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9.7 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests.

There is a central tension, referred to in the report accompanying the debate, between development and the need to clean up the planet. I do not think that we heard any serious attempt to reconcile the two—except in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who said that, if forced to choose, he would choose development and greater prosperity for the world's poorer nations rather than meeting ever more demanding targets for control of pollution.

How, I asked the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), would the Liberal Democrats resolve that obvious tension? The hon. Gentleman replied that he would want to see a global target for ensuring that pollution fell year on year world wide, whatever the rate of growth and whatever the rate of increase in pollution from the world's poorest countries. That is a noble aim, but a dangerous aim for anyone in government, or serious about governing, to recommend.

We cannot know how successful development policies will be, and we cannot know how many millions of Chinese or Indians will soon have fridges and cars, and far greater energy demands. It would be quite wrong of us in the rich west to tell those people that they have no

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right to enjoy the energy-intensive technologies that have powered our prosperity in recent decades, and it would be very difficult for us to say that we will definitely tax and regulate ourselves stringently enough—in the way that Liberal Democrats usually recommend—to offset all the potentially huge growth in energy use in the developing world.

I am sure that those who have spoken today—including the Minister—who are angry about poverty in the third world, about the deaths of children and about the hundreds of millions who have no access to fresh water of a decent standard or to energy of any kind that we would recognise are right to be angry. I am sure that our priority should be to extend the hand of friendship, trade, prosperity and technology to the hundreds of millions in the dozens of countries all over the world who have no access to the most rudimentary of the home and creature comforts that we all take for granted. That surely must be the priority of this mighty summit as, once again, 65,000 people assemble to try to put the world to rights.

If we ask ourselves what the UK Government can do to tackle the monumental poverty that disfigures our world, we realise that the issues are too numerous to mention in this short debate, but let me highlight just a few. The first is surely that where we have influence and the ability to use it for the good, we must try to stem the conflicts and move developing countries towards regimes that put economic prosperity and liberty ahead of war and of declaring war on their own people for their own political ends. There is no credit to be gained by advancing money in the form of grant or loan to regimes that use it to buy new Mercedes for the generals running the country and new military hardware to repress their poor people if they dare to complain about the rotten system under which they live.

I ask the Minister to remind the House of the Government's policy, which I support, of not offering grant or debt retirement to regimes that will clearly abuse our money and our trust. It was not easy for the Secretary of State to defend that policy and I admire the fact that she has done so, but we need to go beyond that and move from the negative to the positive.

We need to use our influence and that of the other rich countries who are our allies and friends both in the Americas and in the European Union to try to move more countries into a position where they can establish a civil society. Without a civil society and the rule of law, there is absolutely no chance of those countries having the opportunity to become better off and have decent food and water. If we cannot support Governments and regimes and forces of legitimate opposition that wish to establish a decent civil society, we will have no chance of doing all the other wonderful things that we would like to do to help their development, such as encouraging private sector investment and money flows, which are usually the best way of securing prosperity.

We should understand that not only does five times as much money flow from the private sector to the developing world as from Governments, but that the money that flows from the private sector to the private sector in developing countries is much more useful in lifting the living standards and aspirations of people than is much of the Government-to-Government money. Many good studies show how much Government-to-

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Government money is wasted or diverted into less legitimate causes by the Governments who receive it. Even where we believe that to some extent a regime is worth backing, corruption or misappropriation still occurs, making it difficult for the subjects of that country to benefit.

Finally, we should attempt to understand the mighty log in our eye when we look at the moral issue of the world's poor. Surely the biggest log in our eye, collectively, in the European Union and in the UK is the common agricultural policy. Many developing countries are most likely to produce crops for export before they have industrial products for export. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), but one of the best opportunities that these countries have is to sell agricultural exports for hard currency. One reason why the global markets are so depressed is that the EU runs a protection racket in many sectors, so that a big block of the world's most mighty and rich countries is not generating sufficient demand on the world markets to encourage developing economies.

