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5.45 pm

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I was surprised earlier to hear the forlorn Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), say that there was no mention of the environment in the Queen's Speech. Surely an energy Bill would be at the heart of the environment. I see that the hon. Gentleman has now been replaced by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). Perhaps he will be able to take my message back, or perhaps not.

I hope that we can learn a simple lesson, and that is that the environment does not seem to be a great vote-catcher. Nor does it generate great headlines in the newspapers, except when things go badly wrong. It is a subject that tends to put people off. It is so complex, and it is difficult to understand how one thing impacts on another. People would perhaps rather ignore such matters. It is also a negative sort of subject, because usually we are expected to pay more for solutions that are advanced. There are many other problems on which I shall touch.

The Government have shown considerable courage in setting demanding targets not only to meet our obligations under the Kyoto agreement but to go much further. The target of a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon

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dioxide emissions by 2050 seems long-term, but the steps along that path come sooner rather than later. It is a cumulative target and not something that will suddenly happen on 1 January 2050.

The Government accept that during the period up to 2020 the extra burden of changing to green energy might add 5 to 15 per cent. to household electricity costs, and 5 per cent. to gas costs. I would argue that energy prices have been artificially low in the past four or five years, and that that has been a restraint on developing new green electricity generation.

We know the damage that the new electricity trading arrangements have caused to the development of combined heat and power, for example, but until fairly recently, everybody paid a 10 per cent. surcharge on electricity bills to prop up the nuclear power industry through the non-fossil fuel obligation. Mrs. Thatcher's nuclear tax put billions of pounds into a failing and unaffordable industry when that money should have gone into research and development work on renewable alternatives, a resource which the country possesses in abundance.

If we had followed that route, it would not now be the Danes and the Germans rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of our providing them with new export markets; it would be the other way round. On my visit to those countries to see their renewable energy industries, I was struck that they were investing so heavily not merely to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels but to develop extremely high-value new technologies to support their industrial strategies. I am sure that their approach will pay off big time. Their technology is at the cutting edge, and it is currently to these countries that we look when we seek answers to tackling climate change.

A backward-looking approach to our energy needs came to an end with the publication of the energy White Paper.

It is one of the best things published by the Government, at least since I was elected, and I say so despite my membership of the Environmental Audit Committee, which was critical of parts of it. Those criticisms reflect our impatience to get beyond the starting gate and move well and truly down the road that other countries are progressing along. True, some of those countries have not been saddled with an outmoded technology as we have. It is also true that we will now be groaning under the enormous burden of nuclear decommissioning costs as well as ongoing commitments to dinosaurs such as British Energy. If only the £3 billion to £4 billion cost of decommissioning just one nuclear power installation could be spent on developing wind, tidal and wave technology, combined heat and power and solar technology instead—what a missed opportunity—but we are where we are, to coin a phrase, and we must make progress as swiftly as possible.

I call on the Government to develop new thinking on air transport, as well as on investment in research and development of alternatives to fossil-fuelled road transport. In the latter case, I have no doubt that car use will continue to rise, because people enjoy the freedom it confers, as well as the comfort and sense of security. However, most car use is for relatively short journeys to the shops or work—precisely the kind of journeys where rechargeable battery-powered vehicles, or perhaps

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hybrids to start with, could make all the difference in reducing pollution. We should be doing more as a nation to invest in research and development work on such vehicles.

As for air transport, the argument now is that everyone should have the so-called right or freedom to fly, which sounds attractive. We are told in the air industry's lobbying and propaganda that it is a class issue. All I can say is that that is patent nonsense, as the projected growth rates for air transport produced by the Department for Transport clearly show that gains elsewhere in carbon reduction will be greatly reduced, or even knocked out, by the impact of all that extra flying. While electricity consumers at home, including working families, will be asked to pay an extra 5 to 15 per cent. for their green electricity, all the gains from that sacrifice may be swallowed up if people are not asked to pay any more for their cheap holidays. That is not a sensible balance, nor is it joined-up government. Air fares and air travel need to be managed. Prices have fallen every year for umpteen years, when they should at least have gone up in line with inflation. The fantastic freebies that the airlines get should be abolished. Fuel duties and VAT should be charged, and we should pay no attention to the fallacious and misleading arguments that the airlines lobbying industry is putting around.

I suppose that that is one reason why there are no votes in the environment. Everyone wants the new human right to fly, but nobody wants to live under a flight path. Everyone wants safe and secure electricity, but no one wants to live next to a wind farm. A lot of the people who do not want to live next to a wind farm—I can think of some fairly well-known if not infamous names—are the very same people who would not dream of living next to a coal-fired power station with all its slag heaps, nor indeed next to a nuclear power plant with all its inherent dangers. Nimbyism is rife, which is why I support the Government's endeavours to loosen the planning laws and ensure that the country's strategic environmental needs are not derailed by nimbyism.

Once again, however, there is a need for joined-up government. A good part of Yorkshire—Yorkshire is full of good parts, and I cannot think of any bad ones—is tied up by Ministry of Defence exclusion zones in which no wind farms can be developed. The MOD seems to have a much more refusenik attitude than is taken in other European countries, and I am not aware that their defence has been impinged on in any way whatever. The MOD must move into the 21st century, or it may be spending all its time in future defending vulnerable gas pipelines through some of the most hostile, unstable terrorist-infested territory in the world. In connection with nimbyism, I welcome the Government's introduction of a Bill on community interest companies, which could be used to emulate the German model. In Germany, people's objections to wind farms have been reduced because they can participate in companies that own the wind farms and generate electricity and income for the local community. I hope that the Government will give that model serious consideration.

