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10.40 am

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on securing the debate and on his speech. I was interested in a number of his remarks, such as his question to the Minister about Government policy on granting exploration licences in the north Atlantic, which is an important subject about which a number of organisations are concerned. I hope that the Minister will make the Government's attitude clear.

A number of hon. Members referred to private Members' Bills, including the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill and the Energy Efficiency Bill. Let me make it clear that Opposition Front Benchers support those Bills; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and I are sponsors of the latter. I regret, however, that the matter has been the subject of an Adjournment debate, which must be introduced by a Back Bencher. The Government would make time for such a debate if they were serious about the issue and wanted to back up the Prime Minister, who said last June that the 20 per cent. target for cutting CO 2 was not a

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conditional target. The issue was last debated in November, also in an Adjournment debate introduced by a Back Bencher.

Mr. Battle: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Yeo: No, I am sorry. The Minister will have a chance to reply, and I have only 10 minutes in which to speak.

We have not debated how to meet the targets since November, which shows the low priority that the Government attach to the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, who is a shadow Department of Trade and Industry Minister, has been present throughout the debate, but the Minister is not accompanied by a Minister from the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which is disappointing. That Department is closely involved with implementing the strategy, if there is one, for achieving the target for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

Four months after the Kyoto conference, there has been no clear statement from the Government on how they intend to meet those challenging targets. The Minister for the Environment told hon. Members that


Spring is more than half over, so will the Minister say when the White Paper will be published? Without waiting for its publication, will he answer the hon. Memberfor Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis), who asked what the Government's target was? Is it 20 per cent., which was in the Labour manifesto and referred to by the Prime Minister, or is it the European Union target of 8 per cent? We note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred only to the 8 per cent. target in his Budget speech. Was he hoping that the commitment to the 20 per cent. target would be quietly forgotten?

The target is only a small part of the story. More important is the strategy for hitting it. Are the Government looking to achieve cuts in emissions from households, from the transport sector, from electricity generation or from other sources? I hope that the Minister will at least say what relative contribution is to be made by each of those sources towards achieving the cut. As the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) said, the Government made a curious start with households by cutting the tax on energy consumption, then waiting another eight months before making a much less dramatic cut in respect of energy saving.

The Government have not put the environment at the heart of their decision-making process, or even at the edge of it. The only substantial tax change in the Budget Red Book listed under environmental measures was the huge rise in petrol tax, the second in the last eight months. Increasing petrol tax is a substitute for coherent policy. Experience has shown that petrol tax rises have relatively little effect on car use. Under this Government, petrol tax is not so much an environmental policy as a reflection of their hostility to the motorist. The burden on motorists is especially heavy in rural areas, where no alternative to using a car exists. That is a further example of the Government's lack of concern for the countryside.

It is disappointing that so little has been done to explore other ways in which to encourage greater fuel efficiency in cars. A cut to £100 in vehicle excise duty for

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less-polluting cars, which is still only a consultation proposal, is a start, but much more could be done to reform VED on a revenue-neutral basis to give manufacturers and motorists a real incentive to achieve greater fuel efficiency.

Why was there no Budget Green Book? Hansard reports at column 1062 that on 10 July, the Financial Secretary promised the House that a Green Book would be published with this year's Budget Red Book, setting out the impact of Budget changes on the environment. I have not seen a Green Book. I wrote to the Financial Secretary earlier this month to ask for a copy, but have not received a reply. I fear that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove is right: the commitment to publish a Green Book has shrunk to a single page of the Red Book. There has been virtually no indication since the Kyoto conference of the Government's strategy for tackling climate change. Energy policy is crucial within such a strategy, so the Minister has a chance to put that right today.

I wrote to the Minister for the Environment following a leak which suggested that the Government were about to guarantee coal a share of the electricity generation market. Will the Minister tell hon. Members the Government's targets for the relative share of power generation from oil, from gas, from coal, from nuclear power and from renewables? How do the Government reconcile them with the targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions? What are their implications for consumer prices? Are reports that coal will be guaranteed a market share true? Can the Government's target for cutting carbon dioxide emissions be met if the market share for coal is to be protected in the way that has been reported? Is not there a clear dilemma? Why has coal been singled out for a guaranteed market share, when renewables, to which Labour Members have referred, have not?

How do the Government expect to raise the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources from its current level of about 1 per cent. to 10 per cent. in the next 12 years? What specific steps are they taking to achieve that goal? Does the Minister believe that allocating 5 per cent. of his budget for energy research on renewables is sufficient? What will the Government say at next month's meeting when the European White Paper on renewables is discussed?

We are now almost two thirds of the way through the British presidency of the European Union. What lead has Britain given to the European Union since 1 January on climate change issues? How is the EU's climate change strategy coming along? Is the Minister satisfied with the progress that has been made on agreeing burden sharing within the EU? Does he agree that, after four months in the chair of EU Council meetings, Britain has little or no tangible progress to show on the environmental front? As the hon. Members for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and for Ceredigion said, the Government can offer leadership, not only within Europe but at the next G8 meeting, and carry forward the Kyoto agenda.

We should not overlook nuclear energy. Does the Minister accept that it is, at least in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, a clean fuel? Does he believe that it has a role to play in helping the Government to reach their carbon dioxide emission cuts targets? Will he redress the disgraceful and alarming secrecy surrounding the Government's decision to accept fuel from Russia for reprocessing at Dounreay by being open, at least about Government policy on nuclear energy?

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Do the Government believe that energy policy should be primarily dictated by the market? If so, does the Minister believe that that will protect the environment? Are the Government willing to use the tax system to influence the market in an environmentally friendly direction and, if so, how? Have the green Ministers met to discuss energy policy since Kyoto? How often have they met and what has been the outcome of those meetings? Will the Minister publish the minutes of them? What have the Government done to promote energy efficiency on their own estate and when will the latest figures be published?

After a year in power, it is no longer acceptable for Ministers to hide behind endless reviews. The hard choices of which the Prime Minister speaks so frequently cannot be ducked for ever. The time comes to stop reviewing and start deciding. For energy policy, that time is now. Four months after Kyoto, Britain's strategy on climate change is shrouded in obscurity. Our international influence will start to wane if we do not set out how we intend to achieve those challenging targets.

When the Prime Minister addressed the earth summit last year, he did not qualify his green rhetoric by saying that any action would have to await the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. Given the difficulty of extracting any information from the Government about their follow-up to Kyoto, I conclude with one simple suggestion. Why do not the Government publish half-yearly a progress report about how they are meeting the Kyoto targets? I am confident that such a report would be welcomed on both sides of the House. Even if the Minister cannot accept the other suggestions made in the debate, surely he can at least make that one commitment.


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