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Climate Change

– in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 22nd November 2005.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means 7:00 pm, 22nd November 2005

We now come to the debate on climate change. I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Shadow Secretary of State (Environment) 7:14 pm, 22nd November 2005

I beg to move,

That this House
endorses the principle of a cross-party consensus on carbon reduction.

The motion was tabled by my hon. Friends and myself, as well as by Liberal Democrat Members.

When we last held a debate on climate change in the House, Government Members reasonably requested us to put before the House a more emollient motion if we sought consensus on the way forward on climate change and carbon reduction and to remove from that motion any vestige of criticism of the activities of Her Majesty's Government. We could not have obliged more than we have done this evening. Liberal Democrat Members and I have concocted a motion that does not offer any criticism whatsoever of the Government but seeks consensus on the need for consensus. As someone inclined to emollition I cannot imagine a more emollient solution.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

Can the right hon. Gentleman clear something up for me? I find a great deal to recommend in the motion, but will the hon. Gentleman oblige me to vote on it?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making an intervention—uniquely, in my experience—that enables me to progress my speech. I hope that the motion will not be forced to a vote. That lies not in his hands but in the hands of the Government Front Bench team and the Whips. If they choose, as I hope they will, not to force the matter to a vote we should be delighted. We shall have to wait and see how Ministers respond.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would have been helpful if the Government had added their amendment to the motion rather than seek to delete it?

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

That would have been a possibility, but in the spirit of seeking consensus and avoiding criticism I shall assume that the Government would have done so if the hon. Gentleman had recommended it in advance.

The broad framework around which Norman Baker and I seek consensus is well known to Members who attended our previous debate. I do not want to dwell on it in detail, as it would bore the House, so I shall remind hon. Members who attended that debate and inform hon. Members who did not that we do not imagine for a moment that consensus would consist of point-by-point agreement on every possible policy relating to climate change, which is manifestly impossible. Nor do we imagine that it will go beyond, at least at first, the establishment of common ground on principles on which the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment and I broadly agree. The nation should have a settled framework of year-by-year targets and requirements for carbon reduction, and that framework should include the appointment of a well-articulated independent body capable of informing Parliament on a regular basis of whether, as we look forward many years, the Government's policies are calculated to achieve those targets to a 90 per cent. or a 10 per cent. degree of probability, or whatever is the judgment of that independent body.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

If such a framework were set up, should not the Government be prepared to accept that it could be used to investigate the view that they are talking to their advisers on the basis that they will not meet their Kyoto promises, which is very damaging?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Advisers certainly say that that is the case. Should not the Government refuse demands from the European Union that we should break our word on our emissions limit? Should they not also accept that we ought to ban hydrofluorocarbons instead of being the dirty man of Europe and opposing attempts to ban them?

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

My right hon. Friend has an extraordinary record as a successful Secretary of State for the Environment and is a beacon of light to the Government in that respect. However, I shall not pursue the line of inquiry that he recommends because I hope that the answers to his questions are in the affirmative, that the Government and succeeding Governments will recognise not only where they are succeeding, but where they are failing, and that that will occur not in the spirit of pointing the finger, but in the spirit of seeking, as a nation, to achieve real and sustained progress.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I was surprised at the comments from Mr. Gummer, who is generally well informed on these matters. I want to make it clear that there is not the slightest intention that the Government will renege on their Kyoto agreements. We are well on track to meet our Kyoto targets—one of the very few industrial countries to do so. We expect not just to meet our Kyoto commitments, but to surpass them.


The government put out this press release: About meeting the targets. They claim: * the UK has 'succeeded remarkably' in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 12.8% below 1990 levels by 2000 * notable decreases were obtained for the three main greenhouse gases - 35% for...

Submitted by Mark Fowler Continue reading

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

I shall not pursue that debate, although as the Minister well knows, though it is probably true that the Government will just meet their Kyoto greenhouse gas emissions targets, the reduction in carbon that both the Minister and I would like to see is not happening. It will be recognised by the Minister, because he has recognised it on previous occasions, that after a period during which the dash to gas created significant carbon dioxide reductions, more recently it is a combination of what has happened on adipic acid and the performance of farmers that has largely rescued the Kyoto targets. So there is considerable force in what my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer said, as the Minister knows.

I hope that across the Chamber this evening, rather than engaging in defensive and offensive manoeuvre, we can get to the point where we understand that as a nation we face a very serious problem, and that we can agree on a framework for tackling it.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

My right hon. Friend is in danger of being far too kind to the Government this evening. Did he not see the report by The Economist? In their election manifesto in 1997 the Government promised to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. In their 2001 general election manifesto they promised to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. Nothing has happened. It is only now that they are proposing to set up a review next year to work out how they meet their Kyoto targets. I caution and counsel my right hon. Friend not to be too kind to them.

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

I understand the temptation on the part of my hon. Friend and others to point out uncomfortable facts, but in the end, those are not uncomfortable facts for the Government. They will probably sail on without anybody in this country, alas, caring as much as they ought about those things. It will be other issues that bring about the downfall of the Government, in all probability. We in the Chamber all know that. Alas, the danger that arises in relation to the points that my hon. Friend makes is a danger for the country. That is why it is so critical that we translate good will into action.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane PPS (Rt Hon Peter Hain, Secretary of State), Wales Office

In the interests of consensus, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that targets should be set. One of the targets that the Government have set is 10 per cent. renewables by 2010. To achieve that, there will be a massive roll-out of offshore wind farms, the first of which will be off my constituency—200 turbines. Do the right hon. Gentleman and his party support such proposals?

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

We will in all probability need to see a considerable extension of renewables in this country, if we are to get anywhere near meeting the targets that we seek. I accept that there will frequently be constraints against which those bump up and tensions that they create, and as a nation we will have to accept some things that we do not find comfortable. I do not know the particularities of the case that the hon. Gentleman cites. I would be happy to come and look at it for myself.

We must understand that it is not for us in the House or for Governments to make decisions about particular technologies, to pick winners or to advance the causes of this or that. It is for us—this is the onus of what the hon. Member for Lewes and I are trying to do in the process in which we have engaged—to attempt to bring it to the attention of the political establishment of this country that we need a settled framework which is translated through market incentives into the production of appropriate solutions, which will be wide ranging in nature. So politicians determine direction, and the market responds with solutions. That does not mean that it will be easy or that there will not be tensions or conflicts. It means that instead of debating particularities in the House, we can debate the general thrust and create a set of arrangements that deliver against targets.

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

No. I shall make progress, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I shall happily give way to him later.

My purpose in launching the debate is to engage in an inquiry. I want to try to understand what I genuinely do not fully understand—whether there is the basis for cross-party consensus. That depends on the answer to the question: what is it that the Prime Minister and other Ministers have been saying over the past few months, and what is the position that they take? I say that in a spirit of genuine inquiry, as I think will become evident in the remainder of my remarks.

There are three questions that need to be examined. The first is the relationship between carbon reduction and economic growth; the second is the relationship between targets and technology; and the third is the relationship between UK actions and global actions. Everybody in the Chamber today—looking around me, I see many who have concentrated on these matters for many years—will recognise that around those three sets of issues revolves much of the answer to how we approach climate change.

It is in relation to the three issues that the recent statements by the Prime Minister and other Ministers cause the inquiring mind to ask where exactly the Government are headed. Are they headed in a direction that can create the basis for the cross-party consensus that we seek?

I shall start with a pessimistic interpretation of those remarks and move on to an optimistic interpretation. I hope that that will set the scene for the Minister to cast light on where we are as a country and as a group of people engaged in a seminal political discussion. The pessimistic interpretation has been offered by some of the lobby groups and it is this: that the meaning behind, and perhaps to some extent in, the Prime Minister's recent statements is that the Kyoto process is dead, that domestic targets will largely be abandoned hereafter, that it is impossible to combine economic growth and serious and binding international and national targets, and that we should therefore do what we can to promote technological solutions that help to alleviate the amount of carbon being produced, engage in activities such as emissions trading, express aspirations and hope for the best. I think that I have given a more or less accurate summary of what the pessimists assert is the meaning of the Government's actions.

I am loth to come to the conclusion that those are the meanings behind what has been said, and much that has been said does not fit with that interpretation. There is a basis for hoping that that is not what the Government mean. Yes, I have read various articles and it is difficult to know which means what. I shall now put the optimistic interpretation, and if the Minister in his response can give us a clear idea where the Government stand, that will be an enormous step forward.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

My right hon. Friend mentions that the Kyoto process is dead and looks to technology to provide a solution. Does he agree that one of the reasons why Kyoto is dead is because of the United States, yet it is the United States that probably has the most to offer in providing technological expertise and investment, which will help us in the long term to achieve the sort of consensus that he seeks?

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

My hon. Friend has mistaken my meaning. I am not saying that the Kyoto process is dead; I do not believe that the Kyoto process is dead; and I am not even sure whether the Prime Minister thinks that the Kyoto process is dead. I was trying to say that on a pessimistic interpretation of what the Prime Minister said, one might have thought—some of the green lobby have concluded that this is what he thinks—that the Kyoto process is dead.

Bringing the United States, China and India into the process is critical, and technology is an enormously important component in doing so, and it is also true that the United States is a significant contributor to bringing technology into the process. This is my question: does the Prime Minister believe that Kyoto and binding targets are dead, because they are not consistent with economic growth and hence cannot bring in China and India—and, while we are at it, Brazil and Russia? The pessimistic interpretation is that is what he believes.

Turning to the optimistic interpretation, I hope that the Prime Minister and the Government recognise that a combination of growth, energy security and carbon reduction is needed—I am fairly confident that the Government believe that; I certainly believe that; and I expect that the hon. Member for Lewes believes that. We have got over the idea that there is a choice—in my view, it is a false choice—and I think that the Government have, too, between growth and energy security on the one side and carbon reduction on the other.

If it is true that the Government have got over that false dichotomy, this is the next question: do they also agree that we must recognise that neither the UK alone nor even the EU can make a significant difference to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and hence to prospects for climate change? I am fairly certain that the Government accept that proposition because it is, after all, a matter of fact. Returning to the point raised by my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway, I think and hope that the Prime Minister's remarks should be interpreted as meaning that the way to bring China, India and the US to the table is to identify technologies that will enable those countries to combine economic progress and growth with the reduction of carbon.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson PPS (Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for eight minutes, and I cannot see the consensus. [Hon. Members: "Eighteen minutes."] That long, eh? If he wants to create a consensus, he should put forward some ideas that we can discuss. So far, he has put forward no ideas. Is he relying on his new hon. Friend, Norman Baker, to do that for him?

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

If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that when it comes to building a consensus, it matters how the various parties view the fundamental questions that we are dealing with, then he is not as acute as I had hoped. It is important to understand where the Government are coming from and whether it is the same place as Opposition Members are coming from, because if we are coming from the same place, there is a real chance of obtaining agreement, and if there are fundamentally divergent views, there is not a real chance of obtaining agreement. The proposition is perfectly clear.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Will my right hon. Friend advise me on an area in which growth is evident and in which a response to climate change issues would mean a great deal? Given the new building and development that is taking place around the country, does he believe that a certain percentage of new building in this country should include sustainable energy facilities, such as solar panels and domestic wind turbines? If we were to reduce domestic energy usage across the country, it would make a profound difference to how people see energy and carbon reduction.

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

As my hon. Friend has implied, there is no doubt that if we are to achieve anything like the 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, which we need to achieve to play our part in getting to the international target of 550 parts per million, we must take considerable further steps on building regulations, energy efficiency in the home and micro-generation, because the Government's own figures, perfectly sensibly, rely heavily on energy efficiency as the major component—it constitutes almost half of the total—of how they hope to achieve those targets. We are nowhere near those targets yet, because building regulations have not been sufficiently organised.

Several hon. Members:


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

I shall start on the right and move across, because of my ideological disposition.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the pessimists are offering a false dichotomy between technology, new ways of working and targets? When we consider the post-Kyoto situation in 2012, does he believe that we should use both levers—technology and targets? Is that the way to find the consensus that he seeks?

