Tackling Climate Change

– in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 12th October 2005.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 4:00 pm, 12th October 2005

I must advise the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I also tell the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches in the debate.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment) 4:16 pm, 12th October 2005

I beg to move,

That this House
regrets the Prime Minister's apparent willingness to abandon the effort to achieve a second Kyoto agreement;
and calls upon the Government to implement a system of independent monitoring which will assist governments in achieving the Royal Commission's target reduction in emissions by 2050.

I also make a declaration of my interests in the register.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The right hon. Lady asks how I can possibly have any interests. I am not sure that I do have any interests, as a matter of fact, but I always try to follow the path of greatest assurance.

The problem of climate change is manifestly global. I do not think that anyone on either side of the House is in any doubt that the problem requires global solutions. It is also clear that the Prime Minister has grasped the global nature of the problem. It would be fair to pay him the tribute of saying that since Lady Thatcher's speech many years ago, he is probably the person in British politics who has most signally grasped that fact. What is more—this might not necessarily give some of my colleagues great satisfaction—I must say that I think that the Prime Minister is right that we will not make significant global progress until and unless we realise what the Americans, Chinese, Indians and Russians are clearly now recognising: the solution to the problem of increasing carbon emissions does not lie in trying to persuade the entirety of the inhabitants of the globe to live like monks in the middle ages, or in trying to pretend away the serious problems of competitive advantage if some economies engage in certain activities, while others engage in others. In short, there is no doubt at all that the United States will not participate unless and until China, India, Russia, Brazil—probably—and possibly Japan are fully locked into a process. So far, I agree with the Prime Minister.

I must say, however, that I read with some dismay the Prime Minister's remarks—made not here in the UK, of course, but in the States—suggesting that he had abandoned the hope of some years hence moving from a stage at which there was a joint and laudable effort to introduce new technologies to one at which there could be a wider second Kyoto—although I care not whether it would be called that—that would represent a much wider binding agreement across the great majority of the economies of the world that targets would be achieved for carbon reduction. We still need to strive towards that goal, so I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to relieve my anxiety and let us know that the Prime Minister's remarks have been misinterpreted and that although he does not believe—as I do not—that there will be a second Kyoto agreement in short order, he nevertheless hopes to negotiate such a universal binding agreement in due course. If that is the Prime Minister's view, we share it.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The right hon. Gentleman makes typically delphic opening remarks, but says that he agrees with the Government and the Prime Minister about the importance placed on global warming. He also makes positive remarks about Lady Thatcher and others. Bearing in mind that the Conservative party has decided to take the time to debate climate change and global warming, is it not odd that it barely mentioned it in the general election? To what extent was it referred to in the manifesto?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

As a matter of fact, I think it was odd that both the hon. Gentleman's party and mine—I exempt the Liberal Democrats from this—did not spend nearly as much of the general election campaign discussing the issues as we collectively should have done. It is a just accusation that the manifesto should have included some things more than it did. I am not going to pretend otherwise. I do not specialise in delphic utterances. That is about as clear as one can get. It is time for our parties to put the subject higher up the political agenda. When he has heard the rest of my remarks, he will see how I intend, and hope, to persuade British politics as a whole to move in that direction.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Labour, Normanton

I take the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to tackling climate change at face value. Does he regret that his party opposed the climate change levy, which was introduced to pursue climate change? Will he unequivocally tell the House that he has changed his party's mind and that it now supports the levy?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

No, and I shall explain why. The climate change levy is an extraordinarily inept tool. It has one very good aspect—the climate change agreements that have been reached with big industry—but it has one very bad effect, which the hon. Gentleman and his erstwhile, and perhaps future, master in the Treasury intended it to have. It raises a large amount of money for the Treasury from a large number of small firms, but the effect on their performance in relation to climate change is precisely nil. That is not a well targeted or well designed environmental levy. Our solutions are superior. I hope that, in due course, the Labour party will come round to them.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, not least because of his distinguished role in yesterday's proceedings on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. I then intend to make progress.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

I shall try to be helpful again. The right hon. Gentleman referred to pushing climate change up the political agenda and in particular to the role of the Prime Minister. Let us be clear on this. Does he accept that the Prime Minister got it on the G8 agenda, that it will be discussed at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg next year, and that he has met China, India and Russia? How much more should we do in an international setting? Is not that a good record?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I am coming on to what more should be done, but I accept that the Prime Minister has done noble work in putting the subject higher up the international agenda. However, discussions between China, India and the United States went on largely without his involvement. That is no discredit to him. He has since taken a leading role in furthering those discussions. That is to his credit. We are not in disagreement about that. My problems relate to the fact that apart from having apparently given up the idea of a second Kyoto—I hope that the Secretary of State tells us that that is not the case—the rhetoric domestically has not been matched by delivery domestically.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

My right hon. Friend started in a consensual manner, but a slightly partisan note has crept in from Labour Members. In that case, is it not worth pointing out that the record of the previous Conservative Government, who dramatically reduced CO 2 emissions, looks far more impressive than anything that this Government have done since coming into office?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I shall perhaps make a political mistake by making an admission to my hon. Friend. Factually he is right that under the Conservative Administrations in the 1990s there was a substantial reduction in carbon dioxide. However, having been personally involved in the restructuring of the electricity supply industry, that was a serendipitous effect of the dash for gas. We cannot claim that it was part of a well co-ordinated plan to reduce carbon emissions. [Interruption.] Before Government Members giggle too much, they should recognise that that is symptomatic of the position of this Government. I fear that there is no sign of a well co-ordinated plan to reduce carbon emissions, and that is the germ of my argument. Governments of both political persuasions have failed to develop a well co-ordinated plan. In one case, the dash for gas led to carbon reductions but in the other, apart from a change in the production of adipic acid, there has been hardly any movement at all except for recent adverse results. That is the main thrust of the arguments that Norman Baker and I shall make today.

It is hardly worth looking at the year-by-year carbon emission figures because they dart around. The most honest and compelling way to look at the figures is to consider three-year rolling averages. I cannot recall such a clear pattern. In 1992, the three-year rolling average for CO 2 emissions in terms of millions of tonnes of carbon equivalent was 165. It dropped in 1993 to 163; in 1994, to 159; and in 1995, to 157. It remained at 157 in 1996, and dropped in 1997 to 156—the point made by my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway. Since 1997, the three-year rolling average has been 156, 153—it dropped a little—153, 154, 154, 155 and 156. In short, it has gone back up to 1997 levels.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

That is the result of economic growth.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

Economic growth may well have contributed to the carbon increase, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to advance the proposition that we should avoid economic growth. If we are to have sustained economic growth, as we both want, and if we are serious, which I am and which I suppose he is—certainly the Secretary of State is—about trying to achieve carbon reduction we must find a means of allying it to economic growth, not explaining away carbon increases in terms of economic growth.

There is an empirical fact of the matter. I do not wish to attribute blame to anyone, and am merely stating the facts. We are moving remorselessly in the wrong direction domestically. It is true that that has been masked by a particular change in 1999, when the production method of adipic acid altered and nitrous oxide was reduced serendipitously. That will not happen again, and I know of no other industrial process that will make a similar contribution. We are now on a track which, without a significant change of course, will lead to an increase not a reduction in carbon emissions in this country.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee

The right hon. Gentleman is spot-on, but does he agree that we are where we are because of a regulatory framework that has produced unintended consequences, including the destruction of investment in combined heat and power? Does he not acknowledge that unlocking that investment would reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially and enable us to meet the Kyoto target? Does he agree that the Government ought to find a mechanism that does so?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The sad demise of combined heat is only one element of many contributing to this sorry tale. Others include the lack of micro-generation and the fact that boilers are not being replaced with micro-generators; the difficulty of installing small domestic windmills on people's houses; the relationship to the electricity supply industry; the lack of enforcement of building regulations; the fact that we are building large numbers of environmentally unfriendly houses; and the fact that our transport system does not yet have a renewable transport fuel obligation despite years of inquiry. Those factors, and many other things besides, have contributed to the problem, and each of them is important.

I want to discuss an overarching question: how can we—as a country, as three political parties and as the Government or a potential alternative Government—ensure that we do not have debates in the House of Commons for the next 50 years in which anybody who is honest must stand at the Dispatch Box and say, "The situation is getting worse rather than better"? That is not a partisan point, because many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with it.

I could suggest to my party that at the next election we should address the problem, to which David Taylor rightly alluded, of our not being seen to be involved in environmental affairs, by adopting a partisan position. The way things are going, nothing would be easier than adopting that approach. We could spend a lot of time picking holes in the Government's record, but it would not be productive.

Today, the hon. Member for Lewes and I are proposing a productive agreement involving the Secretary of State and the Government, because we have an opportunity to agree on some things. The opportunity exists, because we already agree on a subset of those issues—for some time, all three political parties have been signed up to the idea of reducing emissions in this country by 60 per cent. between now and 2050, which is a considerable rock on which to found much else.

It cannot be rationally asserted that three political parties in a mature democracy have signed up to a target for 2050 without it following that those three parties can agree year-by-year targets between now and 2050. We cannot get to a 2050 target by waiting until 2049, and we all know that there must be a path between here and there. The nature of the path, which will involve energy security, economic progress and available technologies, is immensely complex, and much room is available for discussion, which should commence now.

There are good grounds for supposing that we can go further, because we can all agree to the blindingly obvious. Just as Ed Balls, who intervened earlier, was right to establish the Monetary Policy Committee as an independent body to help to countervail against the natural tendency in a democracy for Governments to take short-term decisions, which may have bad long-term consequences, on interest rates for electoral reasons, so it is clear that in the domain of climate change and environmental policy, a distinct tendency exists in our or any other democracy for Governments to take a short-term position that leads to long-term deficiencies.

Just as the MPC corrected that effect, we need an independent monitoring body to engage in a probabilistic analysis along the lines of the MPC's trumpet-shaped curves. Such a body would come to Parliament every year, when it would state whether on present policy the Government of the day have a 50 per cent. chance, a 90 per cent. chance or a 2 per cent. chance of meeting the year-by-year targets to which all three parties would have signed up in the world that I am gesturing towards. That does not mean that the Government would immediately have to take specific action—nobody can remove the democratic power that lies with a Government—but they would be sorely embarrassed if they did not take actions that led to such a body predicting a high likelihood of meeting the year-by-year targets.

In the course of our joint endeavours during the past 24 hours, the hon. Member for Lewes has made the good point that a Government who increased the probability of meeting those targets, as assessed by the independent monitor, and who knew that both of the other major political parties were also signed up to the process, would be immune from petty politicking, which would otherwise go on all too easily, along the lines of "You are causing a cost for my constituents. I can make some political capital out of this, notwithstanding the fact that I know that the policy is right, if we are to meet the targets in the long run." That would be prohibited, so to speak, because all three parties would be conjoined in a consensual approach to these matters. That is a very desirable result.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Labour, Normanton

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's analogy about independent advice. Back in 1998, the Government went to the president of the CBI—who, I am sure you would agree, is not at all a partisan political figure—and asked him to look at the issue of climate change. He recommended, independently of Government, that we move towards emissions trading in the long term, but in the short to medium term we should have the climate change levy, with negotiated agreements, and supported by the CBI. For partisan political reasons, the right hon. Gentleman and his party opposed it. How can he now, with any credibility, lecture us about not being partisan?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that he must use the correct parliamentary language when addressing the House.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The tone of voice that I was attempting to adopt was one not of lecturing the hon. Gentleman but of making a positive proposal about a way in which the three parties might go forward. If he wants to persist in the rather paltry business of continually defending a partly defensible and partly indefensible position in relation to a tax that has had some desirable effects but others that are unfortunately not so desirable, that is a pity. Rather than worrying about all that, we have an opportunity to do something that is of extraordinary significance not only for the way in which this country behaves but in giving us the ability to engage in moral leadership globally. Unless we make serious strides, not backwards but forwards, in reducing carbon, we cannot lead globally to anything like the extent that the Prime Minister rightly wants.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are unlikely to make progress on climate change until the public take it more seriously, and that we have all failed in doing that job? By way of a small example, I made climate change one of the lead items on my election literature, but not one person in my constituency commented on it during my campaign, either positively or negatively.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

This debate is in danger of turning into something that is positively interesting. My hon. Friend is right to say that most people in this country are not particularly interested in what we are debating. I very much doubt that it will feature as the main item on the 6 o'clock news. However, I do not agree with him that we should therefore wait until people are interested. In fact, we have the opportunity to engage in leadership of the sort that he demonstrated in his leaflet; and we can go further. The very fact that most people do not put this high on their agenda is the reason why we and the Liberal Democrats have come to the conclusion that we need a cross-party consensus so that we can do the right things, notwithstanding the fact that they will often not gain immediate electoral appeal.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

In pursuing this excellent new initiative, will my right hon. Friend not forget to bring on board local government? He said that housing has not been a tremendously good example of how we can save energy and contribute to climate change. I asked a major developer who was constructing part of the largest industrial development in my constituency, Solstice park, near Amesbury, "Why haven't you got greener buildings?" They said, "The building regulations don't require it and the local authority doesn't encourage us to do it, so we don't."

