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1.23 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I am disappointed that we are not debating drugs. It is a discourtesy, not to us but to our constituents and those interest groups that have taken the trouble to brief us and ask us to attend a debate, that their plans and hopes can be dashed at short notice. I am sorry that the Home Office is too busy to discuss the important issue of drugs, especially when it has time to introduce Bills to permit sex discrimination that otherwise would be unlawful. However, that is not a criticism of the Minister.

I recognise the work that this Government and previous Governments have done on the fairly narrow interpretation of clean fuels. I am not as critical as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). Had he seen "Yes Minister" he would know that a consultation that is due to be completed by the end of the summer is unlikely to be completed before Christmas, and that spring in Government terms means any time before the summer recess.

I would like to extend the debate a little further than the issue of road fuels, which is the one that has taken up most of the debate. I wish to consider other clean fuels, for which the Isle of Wight is one of the centres. It is the home of world yachting, and yachts are driven by the cleanest fuel of all. The Americas Cup jubilee, which we celebrated earlier this year, was the 150th anniversary of the oldest international sporting fixture in the world, and it created the memorable sight of the J-class yachts that were built in the 1920s and 1930s. They are still seaworthy and are entirely driven by clean fuel.

I hope that the Government will recognise the role of yachting in the economy—particularly on the south coast of England and on the island—and consider adventurously whether increasing sail-assisted shipping would assist the non-urgent transmission of goods from one part of the world to another.

I hope that the Government will also recognise the work that is being done on GBR Challenge, the entry to the next Americas Cup, which is to take place in Wellington, New Zealand in 2003. GBR Challenge is being built and developed in yards in Cowes in my constituency, taking advantage of another important characteristic of the island—the fact that it is a centre for advanced plastics technology.

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Two companies, in particular—SP System and Aerolaminates—are involved in the development of plastics for the sails on wind farms. The island is rapidly becoming a centre for Britain's wind technology.

Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way that the Government could show their genuine commitment to clean fuel and environmentalism is by supporting yachting and gliding which are celebrations of British sport at its best and clean in terms of their environmental impact?

Mr. Syms: As is hang gliding.

Mr. Turner: As is hang gliding, with which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has some acquaintance.

I was disappointed that the only Minister to attend the Americas Cup jubilee was the New Zealand Education Minister. Not only did no Minister from the Government attend, but it appeared that Ministers in the Foreign Office did not even know that the Minister from New Zealand was in the country at the time.

I hope that the Minister will consider appropriate measures to deal with the problems of visual and aural pollution caused by wind-farm technology. Offshore wind farming is acceptable even to the yachting community. It has a higher capital cost, but a much reduced running cost compared to onshore technology. That is because one needs three sails onshore to reduce aural pollution, but only two sails offshore. Offshore technology is much more efficient and has lower running costs. I hope that the Minister will say something about encouraging offshore wind farms in the future.

The island is also the Morris Minor capital of the world. I declare an interest as the owner of an MG that is neither classic nor vintage—it is just old. However, I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) asked for an assurance from the Minister—I hope that it will be given—that there are no plans to drive old cars off the road. We owners are quite capable of doing that ourselves.

I also wish to mention an issue that the horticulture industry on the island has recently drawn to my attention. As I said in my maiden speech, the island is famed for its horticulture industry—we export garlic to France—but I now wish to refer particularly to the tomato industry in the Arreton valley. The joint directors of Wight Salads spoke to me recently about two problems. One is the granting of massive subsidies for greenhouse fuels in Spain, leading to unfair competition with businesses on the island that receive no such subsidies. I do not believe it can be environmentally efficient to encourage the use of more fuels in greenhouses.

Another problem is the collapse of a combined heat and power company that was in train to deliver combined heat and power—which, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said, is considerably more environmentally sustainable than other sources of power. The tomato growers on the Isle of Wight, and indeed horticulturists elsewhere in the country, were relying on that company to deliver inexpensive and environmentally friendly fuel. The administrator—Railtrack is not the only organisation to need administration—is holding out for what they believe to be an unrealistic price for the company's assets.

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Communications with Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry have so far established no way of putting the scheme back on track. I hope that Ministers will regard combined heat and power as meriting at least as much urgent consideration as Railtrack. It is important to maintain the determination of horticulturists and others to use environmentally friendly fuel.

I hope that the Government will consider a number of other minor issues. It is essential that we improve public transport if we are to reduce the number of trips made by car. It is all very well talking about friendly fuel—fewer trips by car obviously mean even less pollution—but we must have the improvements in public transport in place first. We cannot drive the motorist off the roads by using a stick; we must encourage him off the roads by providing effective public transport.

