Industry and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 19th May 2005.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford 2:17 pm, 19th May 2005

The temptation to make future party policy from the Back Benches is almost irresistible, but I will resist it in the presence of the new shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin. I dare say that, if the hon. Gentleman asks my right hon. Friend that question later, my right hon. Friend will take the sensible view that he has been in post for about three days and cannot be expected to make new policy.

The underlying point by Norman Baker about the long-term expense is valid, but whether renewable sources are economic is also a moot point. Whichever way we go, it seems likely that some level of subsidy, or of market distortion that creates a subsidy, will be required, as it is now. The idea that the economic problem is purely for the nuclear industry is simply not true. It is true for all non-traditional forms of energy generation at the moment.

The only conclusion that one can draw is that we have had various learned committees sitting in various parts of this particular jungle for a long time, which, conveniently, have not reported before the general election. But the evidence gathering has been done and it is a matter of urgency that we get on with making a decision as fast as possible.

The other environmental issue on which I want to touch is relevant to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. The new integrated agency is meant to produce

"a healthy countryside, valued and used in a sustainable way."

Those are the Secretary of State's own words, and who could argue with them? The problem is that that is not what is happening in too many parts of our countryside.

My constituency is one of the areas on which the Deputy Prime Minister's vision of so-called sustainable communities is being foisted and the purely environmental effects—before we get into the social strains on public services—include the disappearance of green fields, increasing pressure on water supplies and sewage disposal, and increasing pressure to put buildings on the flood plain, none of which could be regarded as sustainable in any normal use of the word.

The root of this environmental vandalism, which will render irrelevant any good work by the new agency in areas such as mine, is the Government's attitude to house building as set out in the Barker review. The claim is that we need more house building and that the Government have accepted the Barker analysis that there is a long-term undersupply of housing. All the evidence points against that analysis. The average number of people per household continues to fall and the average space that people have in their homes is increasing. Overcrowding is declining and there are more homes than households. There is a surplus of some 670,000 houses in this country. It seems perverse to say that the answer is to build more and more houses when the thick end of 750,000 houses is empty. It appears obvious that demand factors, not the supply of housing, cause the stresses and strains on house prices. Trying to build our way out of the so-called housing crisis in the south-east of England will not solve the crisis but create—and is creating—a new environmental crisis. Any good work that might be done by the new agency—I wish it and the Ministers who will support it all the best—will be outweighed by other Government policies that are higher in the hierarchy of importance and cause great damage.

A major increase in house building will cause more greenhouse gas emissions, more noise and pollution associated with traffic growth, threats to wildlife and the possibility of greater flood risk and environmental damage through new water resources. I feel especially strongly about that because my constituency is in the forefront of suffering such environmental damage and I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State's explanation for why all that is necessary.

The third issue that I wish to raise is for another day but, being realistic, I suspect that I will not catch the Speaker's eye then. The identity cards Bill is to be reintroduced. It was a bad Bill in the previous Session and it is a bad Bill now. It will impose huge costs on individuals and taxpayers, restrict personal freedom and prove ineffective in the fight against terrorism and benefit fraud. The more arguments I hear from the Home Secretary, the worse they get. People have said that we are heading towards an Orwellian society. Orwell should not be our guiding text; if the scheme is ever adopted, it should be Kafka because people's identities will disappear. Anyone who has ever had to deal with problems related to the Child Support Agency's computers or any of the tax credit systems knows that they cannot cope. The proposed system will put huge amounts of sensitive personal information on to a Government computer, affecting everyone in this country.