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12 Dec 2002 : Column 414—continued

Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is very apprised of the need to address this issue. I have little doubt that he will take the opportunity on this occasion, as he has done so often in the past, to make strongly the case in Britain's interests.

The common agricultural policy review represents a significant opportunity for reform. With the Doha agreement, it adds impetus to the case that we, along with other Governments, have been making for radical reform of the CAP. We look forward to important negotiations in both these policy areas during the next few weeks and in the course of next year. However, that is, of course, only a small part of the international agenda and the negotiations in which my Department is engaged.

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's environmental performance review of the UK, which was published a few days ago, shows evidence of progress in the effects of our domestic policy, in particular decoupling economic growth from at least some aspects of environmental degradation. We are also able to show progress in air quality, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions and levels of recycling.

Although it is right and good that we are achieving these improvements in the UK, the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in September brought into stark focus the position elsewhere in the world. One in six of the world's population lack access to safe drinking water and more than one in three lack adequate sanitation. More than 11,000 species are threatened and as much as two thirds of the world population could soon live in countries suffering from moderate or severe water stress. The problem of water access and the availability of clean water are very much related to climate change, but all these issues relate very directly to the sustainable development that is at the heart of my Department's purpose.

At the world summit, we got international agreement to tough new targets to halve the proportion of people without access to adequate sanitation by 2015. We also, for example, got agreement to work on chemicals and on the marine environment, which had long been considered important by campaigners and by the Government. Of course, with others, we were engaged in launching 200 specific and concrete partnerships to pursue sustainable development initiatives right across the globe.

We said before the Johannesburg summit, we said at Johannesburg and we continue to say now that that meeting was only the beginning of a process and not the end. Internationally—whether through the United Nations or within the EU—we must work to make sure that sustainable development is at the core and in the mainstream of policy making and that we pursue the action plans and ideas set out in Johannesburg. We shall continue to press that case. However, while we continue to pursue sustainable development internationally, we also have to continue to implement our own policies, augmented by the Johannesburg agreements, here at home.

I have already referred to the improvements in air and water quality. We have also implemented a whole package of measures, including the climate change levy and the climate change agreements with energy-intensive sectors of industry, to try to deal with the overall impact of climate change. The creation of the Carbon Trust and the promotion of good-quality combined heat and power, as well as of renewables and energy efficiency, are all key to the Government's domestic agenda.

In April we introduced the world's first economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme and, on Tuesday in Brussels, we and our Environment Council colleagues reached agreement on the shape of an EU emissions trading scheme that is to begin in 2005. The twin objectives of our scheme and of the slightly different EU-wide scheme, which has now been agreed, are not only to make emission reductions, but to give the business community a head start on the potentially

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billion-dollar carbon market. In the UK, there has already been an encouraging amount of trading in what is, at present, a fledgling market.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Although I am prepared to accept that the Secretary of State's Department takes these matters seriously, is it not true that her writ does not run to other Departments? There have been massive increases in carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector and this week's statement from the Secretary of State for Transport does nothing to help. There is a huge subsidy for nuclear power and nothing for renewables. Does not the problem arise from the fact that the right hon. Lady cannot deliver across other Departments? [Interruption.]

Margaret Beckett: I am afraid that I missed the hon. Gentleman's second point, although I caught the one about transport. As ever, it is not easy to deliver on these commitments, but we all recognise the concerns that he has identified. We have seen a substantial improvement in public transport, but no one from the Government doubts that there is a great need to do more. The fact that not everything can be done at once does not mean that we are not putting on the right kind of pressure and getting the right kind of response from our colleagues.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Has not my right hon. Friend's Department made preparations to examine Government as a whole in terms of a grid so that every Department can be considered from the point of view of sustainability and so that the Johannesburg commitments can be carried through?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. We are undertaking such work. We are now considering what is the most effective action to take and are examining what our European colleagues are doing. We will share good practice so as to give effect to the commitments that we all signed up to in Johannesburg. Globe UK, with which my hon. Friend is associated, made a substantial contribution to illuminating some of the issues. We were grateful to it for that.

We now have the benefit of an updated scientific study on the risks and impact of global climate change associated with greenhouse gases. The whole House will be aware that our royal commission on environmental pollution recently suggested that, to stabilise emissions at a level that does not run the risk of massively increasing environmental damage, we should be aiming for reductions of 60 per cent. or more in emissions by the year 2050. To meet such a challenge, technical innovation is certainly needed.

Mr. Curry: In the light of the report from the royal commission on environmental pollution, has the Secretary of State had discussions with the Department of Transport on airports policy?

Margaret Beckett: Yes.

Technical innovation is particularly needed when it comes to the issue of the emissions coming from developing countries. Their legitimate aspirations for economic development and for growth will inevitably include greater use of energy sources. Therefore, it is all the more important to try to ensure that—whatever the

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sources or resources used—they are used to the maximum possible efficiency. We must also look to find renewable and carbon-friendly low-carbon technologies that developing countries can exploit.

This is not the only issue where the Department has to consider and deal with important and controversial technological innovation. Genetic modification is, in itself, a technical tool that allows people to do what the human race has been doing since time began—and this is the entire basis of agriculture. It seeks to find ways of improving breeding stock. Although the technique offers greater speed and precision than age-old breeding techniques, it is not of itself different in kind. However, there is no doubt that it raises a great many genuine questions and real concerns. That is why the Government are now sponsoring a public dialogue to explore the questions and concerns that people have. In this and other areas, we want to be guided by evidence and sound science.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Does not one of the concerns about GM technology result from the fact that it is fundamentally different from all evolutionary processes? It allows science to cross all the frontiers that nature has previously set. Among the risk considerations that the Government and society have to address are the implications for the ability of infections and illnesses to cross the vectors and frontiers that science is also crossing.

Margaret Beckett: I have mixed feelings about my hon. Friend's observation. In one sense, he is, of course, right. We need to take those issues seriously, and they need careful thought and discussion. However, crossing the frontiers set by nature is what agriculture is and what human beings have been doing since the race first started to try to feed itself more successfully. If we were not doing that, we would not be able to sustain a population on this planet on anything like the scale that we do. He is right to express those anxieties and it is right that they are taken seriously, but it is also right to consider the issues in a proper and sensible context, which is what I hope the dialogue will foster, so that we can decide how to deal with that potent technical tool.

Mr. Weir: Following on from that point, does the right hon. Lady know that in evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health and Community Care Committee, the British Medical Association called for a moratorium on GM trials until there is more evidence of its long-term effects? She talks about discussing GM further. Does she agree that a moratorium would be sensible until that discussion is concluded?

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