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

Oh yes, abundantly. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman and I agree, because I have often heard him speak on the subject, and I more or less agree with everything that I have heard him say. As a result of his intervention, I shall advance my argument by one stage: I hope that the meaning behind the Prime Minister's remarks is that the Prime Minister recognises that we must build from the bottom up—from an understanding of the technology to an understanding of how the technology can allow countries such as China, India and the United States, consistent with their own competitive positions, to engage in economic growth while reducing carbon emissions. I hope that he hopes that it will be possible to build on top of that a second round of binding international targets, which would show that Kyoto is not dead—incidentally, such targets should be vastly more effective and ambitious than those in the first Kyoto treaty and broadly encompass the whole world of carbon producers. That is what I hope that the Prime Minister believes; that is what I think that Paddy Tipping believes; and that is certainly what Opposition Members are now largely unified in believing. My argument is that if we all believe that, it is an extraordinarily strong basis for consensus.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami PPS (Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General), HM Treasury

Like the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that we can reach an agreement in this House that will last for many years. Although his new-found allies may speak well in this House, however, at a local level they seem to oppose every new form of energy generation, whether it is renewables or other technologies.

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

I do not think that that is fair. I have spent the better part of my political life fighting off Liberal Democrats who were trying to take my seat, so I have some experience of their campaigning techniques. It is not only Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, but Conservatives—this will always be true of all parties and all politicians—who respond to a considerable degree to local circumstance and to concerns other than those about climate change. We must all understand that each and every one of the technologies that the hon. Member for Sherwood and I believe need to be brought forward have constraints, some of which are environmental constraints. There is a continuous tension between each technology and something. In some cases, the tension is between a technology and a resource; in some cases, it is between a technology and the economics of the situation; and in some cases, it is between a technology and the environmental consequences for the landscape or cityscape. We should not deride one another across the House if we exhibit some of those tensions, which are an inevitable part of democratic politics.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory (Also PPS To the Chairman of the Party), Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

Are not targets without the means to achieve them dangerous, because they provide an illusion of progress that is not followed through on the ground? We all know that with rising worldwide energy use, the only realistic way of meeting the threat of climate change is a nuclear power programme. All else is sophistry, illusion and wishful thinking. Is that not the consensus that we should be building worldwide?

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

My right hon. Friend and I do not wholly agree, although I agree with a large part of his remarks. We will not make progress simply by having targets or even by translating those targets into market incentives. We will make progress only if the market incentives are then translated into action in the form of technologies that work, that combine energy security with carbon reduction, and that allow economic growth. One of those technologies may very well be nuclear. However, the existing nuclear power stations constitute a reduction of about 5 per cent. in our total carbon output. The entirety of our electricity supply industry constitutes only about 40 per cent. of our carbon production. Very much wider steps will need to be taken than merely on one particular type of plant, be it nuclear or otherwise, in this country and elsewhere. Whether we consider the power sector and carbon sequestration, disaggregated power sector, microgeneration, and energy efficiency in the home, vehicles and the substitution of traditional engines by hybrids and biofuels, or air travel and what we do to constrain the emissions from that, we are considering a vastly wider range than the "nuclear or not nuclear" debate has allowed for.

I would say to my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory that I fear that the Prime Minister's habitual brilliance in highlighting particular items in order to carry the political day has led him to overstretch the importance of nuclear power and the debate around it because he believes that that will allow us not to focus on the many other things that are, in many cases, very much more difficult to achieve. Yes, let us keep an open mind about nuclear as a part of the solution, but let us not suppose that it can ever be the full solution—or, indeed, that any amount of power plants of any kind can ever be the full solution.

Several hon. Members:


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

I will give way twice more and then I am going to progress to the end of my speech. I hope that no hon. Member will condemn me for speaking for a long time, as most of it has been taken in responding to interventions.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Labour, Midlothian

The right hon. Gentleman says that there are wide-ranging solutions to the host of issues that we face. Surely one of those issues must be the fact that billions of tonnes of coal reside in this country, giving us an edge against many of our European competitors and linking the economy with how we deal with climate change. Carbon capture is an extremely important area, and we should not throw it out of the discussion.

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

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, just as I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells that nuclear may be an important component. Carbon sequestration or capture may well play a huge part, not only in this country but in China and India, because undoubtedly coal stations will need to be built in great number. Of course, it is not yet a well-established technology, but we all have high hopes that it will become so and that it will become affordable.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I hope to be part of this emerging consensus, but I am particularly worried about nuclear, which my party cannot support and I suspect that the Liberals cannot support it either. Can the right hon. Gentleman define what he means by technologies, because a technology such as nuclear may be as bad as a polluting one such as coal without the proper technology to clean it up?

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

I do not anticipate—neither does the hon. Member for Lewes—that we will ever reach complete agreement on each item that lies under the umbrella. We are trying to reach agreement on the shape of an umbrella that will protect us from a rainstorm. We may then have different views of what to put under it, agreeing on many and disagreeing on some—for example, nuclear power. What I mean by technologies is a vast range of technologies, some of which are highly controversial and some of which are not controversial at all. Very few people believe that improving the cladding in roofs is a controversial measure. I suspect that very few people would think it wrong for someone to have a dish-sized windmill on their house, although one currently has to apply for planning permission for one of those but not for a dish, which is rather an oddity. We must ensure that the structures that we create bring forward the lowest-cost solutions that are compatible with achieving the carbon targets. Only then do we have to start arguing about the fine detail of whether there are particular technological solutions that for some reason or other some people cannot stomach.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My right hon. Friend is rightly focusing on the range of exciting technologies that are out there, in contrast to the Prime Minister's mono-focus. Is he aware, though, of the work that is being supported by the Bush White House? We disagree with so much of its approach to climate change, but it has directed billions of federal dollars into the hydrogen economy. The brain drain that that is causing from other areas around the world into US universities is striking. Does he have any ideas on how we can encourage that sort of research to come back into the UK?

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

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. In fact, the United States as a whole has been making huge advances, not only in carbon reduction but in measures to help carbon reduction hereafter. Many of those have been at state level, but some have been at federal level. What my hon. Friend says is abundantly true. Billions have been invested in forward-looking activities such as trying to promote carbon capture and, as he says, the hydrogen economy. We should be grateful to the United States for investing that money and making that effort. I agree that it would be good if we, too, were to participate in that endeavour.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It seems to have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's notice that it was announced more than 18 months ago that the UK and Japan are collaborating on clean fuel technology, which includes fuel cells, hydrogen and hybrid power. Collaborating with major G8 nations and the United States is an important way forward. He would be very wrong to think that the UK is ignoring those approaches.

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

That is to be welcomed.

I return to the key question. Is the pessimistic interpretation right, or is the optimistic interpretation right? Is the Prime Minister saying that he has come to the conclusion that when the chips are down economic growth and carbon reduction cannot go together and we cannot have targets intervening between the two; or is he, as I hope, espousing the view that we need to start by advancing the technology, then persuade the rest of the world that one can combine carbon reduction and growth, bind the world into targets, and thus bind ourselves into targets over the long term and be able to translate those through market incentives into real action through technological change?

If he is saying the latter, then there is the basis for a splendid agreement between the two sides of this House—that is, the three parties and perhaps the smaller parties as well—about the framework. I hope that through the medium of this debate and others that may follow it, we can get to the point—I accept that this is difficult for any Government to do—where the Government say, "In the national interest, we are willing to lay down the normal process of claiming credit for the Government when things go right and knocking down the Opposition whenever possible", and instead try to create a series of arrangements which mean that over a 50-year period, come one Government or another, we continue with a settled set of targets, an institutional framework that brings those repeatedly to the attention of Parliament, and a political apparatus that makes it well-nigh impossible for any politician to go against that trend and very easy for any politician to go with the trend despite the democratic pressures that will be exerted at any given election.

That may be too optimistic a hope, but it is my hope this evening. If the Minister is now going to reaffirm, as I hope, that my optimistic interpretation of the Prime Minister's remarks is the right one, he will in that self-same set of utterances be justifying the hope that we can arrive at the cross-party consensus that would give him a basis for not resisting our motion.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:49 pm, 22nd November 2005

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

"welcomes the leadership shown by the UK Government internationally on climate change, and the important progress made at the July Summit and at the recent meeting of the Dialogue on Climate Energy, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development;
further welcomes the recent announcement of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation and looks forward to the publication of the climate change programme review;
recognises the importance of building greater understanding and support among all sectors of society for action on climate change;
and further welcomes new ideas and contributions from all quarters that help to reduce carbon emissions."

I thank Mr. Letwin for initiating the debate on climate change. It is an important issue and the discussion gives me an opportunity to outline the Government's policy progress and tackle some issues that have confused the debate. Some of them are based on misunderstanding, but others are based on malice. However, I shall deal with those matters later.

Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge that the world faces. I therefore welcome the fact that, at least in this country, there is a general political consensus about the need for action and the threat that climate change poses. The debate is about how far we go, what we do and the sort of mechanisms that we put in place. I explained that to a Conservative Canadian Member of Parliament. The Conservatives in Canada stated in their manifesto that if they won the election, they would withdraw from the Kyoto protocol. I explained that that was not the position in this country, where there is general political consensus. I hope that he took that message back.

The Prime Minister has taken a strong international lead on the matter. Even his detractors would accept that he has put climate change at the top of the political agenda, especially this year, given our G8 and EU presidencies. That is why we are also committed to implementing our ambitious domestic programme. I emphasise that 2005 has been a milestone year in relation to climate change. In February, the historic Kyoto protocol entered into force after its ratification by Russia. That ratification owed a great deal to lobbying by the Prime Minister and our actions to encourage Russia to do that.

The UK's G8 and EU presidencies have focused the international community's attention on climate change. In December, 10,000 people will meet in Montreal for the United Nations forum on climate change convention. That will be a crucial meeting, not least because we have to begin the process of looking to Kyoto's second commitment period, which is 2012.

There appeared to be confusion among some hon. Members who intervened earlier. We have a binding commitment under the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gases in the UK by 12.5 per cent. by 2012. We are on a reduction of 12.5 per cent. now. Figures are likely to go up and down because of the different sorts of pressures on emissions. However, we have no doubt that we are well on target not only to fulfil our goal by 2012, but to doing better than that.

We have another target—a voluntary, domestic, national target of reducing CO 2 by 20 per cent. by 2010 and by 60 per cent. by 2050. That is a self-imposed national target, not a legally binding agreement. It is a commitment by the Government to go beyond our obligations under the Kyoto treaty.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

I congratulate my hon. Friend on accepting another voluntary target. He has agreed to accept the 25-5 challenge to reduce his personal carbon emissions by 25 per cent. in five years, and no later than 2010. Several other Members who have accepted that challenge are present. I am not allowed to name them, but they are here and they are making that personal effort. Does my hon. Friend agree that the one way that we can establish a consensus is by acting on our words, not simply spouting all the time, thereby demonstrating that we mean what we say, take the matter seriously and are prepared to take action ourselves?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I accept that. Taking action on climate change is important globally, nationally, regionally and individually. All of us can do a great deal about our lifestyles. That is why I have made such a commitment. Like many hon. Members, I consider my impact on the environment and try to reduce it.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Conservative, Croydon South

I think that the Minister was looking at me when he made his remarks about Kyoto. I accept that he may well hit his Kyoto targets. He may or may not hit his other domestic targets and we can argue about that. However, it all pales into insignificance if countries such as India, China and the United States do not hit their targets. Cutting our emissions by 1 or 2 per cent. is nothing compared with the output of the Chinese economy, which is growing at 3 or 4 per cent. a year.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In all fairness, that argument is advanced often and there is some truth in it. When the United States alone accounts for 25 per cent. of global emissions, it is essential to engage with it and get it to take action. It is also true that while India and China do not have to have legally binding targets under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in the Kyoto protocol, they are enormous emitters. Their emissions have been increasing year after year. It is precisely for those reasons that the Prime Minister has been considering the way in which we can engage countries such as India, China and the United States, and especially how we can get India and China to do more when they will not accept binding targets.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I understand the Minister's problems and he knows that I generally support what he is trying to do. However, let me bring him back to the 20 per cent. figure. Mr. Meacher gave me some hell in the Chamber because the Labour party made that commitment in opposition. When it came to power, it reiterated it. If the Minister is now telling me that achieving the 20 per cent. is not possible—I warned him that it would be difficult—will he understand that we shall keep him to it? It may be a voluntary target, but if this country does not manage to meet it, the rest of the world will believe that we have let it down on the most important issue that confronts us. The Government will not stand up and say, "We're going to do it. This is how we're going to do it. These are the tests that we'll use. We'll have independent checks every year." That undermines our belief in the Government's integrity and intelligence on the matter.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is true that the 20 per cent. target was a manifesto commitment—we were the only party to do that. It is a difficult target and we knew that when we made the commitment; I do not want to be dishonest about it. However, I believe that we can fulfil the target. We are attempting to do that. It is why we have the climate change review, which we will publish in due course. That will give some indication of the additional steps that we intend to take to move us towards the 20 per cent. target. Although it is true that, in common with every major industrial country, emissions have risen in the UK, if it were not for the steps that we have taken since 1997 there would be an additional 8 per cent. increase in CO 2 . I freely acknowledge that we need to do more. That is the point of the review. As the amendment makes clear, we welcome contributions from other organisations and, indeed, other parties to our approach and the sort of measures that we should take.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

