HL Deb 22 April 2004 vol 660 cc377-9

Lord Palmer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they expect to meet the European Union requirement that the United Kingdom biofuel target for the end of 2005 be submitted by 1 July.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Government will still be consulting on that point on 1 July. It will therefore be our proposed indicative target that we shall report to the Commission by that date.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he explain why there has been such a dramatic delay, when the need to submit the target has been known since last May?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, given the noble Lord's intensive knowledge of the issues, he is as well placed as anyone in the House to recognise how difficult it is to get them right. So far as we are concerned, the important thing with the consultation document is that all stakeholders should be presented with a clear indication of how the Government can take the matter forward, against a background where we have all taken some constructive action already. It is important to get the issues right. That is why the consultation document, which will be issued shortly, will clearly define the objectives.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Government accepted an amendment to the Energy Bill at Third Reading on Tuesday that gives them a power to implement a renewable transport fuel obligation to meet the targets in the EU directive. How will the timetable for consultation to which my noble friend referred be linked to the passage of the Energy Bill in the other place? Will the draft regulations to implement the EU directive be available before the Energy Bill receives Royal Assent?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, as my noble friend knows, the timetable for the passage of the Energy Bill through the other place is tight. It is important that we get the Bill on the statute book by the end of the summer. I cannot assure the noble Lord that the regulations will be published by then, but I can assure him that we recognise that the European directive must be implemented by December this year, and we are fully on course to meet that requirement.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, after all the Questions and debates initiated by my noble friend Lord Palmer, it seems incredible that the Government have made so little progress in the past 12 months towards getting a solution? Yet, when it comes to wind farms, which will really despoil the countryside, the Government seem to give almost willy-nilly approval to anything at 400 feet and upwards.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, first, the Government have introduced in the Budget the 20p derogation on biofuels, which is settled for the next three years. Therefore, it is not quite fair of the noble Lord to suggest that the Government have done nothing. Secondly, in this of all weeks it would be a tad churlish of noble Lords not to recognise that the acceptance of the amendment at Third Reading of the Energy Bill earlier this week regarding the possibility of a renewables obligation was a significant and constructive step.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, if the biofuel targets proposed in the EU directive were achieved, what could be the CO2, emissions savings by 2010, and what would be the cost benefit of those savings?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is a tough question. I do not have the briefing on the 2010 perspective. However, I can assure the noble Lord that we recognise that biofuels can contribute to the crucial reduction of emissions. We are committed, in our consultation process, to our determination to meet the requirements of the directive by December 2004, and by the action that we have already taken to encourage use of biofuels, to do our part in meeting the objectives. However, it will be recognised that all European states regard the indicative positions on the targets for 2005 and 2010 as very demanding.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Government are unlikely to achieve their target of 2 per cent by 2005? In a Written Answer, on 18 December, it was made clear that at the moment 2 million litres a month are being sold, which represents only 0.05 per cent. To achieve that target the Government would have to quadruple the amount being sold. How will they do that?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is not the Government's target; it is the indicative target in the European directive. As I have indicated, many European states regard the target as very demanding. We certainly do, because we are starting from a lower base than is Germany, for example. But the noble Baroness will recognise that we have taken action and are setting out to meet the requirements of the European directive so far as we can. Our consultation document will advance that cause, and on Tuesday this week we accepted an amendment to the Energy Bill which also adds to the possibilities with regard to the policy.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, is there evidence that energy produced through the biofuel route is any less hopelessly uneconomic compared to routes other than wind power?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, neither are hopelessly uneconomic. Both are immensely desirable.

both with regard to climate change and reducing CO2 emissions. No one pretends that we can tackle these global and British problems without some significant costs being involved. We all recognise that the changes in our energy policy required by these objectives involve considerable costs.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does the Minister realise that many of us believe that the Government's energy policy and the Government's environment policy will lack credibility, so long as they fail to recognise that oil is both too scarce and too polluting to continue to be used in the longer term for the generation of electricity? What is needed is a much more rapid rethink of the need to move to nuclear power.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I was taking some joy from the opening remarks presented by the noble Lord. He is so right that we cannot depend on oil to the extent that we have in the past, both in terms of its availability and, crucially, because it pollutes the atmosphere. The solution does not lie in one route only. Certainly, it is the case that both wind farms and biofuels have their contributions to make in providing clean energy.

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