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9.20 pm

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). He is always thought-provoking and provocative, but I thought that his declaration of support for the previous, Conservative Government's energy policy omitted mention of the huge destruction caused to many mining communities by the extremely vindictive policies pursued by his party in government. That is a classic example of how not to promote sustainable development and the greening of policy in the UK.

The Government deserve considerable praise for the seriousness of their preparations for the Johannesburg summit. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first international leader to commit himself to attend the summit, and the way in which my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for International Development and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have engaged in the preparations for it is hardly consistent with the lack of enthusiasm that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) tried to depict.

I shall support the Government's amendment tonight, but whoever drafted it might usefully have included a series of other policy measures that the Government have introduced. They include, for example, the launch of the renewables obligation, the extra £200 million that will go to develop our renewables industry, and the publication only today of the UK's combined heat and power strategy. They are all examples of other measures that the Government have taken to promote sustainability in the UK.

I want briefly to highlight three specific issues on which more needs to be done. I welcome the good judgment shown once again by Mr. Speaker in selecting for debate in Westminster Hall next week the subject of renewable energy. The debate will be opened by the hon. Member for Harrow, West, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones)—who has rightly highlighted the need for us to stimulate the take-up of sustainable energy in a variety of ways—will participate too.

Combined heat and power is a neglected source of energy. The Government have gone some way towards addressing the matter with the publication today of their CHP strategy. However, there are other things that need to be done when it comes to implementing the strategy.

The decision of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget to exempt CHP fully from the climate change levy was welcome, but it must be implemented swiftly and effectively if the mood and climate in the CHP industry are to be turned around. I understand that there could be a delay before the measure comes into force, as EU approval for such state aid is required. However, I hope that the Government will act speedily to ensure that that approval is secured.

As I mentioned in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who opened the debate for the Government, there is urgent need for reform

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of the new electricity trading arrangements. The way in which Ofgem has tried to drag its feet in the matter is unacceptable. Representatives of the CHPA and Ofgem met only last week, but Ofgem's chief executive, Mr. McCarthy, seemed entirely unable to spell out how Ofgem intended to resolve the problem.

Mr. Simon Thomas: Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that in its evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, Ofgem said that it had not yet been issued with the statutory environmental guidelines that the Department of Trade and Industry is supposed to issue? Is he concerned that Ofgem's attitude towards NETA and renewable energy has been governed by a narrow interpretation of the legislation and not by the wider context that those statutory guidelines would have helped to create? Will he join me in urging the Government to introduce those guidelines, as there is an obvious failing in Ofgem?

Mr. Thomas: As I indicated, I have grave concerns about Ofgem's behaviour in this context. I do not accept its argument that it is the Government's fault. The Government have made their views on what they want Ofgem to do very clear. Frankly, Ofgem needs to get on with it quickly.

I hope that the Government will take advantage of the powers in the Utilities Act 2000 to create a CHP obligation in the same way as the obligation has been created for renewables. I also hope that there will be a correction of what appears to be a genuine mistake that has imposed the full costs of the renewables obligation on, ironically, CHP schemes, causing unintended significant additional costs for many CHP developers.

My second point concerns steps that could be taken to promote business consideration of environmental issues such as climate change and waste minimisation. My right hon. Friend the Minister quite rightly touched on the importance of promoting corporate social responsibility. Some large businesses have, through the production of environmental reports, already begun to address sustainable development at boardroom level. Over the past 10 years, a whole industry has virtually been created around corporate social and environmental reporting. There are very good examples of businesses reporting on environmental and other issues. However, much more could be done in the business world. The Prime Minister rightly issued a challenge to the top 300 FTSE companies to produce a substantive environmental report. The truth is that some two thirds have not yet responded properly to that challenge.

The time has come for us to consider whether we need to require companies of a certain size to publish meaningful information on their environmental performance every year so that consumers, shareholders and investors can judge how they have performed in that area. It is superficially attractive to argue that voluntary initiatives should be left to work and that simply urging and chiding the business world is enough, but there have been examples of the voluntary approach not working. The energy rating scheme, for example, was developed throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The then Government declined for several years to set any standards but eventually had to intervene to clarify the

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confusion that was created. That is an example of the merit of requiring a certain basic level of environmental information to be published by all major companies.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was at the Department of Trade and Industry, she quite rightly established the company law review, which published its final report in July last year. A key recommendation of the report was to have a new requirement on most large public companies to produce an operating and financial review as part of the company's annual report. It was suggested that sets of both mandatory and voluntary information should be published in that review. Sadly, it was recommended that the voluntary category should include all policies and performance on environmental issues. I hope that Ministers will not accept that suggestion, but instead require big business to publish certain basic environmental indicators.

