HC Deb 16 June 2004 vol 422 cc759-61
3. Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)

If he will make a statement on access to energy for the world's poorest people. [178963]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas)

We recognise the importance of continuing to improve access to affordable and sustainable energy services in developing countries. That is particularly difficult in rural areas, where conventional technologies, such as grid-connected electricity, are expensive or impractical. We are working with international agencies such as the World Bank, the global village energy partnership and the EU energy initiative to promote access to energy for those areas.

Mr. Reed

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that Intelligent Energy, a company in my constituency, produces fuel cell technology that allows rural areas, particularly in some of the poorest parts of Africa, to access energy at a cheap rate. Since it is fuel cell technology, it is also a renewable source, which gives us a double win. Will he accept a formal invitation to come and see that technology in action and to make sure that his Department invests in the technology, to ensure that the world's poorest people have access to energy, which is their future? For example, in health services in South Africa, fuel cell technology is being placed to power clinics tackling some of the worst deprivation in the world.

Mr. Thomas

I know, having visited my hon. Friend's constituency, that it has a series of superb energy companies, and I should be delighted to go there again to talk to representatives of those companies. He is absolutely right to say that we need to do much more to improve access to energy for the poor. Clearly, improving access to renewable energy is a key solution in that regard, not least because 1.6 billion people—almost 25 per cent. of the world's population—still do not have access to electricity, which is one of the fundamentals if we are to achieve improvements in access to basic health and other social services.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)

In order to make such vital investments, countries need more hard currency to come into them. What progress are the Government making in getting major reform of the common agricultural policy so that rural communities can sell their products to the rich western markets and then afford some of the life-saving improvements mentioned?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Piara Khabra.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)

The Department for International Development has selected four focus states in India for development aid—Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa. Why were those states selected when others are much poorer? People suffer from grinding poverty in such states as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Thomas

Let me reassure my hon. Friend that we not only work in the four states that he mentioned but have a series of national programmes. On my first visit, in my post, to India last September, I was able to see one such national initiative to do with the elimination of polio, which is helping to increase access to vaccines for all the people of India, not just those in the four states mentioned.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

When, as he should, the Minister makes sure that the poorest countries have access to energy, what attention will he pay to climate change? There is no point in making progress in this country if we end up exporting fossil fuel generation to developing countries Will he undertake not to support World Bank and International Monetary Fund projects based on fossil fuel generation?

Mr. Thomas

As I indicated earlier, we need to increase access, particularly to renewable energy, not just because of climate change but because it is often the only practical solution to increasing access to energy. We have had 75 projects looking into access to energy, more than a third of which relate to promoting renewable energy. I accept absolutely that the World Bank must do more to provide more funding for renewable energy projects. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted by the World Bank's announcement at the Bonn renewables conference a couple of weeks ago that it intends to increase its financing for renewable energy by 20 per cent. in each year to 2010.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed). Will he also consider the use of solar panels in places where it is difficult to access grid, which would provide a localised and naturally available energy resource?

Mr. Thomas

My hon. Friend is right to flag up the issue of access to solar power as one of many renewable energy options that will potentially solve problems of access to energy in developing countries. I am delighted to say that I was able to sign yesterday a partnership between my Department and the Intermediate Technology Development Group, which works on issues such as increasing access to solar power in developing countries.

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