Let me follow the comments of my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway on Kyoto. All the efforts that we make in this country pale into insignificance when China, India and the United States create 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon emissions compared with the 483 million tonnes that all the Kyoto countries put together produce. What exactly is the Minister doing to get those countries on board? If he cannot do that, all our efforts, whether they are bicycles or wind farms, are a complete joke.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes, I shall be very glad to do that. In fact, I intend to cover those points in my speech, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully to what I have to say. I have just acknowledged that the UK accounts for 2 per cent. of global emissions. The EU, of which we are a member, accounts for about 24 per cent. However, if every country took the attitude that this problem is too difficult to tackle because the Americans are not doing anything and because China and India are producing huge emissions, we would never make any progress at all. This country is trying to take the lead in this area, and I am proud of that.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Secretary of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Is not the Minister being too modest? Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister has recently had discussions with China and India, and that he has talked to the Russians about this? Is it not also the case that the next G8 summit, in St. Petersburg, is going to consider climate change? Finally, will my hon. Friend comment on the efforts that he and the Prime Minister have made to persuade the Russians to sign the Kyoto treaty? Those are strong arguments that counter the siren voices from the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As part of our commitments, the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met our Russian, Chinese and Indian counterparts. In fact, we have been advocating international action and trying to build international consensus for many years. I shall return to these points in a moment.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I should like to make some progress.

It would be for the benefit of the House if I outlined what measures the Government have put in place to deal with climate change. First, in regard to our domestic commitments, the Government introduced the climate change levy, which will have saved 3.7 million tonnes of carbon by 2010. The climate change agreements that go with the levy have already saved 4.6 million tonnes of carbon up to 2002. This Government introduced the world's first national carbon trading scheme. We also introduced company car tax reforms in 2004 that changed the whole focus on company cars, which account for the biggest share of the new car market. Instead of giving tax discounts on the number of miles travelled, we now give them according to a car's emissions. That represents a big change and it has had a big impact on sales.

It was this Government who introduced a lower rate of vehicle excise duty for low-carbon vehicles, and who established the Carbon Trust to work with business to help it to reduce carbon emissions. We also established a target of obtaining 10 per cent. of our energy from renewable sources by 2010, and introduced the renewable energy obligation certificates. We introduced the energy efficiency commitments—we are now moving into their third phase—which involve the energy companies helping their customers to achieve energy efficiency. We have also recently announced that we are to introduce a renewable transport fuel obligation, which is designed to save more than 1 million tonnes of carbon a year. That proposal has been warmly welcomed.

We are one of the few major industrial countries that is on track to meet its Kyoto targets, and we have now achieved a 12.5 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We are, I understand, the first Government in the world to take a decision to offset all Government air travel from April next year. We have already offset all the air travel involved in travelling to our G8 conferences, and we have used the money from that to invest in a clean development mechanism scheme in Cape Town in South Africa. I believe that we are unique among Governments internationally in that regard.

This Government have also set up a review of the economics of climate change, which is important in regard to dealing with its impact on gross domestic product, the potential benefits, and the cost of doing nothing about climate change. We have also brought forward proposals from the Commission under our EU presidency to include aviation in the European carbon trading scheme.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Those are just the domestic issues, and I want to go on to the international issues, but I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

One of the stated ambitions of this Government's presidency was to advance the inclusion of aviation into the next round of emissions trading. Will the Minister update the House on exactly what progress they have made, as of the end of this month?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As of the end of this month, the proposals have come forward from the Commission and they are on the agenda of the December Environment Council, at which we hope to reach agreement with the Council to take the necessary steps to include aviation in the EU scheme post-2008. That is the earliest that it could be done because of the procedures that have to be followed in the European Parliament.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The Minister missed out the Energy Act 2004 from his long list. It introduced measures relating to renewable energy and to the capping charges for renewable transmission from Scotland. That has largely been undermined by the transmission charging regime recommended by Ofgem. I know that the Minister's colleague in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Minister for Energy, Malcolm Wicks, has announced a change for the island areas, but no change has been made in the highland areas of Scotland. Will the Minister tell us whether such a change is under consideration?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that measures have been put in place to support hydro energy in the Scottish highlands. That would also have the effect of reducing transmission costs because of a small increase across the whole of the national grid, which would benefit the people in remote Scottish areas. I am sure that he will appreciate the Government's taking those measures.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

In the Minister's long list of the Government's efforts—[Hon Members: "And achievements."] Well, some achievements. The point that the Minister made was that the Government had succeeded in mitigating what would otherwise have been a bigger problem. However, in the spirit of co-operation that we are trying to achieve this evening, I should like to say that I believe that the Government are trying hard on this issue. The fact that they are not succeeding as fast or as much as we would like is due to the fact that this is a really difficult problem to solve, domestically and internationally. The Minister has accepted the need for international co-operation, through which all of us on the planet can make progress. It is sad, however, that he saw fit to table his amendment to the Opposition's motion, and I would like him to explain why he felt that that was necessary. Does he not think that it sends out the wrong message to people who are seriously looking for political consensus and leadership on this crucial issue?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As always, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, and I intend to address it. I understand the argument for consensus. However, just as he wished to ask a number of questions about the Prime Minister's view, I need to ask a number of questions about where the Opposition stand on certain issues. If we are to explore these issues, we must also explore the disagreements. I would ask him to read the amendment carefully—he will see that it is written in a way that leaves open the option of working together and of treating the proposals on this serious international problem in serious and mature manner.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP, South Antrim

I accept that the Government are earnestly and genuinely trying to make achievements on climate change. May I ask the Minister, however, what the special relationship between our Prime Minister and President Bush has achieved in regard to making significant changes in the American stance on climate change?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I believe that there have been changes in the American stance—an example is the outcome of the Gleneagles agreement. A bottom-up approach is being taken in parts of the United States, involving certain states, cities and even major American companies such as General Electric and DuPont, arguing for a framework of emissions reduction. That there are changes taking place was also reflected in a recent vote in the Senate. To be honest, I would not have expected to see such a vote even two years ago. Some of the changes have been as a result of our engagement—although not only that of the UK—with the Americans at all levels, not just with the federal Government, but with individual states. I recently attended a conference promoted by the Climate Group, which is a voluntary group consisting of American and Australian states, British companies and a range of international companies, all of which want to go further and faster than their Governments are doing. We have encouraged and supported them because we want to work at all levels.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I should like to make some progress.

At this point, it is worth saying a few words about what we have done in relation to our international engagement. Just as we are proud of the progress that we have made domestically, we are proud of what we have done in terms of global leadership. Making climate change one of the two key themes for the G8 focused attention on it, and the Gleneagles summit agreed on a package of measures to combat the problem, together with a new dialogue between G8 countries and emerging economies such as China and India and a statement on the importance of climate change.

The first meeting on the dialogue was held in London on 1 November. Significantly, it was attended not just by the G8 countries, but by the five big emerging economies: India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. That is an example of the use of our facilities and influence to build an international consensus and to establish how we can work together to deal with some of the requirements of countries such as China and India.

The round table for G8 Energy and Environment Ministers was the first of its kind and was very successful. We hosted a major international science conference at the Hadley centre in February, which informed some of the sceptics—who, I am glad to say, are becoming fewer and fewer—about the science of climate change. Under our EU presidency, we held an informal Agriculture and Environment Ministers' council on climate change. Such a council had never been convened before. Under our presidency, an EU-China summit was held that led to an agreement with China on the pioneering and developing of clean coal technology. Of course, the Chinese will use their coal because they have huge coal reserves. Then there was the EU-India agreement. We talked to India about renewables and about the possibility of co-operating with India on, in particular, the clean development mechanism. There was also an EU-Russia agreement, which was referred to by my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping. It was agreed that Russia should become the next president of the G8 and that energy efficiency would become one of its key themes. We have been involved in important international work.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I understand that earth observation and environmental monitoring were important subjects at the G8 summit and that the UK emphasised their importance. A decision on the global monitoring for environment and security satellite is due in December, and DEFRA is the lead Department when it comes to that important decision at the ministerial meeting on the European Space Agency. Rumour has it that the UK will put in a paltry £2 million, although we really need to put in £11 million if we are to hold our own in the international community. If the rumour is correct, will the Minister immediately go back to the Department and think about investing the £11 million that British industry and the sector really need?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We certainly need to invest in monitoring technologies. We were involved recently in support for the satellite that was designed to monitor the decline of ice sheets in the Arctic. Unfortunately, that satellite came to a premature end, but I will look into the hon. Lady's serious point and write to her.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Conservative, Windsor

As a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I welcome much of what the Minister has said, especially about carbon sequestration and international co-operation. I am a bit puzzled, however. Our motion states:

"That this House endorses the principle of a cross-party consensus on carbon reduction."

I cannot see the Minister's problem with it. Perhaps he will explain.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

We have been talking about consensus in the House and in the UK, and about the Government's work in terms of leadership to secure international consensus. In the light of all the good work that the Government have done and the leadership shown by the Department and the Prime Minister, will my hon. Friend give us an idea of the international agreement that he hopes will emerge when the Kyoto agreement needs to be replaced? When we speak of international consensus, the question of the successor to Kyoto must be the most pressing issue.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We certainly want an effective second phase following Kyoto. I think that it should include targets, but I also think that we should take a sensitive approach to its application, especially in regard to countries that are not obliged to adopt targets. We should consider how we can persuade those countries to become involved in the reduction of emissions.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will, but after that I shall make some progress because I know that others wish to speak.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Labour, Bedford

Does my hon. Friend agree that no country will take these issues seriously unless the whole world is convinced that it is possible to combine economic growth with tackling climate change? Although we must not be complacent, it should be borne in mind that during the period in which we reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 12.5 per cent., the UK economy grew by well over 30 per cent. That suggests that it is possible to combine two processes, so we are well placed to urge others to take such issues seriously and drive the political will.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is true that ours has been one of the strongest rates of economic growth in Europe, and I think that we can demonstrate that we have reduced emissions during that period of economic growth. I do not accept the argument that reductions in emissions and economic growth cannot be achieved at the same time. Of course there are implications to be addressed, and some have asked why we should act when our emissions are so much smaller than those of other countries, but action on climate change promotes energy efficiency, new technology, productivity and a whole new sector of energy industries. We should not be afraid to say as much, and as a country we are not.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

Do not figures released last week by the World Health Organisation provide one of the strongest reasons for action? According to those figures, 150,000 fatalities and 5 million diseases a year are directly linked to the increasing temperature on the planet.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I entirely agree. Global warming has a number of severe implications, and the spread of disease is one of them. Others are desertification, water problems, difficulties with crops, rising sea levels and storm intensity. The more scientific papers I read and the more I learn about such issues, the more concerned I am about climate change and the more convinced I am of the need to take action.

As I have said, I welcome consensus on what is an important global issue. Understandably, we have our political disagreements, but there is an enormous amount of consensus and co-operation between all parties in Committees, including Select Committees. We should not be ashamed of that, or worry about it—it is right and proper. However, let me say this to the right hon. Member for West Dorset—and I intend to answer his questions. He talks of year-on-year reductions, but where are his policies? How will he achieve those reductions? What taxes will he raise? What measures will he introduce? I welcome his thoughts and his suggestions, but this is the second debate that we have had on this subject, and so far we have heard nothing about what he and his party intend to do. Consensus requires a measure of agreement on the politics involved.