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

My hon. Friend, who has a long and distinguished record of interest in those matters, is right that local government has a major part to play. So does national housing policy, which brings me to my penultimate point.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State will admit it, but I suspect that she does not greatly disagree with most of my comments. I also suspect that she, through no fault of her own, is in a position in Whitehall that often makes it difficult to pull levers and find something at the other end. I suspect that she often pulls levers only to find that there is not much at the other end. The reason for that is the way in which the power structures of Whitehall operate. Many powerful forces are at work in Whitehall—the Treasury, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Transport, energy and the Department for Trade and Industry, which sponsors it. Each is a power base. It is difficult to corral a whole Government into a joined-up policy—to adopt one of the Government's favourite phrases —that delivers a serious reduction in carbon while keeping the lights on and the economy growing.

The sort of cross-party agreement and framework that we and the Liberal Democrats propose would have the added effect of immeasurably strengthening the Secretary of State's hand—and, bizarrely, that of the Prime Minister—against other Departments because it would suddenly become almost imperative for them to play along with the effort to do something serious about carbon. That would be true of not only the current regime but subsequent Governments of different hues. The Secretary of State has a personal interest in playing an active role in moving in the direction that we and the Liberal Democrats suggest.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 25 minutes and has told us what we read in The Independent this morning. Does he accept that it is easy to talk about a new Lib-Con coalition, which I welcome—I hope that the Secretary of State responds positively to it—but that hon. Members want to hear his specific proposals for backing up the coalition? Does he acknowledge that he opposed interim targets in his election manifesto?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

No. We have not opposed interim targets; indeed, I am proposing them. Although I have been speaking for 25 minutes, I have spent much time answering interventions. I do not have concrete proposals and there are two reasons for that.

First, I came to the post three or four months ago and I have been working helter skelter to get my party into a position whereby we can make concrete proposals. We have been developing the computer programmes and in-house expertise that is required to enable us to participate constructively. By the time the climate change programme review is announced, we will have had many of the discussions and be able to enter into it.

Secondly, even when we are in a position to make concrete proposals, rather than the hon. Member for Lewes or us saying, "Here are our proposals; take them or leave them", we would like to have a three-party discussion and try to devise proposals with which we can all live and that will not be "the Government's proposals", "Conservative proposals" or "Liberal Democrat proposals" but joint proposals. I understand that that will be a culture shock in British politics but if we do not do that we will not have something that stands the test of different regimes.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

If the right hon. Gentleman asks nicely, he might even have four-party support for his proposals. Before we invest in such a grand coalition, he would have to convince us that the Conservatives are genuinely committed to tackling climate change. In Scotland, we observe Conservatives running around opposing almost every renewable scheme. Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on that?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I cannot invite the hon. Gentleman and his party into a multi-party coalition about devolved matters. I hope that we can co-operate with other parties in other parts of the United Kingdom about matters that are not devolved. We need to take a proactively favourable attitude to renewable power.

We also have to recognise that there are limits on each of the solutions to the problems of carbon emissions. That is why no one solution is the answer. In the few months that I have been doing this job, I have been extraordinarily impressed by the number of people who have said to me, "My solution is the solution." Each one is wrong, not in the sense that their solution does not have a part to play, but in the sense that we need all of them to a moderate and limited degree that recognises the constraints involved. Those involve other environmental constraints, including non-carbon environmental constraints, economic constraints, and constraints relating to the supply and timing of the technologies.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, even if he is not in a position to come forward with concrete proposals at this stage, the House as a whole has a responsibility to address some of the ambiguities about climate change that his colleagues have raised? It is not that the public are uninterested in the issue. If we ask them whether they are bothered about flash flooding that sends sewage into their streets and living rooms, they are as sure as hell interested. If they are asked whether they are worried about their cars being swept down the streets of Boscastle, they are interested. They would also have been interested if they had been asked, during the summer of 2002, whether they wanted to die of heatstroke. As politicians, we must at least begin to consider the practical realities of the climate change challenges that threaten the very lives and livelihoods of the citizens we represent.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I agree that we have to bring home to people the relationship between these apparently abstract matters and the very concrete results, which are of huge importance. In doing so, however, we must not make the mistake of asserting causal connections that are either tenuous or non-existent. We must not suggest that every appalling event that occurs is the direct consequence of climate change, when many of them are not. That is a difficult balance to strike. We must bring it home to people that we are talking about the distinct possibility—indeed, the likelihood—of significantly increased numbers of catastrophic events taking place some years hence if we do not take action now. That is a difficult proposition to get across in a democracy, but I believe it to be possible, and because we are talking about taking action now to affect a time far in the future, doing it together is the only option.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I believe that I have tired the House long enough. If I answer any more points now, I shall be accused of going on too long.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:47 pm, 12th October 2005

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"congratulates the UK Government on the unparalleled leadership it has shown in raising the issue of climate change up the international agenda;
welcomes the outcomes of the G8 Summit in July in Gleneagles and the UK's achievements in establishing a new momentum in international discussion on climate change;
further welcomes the Government's commitment to work towards agreement on the long-term goals and action needed to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the UK's commitment to seek further international action through the EU Presidency, the first meeting of the G8 dialogue on 1st November and the Montreal meeting in December;
commends the Labour Party for its continuing objective to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010;
and welcomes any support for measures that will actually reduce UK emissions.".

I must begin by saying that, with great respect to the measured tone adopted by Mr. Letwin, both the timing and the wording of the motion strike me as faintly odd. The motion

"regrets the Prime Minister's apparent willingness to abandon the effort to achieve a second Kyoto agreement".

I say that the timing is somewhat odd because this debate occurs between two relevant events. Last week, I co-chaired a two-day business conference sponsored jointly by my Department, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Climate Group. That conference was clearly germane to these issues. And in only a couple of weeks' time, we shall see the first meeting involving an unprecedented dialogue: the Gleneagles dialogue.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to the Prime Minister for his activities in this regard, but we should place it clearly on record that no Government and no leader anywhere in the world have done more than our Prime Minister to create the circumstances in which the world community—and I mean all the world community—can begin to explore the possibility and scope of international negotiation beyond the first Kyoto commitment period. This country ought to take pride in that.

I suspect that most world leaders would have thought that fighting and winning a general election campaign provided enough pressure for one year, and, if forced by chronology to combine that with the presidency of the G8 alone, never mind that of the European Union, would perhaps merely have used the opportunity to be seen on the world stage. However, it has been widely observed that our Prime Minister has made more forceful and more constructive use of the G8 mechanism than anyone can remember. It was as a result of his efforts that the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January—for the first time, I think—had the impact and opportunities of climate change as a major item on its agenda. At that meeting, he not only made a keynote speech but hosted a breakfast with 30 senior players, each from a different sector of global business, to ask them to stimulate discussion in their sector on the challenges of climate change and report back before Gleneagles, as they did.

In February, we hosted a scientific meeting in Exeter, and the consensus of that expert group was greater certainty about global warming, which was the bad news, but that tackling it should cost less than predicted if done early enough, which was the good news. In March, we organised a round table discussion of Energy and Environment Ministers from some 20 countries with major and growing energy needs—another first—at a meeting which also drew in major players from industry and finance, as well as countries such as India, China, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and so on. Then, in July, at Gleneagles, the Prime Minister brokered agreement not only that all the G8 accepted that there was a consensus on the science but that global emissions should slow, stop and reverse, and that there should be an action plan to help to deliver on that agreement—a plan that engaged not only the G8 but the World Bank and International Energy Agency. I am genuinely uncertain as to whether this part of the agreement—on the outcome needed and the steps that might deliver that outcome—was the most significant achievement from Gleneagles, or whether it was the equally unprecedented agreement to a follow-up dialogue to explore what might be done to move forward on tackling climate change.

Bluntly, therefore, what makes no sense at all, despite the right hon. Gentleman's measured tone, is the rather ridiculous suggestion in the motion that after all that personal commitment of time and energy—made in the face of much discouragement—towards a future international agreement, the Prime Minister has suddenly abandoned the idea. It certainly makes it a little hard to take as seriously as I would like to do the right hon. Gentleman's recent suggestions that we should rise above party political jibing and strive for a cross-party consensus on climate change.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Far be it from me to interpret the Conservative motion, but I read the concern expressed in the first line not as a criticism of what the Prime Minister has done, as many of us recognise that he has done a lot this year, but as a concern that in his efforts to achieve an international agreement, he might have concluded that the way to do so is to abandon the idea of mandatory national targets.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I know of no evidence that backs up that concern. There has been much over-interpretation of some remarks that the Prime Minister made in New York, not least, I might add—I am not sure whether this is wholly clear to Members of the House—as a result of a rush of blood to the head on the part of some in the United States who still cling to the notion that there is no such problem as climate change, and who leapt immediately to the conclusion that the Prime Minister was agreeing with them, which would certainly be a first.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

We should not labour this point, but the Prime Minister did say that he was changing his mind, did he not?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I said, there has been a certain amount of over-interpretation. The Prime Minister has not changed his mind about the need for future international action in any way, shape or form.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

We may be making significant progress here, and perhaps I have misinterpreted the Prime Minister. Is the Secretary of State saying that the Government still believe that it is necessary to reach, after whatever technological investment programme might take place, a series of national and binding targets across a wide range of nations, including the United States, China and India?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If I may, I will deal later in my speech with the shape of how international discussions might go forward, as I think that people are getting several steps ahead of themselves. I will say two things that might reassure both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman. First, in the discussions referred to in New York, the Prime Minister said specifically:

"I don't think all the answers lie in just developing the science and technology."

He then talked about how we move forward post-Kyoto.

We can all, I hope, sign up—albeit with varying degrees of commitment—to the need to tackle the impact of climate change. As was said in an intervention, that is the easy bit, but there is not much point in reaching a consensus on the problem if, the minute difficult decisions on what to do about it come along, the would-be consensus rats and runs away. So let us rise above such silliness in the motion—I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point about misinterpretation and hoping to be proved wrong—and consider what this consensus might consist of, apart from agreement that there is a problem.

The Conservatives seem at last to agree—the right hon. Gentleman said that this has been his party's position for some time—with the Government's major target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by about 2050, as set out in our energy White Paper. He is being unjust to himself in suggesting that this is a longstanding Conservative commitment; but however recent it is, it is certainly welcome. But what else is there? I looked for clues in the motion, which talks about an independent body to monitor emissions. Indeed, that was the tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, but it is not entirely clear to me why he thinks that such a body would be a major help.

Our emissions data are already compiled according to international guidelines, and they are scrutinised by—among others—the National Audit Office and are subject to international peer review, under guidelines agreed by the United Nations framework convention on climate change. Far from there being concern about the UK's work on emissions monitoring, it has an outstanding international reputation.

