PMQs: Vince tackles Gordon on renewable energy

by Stephen Tall on October 24, 2007

Acting Lib Dem leader Vince Cable is proving a pretty effective performer at the weekly charade of Prime Minister’s Questions.

I’m not sure he exactly relishes the task – making good use of the two questions allotted to the leader of the third party, who must put his case without the prop of the despatch box on which Messrs Brown and Cameron are able to rely, is perhaps the most unenviable job in Parliament. But he does enter into the spirit of it with a less embarrassed demeanour than Ming Campbell, whose heart you could tell was not in the theatrical displays which passes for debate in the mother of parliaments.

And though he clearly respects the Prime Minister, he does not feel hampered by friendship (as maybe Ming did) in giving Gordon a kick in the ballots. Today he took Mr Brown to task for Labour’s luke-warm commitment to the environment (for the background to which, see Bridget Fox’s article on LDV yesterday):

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): On that specific point [the European renewables target], 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.