We have some disagreements with the right hon. Gentleman on climate change. He knows what they are, but I shall remind him of them nevertheless. We strongly disagree with the Conservative party's opposition to wind energy because wind is an important aspect of renewables. Other renewables are coming on-stream and we are encouraging that, but about 70 per cent. of renewable energy will come from wind. The right hon. Gentleman's party is opposing the development of wind farms wherever they are proposed, and it must be said that the Liberal Democrats are not much better in that regard. If that continues, we shall never make any progress.

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

The Minister must know that we are not opposed to wind energy. As a matter of fact and as I said earlier, we are not opposed to any particular form of energy. Each form of energy poses constraints and problems, and it has to be looked at case by case. Of course we are in favour of allowing local communities a degree of discretion to decide where these things are suitable and where they are not, but that is not the same as being opposed to wind energy. The Minister's own Government support a system of planning precisely because they accept that there are such constraints. I do not believe that there is much between us on wind energy and certainly not enough to justify not having a consensus on the overall framework.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The problem is that there may not be much between myself and the right hon. Gentleman, but in a debate on wind energy that was initiated by the official Opposition, some Conservative Front-Bench Members frankly painted a picture of wind energy as generally akin to supping with the devil or having the anti-Christ on our fields. I am not quite clear whether that is the right hon. Gentleman's or his party's position, but it certainly needs to be clarified. The right hon. Gentleman also supports the scrapping of the climate change levy, but it has made an enormous contribution to reducing energy consumption in this country and we do not see how scrapping that levy makes a contribution to fighting climate change. Finally, although I do not levy the charge against the right hon. Gentleman, who I have not heard commenting on the matter, every time that there is a dispute about fuel prices and we have demonstrators on the streets, official Conservative spokespeople jump on the bandwagon and demand that the Government cave in immediately to the demonstrators by cutting fuel duty and fuel taxes. Again, that is not an area of consensus between us.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

The point about the fuel protest illustrates precisely why we need cross-party collaboration on these issues—in order to prevent that sort of opportunism, which any Opposition party will be tempted to engage in when life gets tough. There will have to be tough decisions. However, the Minister has illustrated exactly why he should support my right hon. Friend's motion this evening.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have no doubt about the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's views on these issues, but the problem is that I have no idea where the official Opposition stand on the issue of fuel duty—and I would like to know.

Speculating about the Prime Minister's comments provides another problem. The right hon. Member for West Dorset claims to be seeking a consensus, but he did not properly read what the Prime Minister has written, spelling out where he stands on all these issues. The Prime Minister's views were more than clarified in the recent article in The Independent, which I highly recommend to all Members who want to know where the Prime Minister stands on targets and binding commitments. It is all spelled out in great detail. The right hon. Gentleman read that article, but was still keen to quote not what the Prime Minister said, but what people who claimed to be saying what the Prime Minister said—because it suited their particular agenda. We have to do better than that. Rather than ignoring fact and repeating fantasies, people who want clarification are free to ask for it. That is the spirit of consensus. If people ask for clarification, the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friends and I will be only too happy to provide it.

I accept the need for a stable framework that is not affected by political changes. Our progress on carbon reduction is now independently audited by the National Audit Office, as well as the United Nations forum on climate change. We already have independent bodies that monitor what we are doing in respect of emissions and progress. Nothing is to be gained from what the right hon. Gentleman proposes, even though I am not particularly against it, because we already have it. Let me make it clear that we are always happy to give credit to people who make real contributions and real progress. It is important to realise that we as a Government cannot achieve progress in climate change alone. We need support from local authorities and civil society, and we need backing from our scientists and international support. Yes, we also need political support in respect of achieving a consensus.

As to what the right hon. Member for West Dorset said tonight, no one has said that Kyoto is dead. The Prime Minister played a key role in getting Kyoto in place and is committed to it. We have to face reality in respect of the views of India and China, which has influenced some of the Prime Minister's comments, but what he said about India and China has sometimes erroneously been applied to the UK. There are real difficulties in turning around the current trend of emissions, but I believe that it can be done. It is false to claim that it is an argument about technology versus targets; we need both. This country has demonstrated real progress in tackling climate change and we have provided a real international lead.

In conclusion, I invite the right hon. Gentleman to read the amendment that we tabled today. If he does, he will see that it embraces proposals to give the Opposition the opportunity to judge that the Government have real policies on climate change and that they are committed to them. I am afraid that the Opposition have often been opportunist in the past and it is important that they are not seen merely to be backing empty gestures. Our amendment leaves the door open. If the right hon. Gentleman is serious about a consensus, I invite him to withdraw his motion and support our amendment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 8:26 pm, 22nd November 2005

I am certainly serious about achieving consensus, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I believe that Mr. Letwin is, too.

My first question is whether the threat from climate change is serious. The answer is manifestly so—and it is judged to be so by probably every hon. Member in the House, by the Government's chief scientist and by 99.5 per cent. of scientists. The number is increasing all the time. Is climate change becoming increasingly serious? Yes, it is, and evidence from the last six months has been frightening, as the figures supplied by scientists are proving to be underestimates of the speed at which climate change is kicking in, and underestimates of its impact on developing countries and, indeed, on our own shores. The matter is becoming more rather than less serious and at a faster rate of knots than ever before.

My second question is whether sufficient progress is being made both internationally and domestically to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I fear that the answer is manifestly no. I am aware that the Government have taken steps this year to ensure that the issue is put firmly on the international agenda and I acknowledge that some progress has been made. I particularly welcome the sensible engagement with China and India and I also welcome the review on the economics of climate change, which will go a long way towards establishing the cost of doing nothing and the cost of doing something. It will enable us to present to other countries the facts of the matter as we have put them together and hopefully bring about some international consensus on what actions need to be taken. So to be honest, in most respects—bar one, which I shall mention now—I doubt whether the Government could have done much more internationally.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I know that we are striving for consensus this evening, but if the Liberal Democrats are so interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, why did Liberal Democrats in my constituency vote against the congestion charge, and why, extraordinarily, are they against creating bus lanes to support our new park and ride?

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

I am sorry that I gave way to that intervention. I do not know the facts of the situation that the hon. Lady describes, so I will not comment on it. This is not about pretending that one party is whiter than white—or greener than green—or that every other party is faulty in all respects. That is the old politics, and the right hon. Member for West Dorset and I are trying to get away from it, rather than encourage it. I hope that the hon. Lady will take my response in the constructive spirit in which it is intended.

On international negotiations, the caveat that I want to outline for the Minister is one that I have mentioned before. The Prime Minister, with the best of intentions, is trying to bring President Bush on board, as he should; but I caution him against paying too high a price to get a piece of paper signed by the President. The concern has been expressed—the right hon. Member for West Dorset raised it earlier, as have others—that over the summer and in September, the Prime Minister showed signs of wavering in his commitment to targets. He undoubtedly did show such signs, but as the Minister rightly says, an article in The Independent has hopefully put that fear to bed. If the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has managed to bring the Prime Minister back on board, that is all to the good, but international agreement cannot be achieved at any price. If it is achieved through signing a piece of paper, that piece of paper will not be worth having.

Of course we want the US Administration on board, and the way to get them on board is to strengthen the commitment within the US to tackling climate change. We can do that by standing firm in the European Union and elsewhere; by supporting the north-eastern American states that have emissions trading schemes; by supporting Senator John McCain, who is pushing such issues within the Republican movement; and by supporting Arnold Schwarzenegger and the 130 mayors who have signed an agreement. I again caution the Minister and the Prime Minister that getting President Bush to sign a worthless piece of paper will not achieve our aims.

Have we taken sufficient action domestically? No, we have not. The Minister read out a list of the Government's actions and, in some regards, achievements. I happily confess that some achievements have been recorded, and I welcome them. I am bound to say, however, without being churlish, that most of them date from the early part of the Government's tenure, rather than the later part. Nevertheless, those achievements are significant and might not otherwise have occurred, so I welcome that so far as it goes, but the reality is that there is a lot more to do.

Carbon emissions are increasing. Indeed, in the past two or three years, they have increased by 3 per cent. compared with 1997 levels, and there is no indication that they are slowing down. In answer to my recent parliamentary question, the Minister said—extrapolating the most recent figures—that we could miss our Kyoto targets for the next four or five years. I am not saying that we are going to miss them, but that threat is there. I do not want us to miss them and nor does the Minister; that is why we are collectively trying to find a way of ensuring that they are met, and surpassed as far as possible.

Why have we not achieved our domestic goals? There are a number of reasons why, one of which is that it is sometimes difficult for the Government to take the decisions that they know are necessary, because they fear the political consequences of doing so. Fuel duty was certainly a case in point. In 2000, the pressure from fuel protesters was enormous.

Photo of Peter Ainsworth Peter Ainsworth Conservative, East Surrey

The hon. Gentleman will doubtless agree that the longer Governments go on putting off difficult decisions, the harder those decisions are when they eventually have to be taken.

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

Indeed, and we would rather give the Government a soft landing than a hard one.

That leads me to aviation—an issue that the Government have yet to grasp because they are concerned about the political consequences of doing so. They want to enter into the European emissions trading scheme in respect of aviation; so do we, and so do the Conservatives, so there is consensus on this issue. But I do not regard that as sufficient. Further action has to be taken, as the Minister probably admits privately. The reality, however, is that he and his colleagues will be reluctant to go further in case the national papers produce headlines such as, "Government hit airline travellers", or "Blair puts £25 on your air ticket". Of course the Minister is concerned about that; he is a politician and he is worried about the consequences of such an initiative. But we are trying to give the Government a mechanism for taking decisions that they, and we, know may be necessary, but which are politically difficult for them to take.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Of course we, as politicians, have to take into account certain consequences, but it is not simply a question of that so far as aviation taxes are concerned. The question is: what is the most effective fiscal measure? Some charter airlines have imposed a £20 fuel surcharge, but it has had not the slightest effect on passenger numbers. I do not doubt that, theoretically, people could be priced out of the market, but rationing travel on the basis of who is rich enough to pay for pollution does not accord with social equity.

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

I did not suggest that, in fact, and the Minister should listen more carefully. A number of mechanisms are possible—ending the "single till" approach to airline pricing, implementing an emissions charge, or reforming airport passenger duty. Various options are available, and they might add to the Government's armoury when it comes to tackling the effect of aviation on climate change.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of the taxes proposed to deal with carbon emissions would be rather regressive and hit poorer people harder than others? In that context, does he support the concept of domestic tradable quotas, the subject of my private Member's Bill last year? Under the system, which offers a way to deal with the problem in a progressive manner, people have a carbon cap and are allowed to trade their carbon allocations.

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

That concept makes up the fifth point in my five-point speech, so I will bring it forward. I agree that tradable quotas do offer a way to move matters on. It has the attraction of being liberal—with both a small "l" and a big "L"—in that it allows people to limit carbon emissions by their personal actions. It gives them choices, and at the same time information about what those choices are.

For example, the system means that people would be given information on their airline tickets about the number of rail journeys that would be equivalent to their flight. Deductions from their carbon emissions allowances would be made to cover their airline journey, with the result that they might have to buy more allowances from someone else further down the line. Under those circumstances, people might choose to travel by rail, but they would do so having had access to the relevant information. They would have the freedom to make their own choices about how they travel.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

It was remiss of me not to congratulate the hon. Gentleman also on signing up to the 25-5 challenge, by which he aims to reduce his personal carbon emissions by the year 2010.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have taken drastic action in that respect, although it is proving difficult to make further cuts. However, I shall do my best to live up to the challenge.

The empowerment of individuals generally is important. Personal carbon allowances are one option, but the personal production of energy is another. Why do we have to have an energy system based on huge units—nuclear or coal-fired power stations, or even wind farms—that are situated miles away from centres of population? Why not have decentralised energy, so that people can have a say about what they use? That was the burden of the private Member's Bill introduced last year by Colin Challen. Such a system would allow people to sell excess energy to the grid and it would also offer security of supply, as people with wind turbines on their houses are not liable to be cut off.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

Will the hon. Gentleman say who would distribute the personal carbon allowances? What would be the penalties for failure to comply?

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

The honest answer is that there is a lot more work to do on the proposal. We are moving towards taking radical measures to tackle climate change. A number of economists have suggested the carbon allowances approach: implementing the allowances could be achieved in a variety of ways, but none of them is particularly easy. My suggestion is that we could start with the transport sector, which is self-contained and could be ring-fenced. However, if the hon. Gentleman is asking whether we have solutions that we can distribute around the House, the answer is no, we have not.

