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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry 3:39 pm, 8th February 2005

It was a serious mistake to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. The fact is that our party in Edinburgh is critical of the scheme, not the principle, as he knows perfectly well. At the end of the day, with some debate and argument, we might come up with a scheme that we can both support. That is what debate is about.

We have had our differences with the Government on some of the central issues on the climate change agenda. Sometimes we do not think that the Government are radical enough or that their schemes will work, but our debates are about how to come up with mechanisms that will deliver results. There are many aspects of what the Government are doing—their commitment and the mechanisms—that we can and do support, but we need more mechanisms to bring on some of the alternative schemes that are not delivering at present. That is not a criticism of what the Government are doing, but a recognition that if there are too many schemes, things become too complicated and people do not respond.

I urge the Minister to consider other aspects of renewables, such as timber. Our forestry industry could make a substantial contribution, yet it is being frustrated because a time horizon on co-firing could lead to a sudden drop in the market unless there is a recognition that we need both coppicing and off-cuts to become a long-term part of that process. Schemes that involve not electricity generation but space heating using renewable energy and more efficient systems must be encouraged.

The Minister will be familiar with the fact that, with the right mechanisms to increase the promotion of energy efficiency, we could also produce a mechanism that could deliver the expansion of combined heat and power that we all want yet are failing to achieve. In fact, combined heat and power can do more than anything else to help us to meet our 2010 targets, yet its development has come to a complete halt. I urge the Government to think about such mechanisms.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State spoke and engaged with us very seriously on this matter. It is important to make it clear that criticisms of the United States Administration's policies, particularly their hostility to the Kyoto protocol, should not blind anyone to the fact that the US has an enormous contribution to make towards solving the problem, both by changing its own behaviour and by providing the technology that it has the capacity to contribute. One of the encouraging things about the US is that it will make a substantial contribution to that technology regardless of the US Administration's policy.

Alan Simpson rightly highlighted the problems of countries such as China and India and the need for us to balance their development with the contribution that we can make. That is another reason why I believe strongly that we must recognise the fact that nuclear power is not the solution. Anyone who tries to reactivate nuclear power is blocking the solution, as our past experience shows. The best way that I can describe the nuclear power industry is as a cuckoo in the nest: it sucks all the resources from every other aspect of energy to the point where no other innovation takes place.

We have an overhang of nuclear waste clean-up costs estimated at £50 billion or more. We also have an overhang in that producing electricity with nuclear power costs us more than most other forms of electricity production. Those people who complain that the introduction of renewable energy costs a little more should recognise that the sums involved are a fraction of the extra costs that we have already paid for the nuclear industry, which never delivered any of its early promise. It is a question not of being anti-nuclear, but of acknowledging that the resources that nuclear power devours displace everything else. We simply cannot afford to be taken down that track.

The Secretary of State also rightly made a plea—another challenge to the Conservative party to come on board in this respect—to stop talking about the science, about which we all agree, and to agree about the radical measures that we need to take together to deal with the fundamental problem. All political parties have had difficulties with high fuel costs—a policy intended to discourage car use, or at least to try to connect the car with its environmental impact. That has caused considerable tensions—the blockades embarrassed us all—but we have sustained that policy.

The solution depends on all the major parties being prepared to stand together. The Conservative party's answer to congestion charging is to build more roads, but it exploits the difficulties of making such decisions. The reality is that strong cross-party support is required, particularly in the earlier stages. As Dr. Turner put it, the problem is so serious and severe that those radical measures, which may not appear popular, are so important that we should all be prepared to stand together to defend and justify them because bigger issues are at stake. So long as a significant political party is playing party politics in that scenario, it will undermine what we can achieve and—as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South says—we may have passed the point of no return by 2015. In 10 years' time, there may not be the capacity to introduce policies that can turn the tide.

This is an important debate. I challenge the Government to recognise the fact that if they are serious—we believe that they are—about their priorities for the G8 and the EU, they must have regular debates during the presidency to report back and give the House an opportunity to inform them and, indeed, perhaps back them up in their negotiations in those important forums. If things really are as serious as the Government say, they should take Parliament with them and not act simply as an Executive. Plenty of hon. Members are willing to support the Government in those difficult decisions, and they should give us the chance to tell them so.