Last year, DEFRA published a series of environmental indicators that businesses could use. They set out how businesses could work up information and clear guidance was offered on three key points: greenhouse gas emissions; waste disposal; and water usage. It would be useful if businesses could publish information on those points and I hope Ministers will consider that requirement.

The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) referred to waste. Although I welcome the fact that the performance and innovation unit is considering that issue, there is scope for a debate in this place to reflect the considerable concern in many of our communities about the scourge of litter and the increasingly rapid escalation of household waste.

I hope that Ministers will respond to those points and that we can make further progress on taking up the sustainability challenge in the UK.

9.30 pm

Sue Doughty (Guildford): In February, Margot Wallstrom, the EU Environment Commissioner, said:

Since Kyoto, there has been some danger that, as she feared:

It is reasonable to expect developed countries to take action before they commit themselves and to pursue economic growth in a way that does not break environmental limits.

The agenda for the world summit has moved on; it is no longer purely environmental but offers the opportunity to provide a framework for the integration of trade, development, environment and social questions. That is understandable given the rapid escalation of issues relating to trade, justice and debt that so affect the poorest countries of the world.

The Government have tended to focus their attention on support for those countries in the key aspects of water, energy, health, food security and governance. How far have we moved towards meeting our responsibilities, however? What has happened since Rio? How can we make sure that we use the impetus of Johannesburg to

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energise our initiatives to meet our responsibilities? We must ensure that we do not miss the opportunities offered by Johannesburg.

The UK Government must use the momentum of the Johannesburg process to strengthen their commitment to the centrality of sustainable development at all levels in the UK. We must firmly entrench sustainable strategies and their regular monitoring in national, regional and local government. Too often, there is a gap between central Government, who initiate measures—on waste management, for example—and local government which wants to implement them but does not have the means to do so.

The debate has been wide ranging, although I know that hon. Members wanted to cover many more points. We have many more questions about the Government's plans and we could have done with more time. When we consider what the Government are doing, we find that there are many principles but not much practice. The Government's website defines sustainable development. It gives the history, objectives and guiding and precautionary principles, but instruments and mechanisms, strategies and legislation are yet to come. We need them now.

We need targets and timetables for many aspects of sustainable development. As the Secretary of State for International Development said, we do not merely need the odd renewable energy project. We need to ensure that, as the poorest nations develop their economies, they do not make the same mistakes as we did with fossil fuels.

We need to strengthen our own renewable energy businesses so that we can offer development help to those who need it. We have been missing a trick; Germany has moved much faster than us and is offering such help—we should be doing the same.

We can do much more to promote green electricity, perhaps with publicity. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) thinks that we are not doing enough. Perhaps he does not read our strategies for green energy by 2050—we have the long term in view. I wish that I could persuade London Electricity to do what I say and give me my green tariff. I have pleaded with London Electricity for that tariff. We want it; we try to deliver.

Energy is fundamental to economic and social development. It is fundamental to human economic activity and access to services. We need those services not just for ourselves; we must demand them for others as well. Some 2 billion people lack access to modern energy services. If they are to achieve decent standards of living by using traditional fossil fuels, the impact on the planet will be totally devastating.

What are we doing at home? We still have concerns at home. People are saying that the Home Energy Conservation Bill is wonderful. Yes, we know that it is wonderful. Like everyone else, we have been asking for the Bill, yet it is like being left waiting at the church. On Second Reading, the Government said that they support the Bill. HECA officers—the people who implement the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—want to deliver the proposals at local government level. They are waiting for the Bill and they are saying, "What is the point if there are no targets? We might as well not bother."

We have a letter from the Minister without Portfolio in which he says that the Government have supported that Bill at every stage and will continue to do so, yet we have

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a problem every time that we try to include targets in the Bill. It was intended to deliver sustainable energy targets to reduce greenhouse gases, but the Government have moved amendments to remove those targets.

On 14 January, in response to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), the Minister for the Environment said:

However, he also suggested that the Bill could not be funded because the money was not there. So the Bill will come back and we will all troop in again, but I hope that the Government will not persuade the Bill's promoter to talk it out. I hope that it will be enacted. We are debating our role on the world stage, so it will be a matter of shame if we cannot even implement the Home Energy Conservation Bill.

I realise that hon. Members are waiting to hear the winding-up speeches in this very interesting debate, but many other issues could be covered. Hon. Members have referred to waste management and the problem that waste is being created faster than the economy is developing. Plastic bottles are being recycled and made into drainage tubes, but the company that does that work in the United Kingdom is importing bottles from Belgium because the Government have failed to implement a sustainable waste strategy that works.

We still have to deal with the challenges about sustainable timber. Hon. Members will remember that the Government had to back-track on all the comings and goings and silliness about the wood that was used in the Cabinet Office.

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