Another reason why too little is being done about climate change is that it is not high enough up the political agenda. By our actions, we are trying to correct that. We could do with some help from the media—a point that I regularly make—which insist on treating climate change, if they deal with it at all, as a purely scientific matter. They give the impression that no politicians of any party, including those in the Government, have anything to say about it. I, for one, am fed up with reports on the "Today" programme or stories in the broadsheets that go into great detail about horrendous and apocalyptic things going on in the world but which contain no comment from any politician. That means that no Minister is put on the spot and asked what is being done about the subject of the story, and the opinions of Members of Parliament are not sought either. Such stories and reports exist in a vacuum, outside the political process, so it is not surprising that politicians do not make progress on environmental matters. I hope that the media will reform their approach to these things.

What should we do about policies that, collectively, are failing to deliver domestically the reaction to climate change that we need? The motion has been tabled by both Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members, and follows on from earlier debates and initiatives undertaken by myself and the right hon. Member for West Dorset. It wants to deal with the problem of climate change by putting it higher on the agenda, and telling the media that the story is political as well as simply scientific. It is designed to make it easier for the Minister and the good guys in government to argue with people who are perhaps less enlightened in other Departments, such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I hope that it will also help the Government to take difficult decisions in the knowledge that they will not be exploited for narrow party reasons.

That is how the motion attempts to help the Government. I want action on climate change, and I want the problem to be tackled. That is one of the reasons why I am in politics. I am trying to make it easier for the Government to take the right decisions. That is what we are collectively trying to do.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Only one Opposition Member has mentioned the biggest contribution we could make on climate change—nuclear power. The Liberals have a principled opposition to nuclear power, but countries such as China and South Africa are going nuclear, even though they have massive coal stocks, because they realise that nuclear is the cleanest form of power.

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

I do not agree that it is the cleanest source, and we could have a long debate about nuclear energy—as we doubtless will in due course. It is not for this country to dictate to others the choices they make in energy supply, but I am convinced that we can deliver security of supply and meet our energy demands through renewable sources, energy efficiency and cleaned up fossil fuel.

We will have the argument about nuclear power later, but that subject brings me to the issue of consensus. Last time we had a debate on climate change, I was asked how I could possibly want to do business with the Conservatives when their position on the climate change levy is so dreadful. Indeed, the Minister mentioned that today. Let me make it plain. I do not share all the Conservatives' views on the environment, and they do not share mine or those of my colleagues. That is not a requirement. We are not entering a coalition or seeking to agree every dot and comma for a joint Administration. We are setting off down the road and seeing how far we can get with a common policy. At some point, we will fork off and go in different directions—[Interruption.] I said, "Fork off"! However, it makes sense to go as far down the road together as we can—and I include the Government—instead of picking on differences and saying, "Well, you're in a different party so we are going to find a reason to disagree with you. We will pick some council that has done something unhelpful and make an issue of that, instead of trying to address the issues of climate change." That is not the response that members of the public want to hear. They want a proper, concerted response that proves that MPs are taking climate change seriously. That requires a different approach from us.

The Government should not be defensive on this matter. They should not feel that they always have to engage in normal, adversarial politics. They should not feel that they would be weakened by engaging with Opposition parties to find a consensus on climate change. The Minister, who cares about these matters, will find that liberating.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. There is a 10-minute limit on speeches from now on, but several hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, many of whom are likely to be disappointed. It would be helpful if some Members could take less than their allotted span.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell 8:43 pm, 22nd November 2005

I hope to reduce my emissions this evening as much as possible. I shall start by reiterating two requests. The first is that we do not have a Division this evening. It would not serve any useful purpose and most of us agree with most of what is on the Order Paper without sending the wrong signal to people outside. The issue is the subject of intense debate and we are seriously looking for consensus. Much common ground has been covered this evening, and that is welcome.

I chair the all-party group on climate change, which has members from both sides of the House, including the smaller parties. I have referred to the 25–5 challenge, and if any Members who have not signed up would like to do so, they can see me afterwards. The challenge involves trying to reduce one's personal carbon emissions by 25 per cent. in five years—by 2010. That will send out a signal to our constituents, and other people who may be role models in society, that we are doing something and not simply making speeches and asking others to do things that we are not prepared to do. Although there has been much common ground, the all-party group is about to launch an inquiry into whether cross-party consensus is possible or desirable—a suggestion that, coincidentally, appears in the motion.

Having thought about the subject, I think that such consensus is both possible and desirable, although some people may say that it is not possible and we have heard a few of the reasons this evening.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are well on the way to all-party consensus, as those parties that have already agreed to it represented about 65 per cent. of the electorate at the last election?

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

That is possible. But when I wake up in the morning and listen to John Humphrys interviewing different Front-Bench spokespeople, I often want to go back to sleep again. Sometimes I would rather that the Front-Bench spokespeople agreed with each other and that John Humphrys found somebody else to intimidate.

Is cross-party consensus desirable? We should consider what that means for collective responsibility. We may not agree on nuclear power as a solution—that is quite possible, as we shall probably soon find out. However, if we appear to disagree on climate change, that sends out damaging signals. People might say that the Opposition wanted consensus because they wanted to get their hands on the decision-making process without collective responsibility.

In Denmark, after a long consensual process, all the parties, both in and outside government, signed up in July to about eight measures to reduce energy use and improve energy efficiency. I realise that the Danish electoral system is different from ours, which produces different results, but at least the Danes were able to agree positively on those measures. We should consider emulating that approach.

Another example, although not one that I particularly favour, is offered by Finland, which recently agreed to go ahead with its fifth nuclear reactor. In the 1990s, the Finnish Parliament rejected that option, but a couple of years ago a free vote was marginally in favour of the nuclear option. However, despite cross-party consensus and a free vote, the Greens left the Government.

The "stop climate chaos" initiative is building consensus between development and environmental non-governmental organisations. I hope that shortly there will be an initiative in the House so that all the party groups can work together to parallel and reflect what is happening outside in civil society. Perhaps we could develop the same sort of consensus that produced "Make Poverty History". Indeed, it is crucial that we do so. "Make Poverty History" is marginally less important as an all-embracing issue than climate change, although they have an impact on one another.

Earlier this autumn, I was looking for consensus between the party leaders. What better place to start than their conference speeches? Members may recall that this year we heard nine leadership speeches at three party conferences. If anyone wants to read the efforts of all the leadership contenders, they are available in the handy little publication that I have produced, entitled "Carbon 2 Share".

Sadly, climate change was completely absent from the speeches of some of the leadership contenders of one party. I am pleased that one of the leading contenders for the Conservative party crown has now come out with some sensible ideas, such as independent carbon accounting and auditing—described as a model based on the Monetary Policy Committee. A question was put earlier about whether domestic tradable quotas would require penalties. An independent source of information on carbon counting and how the system works would have more credibility and engage people much more.

I hope that the inquiry of the all-party group on climate change will take place early in the new year. It will pose serious questions about how we should proceed, and about the obstacles. A few years ago, the Prime Minister and leading individuals from the other parties came together to form a cross-party consensus on the euro, and it was a fiasco. It went nowhere. That is an example of consensus going wrong. In Sweden, there was cross-party consensus on that subject, and consensus among the media, including broadcasters, and the people rejected it. In fact it was anticipated that they would reject it, despite the great sense that the establishment supported it. We must ask profound questions, such as whether people might feel that this consensus was a politicians' artifice, created to hoodwink them into actions that they did not agree with. It is possible that domestic tradable quotas could be such a thing.

I want to finish by saying that I am not getting Bill crazy, but tomorrow I shall present a Bill. It will be launched officially on Thursday in Committee Room 6 at 1 o'clock, and Aubrey Meyer, director of the Global Commons Institute, will be present. The Bill will be called the Climate Change (Contraction and Convergence) Bill, and it is the other half of the Domestic Tradable Quotas (Carbon Emissions) Bill. This is the international framework that has been proposed to frame all of our considerations, and consensus, and negotiations. It is what is called a full-term framework because it covers the entire process. It is not just about setting one target for next year and one for 10 years' time, and keeping our fingers crossed that we shall be able to deliver, perhaps as a result of a piece of technology. Instead, we shall be able to benchmark what we do against the contraction and convergence model. It will demand of us all quite an effort to achieve that kind of thing in the international negotiations that we face.

There is an analogy with early Christendom. What would have happened if the early Christians had gone to Rome and said, "We are not going to bring down the Roman empire, or even change the views of the emperor"—I think we know who the emperor is in the present-day world—"so let's just give up. Let's pack it in, because we cannot change their opinions; we shall just get tossed to the lions"? They did not stop because of that argument.

John Smith said that even if a country cannot achieve its international consensus, it should lead by example. I think that we should lead by example because if we do not, personally, nationally and internationally, nobody will believe that we mean what we say. Contraction and convergence is the only workable model. I have looked at all 40 of the models that the Minister mentioned in a recent debate—40 models that were provided by the Pew centre in its report. Some of those are simply a reading of the literature, extracted from an academic journal, and are not really models at all.

Contraction and convergence is fully worked out. It is comprehensive. It has the flexibilities—it allows for trading. It also meets the objections that the Byrd-Hagel resolution posed, back in the time when Kyoto was being negotiated, for any President—Clinton or Bush and any successor. The Byrd-Hagel resolution in the Senate said that the United States should not enter into an agreement that did not involve all countries. That was the sense of it. It was an agreement not simply for the developing world, but for all countries, including the developing ones. More recently, the McCain-Lieberman state of the Senate resolution has moved the debate on, albeit with less of a majority than the Byrd-Hagel resolution.

Contraction and convergence can meet the objections. It is a logic that we are not really seeking to avoid. "Contraction" means that we shall reduce our carbon emissions to the recommended levels: a 60 per cent. reduction on today's emissions by 2050. In fact—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman has met his target.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley 8:54 pm, 22nd November 2005

The Minister has been rather hard on the Opposition for failing to come up with a practical policy proposal about which the House could form a consensus tonight. He is being very unfair on my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin. None the less, I am going to provide a single policy initiative, which I am sure will meet universal approval among Labour Members and my hon. Friends. It would save money for people on low incomes, cut pointless bureaucracy, reduce the burdens on local councils and, of course, reduce carbon emissions, and in doing so, supply not just hot air but hot water and, indeed, central heating.

We all know that one of the major causes of CO 2 in the atmosphere is household emissions—far bigger than vehicle emissions—and 75 per cent. of those emissions comes from heating and boilers. We now come to a peculiarity, and I want to use the debate to draw it to the Minister's attention in the hope that he can clear it up tonight. It would be a wonderful thing if he did so. He might like to come with me to the lovely village of Sonning Common—one of the largest villages in south Oxfordshire—and if he would be so kind as to come, he would see a large estate full of semi-detached houses built in the 1960s, with an attractive array of south-facing roofs. Mrs. Ann Anley, who lives in one of those houses, has written to me to explain that she has a plan, which I am sure that the Minister and, indeed, all hon. Members would support.

For an outlay of £3,000, Mrs. Anley can add to her roof a wonderful panel by which she can heat her water. It is a photovoltaic pump. I do not know the exact technical details. The Ministers is nodding sagely; he knows of what I am about to speak. It is a wonderful thing. She assures me—I have no reason to doubt her, since I have taken the trouble to look up her plans on the internet—that she can reduce her carbon emissions by half a tonne of CO 2 a year and that she can supply up to 70 per cent. of her hot water needs in doing so. It is a good thing that the installation is subsidised by the Government—the Minister is nodding again—to the tune of £400. We all support that. The kicker is that she has to get planning permission. I refer back to the very prescient words of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, who pointed to the absurdity of having to get planning permission to install a small windmill on a roof.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

On Friday 11 November, time ran out for the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill precisely because of the determination of Mr. Forth, ably aided and abetted by Mr. Harper, who did their utmost to talk out that Bill. I should like to ask Mr. Letwin if he can explain that sabotage by two Conservative Members.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I meant the right hon. Member for West Dorset, because he was present for the debate and I assume that he will sum up. Am I right, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Lady is seeking to catch my eye later. Perhaps she has said enough for the time being, and Mr. Johnson can respond to that.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. It is precisely to address the point that she makes that I seek to build a cross-party consensus tonight on the very issue in hand. The problem is that this good lady—indeed, anyone who wants to do so—must get planning permission.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I think that the Minister is about to intervene to say that the need for planning permission will be revoked on these questions.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is on to a serious point. I understand that rooftop installations do not necessarily need planning permission, but there is confusion among local authorities about whether or not they do. I am glad to say that my hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry have recently launched a consultation exercise on micro-generation that seeks to look at barriers to those devices. Part of that is intended to address the planning system to ensure that there are no anomalies.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention because we are inching towards progress. I am tempted to say that he agrees with me, but I want to ram home the case a little further. To convince him, may I point out that the device that Mrs. Anley seeks to install is only 2 ft by 4 ft and only 8 cm thick, but to get planning permission, she must pay a non-negotiable flat fee of £135. She must then get an architectural artist to produce drawings of her house, which, as you will readily appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will push her costs well over £200. Everyone in the House will agree that it is complete madness on one hand to subsidise the project to the tune of £400, and on the other hand to force the good lady to spend more than £200.

