HL Deb 17 September 2003 vol 652 cc897-9
Lord Peyton of Yeovil

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why energy policy has ceased to be the responsibility of a single Minister.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, energy policy remains the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Since 1992, however, energy efficiency has been the responsibility of the department dealing with environmental affairs. The Government have seen no reason to change this position.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I always understood that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had other things to do. Still, it may not be so. I did not know that she had the spare time.

Perhaps we can imagine for a moment that the noble Lord is the Minister responsible for our energy supplies and ask him to reflect on whether he would find the soothing syrup of the White Paper a bit unsatisfactory; and whether he would be entirely happy with the idea that we imported no less than 80 per cent of our generally raw material supplies for the generation of electricity—and that through a pipeline, as yet undesigned, unbuilt, unfinanced, right across Europe. Does he agree that the target of a 20 per cent energy supply from wind is also a bit uncertain?

The noble Lord could go on to lament the fact that the Government have ignored the nuclear alternative and their shocking neglect of research. We are drifting into a very dangerous situation.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am not certain that the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, relate in any way to his original Question: whether or not the responsibility for energy efficiency rests within Defra. That would not have made any difference whatever to the policies that we stated in the White Paper.

The noble Lord very graciously expressed his concerns to me previously. I find it very difficult to imagine myself as energy Minister; I have quite enough problems as it is with science. However, if I were, I do not think that I should agree with any of the noble Lord's points. I think that the energy White Paper set out a very clear strategy. There are of course issues in that document which are extremely difficult and complex. I am very glad that the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee II is undertaking an inquiry on what practical steps are needed to achieve a move towards renewables sought at the rate proposed in the recent White Paper. These are complicated issues. It would be very interesting to have further insights or evidence on whether our target is achievable of 10 per cent of electricity sales by 2010.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, following on from the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on the need for a single energy department, is it not unsatisfactory that at present the Minister in the DTI—the noble Lord's own ministry—designated with the energy portfolio is only responsible part time for part of energy? He is also responsible for postal services and e-commerce. An important part of energy is the responsibility of another department; namely, Defra. Does not that complex ministerial arrangement suggest that perhaps the Government are beginning to lose interest in energy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, for some time the Minister responsible for energy has had other responsibilities. That position has not changed with the new energy Minister. As I explained, there are very good reasons why energy efficiency was put under Defra in 1992. There are other considerations that relate to, for example, negotiations on climate change, and so on. Therefore, it is a perfectly sound and workable arrangement.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, perhaps I may give a specific example. Is the noble Lord aware that a small all-party group from this House has been seeking help for the coal mine methane industry? We have had to go around the houses in order to ask for support for this fledgling industry. We found ourselves talking to the DTI. On the question of admission to the emissions trading scheme, we were sent to talk to Defra. Both departments said that they wanted to help. Is the noble Lord aware that nothing happened? In desperation I went to the Treasury to ask whether there was a government view that might help this important industry. Again, nothing happened. As a result, the industry is now going abroad, taking its expertise and investment with it.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the noble Lord will know from his own experience of government that, however one divides these things up, inevitably different departments will have to co-operate and have joined-up government on certain issues. One cannot simply put everything into one department. For example, if one put energy efficiency under the DTI, it simply opens up another interface, which is the interface between energy efficiency and environmental policies. There are interfaces within government. The issue is not continually to move the pieces around, but to make certain that there is joined-up government across the interfaces.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does my memory fail me? Was it not the Conservative Party which took the energy industry out of the control of government by privatising the gas and electricity industries—virtually closing down the coal industry—and putting them under a regulator? Under those circumstances, there is little left for a government to do, except to arrange overall energy strategy. I do not know that I agree with that strategy, but, nevertheless, that is what remains for them to do. If the Conservative Party wants complete control over energy supplies, perhaps we had better go back to owning the industries that create and provide energy.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I assume that the question about memory failing was merely a rhetorical one—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon


Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Of course, all that the noble Lord says is true—as is the point I made in my first Answer; namely, that it was a Conservative government in 1992 who took a single energy department and split it in two parts, one going to the DTI and the other going to Defra.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the slightly cavalier reply that he gave to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. The DTI website reveals that Mr Stephen Timms is also responsible for sustainable development, e-commerce, communications and information industries, the Radiocommunications Agency, postal services, the Post Office and corporate social responsibility. Why should the House believe that the Government are serious about energy, given that he has that range of responsibilities?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I have already answered that question in more general terms. The answer is that we work extremely hard in the DTI and do not have the superfluity of Ministers to assign just one Minister to every subject; we share responsibilities.

Noble Lords

My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I am sorry, but we are over-running our time.

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