be proportionate to the size of that plant and that this could be best achieved by an Emissions Performance Standard?
  • Will he scotch the rumour that he plans for just 2% of Britain's energy to be generated under the Feed In Tariffs by 2020?
  • Above all is he committed to the radical change implied by the 2050 target, or will he dilute the low carbon economy with imported offsets that rob Britain of industrial leadership and developing countries of the easy wins they need to achieve their own targets?

The Secretary of State stands in a position of great moment. He must decide whether he breaks with the past and implements rigorously the measures that both he and I know are needed, or whether the next six months will prove, like the last 12 years, to have been a time of opportunity lost.

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