In the context of Railtrack, let me say that I hope the Minister will keep an eye on the Island Line, which is the most efficient and punctual railway in the country. There are problems with the track bed all along the line from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin. There were commitments from Railtrack to keep the track bed in decent condition, and we do not want them to be lost.

I also hope that the Government will consider a reduction of building in the countryside. It is wholly inconsistent to call for house building all over the south-east, and then complain when people try to travel into London or other big cities by car to get to work. That is particularly true on the island, where there are plans for 8,000 new houses, half of them on greenfield sites.

It is not as though we have such an excess of jobs and such a demand for labour that we need people to come to the island to occupy those 8,000 new houses. In fact, we are one of the top 10 unemployment black spots in the south-east. Things are improving, but we do not need all those additional houses.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to considering a scheme for "green waves" of traffic lights, mentioned by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. When I travelled to Switzerland at the age of 10, 37 years ago, the system was already in place on the approach to Aachen. It seems to have taken us a very long time to learn from our European competitors, and I hope we can do something about it. I think particularly of the West Quay road in Southampton, where there are more traffic lights than there were at the time of the 1997 election. They seem to be staggered so that one reaches them all when they are red.

Aircraft fuels have not been mentioned yet, and I hope the Minister will mention them when he winds up. We need to do much more to reduce environmental pollution from aeroplanes, and aircraft fuels are one of the main sources of greenhouse gases. What plans have the Government to reduce the use of aeroplanes?

1.34 pm

Mr. Jamieson: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will reply to the debate.

This has been an interesting debate. We have covered many important environmental issues relating to clean fuels and demonstrated our shared concern for the environment and the air that we breathe. We all recognise that the vehicles and fuels that we use can play an important role in environmental improvement. I shall try

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to respond to as many of the points raised as I can, but such is the number of questions asked that I might not be able to answer them all.

I got the impression that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for North–East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), who was unable to remain for the rest of the debate, had not listened to the discussion that had occurred before he spoke, because I had already referred in my opening speech to many of the issues that he raised. He said that he wanted a different debate—he wanted to debate Railtrack or some other transport matter. I wonder why the Opposition did not choose to debate one of those topics on Tuesday; instead, I believe that they have decided to talk about the personalities in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I am flattered that they want to discuss my merits as a Minister at that Department, but I too would have preferred a discussion about some other transport issue. However, the subjects of debate on Opposition days are a matter for the Opposition, not the Government. Today's debate was in the Government's gift. We chose the subject and the speeches today prove that it is a valuable debate to have.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important point relating to the threat of terrorist action. As a former Northern Ireland Minister, he will understand why we do not discuss such matters in full, but I can assure him and the House that all precautionary steps have been taken in respect of the subjects that he raised.

The hon. Gentleman asked about discussions with the motor industry on cleaner fuels, especially the take-up of LPG. Those discussions are taking place. I understood him to accuse us at one point of being tardy in giving tax incentives for ultra-low sulphur fuel, having waited until this year to do so. That point was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller). I recall that just over a year ago we were criticised for proposing to give the incentive at a time when the fuel did not exist. I do not understand how one can give incentives for something that does not exist, but there we are—the fuel exists now, so perhaps we can expect guidance from the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire.

The hon. Gentleman and others asked about vehicle excise duty reflecting more than carbon dioxide emissions. The difficulty facing us is the need to make sure that VED concessions are clearly related to something that people understand, so that they understand why the concessions have been given. That is why we have chosen to pursue that course—that and the fact that carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas.

The hon. Gentleman asked about bus pollution and correctly identified buses as a significant contributor to air pollution in some areas. He and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) will be pleased to learn that London now has 800 more buses with particulate traps, which will contribute to reductions in PM10s.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire suggested that the Government were anti-car. What is better for the motorist than reducing congestion? It is pro-car and pro-motorist of us to work to reduce congestion. In the context of my Department, what could be more pro-motorist than offering concessions so that we

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have cheaper clean fuel and a cleaner environment? It is pro-motorist to enable people to drive along greener roads. I reject the proposition that the Government are anti-motorist. We are pro-motorist, but we are pro-clean travel as well. We want a cleaner environment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) has an impeccable record on green matters and raised some wider energy concerns, particularly security of supply and of the supply chain. She made some interesting points. A number of hon. Members referred to hydrogen, which is produced, essentially, in two ways; by electrolysis, and from materials that contain hydrogen, such as natural gas. The difficulty is that if we use electrolysis to produce hydrogen, we must produce the electricity cleanly so that the life cycle of the fuel is clean. Much of what we do depends on finding ways of producing the electricity sustainably and cleanly.

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