It is of no disrespect to the beautiful village of Sonning Common to say that not every house in it is an architectural gem beyond price. The estate in question, which I hope the Minister will visit with me, is not yet deemed to be a critical part of our national heritage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has already pointed out, it is absurd that we allow houses throughout the country to sprout great Murdoch excrescences that pump trash into people's homes. Indeed, one can build the most extraordinary things with no planning permission whatever—I have done so myself—in the form of tree houses, sheds and heaven knows what, yet this single beneficial improvement to the lady's house is forbidden without planning permission.

What do we do now? We do not content ourselves with the discussion process that the Minister outlined. I hope that he will tell the councils that he rightly says are in doubt what is allowed and what is not allowed. He should use all the plenipotentiary powers in his possession as Minister for whatever he is to indicate—I will read this out for the benefit of those who need to take it down—that class C under statutory instrument No. 418, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, does not apply to solar panels. If councils remain in doubt, I hope that the Minister will use his good offices and all his influence to ensure that they are in doubt no longer.

I have read some of the correspondence from councils, which are receiving more and more applications for solar panels because they are becoming more popular. I think that we can all agree that we should encourage them. The Minister himself said that this is not just a national or international question, but a question of our own individual actions and of taking our own initiative to reduce our carbon emissions. Addressing the matter would be a perfect way in which he could encourage and assist that. I very much hope that I have succeeded in my brief speech in forging the consensus that the Minister sought earlier on a single, practical policy. I look forward to hearing later that he is going to do a little bit more than set up a committee in the DTI to clarify matters, because this needs to be done urgently, and he is the man to do it.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 9:03 pm, 22nd November 2005

It is widely accepted—the debate has confirmed it—that the Government so far have a pretty good record on climate change. We played a significant role in securing the Kyoto protocol in December 1997. We chaired the European Council in 1998 that produced agreement on the allocation of carbon reduction targets among all EU member states. We then produced a programme for countering climate change that was probably the most detailed and extensive of any country in the world. It is fair to say that we have been consistently proactive and effective in international negotiations to push the climate change agenda. We have been one of the only two or three countries in the EU on track to meet our Kyoto target by 2010—so far, so good. However, there appear recently to have been disturbing shifts in policy that I fear are beginning to undermine that excellent record, which is why I have been prompted to speak in the debate.

A few months ago, British officials started lobbying in Brussels to try to persuade other EU countries that the successor regime to be implemented after Kyoto ends in 2012 should contain no targets or time scales. That is of course what President Bush wants, but it would defenestrate the entire global effort to stop and reverse global warming.

Then, a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister stated at a private conference in New York that the way to deal with climate change was not through the Kyoto mechanisms, but by more research and development in improved technology, as has been referred to. In other words, it should be business as usual, but with more scientific ingenuity to try to lessen the catastrophic consequences. I profoundly disagree with that approach.

If the world is to achieve the exceedingly exacting target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions not just by 5 per cent., as Kyoto requires, but by 60 per cent. by 2050, which scientists say is necessary to reverse global warming, a post-Kyoto international treaty that lacks targets, time scales and mechanisms is, to be honest, hardly worth the paper on which it is written. If that is the line that we are now taking as the presidency of the EU at the Montreal conference of parties, which is starting next week—I hope that I am wrong—it is a seriously retrograde step.

We will never solve the problem through business as usual plus merely improved technology. Welcome and useful though that new technology may be, we will do so only if we remove the causes of climate change: the burning of fossil fuels. To those such as the Prime Minister who seem to fear that that will inhibit economic growth—there has been a good deal of discussion about that in this debate—I say that helping developing countries to do that via the clean-development mechanism, which was specifically put into the Kyoto protocol, will not dumb down economic growth. It will increase the opening up of vast new international markets for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

That worrying shift in strategy—there have been some confusing signals, so I am not absolutely clear about the policy—is now beginning to seep into other more specific areas of policy. Over the summer, the national allocation plan targets that set out the carbon dioxide limits that are allowed for each industrial sector were increased by the Government, in one case above the levels already agreed by the EU Commission, as a result, of course, of industrial lobbying. I believe that I am right in saying that we are still intending to take the Commission to court in order to force it to accept that 3 per cent. increase. I hope that I am wrong, but if I am not, we should think about that again.

The building of 250,000 new homes—this point has been made and I very much agree with it—in the south-east of England offers a great opportunity to ratchet up the low energy-efficiency standards in housing, but as far as I can see, so far it has not been taken up.

The fastest rising cause of greenhouse gas emissions is of course transport, yet too little has been done to replace the fuel duty escalator, which was so abruptly dropped in the face of the lorry drivers' blockade of oil refineries in 2000. I know that some things have been done, but certainly not enough.

Air travel, which may soon become the single biggest generator of greenhouse gases, is—let us be honest—being strongly promoted by the DTI. In addition, the Government heavily subsidise the airline industry—all Governments have done so—so that real-terms fares are falling year on year. The Government impose no tax on aviation fuel, which is a huge discrepancy when compared with the undoubtedly high tax on petrol for cars. They are now proposing a huge expansion of airports and a 300 to 500 per cent. increase in air travel in the next 30 years. All I can say is, fine, I know people want to do that, but I should like to be told how that is compatible with achieving a 60 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Now we are being told that the only way in which we can reach our Kyoto targets—

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton

I will, although I hope that it will be a serious intervention compared with the speech that the hon. Gentleman has just made.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman does not therefore agree that planning permission should be revoked in the case of solar panels. Is he saying that that is a frivolous suggestion? On the point of air travel, I have had the pleasure of meeting him several times at airports—at Cagliari most recently. Is he seriously suggesting that people should give up their pleasure of holiday travel?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton

No one is saying that. No one is suggesting that people should give up their car or air travel. I am simply saying that the rate of expansion is incompatible with the requirements that scientists say we must meet if we are to achieve the targets to reduce climate change. We must find a way of reconciling what people want with what is absolutely necessary to stop climate change. I cannot give the answer today, but that is exactly what we need to examine.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

One way in which we could meet those targets is through the increased use of biofuels. Allscott, the British Sugar factory in my constituency, certainly wants to produce sugar beet for biofuels. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that we need more discussion of biofuels and greater demand for them?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton

The Government are looking seriously at the question of biofuels. Fuels containing 5.75 per cent. of biofuels are helpful to the workings of engines and are good for the environment, so I welcome the proposal.

We have been told that the only way in which we can reach our Kyoto targets is through the renewal of civil nuclear power. Whatever the opinion of Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser, that is patently untrue. Our target is a reduction, as the Minister rightly said, of 12.5 per cent. by 2010. Even with recent slippages, largely because of the shift from gas back to coal, we are still on track to achieve at least a 14 per cent. reduction. However, we are not doing considerably better, as many of us would like, because of the reasons that I have spelled out and, importantly, because we have made glacial progress in promoting renewables. The Minister is nodding, and I am sure that he agrees with me.

We fall well short of the 10 per cent. target for 2010. On current trends, we will fall well short of the 10,000 MW target for combined heat and power by 2010, and we have not made any commitment to the EU goal of 20 per cent. renewables by 2020. It has even been proposed—I hope that the Minister will say that this is wrong—that the funding support for the burgeoning solar industry should be largely withdrawn. The Prime Minister appears to be gearing up to renege on the energy White Paper of February 2003, which was produced by his own Government and proposed no new nuclear build and a major switch to renewables. He is doing so despite the enormous downsides of nuclear, which is more expensive than wind power, coal and gas and which, over the past 50 years, has accumulated taxpayer liabilities of no less than £56 billion according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It generates colossal amounts of waste—10,000 tonnes at present, and 0.5 million tonnes according to the Department of Trade and Industry at the end of the century—which Governments have tried, genuinely but fruitlessly, to dispose of. Nuclear plants create a major terrorist risk. They are surrounded in every case, studies show, by cancer and leukaemia clusters. The risk, however small—I am sure that it is very small—of a catastrophic nuclear accident can never be ruled out entirely.

I am not seeking to knock nuclear, but simply wish to make the point that we do not need it. As an offshore island, we have enormous wind power capacity which we have not tapped. Experts, however, have calculated that it is sufficient to provide our entire electricity requirement four to six times over. We need to be much more determined in our pursuit of carbon reduction policies across the piece, and I shall end by suggesting a few.

We should demand—I am sure this is what we want to do—that air travel be brought within the Kyoto protocol, from which it was excluded under American pressure in 1997. We should extend UK participation in the EU emissions trading scheme. It would certainly seem, from the leak of the Government's climate change review, which I have seen, that they are minded to do that, which is good. We should tighten building standards significantly in new build in order to achieve a major boost in energy efficiency, and we should—I do not know why we have not done this—reintroduce the excellent idea of standard assessment procedure ratings for all home sales.

We should introduce innovative proposals to give people incentives for carbon reductions in transport. For example, there is the idea of a fee-bate, which entails giving people a rebate of, for example, £3,000 or £5,000 if they buy a car below, say, 1200 cc. The rebate would be paid for by a fee or charge of the same amount on the sale price if people buy a large gas guzzler. I shall stick my neck out as others have done in the debate, including my hon. Friend Colin Challen, who has honourably pursued the issue. To sensitise people to the way their activities may generate greenhouse gas emissions, we should consider the gradual introduction of domestic trading quotas. Of course—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has had his time.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 9:16 pm, 22nd November 2005

I am grateful for the opportunity to follow Mr. Meacher, whose credibility and sincerity in the matter are well known.

The Government amendment asks us to congratulate them on the leadership that they have shown on climate change. It is ironic that in the same amendment they also ask us to welcome the publication of a climate change programme review, which was set up in acknowledgement of the probability of failure—specifically, the failure to hit the 2010 carbon dioxide reduction target that is at the heart of that claim to effective leadership. The logic is tortuous. The more honest truth is that the global challenge of climate change faces a vacuum of credible leadership, not least with the imminent departure of the Prime Minister, at the very point when we reach a critical crossroad in the run-up to 2012 and the expiry of the Kyoto treaty.

The issue remains riddled with uncertainties, both in terms of risk and the cost/benefits of alternative approaches to managing that risk. It is clear that we are living a dangerous experiment with current levels of carbon concentration in our atmosphere. We are at 381 parts per million and growing, according to Sir David King, at 2 parts per million per annum. We do not know what a safe level is. The working scientific assumption is 550 parts per million, which is thought to be compatible with an increase of 2° this century. Even if we could stabilise concentrations at 550 parts per million—and it remains a huge "if"—we face, in the words of Sir David King, very severe impacts around the world, leaving aside the impact on biodiversity.

The scale and pace of these impacts are uncertain, but the message from the scientific community is that the risks are rising, not falling. The political response to the challenge to date has been the pursuit of international treaties to impose a top-down interventionist centralising solution. We should be honest and recognise that that has failed. Fifteen years of political effort went into producing the Rio agreement and the Kyoto treaty. They are milestones of a sort, but on a journey that has not taken us very far in controlling emissions or incentivising the technology breakthroughs that offer our best chance. They represent a vessel holed below the waterline by the absence of the big polluters—the USA and the emerging giants.

In the absence of a lead from the superpower, Britain—Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair—has tried to take a lead but has found the going tough. The Prime Minister acknowledges that he is rethinking his international strategy. Although he inherited a healthy platform for showing Britain as a role model for how to cut emissions without sacrificing growth, emissions have risen since 1997. It seems that everything, including climate change policy and energy policy, is up for review again, and the non-governmental organisations are lining up to express their disappointment and frustration.

