Today’s PMQs has been rather overshadowed by the speaker having to call for temperate language from Gordon Brown (over an issue, by the way, on which Cameron was quite simply correct; there is a much greater responsibility incumbent on the minister who took a decision than on the parties who didn’t object, which the report (pdf) makes pretty clear). But I thought it was just worth pointing out that Vince did rather better, to my mind, than he did last week.
Here is a transcript of the exchange. I include the toadying question which preceded it from Jessica Morden, since Gordon used it to pre-empt Vince’s questioning to some extent:
Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): Given that we are being asked to reduce our carbon footprint as part of energy saving week, has the Prime Minister had the chance to see the WWF report that came out yesterday, which ranks Newport as the joint No. 1 greenest city in the UK? Will he commend the residents of Newport and its Labour city council for their efforts to cut their carbon footprint?
The Prime Minister: I applaud Newport, and I applaud what my hon. Friend is doing to promote energy saving. I met the Energy Saving Trust yesterday to talk about the measures that we can take in the future. A huge amount of effort is being made this week to persuade people to take the necessary steps to save energy, whether it involves boiling a kettle, putting things on standby or changing the electric bulbs that they use. I believe that the combination of personal responsibility, public investment in energy saving and the new energy policy that we are adopting will be the best way to secure our climate change agreements. We are also absolutely committed to the European 20 per cent. renewables target.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): On that specific point, the Prime Minister’s predecessor made a very firm commitment to that 20 per cent. target for renewables by 2020. The Prime Minister’s own Ministers are now trying to renege on that commitment. Does not that suggest that Brown is less green than Blair?
The Prime Minister: To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I am pleased to see him back in his place this week. Given the turnover of Liberal Democrat leaders, it is great that he is still here. However, I think that I answered his question in my last reply.
We are committed to the targets agreed in the European Union. The European Union will now publish what it believes that each country is able to do, and we will engage in a consultation. However, I must tell both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives that that will lead to difficult decisions that they will have to make.First we have a feasibility study on the Severn barrage, secondly we wish to extend offshore wind turbines, and thirdly we wish to extend onshore wind turbines. I believe that the Conservative party has been totally opposed to something that is necessary to meet our renewables targets.
Dr. Cable: If the Government are fully committed to the 20 per cent. target for Britain, why did the Prime Minister’s own energy Minister go on television yesterday and say that he wanted it to be cut to 10 per cent., under pressure from the nuclear lobby? Does the Prime Minister not realise that if he rats on renewable power, not only will that damage the environment, but he will drag his own environmental reputation down to the level of that of his friend George Bush?
The Prime Minister: Perhaps I can explain to the hon. Gentleman what has happened. Europe has agreed on a 20 per cent. renewables target, and each member state will be given a target that it is supposed to agree to and meet in order for the 20 per cent. target to be reached. That has not yet happened; when it happens, we will report back to the House.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that what makes it possible for us to achieve our energy targets is the renewables obligation, which the Conservative party voted against when it came to the House, the climate change levy, which the Conservative party also voted against, and wind power. I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in supporting wind power and its development for the future through wind farms and turbines.
Interesting that Brown should try to lump us in with the Tories as a bunch of NIMBYs over stuff like the Severn Barrage. Surely he knows that people like Steve Webb have been at the forefront of pushing for this plan to go ahead. Indeed, only yesterday, Chris Huhne reiterated our support for the Severn Barrage in particular and renewable energy in general, as part of a reaction to exactly the issue Vince was asking about today.
Brown tries to turn this into an attack on the other parties, in particular ours, without levelling any specific criticisms at us. The reason is that he hasn’t a leg to stand on. He knows that the nuclear industry hate the idea of big engineering projects in the name of renewable energy, because they want to hoover up the money for themselves. As a result, they are busy lobbying (succesfully, it would seem) for the renewables targets to be as low as possible in the UK.
And by the way, the idea that there is a conflict between nuclear and renewable energy funding is not new. It is central to our party’s opposition to nuclear power. Huhne at conference last year:
First, we reject the nuclear option. Given the time delays, nuclear cannot stop us becoming more dependent on gas over the next ten years.
And it would close off investment in attractive options like the Severn Barrage or lagoon scheme, the Airtricity wind farm in the North Sea, and non-stop tidal power in the Pentland Firth.
How Brown can try to accuse us of being unwilling to take difficult choices for the environment, whilst his government is busy caving in to the nuclear lobby in exactly the way we predicted, is quite beyond me.