So is there something more for which the right hon. Gentleman is calling? Perhaps I am now over-interpreting, but a clue might be found in a 20 September article in The Daily Telegraph. Charles Clover reported what was said to be the right hon. Gentleman's view that

"an independent body, like the Bank of England"— this takes us back to a point made in an earlier intervention on the right hon. Gentleman—

"should preside over the transition to a low carbon economy", which should be achieved through a 3 per cent. per year cut in emissions. But although the Bank of England's independent role in the economy is crucial, it is specific and limited. It sets the level of interest rates, so what would this new body control and how would it control it? If the intention is to influence the price of carbon, would such a body control fuel prices under the next Conservative Government? Would that include controlling the price of oil, gas and coal?

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

I have undoubtedly made myself insufficiently clear, given that I failed earlier to persuade the right hon. Lady of my point. What I meant to say is that there needs to be a body that predicts—in the way that the Bank of England predicts, through its probabilistic analyses—the chance of the Government of the day's meeting a set of year-by-year targets relating to the policies of the time. That is a very specific and extraordinarily important role which is not based on current monitoring, but which looks forward to 2050.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If I may return to the analogy that the right hon. Gentleman himself drew, such a role forms a small part of any comparison with the role of the Bank of England, which, as I said, does not merely comment but holds some of the levers of power. I am slightly disappointed in the right hon. Gentleman's response, and I am inclined to turn back on him an observation that he made to me. Perhaps it would have been better to secure agreement among his own Front Benchers—I take his point about policy entirely, and I do not criticise the Conservatives for reviewing their policies—and to have established a more detailed proposition that is genuinely in keeping with how the Bank of England operates.

I did wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman had it in mind that such a body would advise on building standards, so as to ensure greater energy efficiency. I take his point that he was confining his remarks to the question of monitoring. However, listening to this exchange—I look forward with great interest to hearing the supporting comments of Norman Baker—I wonder whether, when we next hear from the spokesmen for the fuel protests, both parties will urge the Government not to be flexible. That would certainly be interesting.

Let me make it plain, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would welcome a real cross-party consensus on climate change. We would probably never reach the stage of total agreement on every policy, but a recognition of the need for harsh choices and a willingness to face up to them would definitely be steps in the right direction. I accept—my hon. Friend Ed Balls may be less keen—that the Opposition include those who dislike the climate change levy. For the sake of this debate, let us say fair enough, but what would they do instead that might deliver the same results? Let us not forget that, for all the criticism—some of it unjustified—of the Government's record, our technical advice is that, without the totality of the measures in our climate change programme or something of equal magnitude to replace them, our carbon dioxide emissions will be 5 per cent. up on 1990, instead of more than 5 per cent. down.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

My right hon. Friend is moving in the right direction on tackling the problems of climate change that lie ahead of us, but many problems are already with us. On 30 June, my constituency experienced a major flood and our sewers were unable to deal with peak loading as a result of the heavy rain. The water authority told me that the problem was not unique to Newcastle, but probably applied around the country. Has my right hon. Friend or her colleagues in other Departments made an assessment of what needs to be done, and has she talked to the water authorities about those matters?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I cannot honestly say whether a specific assessment of the problems arising in Newcastle has been made. I am sorry to learn about how my hon. Friend's constituents have been affected, but I can certainly confirm that it provides a classic example of the potential impact of climate change. We are seeing signs that the nature of our rainfall is changing. The way in which we handle it, the nature of our infrastructure and water storage, as well as our water use, must be kept under review. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government view those issues as of considerable importance. We are concerned not just with flood prevention schemes and the like, but with much wider issues. My hon. Friend makes an important point about the overall impact of these problems.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am certainly prepared for the time being to give both Opposition spokesmen and their parties the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, I will even stop pointing out—not least because I suspect that it is as much an embarrassment as it should be to the hon. Member for Lewes—that the Liberals campaigned successfully against a congestion charge in Edinburgh. On domestic policy, I give them both notice—I shall leave the point here—that we will judge them as they claim to judge us: by their actions and not just by their words.

I want to turn now to the international scene, where I hope we might find common ground more readily, as long as we all understand the true position. A year ago, there was no willingness in the international community even to mention the future beyond 2012—the end of the first Kyoto commitment period—let alone to begin to think about dealing with it. Before anyone on any side of the House grabs for the easy option and starts muttering about George Bush, let me be crystal clear about it, so there can be no doubt in any part of this House. I mean no willingness outside the ranks of the EU and those countries that can already see their very existence threatened by global warming.

The fact that at Gleneagles not only the G8 themselves—itself no small feat—but Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico agreed to begin to engage in just such a discussion is, frankly, a major and personal diplomatic achievement by our Prime Minister. Nor are we just pursuing dialogue. It was a UK-led initiative—it has not had much publicity, so it is entirely possible that hon. Members are not aware of it—in which, so far, my Department is bearing the lion's share, with support from the Department of Trade and Industry. At the EU-China summit in September, the initiative led to the signing of an agreement to pilot a clean-coal power plant in China. That is a massive and practical step forward.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has signed a climate change partnership agreement with the Government of China. Moreover, during the UK's presidency of the EU, we also agreed a joint initiative with India. I know that I am saying the obvious, but it is always wise for the House to bear it in mind that countries such as those have immense and pressing problems of development, even without the already damaging impacts—in the present and the future—of climate change.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Chinese have also just completed two new nuclear power stations? Does she think that the UK can continue to meet its global warming commitments without new nuclear build?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not intend to get drawn into that argument today, but I am very conscious that China is building about one new power plant per week. It is not concentrating on nuclear power, but is drawing on every possible technology. China has vast coal reserves, and will continue to use them. It is looking at renewables, but the Chinese Government are so seized of the need for energy supply that they are looking at every alternative, including nuclear. Other countries are likely to go down that road.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

If the Prime Minister decides to go for the nuclear option as part of the Government's climate change strategy, does the Secretary of State think that he will be able to take his parliamentary party with him?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think that we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. I am sure that the hon. Lady is up to speed with these issues, even though she was not in the House when the Government produced our energy White Paper some two years ago. We said then that it would be most unwise to close down the nuclear option. However, if that option had to be reconsidered, we also committed ourselves to a very thorough examination of all the implications of such a course of action. We also committed ourselves to publishing a special White Paper on the matter, but I assure her that we are not quite at that point at present.

I have referred to the huge difficulties faced by China and India, but they are only two of the countries that demonstrate the other side of the coin. The potential silver lining to the vast cloud that has been described is the immense opportunity available to them to make use of assistance to develop in a sustainable manner, and the immense opportunity that those vast markets provide for UK and EU businesses.

Those countries, however, demonstrate another aspect that is absolutely pertinent to the prospects for international agreement. As I said a moment ago, China and India have massive needs, and those needs are, and will remain, the priority for their peoples. They are also proud and independent states, but they are only two among the 189 countries sending delegations to the Montreal meeting of the UN convention on climate change. I shall be frank with the House: to attempt to lecture or instruct those 189 countries about what they should do in respect of climate change—let alone to prescribe how they should go about doing it— would be grossly impertinent and probably utterly counterproductive.

A worrying tendency is emerging in the public debate on this topic—I do not accuse the right hon. Member for West Dorset in this respect, as he showed no signs of it today—to take all these matters for granted. I therefore remind the House that Montreal will be the first meeting of the parties that have ratified the Kyoto protocol, which came into force only in February of this year. That alone makes it a truly historic event. The most important and urgent business at Montreal will be to reach agreement on the final legal underpinnings of the protocol—something that could not be done until it came into force. Moreover, that process of achieving agreement to those legal underpinnings is not without difficulty, controversy and disagreement.

By all means let us lift our eyes from time to time to the peaks and pinnacles that further global agreement might, in time, make attainable. I give further reassurance to the right hon. Member for West Dorset that the Government pledged in our election manifesto to pursue such an agreement, but we must not fail to observe and tackle the icefields and crevasses that yawn at our feet, and which stand between us and such an outcome.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

On the question of the ice fields and crevasses and looking forward beyond 2012, is my right hon. Friend attracted to the concept of contraction and convergence as a means of bringing on board China, India, Brazil and other powerful developing countries? Does she believe that the basis of equal per capita rights to emit carbon should form the basis of any agreement beyond 2012?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If I may, I will come to my hon. Friend's question in a moment. First, I want to advise, if I may, him and the House to ignore anyone who says that the Montreal meeting will be easy. It will not. They must treat with polite scepticism anyone who says that all this is simple. It is not. The only people who think that they already have all the answers—I know there are some—are, frankly, those who have not understood the question.

My hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor asked me a slightly different and specific point. I can see the attractions of the idea of contraction and convergence, but it is only one of a plethora of ideas that are already in discussion. I cannot tell whether, when we finally come to whatever agreement around which might coalesce some international acceptance and understanding, some of the elements that have stimulated the proposal for contraction and convergence might be reflected. That is entirely possible but at this moment, there is as much opposition as there is support among those who would have to agree on that proposal.

I do not say this pejoratively, but contraction and convergence is the fashionable option. It has obvious and evident attractions, but it is not the only idea around and there are many people who have great reservations. No one at all will sign up to it until they have thought carefully about the implications, not only for their own economies but for the economies of others. With genuine respect, I remind my hon. Friend and the House that the most loaded word in the English language is "fair".

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee

The Secretary of State will recall that the globe forum that she opened before the Gleneagles summit focused on exactly that issue and that Senator McCain, a champion of climate change within the United States, nevertheless clashed with the Chinese representative, saying that he did not think that America should give up one ounce of emissions unless China did the same. Contraction and convergence is not the answer but we have to break the deadlock. Does she think that progress can be made in the near future?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is certainly within the capacity of the international community to begin to make progress, but it will be difficult and delicate and will require tremendous respect for the genuine concerns of all the players, not just the major ones, and a genuine recognition of the different circumstances.

The UK Government have three criteria for the possibility of an agreement. One is that it should be robust and be able to be adjusted and so on, but one of the key criteria is that the agreement should be capable of reflecting the very different national circumstances of different players. That is why I did not answer the perfectly fair and legitimate question put to me by the right hon. Member for West Dorset about whether we expected to negotiate a future Kyoto that is, in a sense—some people are talking about this as the only option—exactly like the existing Kyoto agreement but bigger. We are a long way from concluding that that is either the only or even the best way to go, for some of the reasons that I hope I have begun to identify—reasons that Malcolm Bruce recognises from the international dialogue. It is not as simple as saying we should have a bigger number or give everybody else targets along the same lines. We have to think carefully about what will work, what will be effective and what will be genuinely acceptable as well as effective.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Does the Secretary of State think that a global agreement will be in place by 2012 to replace Kyoto?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If it is not, we will be in deep trouble. As I said in all seriousness a moment ago, less than a year ago it was not possible to get more than a handful of countries to sign up even to the notion of talking about the future. We have come a long way in the past year and it is not sycophantic but accurate to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government have played a huge role in creating the extra momentum. Indeed, that is very much recognised outside this country. We will have a better idea of progress after the first meeting of the Gleneagles dialogue, when we will begin to see the scope for practical partnerships to begin to deliver action on the issues and whether that is shaping people's approach.

One reason why I hope today's debate will lead to a more mature and sensible dialogue in the UK, which will focus on the real hard choices we need to make and how to convince the country that we need to make them, is that it is not only world leaders who need to face up to the challenges as well as the opportunities of climate change. We the people need to help support and facilitate that process.

In the slightly different context of the campaign to make poverty history, Bob Geldof made a comment that also applies to the campaign against climate change. He was asked to name and shame the people who were not prepared to do enough to tackle global poverty. His answer was:

"It is all of us. The shame is ours, the name is the world."