Where do we go from here? First, we must take stock of the priorities. As has been pointed out in numerous interventions from the Opposition Benches, the most urgent priority must be to minimise the carbon intensity of industrial development in China, India and Brazil. If we do not, we will find ourselves locked quickly into an even higher level of carbon concentrations. The solution, as the Prime Minister knows, lies in technology. That technology is increasingly available, whether it be micro-generation, solar, wind or new generation nuclear power, clean coal or hybrid cars, but it is relatively expensive.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

The hon. Gentleman and I both serve on the Environmental Audit Committee. Sir David King told us last week that the target for reductions by 2050 is closer to 80 per cent. than 60 per cent., which shows us that the task is urgent. Does he agree that the necessary technologies must be brought on stream now and not in 10 or 15 years' time?

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my second point, which is key: how can we accelerate the development and deployment of those technologies to make them more affordable? Why should we expect countries such as China to pay a premium for their basic infrastructure as they develop? The response of Governments must surely focus on this question: what can we do to accelerate the deployment, development and sharing of technology? That makes not only environmental sense, but commercial sense, because it is in our interests to grow those markets, which is a point that is not lost on the French. I did not hear anything in the Minister's remarks to suggest that the Government are any clearer on how to accelerate and share the technology.

As has been said, a further priority must be to establish a framework for an agreement post-2012, which is do-able and would bind the big polluters into a common objective. As most people know, the challenge lies in reconciling the objectives of countries at different stages of development, and there is no shortage of ideas on the table—for example, the ideas set out by the international climate change taskforce make good reading.

The Government are going to Montreal in two weeks' time to open negotiations, but this House knows nothing of what is in their mind. It would be so much more effective if Ministers went to that conference having established a consensus. At the moment, the situation is a complete mystery, possibly even to them.

My third point does not come up often enough in these debates. An urgent priority for Governments must be to support a sustained effort to reduce scientific uncertainty on the impacts and correlations between emissions growth and temperature increase. We desperately need the debate to be framed by more certainty, and an urgent role for Governments is to support that scientific process.

The fourth priority, which has been raised throughout the debate, is the urgent need to engage consumers and businesses, who will be agents of sustainable change. Arguably, that is the greatest political failure of the past 15 years. The key argument to win is that it is in the world interest to reduce the carbon intensity of our development. The chance of a stable climate with less pollution is not the only prize. Reduced dependence on the major producers of fossil fuels should mean greater energy security, which is a big issue for the United States and a growing issue for Britain. The law of supply and demand means that fossil fuels will become more expensive, and it is therefore in our economic interest to develop a cost-effective alternative.

Last but by no means least, the development of low-carbon technology will create a new global market that can help to drive more sustainable economic growth. The way forward surely lies in focusing minds on that win-win analysis, because the politics then becomes easy. At the famous summit in New York, which the Prime Minister attended, President Clinton discussed a clean energy future:

"If people really thought it was the next biggest way to create a new generation of jobs in every continent in the world, nobody would be fighting about the deadlines; they would be fighting to get there ahead of the next person."

I believe that he was right.

What is Britain's role? We have an opportunity to show the world that it is possible to reduce carbon emissions without sacrificing growth, but we must put our house in order because emissions have risen since 1997, and we are undermining the argument. When one engages with non-governmental organisations or submissions to Committees, it is clear that we could do so much more. Sonning common cries out for solar panels.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

I cannot think of anything more serious or more practical that this House could do tonight to alleviate the problems of climate change than to get rid of the ludicrous burden of the £135 charge, in addition to the cost of architectural drawings, that falls upon people who want to install solar panels.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I could not agree more. I hope that the Minister responds on behalf of Sonning Common.

There is much more room for the Government to send clearer market signals to consumers, businesses and investors about policy direction in terms of what kind of energy mix we want and the desire to grow markets for cleaner cars and cleaner fuels. They should set a much better example in terms of the standards that we expect from manufacturers of cars, electrical appliances and new homes. The Environmental Audit Committee produced a report that showed the Government's deficiencies in setting standards for public procurement. They are spending £500 billion of our money—a serious amount.

The Government should be doing more to develop market instruments that will get them out of the business of picking winners. In the European Union emissions trading scheme, which was very diluted and weakened in its first phase, lies the key opportunity to set a real price for carbon that will change the framework of this debate.

All this is in our national interest and in the global interest. It is do-able with political will, and it would be helped by political consensus. I am therefore very disappointed by the Minister's reaction to our motion. The major breakthrough required is the inclusion of the United States of America and the giants, and the emergence of an American President who sees it as being in the interest of the United States to lead this debate, not follow it.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 9:26 pm, 22nd November 2005

I join other Members who have expressed a preference for the House not to divide on these issues tonight. I feel that it would put us all in a strange position if we were asked to choose between voting for the anodyne or the out-to-lunch. It is difficult to choose between those who advocate some good things or other good things without specifying what they are. We have to move this debate, which is the most important of our lives, on to a whole series of practicalities about how we not only address the challenges of climate change, but learn to live differently and better as a result of meeting them.

I will resist the temptation to go into the details of my new house, which I have turned from a derelict building into a place where we will be able to live and where we will ultimately generate 50 per cent. more energy than the house consumes. I am happy to talk later to Mr. Johnson about how to do that. From my micro-experiences, I have learned a whole series of things about the macro issues that we have to address as a society.

Every stage of this issue is riddled with contradictions. For me, not the least of those is that, as a socialist, I have to acknowledge that perhaps the Prince of Wales has a greater understanding of how to meet the challenges of climate change than does this Parliament. In the next decade, we will face four interconnected crises relating to climate change—crises of food security, water management, energy security and insurability. To emphasise the scale of the latter crisis, it has been calculated that this summer's girls' night out between the hurricanes of Wilma, Rita and Katrina has resulted in higher insurable damage than America has ever known. There has been £56.8 billion-worth of insurable damage as a result of this year's catastrophes in the US.

The cost of that will be borne not only in the US but virtually everywhere. We will have our own experiences of that. When the flash floods hit Boscastle, Carlisle, the Vale of York, Oxford or the Medway towns, they are not going to make the same distinctions between rich and poor. They will sweep everything away and we will find ourselves in a society facing a different divide—that between the unemployable and the uninsurable. When that happens, the Government will be faced with very angry populations asking how we provide security in their lives. We do not have much time to change the way in which we think about meeting those challenges.

We must move on from old to new agendas. In other parts of the world, especially in other parts of Europe, there is a different agenda for markets that will provide sustainable water use and sustainable agricultural systems. However, those markets are post-globalisation in their presumptions. Their frameworks of production and distribution are regionalised. They reduce product miles, urban congestion, the distance of accountability between the producer and the consumer, and they set up fresh lines of sustainable, local accountability as well as sustainable, localised production.

The same will be true of energy. Some hon. Members have criticised the Government's chief scientist, Sir David King, for being a Government spin merchant, but it is much more appropriate to criticise him for trying to sell lousy science. I want to tackle that head on. Those who try to pretend that the only solution to a secure energy future is to go backwards with a new generation of nuclear power will be proved in the next five years to be conducting a Maginot line debate between sad old men trying to work out how to win the last war.

An American environmental entrepreneur called Amory B. Lovins has tried to set out how we construct different markets around sustainability. He began by doing that in his Rocky Mountains institute, where he reduced the energy requirements to less than the cost of one 100W light bulb. It uses existing technologies to minimise waste and to generate and recycle heat that we are already using. He points out that if one takes the energy inputs from a power station, for every 100 inputs into the energy system, the end user has access to less than 10 per cent. One can stand in front of any power station in this country and see 60 per cent. of energy inputs going up in steam into the atmosphere. That is a colossal waste. We could run the country on the energy that we throw away. That is the biggest challenge but our mentality stands in the way of change.

I found that in my house I could get into net metering. I can have a system that puts more energy back into the grid than I take out of it, but I get paid a pittance in the process. We can change that if we get out of a rigged energy market that tells the energy system, "You have a one price in and a one price out process."

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I have concerns about my hon. Friend's suggestion that David King advocates bad science. Perhaps a more realistic proposition is that he has no confidence that the necessary investment will go into ensuring that our energy consumption is reduced by investment in energy conservation and the sort of measures that he advocates. Perhaps that is why he advocates nuclear power.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I understand that point but I will not budge from my initial contention, which is that nuclear power was never economic. We have not worked out who should pay the £56 billion to £80 billion of clean-up costs from the last generation of nuclear power before we work out who will pick up the costs of another generation of nuclear energy.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the Government appear prepared to advocate investment in nuclear technology but not in energy conservation. David King probably finds himself having to deal with that.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I understand that point, but let me draw the House's attention to a completely different approach. If we step outside this country, we see that 50 per cent. of Denmark's energy is generated by local energy systems; in the Netherlands, 60 per cent. is generated by decentralised energy systems. When motorways are built in the Netherlands, the hot-road sub-surface of the motorway is harnessed to provide energy and heating for houses. Every kilometre of road that is built provides the energy and heating for 100 houses. In this country, we are not even beginning to look at local energy networks, although they are infinitely more efficient than our national energy system, which leaks like a sieve.

We need to make that shift in thinking, to catch up with what is going on in other countries and to follow the lead being taken by some of our major cities. I have said before in the House that the Mayor of London has committed the capital city of this country, which currently consumes more energy than the whole of Portugal, to being energy self-sufficient within a decade. The international agreement that he is trying to broker with other major cities is that 20 of the world's biggest cities will all be energy self-sufficient using sustainable and renewable resources by 2020. That draws on the thinking of how to do things differently, which is already practised in other parts of the world.

We need a shift in market rules, a shift to thinking about decentralised energy and a shift in the requirements that we have for our buildings. In Berlin today, 80 per cent. of new buildings are required to generate their own energy. We make no such requirements of own built environment. Some of the architects and property developers here should be in prison for the buildings they are throwing up. Those buildings are the gas guzzlers of the built environment, yet they pass for modern buildings. They are a massive source of carbon consumption and they are profligate in the way in which they are constructed.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

We have heard about the Government taking international leadership. Do they not also need to take domestic leadership? Is not the public sector, across the parties, the worst user of energy and the poorest performer from an energy efficiency point of view?

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I would be happy for the Government to set targets for their own Departments, but Members should also set targets for their own lives. We are dead good at blaming other people for failing to take a lead, but do we take that lead ourselves? Do we heck as like! We are all on the line on this. We need to create new approaches to ethical and sustainable markets in relation to the way we live, treading lightly on the environment of the future. We need to create markets in conservation rather than consumption, markets that reward what we put back rather than what we take out. If we look at what is happening in the world outside this House, we can see a new consensus forming in civil society around the principles of sustainability. The problem is that the House is not part of that consensus.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:37 pm, 22nd November 2005

Many interesting comments have been made during this debate, which confirm that we have all come to see climate change as a real and dangerous threat. The debate started with my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin, and I take my hat off to him for his efforts to achieve consensus. I am not a particularly good consensus person, which is why a lot of my speeches are made in here. My right hon. Friend, however, could not have done more or gone further to encourage the consensus that he so rightly believes in. I pay tribute to the way in which he explained the purpose of this debate, and the fact that the Prime Minister's mixed messages mean that we need to find out from the Government where we are going to get to. I also pay tribute to the way in which he explained the difficulty involved in striking a balance between economic growth and reducing carbon emissions, and between adopting UK-centric or global policies. His efforts were humbling to me; even when he talked about Liberal Democrat campaigning techniques, he was exceptionally generous. He concluded with a particularly clear understanding of what consensus would enable, and the various layers and targets that it involved.

I felt, however, that the Minister was less than charitable—uncharacteristically for him. He listed the Government's achievements, although he seemed to recognise the growing concern about climate change throughout the House following the numerous interventions. He made six points about Conservative policy. He said that he needed to know where we stood on wind energy, scrapping the climate change levy and fuel protestors. He also mentioned the Prime Minister's comments. He ended by saying that he had left the door open.

At that point, Norman Baker explained consensus in what I considered to be a helpful and constructive manner, until he spoke of "forking off". I forgave him for that immediately, because I realised that he was trying to say that while we would not agree on every part of the way forward, we did agree that a way forward was essential.

