Was there a last-minute amendment to the Energy Bill?

In the Sunday Telegraph today, Christopher Booker said that a last minute amendment went into the Energy Bill on Tuesday 4 June 2013.

By 2020, it said, Britain must reduce its electricity use by “103 terawatt hours”, rising by 2030 to “154 terawatt hours”.

This is incorrect. No such amendment was included in the bill that had its first reading in the Lords on Thursday 6 June 2013.

The amendment that Booker refers to was tabled by Caroline Lucas but it was not added to the bill (nor was it voted on). [Update: I’ve written a 3-para summary of this post in the comments below.]

Lucas’ amendment read as follows:

NC2. To move the following Clause:—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the passing of this Act publish a strategy setting out policies to achieve a reduction in demand for electricity of at least 103 TWh by 2020 and 154 TWh by 2030.
(2) The strategy must include an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the policies included in it.
(3) Before publishing the strategy the Secretary of State must consult such persons as in his opinion may have information that will assist him in drawing up the strategy.
(4) The Secretary of State must—
(a) implement the strategy; and
(b) report to Parliament every year on progress.’.

As an Amendment to Caroline Lucas’s proposed New Clause (Strategy for electricity demand reduction) (NC2):—
Mr Christopher Chope
Mr Edward Leigh
(a)   Line 11, at end add—
‘(5) Nothing in the strategy shall rely upon the use of the price mechanism to reduce demand.’.

So what did happen during the debate in the House of Commons, and what does the Energy Bill say about demand reduction?

New Clause 11 is one of the government amendments referring to demand reduction. I pick up the Hansard record when NC11 was introduced:

New Clause 11

Provision about electricity demand reduction
‘(1) This section applies where provision made by electricity capacity regulations relates to the provision of capacity by reducing demand for electricity.
(2) Where this section applies, the Secretary of State may, instead of conferring functions on the national system operator, confer functions on such other person or body as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) For the purposes of provision made by virtue of subsection (2), the references to the national system operator in—
(a) section 22(5)(a) and (d);
(b) section 23(2)(a) and 23(3)(a);
(c) section 25;
(d) section 27(2)(a) and (b);
(e) section 29,
are to be read as if they included a reference to a person or body on whom a function is conferred by virtue of this section.’.—(Gregory Barker.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 12—Pilot scheme for electricity demand reduction.
New clause 2—Strategy for electricity demand reduction— [then follows the text of Lucas’ amendment]

So parliament was at this point discussing three new clauses, government NC11 and NC12, and Caroline Lucas’ NC2. Although only the text of NC11 [update: and Lucas’ amendment] is in the Hansard record at this point, MPs would have the text of all three in their printed lists of amendments. After some discussion of the new clauses and possible amendments to them, Greg Barker says:

I urge colleagues to support the Government’s amendments and urge Opposition Members not to press their amendments to a Division.

Question put and agreed to.

It’s at this point that we know that Caroline Lucas’ amendment has been withdrawn and she is not going to press for a vote on the issue.

Hansard continues:

New clause 11 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

NC12 needed no further debate as it had already been discussed with NC11 and NC2 so was simply added without further ado:

New Clause 12
Pilot scheme for electricity demand reduction
‘There may be paid out of money provided by Parliament expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in connection with arrangements made—
(a) for the purpose of reducing demand for electricity, and
(b) wholly or partly for the purpose of determining provision to be included in electricity capacity regulations.’.—(Gregory Barker.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

So what do these clauses mean? Is ‘demand reduction’ going to ration electricity by 2020? In the bill that left the Commons and has now had its first reading in the Lords, we find that ‘ “providing capacity” means providing electricity or reducing demand for electricity’:

CHAPTER 3
CAPACITY MARKET
21 Power to make electricity capacity regulations
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for the purpose of providing capacity to meet the demands of consumers for the supply of electricity in Great Britain.
(2) Regulations under this section are referred to in this Chapter as “electricity capacity regulations”.
(3) In subsection (1) “providing capacity” means providing electricity or reducing demand for electricity; and electricity capacity regulations may make further provision about the meaning of “providing electricity” or “reducing demand for electricity”.
(4) The provision which may be made about the meaning of “reducing demand for electricity” includes provision that reducing the consumption of electricity reduces demand for electricity.

NC11 (which appears as clause 32 in the bill) allows ‘providers’ of reduced demand to be treated on an equal footing with providers of low-carbon electricity, and NC12 regarding the pilot scheme appears as clause 37.