That is not a bad thought on which to end.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:17 pm, 12th October 2005

I welcome the tone of the debate. Mr. Letwin introduced it in a consensual and constructive way, and the Secretary of State responded in mostly the same tone. I shall say honestly and straightforwardly at the beginning of my contribution that I am here today because I regard climate change as the most important and challenging issue facing us.

I do not think that normal politics, as we have had it so far, is delivering the answers. I do not underestimate the difficulties, but I am not here to make party points. I am here because we need some agreement on the way forward in the interests of all our countrymen and women and the world at large. That is the spirit in which I stand here today, and I ask the Secretary of State to accept that. It is also why I have written to her and to the right hon. Member for West Dorset, and why my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy wrote to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition before the election.

It would be easy, if we wanted to do so, to pick out something wrong with the Conservatives' policy, something that a Liberal Democrat council has done, or some target that the Government have failed to meet. I am not interested in doing that today. We must find not the differences between us, but the common ground. We must find a constructive way forward that helps to reduce carbon emissions in this country. It is my judgment, and—I believe—that of the right hon. Member for West Dorset, that a consensual approach would help the Government to take the decisions that they may want to take but fear to take because of public reaction.

Photo of Celia Barlow Celia Barlow Labour, Hove

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about reducing carbon emissions, and that is very encouraging. However, can he explain why the Liberal Democrat manifesto in May contained nothing about reducing emissions by 20 per cent., which the Government have pledged to do within five years?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I assure the hon. Lady that Lib Dem policy is a 60 per cent. cut by 2050—a target that is equal to or better than Labour's. However, I am not here to trade issues about whose manifesto had better targets and I ask the hon. Lady and her colleagues to accept that. Let us try to find a new way forward.

We are at the beginning of a Parliament. We have an opportunity over four years to try to do something constructive, to rise above our normal exchanges and collectively, among all parties, to find some way in this new era of politics, as I hope it will be, to achieve a consensus to bring about real cuts in emissions. That should be our objective.

Things are becoming serious. I will not regale the House with all the science, but Members will have seen information produced by the Tyndale centre over the summer. Eight per cent. of the Arctic ice cap is disappearing every decade and there will soon be no ice at all at the North Pole. The ice sheet is thinning in Antarctica. Snow is disappearing on Kilimanjaro. The evidence is there for all to see. The ice is going so quickly that we can see it disappearing before our very eyes. We have to do something about it.

Scientists in every country of the world are saying not only that climate change is a reality—that is now accepted—but that their predictions about climate change were an underestimate. The situation is worse than they thought and things are getting worse faster than they thought. That is the reality.

It was depressing to listen to Prime Minister's questions today, because not one MP or party leader mentioned the environment or climate change. That is the elephant in the room and we have to grasp it—if we can grasp an elephant. We have to address the issue. We cannot go on pretending that it is not there. We must do something different.

I am not making party points about the UK position. The Government have introduced strategies to try to deal with climate change and have, in many senses, given leadership, but we are missing our targets for carbon emissions, which have gone up over the past three years. There are problems with aviation to which no one has found a solution. The evidence is that if aviation emissions continue at their present rate the increase will wipe out all the gains that would have been made if the Government's other targets had been met. That is how serious the problem is. These are really big issues and no solutions are forthcoming, because they are politically difficult. We must make it politically easier to take the right decisions. If the three parties can reach consensus we have more chance of convincing the public—to pick up a point made by Conservative Members earlier—of the need to take action, and we shall take the public with us.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I remind the hon. Gentleman that in fact we have proposals for tackling aviation. We believe that we should try to integrate aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme. Only a few days ago, the Commission published a communication that suggests that it too thinks that is the way forward. The approach of the Environment Council is not wholly clear, but if we can make a start on such proposals in the EU it could have a huge impact.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I agree that that is one of the ways forward. The Secretary of State will know that the objective of including aviation in emissions trading is shared by all three parties—an example of consensus.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this great accord that we are trying to achieve might be destroyed by our attitudes to nuclear power alone?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, because it is unrealistic to expect that as a consequence of discussing such matters and trying to find a common base all three parties will produce identical policies. That is impossible and it would be pointless to try to achieve it. However, we can reach agreement on some essentials; for example, on the science, on the 60 per cent. cut in carbon emissions, on aviation and the emissions trading scheme and on more money for energy efficiency. There are many things on which we can agree. I want a solid foundation to be laid and for us to communicate that to the public. We could even build a couple of storeys on that foundation and each of the three parties could build their own different structures on those storeys. Some will include nuclear power; others will include something else. It does not matter. What matters is that we stress our common agreement rather than always picking on differences and reducing the debate to saying, "You're wrong about nuclear power or you're right about something else." That is not productive. Let us try to find out what we have in common.

It might be appropriate to quote Churchill, given that he served as a Liberal MP and as a Conservative MP. He said, of a different matter:

"The era of procrastination . . . of soothing and baffling expedience, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences."—[Hansard, 12 November 1936; Vol. 317, c. 1117.]

That is where we are now with climate change, which is the driver that needs to bring us together. Normal national politics has not delivered. We in our own parties have attempted to grasp the solution, but no one has delivered the cuts in emissions and the approach that is necessary given the threat that we face. So let us, as political parties, find what we have in common, rather than the differences. I welcome the fact that, in response to my letter, the Conservative spokesman, the right hon. Member for West Dorset, has said, "Yes, let's try to do that", because doing so is not easy. It would be much easier to find differences and to go on about congestion charges in Edinburgh and so on. Such things are easy to find, but that is not constructive, and the public would not thank us for doing so.

I stress that, as far as I am concerned—I think that I speak for the right hon. Member for West Dorset as well—the motion is not about attacking the Government. We are interested not in doing that, but in doing something constructive. We want the Secretary of State on board because she has expertise and any arrangement must eventually have the Government on board if it is to carry weight with the public. If all three parties worked together and agreed in some shape or form, it would help to communicate the message to the public and it would be easier to take the difficult decisions that are necessary. Such decisions are sometimes necessary for the long term, but they may also have short-term political consequences. I do not pretend that all the differences will disappear, that everything will be sweetness and light and that there will be no difficulties about certain issues—of course, there will—but let us try to go some way along that road.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

The fact remains, however, that 25 per cent. of our energy is produced using nuclear power and that, by 2020, only Sizewell B will not have been decommissioned. How can we have a cohesive energy production policy within the line of Kyoto if we do not replace that nuclear capacity? Although I am pleased that the Government are objectively considering new nuclear build, the Liberal Democrats seem to have ruled that out, despite the facts.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman says, "despite the facts". In fact, we have ruled that out, but for what we believe are very good reasons. However, rather than concentrate on the differences, let us analyse what we agree with in the energy mix. We agree with quite a lot of it, so let us try to make progress on that.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

Before we move on, let us set the record straight. The nuclear contribution to British energy is not 25 per cent.; it is slightly more than 20 per cent. of electricity production.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, which is now on the record.

Let me turn to the reply that I received from the Secretary of State. I am grateful to her for the fact that her letter arrived yesterday. She said that she would

"welcome a cross-party consensus on climate change."

She used those words this afternoon. I wrote them down in shorthand, so I have got them accurately recorded. I welcome the fact that she said that. She may be rather sceptical this afternoon—fair enough. It is up to us to prove that we are serious about this business, and I hope that she will respond accordingly.

The Secretary of State's letter includes a number of reasons why she was not prepared to join us at this juncture. In one paragraph, she refers to uncertainties in the two Opposition parties: first, the Conservative leadership election; secondly, that party's position on a number of key issues; and, thirdly, the Liberal Democrats' policy review. As for the latter two reasons, I reiterate that we should seek out the many areas of agreement, rather than trying to identify one or two issues that she would use as a veto on any agreement. We do not need to have everything agreed. So, with respect, I do not think that those are very good reasons. As for the Conservative leadership campaign, I sincerely hope that the right hon. Member for West Dorset will still be in his position after that process has concluded. That would be good for continuity's sake.

The Secretary of State's letter also refers to the position of India and China, and I know that she takes that seriously. We have exchanged views on this before and I recognise and accept how sensitive the issue is. I recognise absolutely that we cannot start to dictate what those countries should have. I spent some time over the summer in India meeting Indian politicians and business leaders on the very issue of climate change. I came away with a strong view of how they feel. Of course, the issue is to guide all the different ships into harbour, and that is not necessarily easy to do.

The Indian politicians whom I met said that they were potentially very responsive to what the EU was doing. They recognised that we in Europe were giving a lead, and they were also quite happy with the idea of contraction and convergence, which they regard as a fair and equitable way forward. I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard the same response. However, they were vociferous—that is a fair word to use—about the attitude of the American Administration. The Indians take the view that they do not see why they should make sacrifices when the American Administration are not doing the same. That seems to be a perfectly fair position to take.

I want to digress slightly to pick up what the Secretary of State said about the Prime Minister. I, for one, am perfectly happy to accept that he has been going out of his way to deal with the issue internationally. I am happy to accept that he has got this on the agenda and that he has made some progress. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to say that. I wish he could make even more progress.

I made the point, however, in the last Liberal Democrat Opposition day debate before the election that I am genuinely worried. The Prime Minister is playing a difficult game diplomatically to try to get everyone corralled in one place and then get them going in the same direction at the same time. I do not underestimate the difficulties of that. On the one hand, he has countries such as India and China and, on the other, he has the United States, which takes an unhelpful view. My genuine fear is that, to try to bring the US Administration on board, he will be prepared to sacrifice the idea of mandatory targets in some shape or form to make sure that they can sign a piece of paper. I understand why he would want to do that, but it would not be a satisfactory outcome.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I understand the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman voices, and considerable anxiety was expressed in the run-up to the Gleneagles summit by, for example, campaigners in America. In the summit's aftermath, they greatly welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister had not taken the path that the hon. Gentleman had identified as the one that had concerned him and those campaigners. The Prime Minister had, indeed, maintained his push for the kind of forward look that everyone wants. However, I caution the hon. Gentleman against the assumption that mandatory targets for everybody are necessarily the only way forward. We are nowhere near that conclusion yet.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I accept that we are nowhere near that conclusion, but I remain to be convinced that it is not the right mechanism. There are mandatory targets for countries that signed up to Kyoto, very few of which are meeting them. I fear what the effect will be if there are no mandatory targets at all.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not want to nit-pick, but there are mandatory targets for the developed countries that signed up to Kyoto. A great many countries signed the Kyoto protocol, under which there are not mandatory targets. If the hon. Gentleman has had discussions in India, he will know that the notion of such targets is extraordinarily sensitive.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I accept that. Such targets are sensitive, not least because of the US position. The point that I was trying to make is that, even where there are mandatory targets for the developed countries, including this country and those in the EU, very few countries will meet them. If mandatory targets cannot even bring the ship into harbour, it is not clear what other mechanism will achieve that end. However, I am willing to be convinced and to see what comes out of negotiations. Like the Secretary of State, I am looking for results that end up with significant carbon cuts across the world in an attempt to stave off a growing crisis. That is our common objective.

I have referred to the Secretary of State's letter in which she mentioned the Conservative leadership election, Liberal Democrat policy and Conservative positions on the issue. The reasons she gives for not entering into an agreement at this point are not dissimilar to those advanced by the "Today" programme for not covering the item this morning. I sometimes wonder whether the "Today" programme is entirely independent of the Government, but that might be unduly cynical of me. Be that as it may, I am glad that the initiative that we have launched has received coverage beyond the "Today" programme.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

The hon. Gentleman has called for a cross-party approach and he and many others have talked about the need to engage the public to galvanise the political process. Does his party's approach on engaging the public continue to be sending strong signals through tax policy—taxing 4x4s and flights—or does he agree with our approach that people's hearts and minds need to be won first, not least by educating consumers about the consequences of their choices?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There is a range of ways in which the public need to be brought on board, so I shall try to cover that wide topic briefly. Education of course has a role. Schools have a role and the public sector can lead by example through its public procurement, such as by fitting photovoltaic cells on school roofs. I would like the Government to produce leaflets to put through doors to educate the public, in the same way as they do with concerns about terrorism. However, market mechanisms can also play a significant role, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his Conservative colleagues agree that if we made it cheaper to do the right thing and more expensive to do the wrong thing even members of the public who had not bought the science would nevertheless respond in a way that would generate the right result. By the way, that would not involve increasing taxation. My party has suggested creating a section of the Treasury that is designed to examine exactly how taxation influences environmental behaviour, with a view to reorganising such taxation to ensure that it is revenue neutral and achieves such ends.