My hon. Friend Mr. Johnson talked about photovoltaic roofs and planning permission. He made the immortal comment that "the Minister for whatever it is" should acknowledge the importance of the subject. I submit that there could be no finer advocate of solar panels on behalf of his constituent. My hon. Friend had a single, practical policy, he made his case vociferously and eloquently, and I am sure that his constituent will sing his praises from her rooftop in years to come.

Mr. Meacher delivered all the parts of my speech that I have now abandoned. He made an important and, perhaps, a rather harsh attack on the Government, citing the lack of speed and progress on this vital issue. His was an interesting and valuable speech. He said that we did not seem to be doing enough of the right things, which is obviously a worry for all of us.

My hon. Friend Mr. Hurd also spoke of real worries about progress on climate change. He said, perhaps a little unfairly, that Rio and Kyoto had failed, but went on to talk about why policies were up for review and about the disappointment felt by non-governmental organisations. I agreed with what he said about carbon emissions from China, India and Brazil. I also agreed when he said that the solution was technological. He put his case very eloquently, especially when describing Britain as a role model for the rest of the world, and suggesting that economic growth along with carbon reduction was the most important progress that we had achieved. He rightly pointed out that the duty of the House was constructing market frameworks rather than picking winners. He made an excellent speech.

Last time we debated this subject, Alan Simpson described himself as a heretic. Like me, he sought no vote on the motion, which I considered helpful. He also spoke of the four apocalyptic crises that would befall us, affecting food security, water security, energy security and insurability. That tied in helpfully with an e-mail that I received today from the Association of British Insurers, which stated:

"we need to stop putting people, jobs and property in harm's way. A quarter of Environment Agency objections to development consents on flood risk . . . are being ignored by planning authorities . . . the houses we build now need to withstand the weather of the 2050s and later . . . flood defence investment needs to defend existing property".

The ABI believes that there will be a major crisis in insurability. So the heresy of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South has become apocalyptic. I always enjoy listening to his speeches. He also made a number of constructive suggestions to help us to catch up with the rest of the world.

I think that the scientific evidence on climate change is conclusive. In the past 30 years alone, the average temperature in August has risen by 0.3° C in a decade. The subsequent warming of our planet has caused sea levels to rise by an average of 20 cm in the last century. As we have seen repeatedly and with great loss of life this summer, extreme weather events such as the hurricanes which have tormented the Gulf of Mexico are becoming far more frequent. Our ecosystems are being transformed at an unprecedented pace, and increases in ocean acidity and temperature threaten the world's diverse sea life.

Governments across the world have recognised the problems associated with climate change, and over the past two decades concerted efforts have been made to take action. There have been high-profile discussions at Kyoto and Rio, in which many Conservative Members past and present have been involved. We in the UK, however, cannot afford to be complacent. We should not only do more to save our own environment, but take a lead on the international stage to show countries how changes can be made successfully without slowing economic growth.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Is my hon. Friend as convinced as I am that local authorities have a huge role to play? It is all very well looking at the international position, but local authorities and their planning decisions have, as in so much else, a huge role to play. Unfortunately, they are not yet playing it.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I partly agree with my hon. Friend. He will know that when it comes to recycling, the top authorities are Conservative-run. Some authorities are doing their best, but my hon. Friend is right that we could all do more. He will have heard the contributions from Labour Members, particularly on what people can do as individuals. Responsibility starts at home and can be spread through local authorities all the way to the Government and then on internationally. I agree with my hon. Friend on that.

Despite progress made on reducing emissions of nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride, our primary objective must be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which are causing the most damage to our environment and may well lead us to miss our Kyoto targets. We obviously hope that that will not happen.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not give way, as I want to allow the Minister as much time as possible to answer the points raised in the debate.

It is a shame and surprising to note that the average car emissions from new cars sold in the UK in 2004 were a worrying 31.4 g per kilometre above the EU target of 140 g per kilometre by 2008. Things are clearly not going the way we want. The failure to reach our own targets would serve as a damning indictment of our efforts to tackle climate change. It is essential that we reach and surpass those targets if we are to make a difference to our own environment and set an example to others across the world. How else can we expect other countries to heed our voice on the need to fight climate change? It should be our international duty to lead, not simply to follow.

On this side of the House, we do not doubt the honourable intentions of the Government to act against climate change, but we question the Government's ability to make much difference. Back in 2000, the Prime Minister announced that

"the greatest threat to our environment today is climate change."

In 2004, the Prime Minister remarked:

"Our effect on the environment, and in particular on climate change, is large and growing."

However well intentioned those words, they mean nothing without action. Procrastination is the adversary of success. On climate change, it is the sworn enemy of our ability to safeguard the environment as the inheritance of future generations. My greatest concern is a doubt whether, despite all the words and promises, the Government's approach to finding real solutions will be felt in years in to come.

We have spoken before about consensus. On this side of the House, it has already been acknowledged that climate change is an issue on which we must all fight together. We want to work across party lines so that effective and agreeable solutions can be found and implemented. That is why I hope that we will not divide tonight.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity) 9:48 pm, 22nd November 2005

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment stated in his opening speech that climate change was the greatest environmental challenge that we face. There is no longer any significant doubt about the scientific basis for action, and I was pleased to hear Bill Wiggin say the same. It has been recognised internationally, stimulating more action and discussion on the issue this year than ever before.

Impacts are felt all around us, as I can see in my role as the UK Minister responsible for biodiversity. I am grateful to Mr. Hurd for mentioning that in passing. Biodiversity is an excellent indicator of the effects of climate change. By the end of the century, climate change and its impacts may be the biggest cause of biodiversity loss and the change in ecosystems service globally. Over the past 50 years, humans have affected ecosystems more rapidly and more extensively than in any comparable period of human history—largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. That has resulted in a substantial loss to the diversity of life on earth.

Species such as the polar bear, the mountain gorilla and the river dolphin are all under real threat due to climate change. The loss of these great animals would be a tragedy in its own right, but that loss of biodiversity would also expose the human population to greater threats of disease, and to threats to our livelihoods. I commend to the House a document analysing the effect of climate change on migratory species, published last month by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It was much discussed at the conference of the parties to the convention on migratory species. Another such conference is taking place this weekend in Kenya.

The Prime Minister has demonstrated—

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I will if I am given just a little more time; bear with me.

The Prime Minister has demonstrated his commitment to tackling climate change by placing it at the top of the agenda for our G8 and EU presidencies this year. We are also committed to implementing our ambitious domestic programme. The current review of the UK climate change programme, which will be published at the turn of the year, will set out how we will achieve our targets for 2010, 2012 and 2050 across Government Departments. We have seen that the economic impact of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions need not be prohibitive, so long as Governments introduce sensible policies, combined with a wide range of low-carbon technologies.

I want to reiterate our position, as set out by the Prime Minister and my DEFRA colleagues, for the benefit of my right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher, among others. We do not believe that the Kyoto protocol is dead, and we do believe that any future international agreement should include binding targets. The Prime Minister said in his article in Saturday's edition of The Independent that

"we need an international framework and emissions targets which take us beyond Kyoto's 2012 commitments . . . I am showing the path we need to follow if we are going to agree internationally binding targets which all can sign up to . . . Too much of the debate over climate change has become polarised between those who advocate compulsory targets and those who advocate technology. For me this is a false choice. The technology is the means by which we will achieve those targets."

His commitment is very clear.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I will take some interventions once I have made a little more progress.

The UK wants a new global framework for action that goes beyond 2012, and which should include binding targets for developed countries. We do not believe that quantified binding targets should be a condition for the involvement of developing countries. We look forward to next week's conference in Montreal, which we hope will represent the next step in an important process. In the build-up to that conference, we can be proud that under this Government, we are leading Europe on achieving our Kyoto targets, and leading the world in achieving the international consensus that we need in order to take urgent action to manage and reverse climate change.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I grew up not with the backdrop of the second world war or the cold war, but with the huge concern of global warming and climate change. I hope that everybody in this House can look in the mirror and ask themselves with confidence what they are doing individually on this issue. Does the Minister agree, however, that the public are looking at us and asking what we are doing internationally to contain global warming and climate change?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

As I sketched out—I hope that the hon. Gentleman was listening—we are taking a lead through our presidencies of the G8 and the EU. I have no time to take another intervention, but I challenge him on a future occasion to name any country in the world that is doing more on this agenda than we are.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I accept what my hon. Friend is saying, but why are the Government reducing expenditure on the replacement for the clear skies programme? Less money is being spent on encouraging individuals to upgrade their domestic energy supplies to incorporate renewables. My point is that there is a feeling that the Government are moving away from encouraging renewables, and putting all their eggs in the basket of nuclear power as a way of reducing CO 2 emissions.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are investing in a new Department of Trade and Industry scheme to replace the clear skies programme. [Interruption.] It is a successor scheme, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment says from a sedentary position.

This was a good debate and Norman Baker made points similar to those made by Mr. Letwin. It makes me wonder why he has changed so rapidly from his position back in March, when he thought that the Tories were toxic when it came to climate change. He rejected their calls then for all-party consensus, but I accept that events have moved on and that the intentions behind the policy are honourable.

My hon. Friend Colin Challen chairs the all-party group and is very knowledgeable on these matters. Like my hon. Friend Alan Simpson, he asked that there should be no Division this evening. I shall repeat that call for the Opposition to withdraw their motion, in the interests of cross-party consensus.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell also mentioned the "Stop Climate Chaos" campaign, which is a very useful initiative.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I will not take any more interventions. Mr. Johnson made a memorable contribution. The whole nation is looking forward to his devoting all his time to politics and making similar practical policy proposals from the Opposition Front Bench. I suggest that he should also talk to his local planning authority—I do not know whether it is Conservative—about planning charges and the process through which people have to go to get planning permissions.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I am sorry, but I am not taking any more interventions. My hon. Friend Nia Griffith intervened on the hon. Member for Henley to remind the House that it was Conservative Members who talked out the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill when it was debated here.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton was generous in his praise of the good record of the Government, especially in the days when he was in office. He was slightly less generous about their record since, and I cannot go through all the points that he made. However, I can say that the standards covering Government-financed buildings will be raised in April, when a new code of practice will be introduced. I hope that that will satisfy some of my right hon. Friend's concerns in that respect.

The UK has made taking forward the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme a priority for our presidency of the EU. We therefore welcome the publication of the European Commission's communication on the matter, which sets out a clear framework that we anticipate will be taken forward next year. In addition, I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton responded to an intervention by mentioning the transport fuel obligation, which will encourage the use of biofuels.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood made an interesting and thoughtful contribution, which I enjoyed without necessarily agreeing with everything that he said. He spoke of the need to reduce scientific uncertainty, and I do agree about that. That is why, in anticipation of our EU presidency, we organised in February a conference at the Hadley centre in Bracknell. The aim was to bring the science together, and we need to continue that good work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South made another thoughtful contribution, in which he admitted to being a fan of the Prince of Wales' approach to climate change. That was good news for me, and I was interested to hear it. He also talked about nuclear power, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton had earlier. That difficult and controversial matter will be addressed in this Parliament, but no decisions have been made as yet,

I fear that the idea of an all-party consensus is no more than a fig leaf from the Opposition. On the face of it, the motion is tempting: there is all-party consensus that climate change is a serious global problem that we should all work together to solve. However, I fear that, beneath the all-party consensus that the right hon. Member for West Dorset proposes, the Opposition have nothing left in terms of policy.

Where is the Opposition policy around which consensus could be built? The Conservatives opposed the climate change levy, and they oppose wind-power projects at every turn. Every time there is a fuel protest, they make noises to oppose the level of fuel duty. That is why the hon. Member for Lewes called them the toxic Tories back in March.

I therefore urge the Opposition to withdraw the motion and to come back when Tory Front Bench Members are able to present a credible position across all shadow Departments. Failing that, the House should vote down the motion and in that way show its support for the Government's global leadership on this matter, for our action nationally, and for our desire to do better.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

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

The House divided: Ayes 233, Noes 296.

Division number 105 Climate Change

Aye: 233 MPs

No: 296 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Absent: 113 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

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


That this House welcomes the leadership shown by the UK Government internationally on climate change, and the important progress made at the July Summit and at the recent meeting of the Dialogue on Climate Energy, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development; further welcomes the recent announcement of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation and looks forward to the publication of the climate change programme review; recognises the importance of building greater understanding and support among all sectors of society for action on climate change; and further welcomes new ideas and contributions from all quarters that help to reduce carbon emissions.