[House of Commons photographer]
As well as being Mp for Bath, Wera Hobhouse is the Lib Dem spokesperson for Climate and Energy and – as such – challenged the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Grant Shapps, to back a Lib Dem amendment from the House of Lords which would ban the opening of new coal mines.
This was during the debate on the government’s Energy Bill and Shapps refused her request, instead saying that the Conservatives believed in “getting on and doing things” and that coal and its use in power supply was not an issue of concern in relation to Net Zero based on its falling use over the past decade. He went on to say that attempts to ban the opening of new coal mines by the Liberal Democrats were “fighting the battles of yesterday”.
In a later contribution to the debate, Mrs Hobhouse reminded the House that the government announced that they were leading an international effort to end the use of coal less than two years ago. Yet, soon after they gave the greenlight to the Cumbria coal mine. She said that the government must ensure that the Lib Dem amendment in the Lords, to ban the opening of new coal mines, stays in the Bill “if they are to retain a shred of credibility on climate action”.
The Energy Bill more broadly aims to deliver “cleaner, more affordable and more secure” power “for the long term” in order to facilitate a “transformation of our energy system”. As such, it is a very large Bill covering a wide range of policy areas.
Speaking on these other areas, Bath’s MP said the Bill was still “not ambitious enough” and the government “continue to protect the oil and gas giants”. She highlighted how Shell forcibly installed prepayment meters into 4,000 homes last year whilst simultaneously making £32 billion in profit.
There are also limitations in the Bill, such as the lack of support for onshore wind, which Hobhouse pointed out and called on the government to abandon their “dogmatic opposition to onshore wind”. The Bill contains no move to lift the effective ban on onshore wind currently in place despite 67% of the public believing that the government should allow the construction of new onshore wind farms with just 12% set against the idea.
Other amendments from the Lords that the Lib Dem Climate and Energy Spokesperson said the government needed to leave in the Bill were related to support for community energy projects. These are projects where citizens own or participate in the production and/or use of sustainable energy.
The community energy sector has the potential to be 20 times bigger by 2030, powering 2.2 million homes and saving 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 every year. However, community energy projects currently generate just 0.5% of the UK’s electricity. This is because the financial, technical and operational requirements involved in becoming a licensed supplier put initial costs at more than £1 million. The amendments agreed in the Lords would rectify this.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Climate and Energy Spokesperson and MP for Bath commented:
“We cannot allow this Bill to be a missed opportunity in the transformation of our energy system, yet in so many areas the government’s ambition falls well short. One of the most staggeringly obvious areas is the banning of new coal mines. What possible reason could there be for the government not to support that?
“It is not a ‘battle of yesterday’. It is absolutely necessary for us to move away from the fuels of the past and not surrender our opportunity to become world leaders in the industries of the future.
“This Bill also shows Ministers’ willingness to protect the fossil fuel industry whilst neglecting vulnerable consumers. Typical direct debit customers have seen their annual gas and electricity bills almost double, while oil and gas giants have announced record profits. This juxtaposition of priorities during a cost of living crisis is something that was not forgotten at the local elections and will not be forgotten come the general election as well.”