A third way in which the public can be educated is through not what we can do, but what the media can do. The media do not always approach the matter as they should—I have made that point before and do not hesitate to make it again. They either do not cover the subject at all, or cover it in a way that does not make connections. The increased risk of floods has been widely reported in the past 24 hours, but none of the news media has made much of a connection between that and climate change. Alternatively, the media report climate change as a straight science story with two pages on how the polar ice caps are disappearing, but without any indication of what politicians of any party should do about that. The media thus have a role in educating the public.

We are at the beginning of a new Parliament, so we have an opportunity to do something new. The right hon. Member for West Dorset and I are genuinely trying to reach out in some sort of fog as best we can to find a way forward that will provide a different sort of politics to deal with this most significant of issues. We are making a genuine attempt and, as politicians, we owe it to the public to do that. A policy of business as usual will not deliver action on the environment to tackle climate change effectively. We are convinced that our approach is the way forward and we genuinely want the Government to join us.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which comes into operation now. However, I calculate that we have about 62 minutes until the winding-up speeches must start. Eight hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so, if they are feeling charitable, I shall leave the maths to them.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle 5:38 pm, 12th October 2005

I shall bear your comments in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Given the consensus in the Chamber and the view that we need a new political approach, perhaps Mr. Letwin will withdraw his motion so that we will not need a vote. That would put the Government on the back foot and would certainly be new politics.

It is well known that I do not make great visionary speeches in the Chamber and talking about the problems of 2050 is something that tends to be lost on my constituents. I wish to speak about my experience of what I believe to be climate change. Those hon. Members who can remember past the general election know that Carlisle experienced horrendous flooding on 8 January. About 3,000 houses were flooded and two elderly constituents died a dreadful death by drowning in their homes. Some £500 million of damage was caused. Jobs were lost. It was a staggering blow.

The Government responded well. My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who is responsible for dealing with floods, came to the constituency before it had stopped raining and £30 million was made available for flood defences. Six Ministers, four of them Secretaries of State, visited us. We dealt with the flood well. We also received an extra £30 million for our schools.

We thought that it was a flood that took place once every 150 years. It had happened and we could put it behind us. The Deputy Prime Minister came to the city and said that it should have a renaissance. We were to have a new fire station, new police station, new commercial centre and new civic centre, because they were all flooded. We were looking forward to that, but yesterday the rain started again. The storm clouds came over Carlisle, settled over Cumbria and we had 4 in of rain.

Those facts do not bear any resemblance to what really happens to people when they are flooded. I arrived home from London and someone said, "Do you want a boat trip round your house?" After the flooding went away, we went into the houses, took our personal possessions, which we had had for many years, and threw them into a big skip. But that was just the start. The builders then came in. They tore the house to pieces, ripped up floorboards and took down the walls. Massive heaters were put in the house to dry it out before it could be reconstructed. It was horrendous. Some 66 per cent. of the people flooded in my constituency in January are still not back in their homes. That is the reality of a massive flood—and of global warming.

It is global warming because the same thing has happened again. Fortunately, when I came to the Chamber, the rain had stopped, but last night my constituents lived in fear. I am not exaggerating—I am not prone to exaggeration—but they would not have slept. I was in London and I did not sleep. The curtains would have been open and they would have gone to the window every half hour to check whether it was still raining. The local bus company moved its £3 million-worth of new buses out of the area. I talked to senior managers at United Utilities today who said that the climate has changed and Carlisle is no worse than many other areas. My tale could well be repeated in other constituencies if we do not do something about the problem.

As I said, I am not a great visionary, but a practical politician. Some things we can do quickly. Although tackling emissions will take great debate by statesmen and wise counsel, we have to be ready for more floods. There is a commitment to provide flood defences, but they will not be up for a while. However, yesterday's problem was not with the rivers. The Environment Agency is in charge of those and they did not flood. The problem lay with the run-off of surface water, the drains and the sewers.

The practical difficulty is that the county council and the city council have different responsibilities for the different gullies. They argue about who should clean what and not enough are cleaned. The city council is responsible for the drains and United Utilities, the privatised utility supplier—privatisation does not help in this situation—is responsible for the sewers.

We therefore lack the necessary co-ordination to deal with the practical difficulties. If we do not get that right—I know that the Secretary of State is listening—we will fail to deal with future floods. Anyone representing a constituency with a flood risk should look at the reports about what happened in Carlisle, because they provide a blueprint for the way in which the Government should react as well as a warning about what can happen.

I sometimes think that our priorities are wrong. Many environmentalists in the Chamber have been in the vanguard, and have pushed for action on climate change. My hon. Friend Alan Simpson raised the issue of sewerage and flash floods, as did my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson. United Utilities said that we must spend £3.5 billion in the next five years to improve environmental water quality in the north-west, but we have only £100 million to spend on improvements to the sewerage system. I live in the centre of Carlisle and when I look out of my windows I can see otters and kingfishers, which is tremendous. It may be necessary, however to reduce the £3.5 billion that we spend on water quality and put more money into improving the sewerage system. We need to reconstruct the drainage and the sewerage systems in most of our cities, as they were built at a time when people did not experience flash floods or intense rainfall. Another option is to increase costs to pay for those improvements, because United Utilities and the other privatised utilities will always seek a profit.

I hope that people will treat my warning seriously. We can introduce practical measures quickly, but we must resolve the underlying problems. Wind power has been mentioned. In my constituency, a local company, Pirelli, has received planning permission for a large wind turbine that will cut its costs by about £750,000 a year. I think that that was the right decision. Having had nuclear power in Cumbria for many years, I believe that we should keep an open mind about it. Environmentalists who say that we should have nothing to do with it are probably wrong, and might think differently if they shared my experiences. The Liberal Democrats cannot claim to build a consensus while ruling out nuclear power. That is simply not feasible.

I hope that I have warned the House about the practical problems of climate change. The right hon. Member for West Dorset would give a true sign of consensus if he withdrew the motion.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey 5:48 pm, 12th October 2005

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin on tabling the motion and enabling the House to debate this important issue and Norman Baker on his cross-party initiative. This is clearly an issue that transcends party politics and I welcome the joint approach of the Opposition parties, which, I hope, will be embraced by the Government in due course.

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Martlew, who spoke eloquently about the local nature of climate change. When it comes home in that way, people really experience its effects, but it is a huge global issue. Every time that we discuss climate change in the House, the problem has become worse. Hurricane Katrina may or may not have been caused by climate change, but it gave us a preview of life after extreme climate change, including the collapse of social order, the loss of life and the destruction of property, all of which the scientists have warned us about.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Hurricane Katrina reminds us that, particularly in developing countries, it is often the poorest who are most immediately at risk because of climate change and face more horrendous consequences than us?

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

The hon. Gentleman is right. Last year, a bunch of NGOs produced an extremely good report called, "Up in Smoke", which forcefully made that point.

The hon. Member for Lewes touched on the disappearing Artic ice cap, which is disastrous for indigenous species and for people who live there. The situation is worse than that, because the disappearing ice desalinates the north Atlantic, which could switch off the gulf stream. If we want to live in a climate like that of Labrador, that is the way to do it. The disappearing Arctic ice cap also reduces the Earth's ability to reflect light back to the sun, which creates a vicious circle whereby the ocean warms up, the capacity to absorb CO 2 is reduced, more ice is lost and the ocean warms up again. If the cycle continues until 2060, there is likely to be no ice at all.

Yesterday's UN report stated that, as a result of climate change, some 50 million people may need to seek refuge elsewhere because they will be driven from their existing homes and livelihoods by deforestation and extreme flooding. It recommends creating a new status of "environmental refugee". Is the developed world ready for 50 million environmental refugees? I think not.

The situation is bad and it is in danger of getting a great deal worse. Climate change is unlike any other economic or political problem. It concerns irreversible changes to the planet that is our common home and requires a different kind of politics and a different kind of economics. That is not the least reason why I am so pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and the hon. Member for Lewes have launched their initiative, which is a step in the right direction.

Somebody once said, "It may not be cost-effective to save the planet, but it is probably worth trying to do anyway." That leads me to one simple observation, which is blindingly obvious but consistently overlooked by politicians and economists alike: the economy is part of the environment, not the other way round. The economy is subsidiary to the environment and until that plain truth enters the mindset of economists, industrialists and politicians, we will never attain the necessary will, determination and courage to save future generations from the consequences of our irresponsible behaviour. The challenge is massive and time is short, but the problem can be solved because the tools are there.

We clearly need international agreements and structures, which is why the Kyoto protocol is so important. By itself, the Kyoto protocol will make only a minimal impression, but it proves that the world can more and less come together and achieve agreement on what needs to be done. It is therefore an important milestone in making progress on climate change. It is essential that work continue on developing an effective post-Kyoto international agreement and I was somewhat comforted by the Secretary of State's remarks on that point. The Prime Minister may become dispirited in his negotiations with George Bush, but he should not allow himself to be downhearted and should push on with that important work.

It is vital to include China and India in international negotiations and future agreements. China opens a new, large coal-fired power station every five days and plans to build a further 600 power stations in the next 25 years, a period in which India wants to build about 200 and the rest of the world a further 600. If all those coal-fired power stations are built with conventional coal technology, we might as well give up our weekly trip to the recycling bin and forget about energy-efficient light bulbs. The plain truth is that the United Kingdom is responsible for only 2 per cent. of global climate change emissions. In that context, the ongoing debate about whether nuclear should be part of our energy needs seems peripheral.

The need for international agreement to drive down CO 2 emissions is fundamental. The technologies already exist to sequester and store emissions and to convert coal to gas—we just need to make sure that they are deployed. Of course there is more that we could do nationally, at home, to play our part in meeting this great challenge and to give a lead. The fact that CO 2 emissions have risen in the UK in recent years is not only an embarrassment but a serious problem.

I regret that the Government's new climate change programme has been delayed, but we must hope that, when it emerges, it will be radical and specific. I should like to see a far more imaginative use of fiscal measures to encourage the take-up of new technologies in transport, energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. On 11 November, two important private Members' Bills will be a test of the Government's commitment to sustainable energy. I hope that hon. Members will make a note of that date in their diaries.

We need an effective education programme, including formal education, but we must do more than just preach—we need to give people incentives to do the right thing, and to reward good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour. That is all part of environmental education.

We need sensible, clear and targeted regulation. Most industries in this country, as well as the CBI—at least, it says so—now accept the need for environmental regulation, but they need to know what the Government are asking them to do, and at the moment they are making noises that suggest that they do not. Only when the Government set out a clear vision of what they expect from industry and set regulations accordingly will the investment flow. The financial sector needs to have that kind of certainty too. It is not enough just to say that technology will solve all our problems. Of course technology has a vital role to play, but for technology to develop we need investment, and for investment we need national and international systems of reward and punishment.

We should recognise that, since climate change is a public good, there is a need for Government to back their fine words with more and better targeted support in areas such as research and development. Of course, there will always be concerns about costs, but as the Association of British Insurers—that newly converted band of eco-warriors—is so keen to remind us, the cost of doing nothing will lead to massively greater costs in years to come. Hundreds of billions of pounds are at risk if action is not taken now.