I welcome all the charities and interest groups from outside the House who have been lobbying and will continue to lobby for fair trade. It is a very good idea, but it must also be reflected in Government policy on the EU. We have heard for many years from Governments of both persuasions about reforming the CAP. We have heard from this Government that they have far more influence in Brussels than the outgoing Conservative Government had. Would it not be good if we could be told tonight that at last this influence will work and there will be some reform of the CAP that will be good for consumers and taxpayers here in Britain? It would be very good for the world's poorest countries if some of that protection racket were at last torn down and their farmers given the chance of a decent life.

I believe that we in the rich United Kingdom should make ever bigger contributions to reducing the pollution that we inject into the planet's atmosphere. We have made good strides, and we need to make more. The two most dramatic developments in recent years came about in rather surprising ways. Following the privatisation of the electricity industry, it suddenly became possible to build the combined cycle gas stations that the nationalised monopoly always refused to build. We leapt from about 38 per cent. fuel efficiency to 55 or 60 per cent., which made a huge difference to the amount of pollution that we churn out.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) pointed out in a thoughtful contribution, this Government now face an even bigger challenge. The previous, Conservative Government were able to implement a super-green privatisation policy, which made far and away the biggest contribution to our success so far in reducing pollution. We now need from this Government a policy on what to do when the nuclear stations need to be replaced. If they are not going to replace nuclear with nuclear—it is very unlikely that they can replace it with non-fossil fuel of any other kind, given the pathetic efforts so far—what else do they intend to do to get us back to where we should be? We will take a mighty step backwards if nuclear stations are replaced by gas, or some other fossil fuel technology.

Paradoxically, the second area in which we have made enormous strides is the pariah—according to the Liberal Democrat lexicon on environmental matters—of the

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motor car. Huge improvements have been made in the performance of the typical family saloon in the past decade. Current family saloons pollute to only about 4 per cent. of the extent of comparable vehicles built some 12 or 15 years ago. That has been achieved through a combination of incentive, technology and regulation. Such massive improvement shows that technology in free markets can make a big contribution to cleaning up the planet. We now need to make a similar attack on pollution from old and dirty diesel railway locomotives, and from old and dirty diesel buses. We have not renewed the bus and train fleet as quickly as the car fleet, so proportionately public transport vehicles—particularly those that are not used by enough passengers—pollute more than do the modern versions of motor cars.

I hope that the Government want the car industry to progress from 30 or 40 mpg vehicles to 80 or 90 mpg vehicles. The technology exists, and it can be done. I hope, too, that they want to make yet further progress in cleaning up exhausts through a mixture of incentive and regulation. That brings me to a very important principle. We make so much more progress if we work with the grain of human nature by offering incentive, rather than working against it by trying to stop people enjoying our society's marvellous inventions through a mixture of high taxation and regulation. The two successes in green policy—first, under a Conservative Government, and now under a Labour Government—involved offering a tax discount for good conduct, rather than clobbering people for alleged bad conduct. The Conservatives began getting rid of lead in petrol by offering an incentive to buy unleaded fuel, and this Government are getting rid of sulphur in petrol by offering a similar discount. That is an excellent scheme; let us go on with it.

One major way in which we can contribute to greening our country—and thereby modestly contribute to greening the planet—is to use a similar range of tax incentives to tackle the dirt and pollution generated by the typical home heating system. A generation of boilers that are very old—compared with the average age of car engines—and inefficient remains in use. Many homes are not properly thermally insulated. A few small programmes exist to help people on low incomes get better insulation and achieve better fuel efficiency in the home, but we need to attack the problem much more manfully. In terms of pollution, the space heating problem is far bigger than the car problem. We also need to establish a better tax incentive policy to tackle the abuse of waste, to which reference has already been made.

I am conscious that many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude by urging the Government to put development ahead of everything else at the summit. It is the blight of poverty that we should be most appalled at and worried by. The Government should understand that we need to contribute to stronger regimes that can create a civil society, and to back the private sector, which will be the main agent for change and improvement in such countries. We need desperately to deal with our common agricultural policy problem, and with the other remaining barriers to trade within our European trading framework.

We need to make much better strides at home towards greening our own country. However, that should be done by judicious regulation and tax discount, and not by

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treating anyone who drives a car or behaves in a way that the Government do not like as a pariah who must be taxed out of existence.

We can enjoy the benefits of modern technology, and we can make them ever greener. Wealth and technology will win the battle against pollution, not taxation and backward thinking.

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