I’ve not looked into the genesis of clause 21, but it’s interesting to note that 21(4) equates reducing consumption with reducing demand. So whatever means are used to reduce consumption can be claimed as ‘reducing demand’ whether or not the general public is happy with that.

Of course, the bill is likely to be much amended as it passes through the Lords’ stages, so the current bill is most unlikely to be the same as the legislation that will finally emerge.

[ Update 13:46pm 9 June 2013: At EU Referendum, Richard North notes that Booker has admitted the error and will issue a correction next week. North suggests that there’s no evidence in Hansard that the amendment was withdrawn, but I believe that Hansard does identify that moment, which is when the Question was ‘put and agreed to’ (to withdraw the Opposition amendments).

Further update 16:48 9 June 2013: Booker has issued a correction on the original article. Kudos to both Booker and North for the rapid correction and apology.]

[Update 17.32 09/06/2013. A link to Hansard corrected, and a correction to the text made as noted above.]

Tim Worstall and Rob Wilson have also blogged about this amendment. (Thank you, Tim Worstall for a gracious acknowledgement of My Garden Pond!)

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7 thoughts on “Was there a last-minute amendment to the Energy Bill?

  1. Thanks Ruth. I presume all this demand reduction fluff comes without teeth. What does have teeth is putting up the price of electricity for consumers and industry through subsidising certain types of generation. The whole thing is horrendously complex and harmful for innovation, as Mark Reckless pointed out during the debate last week. But Caroline Lucas at least didn’t get near the action this time around.

  2. Thank you for this explanation, Ruth. I have reached the age where the thought of ploughing through Hansard sends me into a near-coma!
    I have to say that in after my many years of following politics at the national level and both following and reporting on them at the local level I thought that I had reached the bottom of political deviousness. “When I use a word,” said Humpty Dumpty, “it means what I want it to mean.”
    But at least until now even politi-speak has born at least some tangential relationship with the meaning of words as defined in the OED. What we have now is nothing less than blatant lying since turning my fridge off when they can’t or won’t supply the power is not “managing demand”; it is “managing supply”. The two concepts are diametrically opposite.
    And that’s where the teeth are, Richard!
    Mark Reckless went so far but not far enough. What needs to be hammered home (by Booker among others, for all he seems to have slipped up this time) is that if we are not very careful then renewables will be cheaper but only because they will continue to be subsidised (by the consumer) and fossil fuels will have been taxed to the hilt.
    The end of cheap energy is staring us in the face but not because of any shortage of raw materials but simply by government diktat. Watch for a massive increase in winter deaths in the next five years though another quote is probably appropriate here: “they had better do so and decrease the surplus population”. Green philosophy as interpreted by Ebenezer Scrooge.

    • Reading Hansard is something I’ve had to learn for my day job. I thought this clarification might be useful to save others from having to plough through it, so I’m glad you found it useful!

      Like a chemical formula, Hansard follows its own precise convention that is quite illuminating if one has the incentive and patience to decipher it.

  3. I’ve been told (on the Telegraph site) that my post is too complicated! So here is a 3-para summary:

    1. Caroline Lucas wanted to add a section (clause) to the Energy Bill to cut electricity consumption by a third or more by 2030. Her amendment was not agreed (though Booker’s article mistakenly said it was agreed, which he has now corrected).

    2. Although that amendment was withdrawn, the government did put some new sections into the bill about electricity demand reduction. As far as I understand them they will allow companies who reduce electricity demand (e.g. by insulating buildings) to be treated as favorably (with subsidies etc.) as companies who produce low-carbon electricity. That is, ‘demand reduction’ is to be treated the same as ‘low carbon electricity supply’.

    3. The bill as it now stands does not have targets for electricity cuts as originally suggested by Christopher Booker. But it still has to go through the House of Lords where it can be further amended before it becomes law.

  4. Great stuff Ruth you have corrected an error and we can all move forward. Booker and North apology is prompt and worthy. I hope you become a blogostar – fantastic attention to detail.

  5. Just wanted to echo the others here and say thanks for a very informative post. Hansard is a fascinating and useful resource, I find, but frustrating when trying to track down the details of a specific debate or question, sometimes. I admire your patience!

    Now I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens to this in the Lords where, hopefully, climate realists there, such as Nigel Lawson and Matt Ridley, will be on their toes and will do what they can to prevent further insane “negawatts” targets from creeping in.

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