Learning to live within environmental limits, reconciling today's economic aspirations with the forces of nature, harnessing new technology for the sake of our children and their children and forging international consensus: these are the greatest challenges facing our generation of politicians. We must not fail.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 5:58 pm, 12th October 2005

I wish that the Opposition had chosen a title for the debate that basically said, "Look, we're all in a terrible mess, and we haven't a clue how we got into it and how we get out of it, but we'd welcome a cross-party approach to the discussion." Instead, there is an unambiguous side-swipe in the wording of the motion that pulls the rug from under many of the good comments that were made by Mr. Letwin. We have to be more forthright in what we say to ourselves about our starting point.

I was saddened to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that we should not attribute every one of the natural disasters that are happening around us to climate change. If he had listened to the advice that Professor Sir Dave King gave the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs only a year ago, he would realise that Professor King said that we are currently in the middle of a revolution of small changes. Climate change is not a future scenario; we are in it now. We must consider urgently what we do about short-term, traumatic upheavals in what we used to perceive as our seasons and our climate. Those changes can result in flash flooding and drought in the same month, and we have never been politically or constitutionally prepared for this. We are experiencing the consequences today of climate change, which, I fear, will become worse by the year for the rest of our lives. We must tackle that.

We also know from our scientists that the challenge that we face for the first 50 years of the century is reducing our ecological footprint on the planet by two thirds. That is a non-negotiable point for them about our contribution to the planet's survival. Today, the United Nations said that, by the end of the decade, there will be 50 million environmental refugees as a result of climate change. We need a new heading under which we acknowledge the displacement of people as a result of a set of economic assumptions—largely, the framework of economic thinking that prevailed in the second half of the 20th century—that have driven us to our current position. We all face that crisis.

I believe that the crisis will be worse than Parliament has been willing to acknowledge so far. That will become apparent persistently in the next 10 years through crises in food security, water management and energy security. I want to make several propositions on a cross-party basis and I hope that my comments are deemed to be either equally offensive or encouraging to Members of all parties. However, they need to be made in a debate that should have space for a few heretics.

Globalisation makes the crisis worse. The global dash for cash has resulted in a helter-skelter economy, where goods move huge distances in ever greater pursuit of lower costs and lower environmental responsibilities. That simply accelerates the crisis. We will be forced to address that, whether we like it or not.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that could be tackled, first, if World Trade Organisation rules were altered to take account of the environment and secondly, if the proper environmental costs of transport were incorporated?

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

Yes, it could be done if the WTO became a world sustainable environment organisation but I see no prospect of that. The tragedy is that global institutions are intellectually out to lunch. They are hostages to corporate greed and those who write the history of our time will probably describe it as an era of economic cannibalism in which society set about trying to consume itself. The prospect of change driven by global institutions is remote.

Despite all that, the Labour Government have made some landmark decisions nationally. Sadly, they have often been undermined or compromised by economic short-termism. It is worth putting on record that only a Labour Government made the commitment in law to eradicate all fuel poverty in Britain by 2016. DEFRA has consistently tried to push that programme despite the fact that its budget has been cut and that it has been undermined by contradictory decisions by other Departments. For example, the decision to build a range of £60,000 houses that will be exempt from thermal insulation standards is nonsense. We might have avoided that if it had been up to DEFRA rather than the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Sadly, at the same time as making a terrific set of commitments on fuel poverty, Parliament has promoted a growth in aviation, the carbon consequences of which wipe out all other gains. We also have economic policies that actively promote a huge growth in global product miles, without making any attempt to consider the carbon content of those product miles or the environmental impact on areas in the south that are pushed into supplying for the north long before they can feed themselves.

In this current Parliament, two laudable private Members' Bills on sustainable energy and on micro-generation might well be spiked or talked out—sadly, I fear, by opposition from those on my own Benches—because while their ideas are desirable, the resources involved are uncertain. So those Bills might well not reach the statute book.

Against that background, we must engage, with urgency and excitement, with the changes that need to be made. Many of those changes are already happening, some outside Parliament and outside this country. I have spoken on other occasions about the work that is being carried out internationally on food security. Over the past 10 years or more, there have been phenomenal achievements, particularly by the European Slow Food movement, on internationalising the case for reinvesting in local and sustainable food systems, strengthening food accountability, shortening food miles, reducing the congestion and pollution that result from the long-distance trans-shipment of goods, and reconnecting with the sustainability of the land itself.

Having registered that point, I want to focus on energy and housing. I have been doing quite a lot to address the questions of how we can recycle water and generate energy for ourselves in our own living situations. However, the more work that I have done on this, the more I have discovered that other people are already way ahead of me. In Berlin, for instance, 75 per cent. of all new buildings have solar panels built into their design. Toronto is dealing with the problems of summer heat by removing the air conditioning systems from buildings and replacing them with water cooling systems using water drawn from Lake Ontario. There are some fantastically imaginative schemes building renewable and sustainable energy systems into the way in which people think about how they live.

This country has two grounds for claiming to be a global leader. One—perversely for me, as a northerner—is to be found in Woking. Over the past 13 years, Woking has moved quietly towards being energy self-sufficient. It now produces 135 per cent. of its own energy needs, entirely—I think—from sustainable and renewable sources. Within the next couple of years, it is going out of the national grid because it found that every £1 worth of energy that it was putting into the grid was costing £7 to £10 to claim back out. To understand why that was happening, we have only to look at the national system of energy production. There we discover that 70 per cent. of the energy inputs into our energy industry go up in smoke. If we look at any power station, we can see this happening. The national grid transmission system leaks like a sieve. That is not the model that we need for the 21st century.

In Denmark, 40 per cent. of energy supply already comes from local energy systems, and in the Netherlands, the figure is 50 per cent. However, world leadership in this regard is to be found here in merry old London, where the Labour loyalist, Ken Livingstone, has pinched the borough engineer from Woking and appointed him as his new climate change adviser, and accepted the challenge to make London energy self-sufficient within a decade. Production will probably come from biodigesters or bioreactors, rather than incinerators, but it will not require a jot of nuclear power. Not one jot. That is because local energy systems can already cope with the energy gap that we fear. We could power this country on the energy that we throw away.

I want to finish by making four propositions. First, I modestly proposed an Energy Markets Bill in the last Session, and I urge the Government to accept its provisions. Secondly, we should consider imposing a carbon miles quota on all airports. Thirdly, we should follow London's example in promoting local energy networks and support its global cities initiative. Fourthly, we should make building constructors and developers responsible for 50 per cent. of the energy of the buildings that they throw up. I proposed that to a conference of the building supply industry a week ago, and everyone looked at me in horror. However, I pointed out that they were probably smart enough to realise that, if they put in their own energy systems, they could probably meet the whole supply, charge more, and earn more as a result.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 6:10 pm, 12th October 2005

It is a pleasure to follow Alan Simpson, who showed where we can go with a bit of energy, imagination and political leadership in terms of driving forward the sustainable energy agenda. I enjoyed his speech.

I want to focus my remarks on the international effort and strategy on this global issue. The question seems to be: where do we invest the finite source of political energy available to tackle this most complex issue, riddled as it is with uncertainties? I detect a change in the wind. I detect it in the remarks of the Prime Minister, and in the initiatives taken by countries in Asia Pacific, Australia and America after the Gleneagles summit. This change reflects a growing realisation that we are on the wrong course—a course to failure.

The fruit of the past 15 years of political endeavour has been the Kyoto treaty. My hon. Friend Mr. Ainsworth said that it is an important milestone, but the closer we look at it, the more limited it appears. It will make a marginal impact on carbon concentration, and its value lies only in demonstrating international co-operation. It was holed below the waterline by the absence of the United States and the emerging giants. It creates no serious incentives for new technology. In the process of negotiation and implementation, the political machine has failed to carry the public with it. Under those circumstances, in the short term, focusing the political machine on trying to follow up that agreement with a new universal agreement on a bigger scale but on the same premise for a greener set of absolute CO 2 reductions seems highly questionable. It looks very hard to achieve—I do not know what other colleagues felt, but the remarks of the Secretary of State left me with no confidence that an international agreement would be in place by 2012. Were we to pursue that course for another agreement to negotiate absolute CO 2 reductions, it would be of limited value. Those targets will necessarily be arbitrary, as there is still too much scientific uncertainty as to what a safe level of carbon concentration is, and if they are negotiated on the same basis as Kyoto 1, the targets would be effectively unenforceable.

Those who push for this course argue in the cause of taking out an insurance policy against catastrophic risk. It is an attractive theory, but ultimately, who buys an insurance policy that will not give certainty of covering the risk? That uncertainty is undermining the effectiveness of the political process. In terms of international strategy, I would prefer the political machine to focus on creating the conditions that will make universal agreement much more plausible. The priority must be to generate the momentum that has been lacking over the past 15 years in making a difference to the scenario of emissions, which are growing. The requirement to reduce the uncertainty of the science and economics of climate change has been absent from this debate. A huge amount has been done in the past 15 years, but ultimately what comes through to the layman is how little we know. Greater certainty is therefore an absolute priority.

The second priority must be to accelerate the deployment and development of low-carbon technology. The good news is that the technology exists that can make a difference, but it is too expensive today. Not only is it right to focus political energy on making this technology cheaper, but it is clearly in the interests of many countries, particularly Britain. As we become an energy importer, energy security becomes increasingly important to this country. A superb and massive commercial opportunity also exists for those countries, and companies in those countries, who can see the potential in renewable technology. President Clinton's comments in the much-discussed summit in New York were bang-on the money: we will only make a difference when people smell a buck. Those conditions are not sufficiently in place at the moment. The acceleration of low-carbon technology is clearly a win-win for Britain and must be at the heart of any new international initiative.

Talking of win-wins, surely it is time for Governments across the world to start picking the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency. It has been sitting on the branches for 20 years and every Government during that period have talked about it, yet none have delivered on it. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South mentioned the example of Woking's Conservative-led council becoming self-sufficient in energy. I encourage the Government to look at what is happening in Braintree, where another Conservative-led council has negotiated an agreement with British Gas, whereby it will offer council tax payers real money for taking on board an energy efficiency package. The early data suggest that the public are responding, and there are signs of a real breakthrough. Consumer apathy towards such a proposition is breaking down, and I hope that the Government will look closely at that example.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey pointed out, the short-term priority is the industrialisation of China, Brazil and India. The carbon intensity of that process must be minimised. Doing so is in our interests not least because of the need to deal with carbon concentrations and to reduce CO 2 emissions. However, there is also a superb commercial opportunity for those companies that can seize that initiative in all our interests.

European Governments in particular should seize the opportunity to develop the emissions trading mechanism by giving it serious teeth. In looking at the first round of negotiations, most commentators see all the mechanism's failings. It is diluted and weak, has no teeth, does not deal with aviation and operates within very restricted sectors. There is an opportunity in Europe to develop an emissions trading scheme with teeth that can be pointed to as a global template. That is where political energy should be focused.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way during what is a very interesting and constructive speech. Does he agree that the European Union has a good record, in that it is among the leaders in trying to address climate change through specific, Europe-wide policies? Does he further agree that there is a lot of merit in the proposed mandatory Europe-wide renewable energy targets, which would encourage a Europe-wide growth of renewable energy?

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and it is undoubtedly true that Europe's achievements in progressing environmental regulation are impressive. In fact, the linchpin for Europe in terms the challenge and the opportunity that it faces in redefining its relevance to the new generation—the generation who must pay for such things—is greater co-operation on environmental policy. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's comment about the need for greater co-operation in developing renewable energy policy across Europe. I have mentioned the need to accelerate technology, and Governments can help in that regard by increasing the size of the markets available to those developing such technology.

On the question of where political energy should be focused in the short term, there is an urgent need for one country to stand up, to promote itself as a role model and to show that emissions can be significantly reduced at an acceptable cost. Britain had that opportunity, and I say "had" because I believe that it is in danger of losing it. We can argue in an utterly useless way about the motivation behind the "dash for gas", but the reality is that it created the platform for a developed economy that is capable of reducing emissions at a very low economic cost. My charge against the Government is that they are in danger of failing that test. That is why I support the proposition of my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin that at the heart of such failure is a lack of accountability and the distant nature of the targets. I therefore wholly endorse the introduction of an independent voice into this process, so that teeth can be given to such accountability.

Finally, I am conscious in focusing the political machine away from Kyoto 2 that it would be better if all such activity took place within the framework of a set of targets. The imperative here is for Governments to send long-term signals to the market, but we have to face the fact that pushing this global meeting towards agreement on absolute CO 2 reductions will be extremely hard. As an alternative to "contract and converge" and the various other scenarios that, in essence, still push the debate down that channel, I suggest that we investigate the feasibility and attractiveness of viewing carbon intensity as a proportion of GDP. That might be a more acceptable benchmark for the United States and the emerging giants. Many who are pressing for absolute CO 2 reductions will view that as a cop-out, but I would argue that the priority is to get some momentum behind the process of lowering the carbon intensity of economic development. In that context, focusing all our energy on pressing for absolute CO 2 reductions and for replications of Kyoto seem to me to carry huge opportunity costs.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith 6:20 pm, 12th October 2005

I begin by declaring an interest, in the support that I have received from the sustainable energy partnership in connection with the promotion and development of the private Member's Bill to which hon. Members have already given favourable mention. I hope that they will support both my Bill and that of my hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead on 11 November.

Andrew Selous said that he had put climate change at the centre of his election address, but had received no positive response from the public. I also made climate change central, but had a more positive response from the public than he did. Over the last few months, I have become aware of the extent to which members of the public are concerned about the issue. Interest in it has clearly increased and been encouraged by events such as Hurricane Katrina. As politicians, we should recognise that the public are now demanding action from us. The notion that we are ahead of the public is no longer true. On the contrary, the public are overtaking many of us in their demand for action and their recognition of the need for action. That is why I welcome today's debate.

I agree with the attempts to build some sort of consensus on a way forward. I certainly recognise the sincerity of Mr. Letwin in calling for such a consensus, but I would chide him mildly. As I am not always the most consensual of people, I should point out that he said roughly the same thing today as he did in the debate of four months ago. We are entitled to expect some more positive proposals when he next speaks on the issue, and I am sure that he will introduce some specific proposals then. Whatever the reasons for trying to develop a consensus, it is clear that we must do so because many of the necessary decisions will be difficult to take if the Government do not have broad support from within Parliament and among the public at large.

One of my fears is that it might be too easy to reach a consensus. Although it is wrong to suggest that every measure required to tackle climate change is necessarily difficult, it is equally the case that difficult choices must be made and we do not want to end up achieving a consensus at too low a level. As well as reaching consensus here, it is important to develop a movement outside Parliament.

Other hon. Members as well as me will welcome the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, which has brought together development, climate and environmental non-governmental organisations in a campaign to develop the sort of public pressure on climate change that was so effective in the run-up to the G8. The coalition is important because it allows the possibility of bringing international pressure on Governments across the world. If we saw such an international coalition developing, we might be surprised at what could be achieved at an international level. We should certainly set the highest possible targets for international agreement on action to tackle climate change.

I want to make three specific points about the sort of steps that we can take here and now in the UK in order to play our part both in bringing about an international response and in responding to public demand for action on these issues.

First, the immense programme of house building resulting from Government policy and market demand presents opportunities in the near future. I agree with my hon. Friend Alan Simpson that we must use that programme to ensure that new properties have the highest standards of energy efficiency. We must also enable them to generate energy, rather than just consume it; otherwise, we will miss an opportunity to kick-start the market for renewable energy, and particularly for those micro-renewables that have such major potential to contribute to this country's energy mix.

I hope that we will take that opportunity, which may be unique. It makes sense to do so, regardless of what international agreements may be achieved. People who take advantage of these technologies can save money, as long as the market is grown and bulk demand secured. For people on low income in particular, it makes economic sense to have energy-efficient properties which, where possible, generate their own energy rather than just consume it.

Secondly, when the climate change programme review results are known, we must ensure that decisions are taken that set a long-term agenda. Industry and consumers need to have confidence that renewable opportunities both locally and nationally will find a response in Government policy. That must happen, whatever we feel about nuclear power.

There is a danger that the current debate could cause uncertainty about the prospects for renewable energy and energy conservation. It is a field with great potential, and we must make sure that clear targets are set for micro-generation, and for the use of renewables at the UK level more generally. In that way, the market and consumers can have confidence that renewable energy production will remain important in the future, and that its role will not diminish. The UK has immense potential when it comes to renewables: we have made a good start, but a lot more needs to be done.

My final point is relevant to the Government, to Back-Bench Members of all parties, and to the general public, and it is that we must be consistent. There is no point in having the best policies in the world to encourage renewables, energy conservation, recycling, and a more efficient use of energy by business and consumers if they are undermined by policies in other areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South spoke about aviation, and it is clear that the Government must reconsider their policy on airports. However, hon. Members of all parties, as well as local authorities around the country, are always calling for more airports, flights and air travel. That is not consistent with a policy that tries to address the problems of climate change.

There is a similar problem with road travel. Today, the call is for policies to tackle climate change and control carbon emissions. Yesterday, there was a call from some Conservative Members—although it could just as easily have come from hon. Members of other parties—for more roads to be built in their particular localities. We must accept that we cannot allow ourselves to be accused of double-talk: we cannot call for tough measures to tackle climate change and carbon emissions and at the same time promote policies in our own areas that offer short-term political advantage, when in our heart of hearts we know that such policies will have an opposite effect on carbon emissions and climate change.

As politicians, it is our duty to act and speak consistently on this matter. I am not making a party-political point, but as I said at the start of my contribution, the public expect more of us now. They will not accept a failure on our part to follow through on our commitments on these issues. It is time for us to take practical action on specific policies and respond to growing public demand. I therefore hope that we can secure consensus on the need for appropriate policies, and on action as well.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 6:30 pm, 12th October 2005

I am delighted to follow some eloquent speakers whose knowledge and expertise so far outweigh my own. I am also delighted that the Opposition chose to debate this issue because, unlike some of the more pessimistic Members in the Chamber this evening, I can say that many of my constituents are highly concerned about the issue, which was raised with me during the election campaign by a number of people.

I am also delighted that the Opposition chose to debate climate change because, as we have heard, the environment is not an issue traditionally associated with the Conservative party. Regardless, for example, of whether the dash for gas had only a serendipitous effect on carbon emissions or whether it was deliberate, it has always been true that the Conservative party has been extremely effective at a local level in conserving the environment. Any campaign to preserve a local wood or green space tends to be packed with Conservative activists.

The environment is not and never should be the exclusive territory of the left, and a striking feature of today's debate is the call for all parties to make this a priority. Clearly we will have significant distinctions on the way we address the issue, most notably on nuclear energy, but one thing that must unite us is that we cannot go on like this; something has to change and we must work together to drive the issue up the political agenda.

I believe that Conservative and centre right parties have demonstrated that they have always had the knack for working with the grain of human nature and for achieving policy goals in a way that is in tune with how people think and live, rather than forcing top-down centralised plans on an unwilling public. We need that kind of inventiveness in this area as well.

In line with other speakers, I should like to see the Government subjected to more control, scrutiny and accountability on reducing carbon emissions. By contrast, I should like to see consumers given more incentives and encouragement to reduce carbon emissions.

At the heart of what the Opposition are arguing for this evening are institutional changes to deal with a key problem, in that effective measures to tackle climate change yield rewards only in the very long term, yet the pain caused by such changes and effective measures is immediate. The way the political system operates militates against effective action on climate change for precisely that reason.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin advocates the idea that, essentially, Government action on climate change that is effective should be recognised and rewarded and that Government failure on climate change should be exposed and punished, to build genuine accountability into the system. We have heard a number of ways in which this can be done, in particular the establishment of an independent body, which is crucial. I am surprised that so many Labour Members who spoke at length about the lack of progress and their concerns on climate change cannot support such an obviously positive goal.

Driving energy issues up the agenda in every single Department of State is also crucial. There is no point in having an environmental policy that comes solely from DEFRA; we have to strengthen the hand of the environmental departments so that environmental issues are covered right across the Government, particularly transport and industry. We must encourage consumers to take action, bring consumers with us in tackling climate change, and encourage consumers to reduce their carbon emissions, in particular by focusing on energy efficiency.

There is much more I would like to say but I am conscious that we are rapidly running out of time.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry) 6:34 pm, 12th October 2005

I thank Mrs. Villiers for her generosity in allowing time for me to speak. I also pay genuine tribute to the truly worthwhile initiative taken by Mr. Letwin and my hon. Friend Norman Baker. I hope that the Government will take that initiative seriously, not only in their response to the debate tonight, but in the months and weeks ahead. At best, it provides the opportunity for the Government—and opposition parties—to be more courageous in some of the more difficult decisions needed.

Although we talk about how the public are beginning to understand better the imperative to tackle climate change, we are still a long way from getting the message across about the priority of taking effective action. We see that when oil prices rise and fuel protests are threatened. As political parties, we must get away from narrow party politicking and recognise the bigger goal of achieving real change.

When I talk to climate experts at the University of East Anglia, they tell of their fear that we are already too late to take effective action, but that is no reason for not trying. I want the political parties to lead public opinion on the issue. It is difficult to establish a link in the public's mind between what they hear about global warming and the actual effects on their lives. We hear of extreme events, such as Boscastle a couple of years ago and the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, but there is no irrefutable proof that they were caused by global warming, although they probably were. However, we have examples in this country of real proof of the impact that global warming will have on us—the impact will of course be much greater in countries such as Bangladesh, where the potential loss of life is horrific—and evidence is building in my county of Norfolk of real potential damage. Experts say that sea levels could rise by 1 ft—with apologies for using the old currency—in the next 50 years, primarily because of global warming. Added to that, the Government are neglecting sea defences. For example, this year the Environment Agency will not be funded to replenish beaches in my constituency south of Sea Palling, but that is the point at which the sea can get into the broads.

In 1953, 300 people lost their lives in the east of England, but 8,100 people drowned in Holland. At that time, global warming had not had an impact, but rises in the sea level of 1 ft and an increased incidence of extreme events, such as storm surges, could lead to a devastating impact on the broads area, causing loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. We are on the front line of the impact of global warming and it is therefore essential for the Government to address the issue of sea defences, so that we can prepare for the future, and essential for us all to tackle the imperative of climate change.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's particular constituency interests, but does he agree that a difficult choice will have to be made in some areas about the wisdom of building sea defences higher and higher? I make that point in a genuinely consensual spirit, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman may wish to reply theoretically, avoiding the implications for his constituency.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

Of course I understand that difficult choices have to be made, but above all else we have to ensure that effective action is taken now to tackle what is happening.

Finally, I wish to mention a worthwhile initiative by Greenpeace. Hon. Members have mentioned the horrendous inefficiency of the national power grid system. Greenpeace is advocating a much stronger focus on localised power generation, such as the initiatives in Braintree, Woking and other places. A move towards much more efficient power generation locally is one element of a new system of energy generation that will start to tackle this really serious problem.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:40 pm, 12th October 2005

What an interesting debate we have had. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin on his consensual approach. He was optimistic and, as always, highly intelligent, yet gentle in his approach. He talked clearly about the path to 2050 and about the steps that we shall need to take to reach the 60 per cent. reduction target. I was disappointed by the slightly cynical nature of the interventions he took, although my faith was restored by the honesty and integrity with which he responded to them.

In her speech, the Secretary of State, was just a little too satisfied with the words of the Prime Minister. I hoped that she might have focused more on the results—what the Government have, or have not, achieved during the past eight years. It was clear from my right hon. Friend's answers to the Secretary of State what the body we had been talking about would do. I hope that she will think more carefully about his answers and the implications not only for the Government but for the whole planet. I agreed with her comment that we cannot lecture the other 189 countries about climate change; we must lead by example. I wish we were doing more to achieve that.

My hon. Friend Mr. Ainsworth gave a wise and well-informed speech—prophetic, I suggest. I particularly liked his comment that the economy is part of the environment, not the other way around. That balance is key if we are to make the sort of progress that we have been discussing this afternoon.

Alan Simpson made four interesting suggestions. I do not think that he is a heretic; he made some constructive comments and I hope they will be taken on board. He looks slightly horrified, but he and I have agreed many times in the past.

My hon. Friend Mr. Hurd talked about the international element of the problems we face, especially whether we shall have agreement by 2012. His speech was concerned, eloquent and measured. He talked about low-carbon technology and pointed out that making it cheaper was fundamental to any constructive progress in reducing the effects of climate change.

I liked very much my hon. Friend's comments on energy efficiency: particularly important for a country that has only 2 per cent. of the problem is whether we can be the role model that we should be. If we are the fourth most powerful economy in the world, we are perfectly positioned to set an example. If we do not, we shall never be more than 2 per cent. of the solution. We must take this opportunity and use our role in the world to make a difference. I liked his suggestion about carbon intensity as a percentage of gross domestic product and I shall think carefully about that.

Mark Lazarowicz made three points. He talked about the house-building programme, about the long-term agenda, stability, certainty and clarity that people need if they are to do the right thing and about how important it is that policies do not conflict. His examples could have taken the third point one step further. I believe that the Government were right when they talked about joined-up government, which fits in with what he was saying about the lack of conflict in policy, but we are not getting the joined-up government that I know Ministers want to deliver but are finding difficult.

My hon. Friend Mrs. Villiers talked about scrutiny of the Government and said that the Government must be open and clear. She said that consumers need to be encouraged to do the right thing. As is typical of her, she dissected the problem clearly. She talked about how the time scale contributes to the difficulties that we face with short-term pain for long-term gain. Her speech was, if anything, far too short, which is typical of her very generous nature.

Norman Lamb talked about the consensus element that has been touched on today, the impact of global warming and his worries about the effect on his constituents.

We have been all over the world with the debate. We have talked about the Government's global discussions, about the global solutions that we need to achieve and a great deal about what we can do to make an impact on the rest of the world. We could have talked a lot more about what we have done ourselves. When I start to think about what the world will be like in 2050—as I am sure that you do, Mr. Speaker—I realise that I shall be 84 by then. Depending on the Government crisis in pensions, I may well still be here but not yet Father of the House—one can never tell—but if we are still alive by then, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Bradshaw, and I will be grandparents, and when we have our grandchildren on our knee I am worried that we may be dealing with their questions about what we did to stop the climate changing. My concern is that he may have to answer that, although the Government set tough and ambitious targets, they failed to meet them.

We have talked about climate change, but the Government have not got carbon emissions to decrease. In fact, they have increased. We were all promised joined-up government and that we would recycle 25 per cent. of household waste, but we are becoming worse than almost every other country in Europe. It is very worrying that such figures are coming out. We have talked about Britain topping the EU league for increasing carbon emissions from electricity and heat production. If we do not cut our carbon dioxide emissions, we are likely to fail the Kyoto targets. If Britain misses her Kyoto targets, it would be very damaging not only for our environment, but for our standing and place in the world.

The climate change levy, which was discussed earlier, has proven a failure. It raises some £800 million a year, but it is far from clear where that money is spent. Only £40 million has been spent on developing solar energy systems, for example. In June, the Government announced that they would invest £25 million in carbon capture and storage schemes. The cost of creating carbon capture and storage models in the North sea could be as low as £40 million, so why cannot the Government add an extra £15 million from their £800 million to achieve that? The Norwegian company, Statoil, has been successfully using that method in the North sea for the past nine years. The technology is there; we have got to get on with using it.

We have difficulties with transport, which accounts for 22 per cent. of Britain's greenhouse gas emissions. The EU biofuels directive set a target of substituting 2 per cent. of fuels used, by energy content, with biofuels by the end of this year. The Government have set Britain's target at just 0.3 per cent. In 2003, biofuels represented only about 0.05 per cent. of the total automotive fuel market.

California is developing a hydrogen highway. Iceland estimates that it will power its whole infrastructure with hydrogen in 30 years. Britain could be doing so much better. Household waste is increasing by 3 per cent. a year. Germany diverts nearly four times as much and Denmark five times as much waste from landfill per person as Britain does.

On the Government's success rate in implementing the Cabinet Office guidelines on environmental legislation, they have managed to get them right only 16 out of 85 times. Last year, just 34 out of 121 regulations complied with the Cabinet Office guideline of issuing advice 12 weeks before implementation—a success rate of 28 per cent.

The Government can do a great deal. I believe that they want to do it, and they should take the opportunity of the consensus that has been offered. It is entirely constructive, and I am sure that, when the Secretary of State has had a good chance to think about it, she will see the benefits not only to the Government and our country, but to the whole planet.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare) 6:49 pm, 12th October 2005

This has been a remarkable and encouraging debate. Let me begin by paying tribute to the contributions from the Back Benches. We have had reminders from my hon. Friend Mr. Martlew and from the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) of some of the real impacts of climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle referred to the regular and terrible flooding that he and his constituents have suffered, and we have heard about the rising sea levels and the coastal erosion in Norfolk and about the hurricane that has happened since we last debated the subject. Although it is right to say that one cannot detect in a single meteorological phenomenon the impacts of climate change, there is now no doubt that the warming of the oceans as the result of climate change is making such events more regular and violent. We heard good and timely reminders.

We heard contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), who made constructive recommendations and proposals as to what we might do to help to counter the problem.

We also heard a second excellent contribution from Mr. Hurd. Among other things, he talked about the importance of using market mechanisms to push the agenda forward. I wish that he could have spent some time at the conference of international business leaders from China and all round the world that took place in London this week and that he could have listened to those business leaders, including some from the UK, whose companies are aiming for carbon neutrality. An economic process is going on and people see real business and economic opportunities, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must harness them.

The most remarkable thing about the debate, however, was the level of consensus. I pay tribute to Mr. Letwin for securing the debate. I do not think that it would have happened in the past, and I think that it is a tribute to the fact that he has moved this important issue to the centre of his own party's policy. I hope very much that he can keep it there.

I am a natural consensualist, so I am instinctively attracted to the proposal that both the right hon. Gentleman and Norman Baker made. The right hon. Gentleman was very generous in his praise of what the Prime Minister has achieved on the international scene, and praise is also due to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. She has also played an extremely important role on the international scene, as has my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who I am afraid cannot be here to reply to the debate because he is conciliating as part of our presidency commitments on the bathing water directive in Brussels—lucky him.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset was not quite so generous in his remarks about our domestic record. It is important to remind the House that we have the renewables obligation; the climate change levy, although he may disagree with it; the emissions trading scheme, which was UK led; the changes to company car tax; and the changes to the vehicle excise duty.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I am terribly sorry, but I have only 10 minutes to reply to the debate.

On the building regulations, we have managed to achieve a 40 per cent. improvement in efficiency in buildings in just three years, because of some of the changes that we have introduced. Hon. Members who raised the issue were right. We need to do more.

We also have the climate change review that will address the very specific criticism that the right hon. Gentleman and others have had that we are not on track to meet our CO 2 targets. I hope that some of the suggestions that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House will help to contribute to that review and help us to get back on track to meet those targets.

I welcome the conversion of the Conservative party to targets, but I remind it that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrat party included the 20 per cent. CO 2 reduction target by 2010 in their manifestos. The Labour party was the only party to do so. That is fine; I welcome the conversion. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in taking the issue seriously. My fear, however—I hope that I am wrong—is that he has not achieved a consensus in his own party. He may seek a consensus across parties, but Mr. Redwood said in an interview recently:

"The fashionable media have decided that climate change is one of the biggest challenges to mankind. But they ignore the fact that the earth has lived through hotter times than today."

I therefore ask whether the right hon. Member for West Dorset has a job in his own party to reach the consensus that he needs to accomplish before he tries to achieve a consensus on both sides of the House. We would feel easier about his admirable desire if he could achieve that first.

The hon. Member for Lewes was also generous in his tributes to what the Government have achieved. I think that he would agree that our policies have a lot in common, although it is important to highlight a couple of issues on which we do not agree, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did in reply to his letter. We do not think that talking about imposing emissions reductions on developing countries, especially India and China, is a sensible negotiating position, so we can be honest in disagreeing with him about that. Additionally, advocating a specific proposal for the shape of a future climate change agreement after Kyoto would not be a sensible negotiating position at this stage, as my right hon. Friend said.

Apart from the independent body, which my right hon. Friend talked about in her speech, the one thing on which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats seemed to be able to agree was the annual obligation or target—whatever one wants to call it. The problem with an annual obligation, apart from the fact that it is suggested by two parties that until recently did not want to commit even to an obligation by 2010, is that it would leave no room to take account of the effect of short-term fluctuations in the global economy or the price of certain fuels. For example, what would happen in the event of the situation that occurred over the past two years when more coal was burned because of the price of gas, which created a problem with our short-term CO 2 targets? The hon. Member for Lewes and the right hon. Member for West Dorset do not explain how an annual obligation would help us to cope with such situations.

I am slightly confused about the consensus that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats envisage. I did not think that the hon. Member for Lewes was clear about whether he was advocating an agreement, or an exchange of views. If he was advocating an agreement, it would be incredibly difficult to achieve. For example, I look forward to the day when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be able to agree on the future of nuclear energy. If he was advocating an exchange of views, we can have that. We have been having such an exchange for the past three and a half hours and it has been an extremely interesting, instructive and educative experience.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to do so. I want an agreement, but I said that we should have a solid foundation on which we could agree, and perhaps even an additional couple of storeys, but that we could each have our individual structures above that—[Laughter.] No, this is serious. Let us maximise what we can agree on, rather than picking out differences.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The right hon. Member for West Dorset was slightly more candid when he acknowledged—I think—that he did not really expect us to accept his offer at least until he was ready to come up with proposals, after he was frank enough to admit that he did not actually have any proposals at this stage.

Although I am a natural consensualist, I am slightly cautious of the prospect of trying to reach consensus while the Conservative party is in the throes of a leadership election, the outcome of which we do not know. We do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will still be in charge of its climate change policy after that election, although I hope that he will be for the reasons that I outlined earlier. I certainly hope that his man and wing of the party wins the election so that we might maintain the consensus that we have built over the past few weeks. The hon. Member for Lewes said that we needed to reach out in a fog, but I assumed that the fog to which he was referring was the Liberal Democrat policy review.

It is not realistic for us to achieve the sort of consensus that the hon. Member for Lewes and the right hon. Member for West Dorset envisage until both the Liberal Democrat policy review and the Conservative leadership election are out of the way. At that time, we might be able to do so. The door is open for this great idea, so I hope that we will be able to make progress when both those issues are resolved.

I take the offer at face value and think that it is an interesting and constructive idea. I welcome both it and the fact that the House is debating one of the most important issues that face mankind in such a constructive and consensual way. However, if the Opposition parties are serious about a consensus, they should take up the constructive suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and not press the motion to a vote.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 229, Noes 309.

Division number 54

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No.31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House congratulates the UK Government on the unparalleled leadership it has shown in raising the issue of climate change up the international agenda; welcomes the outcomes of the G8 Summit in July in Gleneagles and the UK's achievements in establishing a new momentum in international discussion on climate change; further welcomes the Government's commitment to work towards agreement on the long-term goals and action needed to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the UK's commitment to seek further international action through the EU Presidency, the first meeting of the G8 dialogue on 1st November and the Montreal meeting in December; commends the Labour Party for its continuing objective to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010; and welcomes any support for measures that will actually reduce UK emissions.