We have a choice. We can either continue to base our economy on the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries, which has brought us to the brink of a global calamity, or we can behave responsibly in the 21st century and wholeheartedly embrace clean, renewable energy. The

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decision must be made now. As Professor Lester Brown, one of the world's leading environmentalists, told a recent seminar in Portcullis House, the consequences of climate change are already showing themselves very clearly. He noted that grain and rice crops are beginning to fail, notably in China, where the reduction is equivalent to Canada's entire grain harvest. Global warming is contributing to the fact that grain reserves are at an all-time low, and countries that were once self-sufficient are coming to the world market for supplies. Food prices will inevitably be forced up, probably in the next two to three years. Land where crops were once grown is succumbing to desertification and irreplaceable aquifers are becoming exhausted. Those are consequences of carbon-dependent economies, so the Government's energy Bill will, I hope, receive all-party support. It should be welcomed not as an end in itself, but as a new beginning.

5.56 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen), particularly for his comments on the aviation industry and the excellent report that the Environmental Audit Committee published on aviation. I have a constituency interest, as Heathrow is in my constituency. I was not going to argue about why we should not have any further expansion at Heathrow, but then I heard the comments of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I am sorry that she is not in the Chamber at the moment, but I am also rather relieved, because it is always best not to upset certain Members. I may be an MP but I am not completely stupid. I rather took exception to her saying that people who oppose further expansion at Heathrow are part of an obsessive lobby group. In fact, they are ordinary people who are concerned about their health and that of their children, as well as the future of their communities. As there is no Transport Minister in the Chamber at the moment, suffice it to say that the Government can read my arguments against expansion at Heathrow in Hansard.

My remarks also apply to other parts of the south-east, and what the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell and his Committee have said must be taken seriously. Despite the fact that it is not a vote winner, perhaps we have to face up to the reality that cheap flights are not a human right. I am sure that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich is an assiduous reader of Hansard, so I had better say that I agree that there is very little legislation on transport, which matters a great deal to all our constituents and needs to be addressed.

I noticed that a Bill on school transport is to be introduced. Until I see its detail, however, I will keep my powder dry. I know that it is a draft measure, and may even come before the Transport Committee if we are lucky, but it may be worth widening its remit so that it covers more than school transport. Brunel university is in my constituency, and many problems are caused by students arriving by car. The university is doing its best to try to encourage them to use public transport, but its attempts are not entirely successful. It is all very well introducing legislation and saying that people must use public transport, but there is usually a way around it. It will be interesting to see what happens.

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I suppose that it is a sign of getting older when the debate on the Queen's Speech seems to come around more quickly. This year, it was a bit later, as the Government had a bit of trouble in the other place with some of their legislation. Interestingly, as our job is to legislate, we feel that we always have to find Bills to introduce. It would be nice to hear a Gracious Speech in which Her Majesty said "There's not much else that I've got to do, as my Government have done it all." Patently, however, this Government have not done it all. I look forward to a Conservative Government sending us all away again once we arrive, saying "There's not much to do; come back in a couple of months and we'll tidy up a couple of things." I know that that would go down well, but colleagues will be pleased to know that I am not making a leadership bid.

The Queen's Speech contains some measures that we should be pleased about, including on domestic violence, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) mentioned. Those of us who support improved legislation to protect the environment, however, will be especially disappointed with what is, or is not, in the Queen's Speech. The issue of most concern to me personally is the lack of any proposals to improve the conservation and management of the marine environment. Labour Members might say that there is not enough time and that they have had two terms and are still looking for another to try to sort out the things that they promised to sort out in 24 hours, but I can make a few suggestions about measures in the Queen's Speech that we could possibly do without.

I am not averse to the idea of House of Lords reform, but the suggestions that have been made over the years in which I have been in Parliament have not taken my fancy. Although people might assume that I take a certain view on hereditaries, as I speak as an hereditary retailer myself, I cannot see what point there is in removing them if we are not going to go the whole way. Still, in a rare admission of getting something wrong, I must say that when I first voted against the three-line Whip, it was on House of Lords reform and in favour of an all-elected Chamber. The policy changed shortly afterwards, but—perhaps this is a little bit of the strange behaviour of those of us from Uxbridge—I have now changed my view and do not think that a wholly elected Chamber is the answer. It is not that that option is not intellectually the answer, but that I think that it does not work practically. That is one Bill that the Government could remove to make way for a Bill that I shall suggest in a moment.

The abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor falls into the same category. I dare say that there are people who know much more about the legal system than me and say that it is a jolly good idea, but it has not struck the average man and woman in the street in my constituency as the most important issue. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition demolished the Government's argument in respect of the referendum Bill for the euro, and I shall not repeat what he said.

I shall be stepping into controversial territory in speaking about the next Bill that I want to mention, which I know did not feature in the Queen's Speech, and I see that the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality is in his place to respond. I refer to the Hunting Bill. Before Labour Members get excited

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and think "There goes another Tory on this subject," I should say that it is a matter of record that I have voted against hunting, and in favour of a ban. I am, however, getting sick and tired of the whole thing, and the Minister may share my views, having been given what is known in rugby terms as a hospital pass in being landed with the Bill last time around, when he became tied up in his golden threads and so forth. The Government seem unwilling to do what members of their party and some Opposition Members want to do. If we waste any more time on the subject, it will upset a lot of people who have strong views. However, although most people in my constituency would say that they were against hunting on being asked whether they took a view on it, I do not think that they want a great deal of time to be wasted on legislation when there are so many other important subjects to be looked at.

Hon. Members who occasionally find themselves in the Chamber on a Friday may remember that I was lucky enough a couple of years ago to come top in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I introduced the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill, as I was seeking to do my bit for our seas and for important wildlife sites that are currently unprotected. I am pleased to say that that Bill enjoyed good cross-party support, as well as firm backing from the former Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). I think that the principle was also supported by the now Minister for the Environment. He is a fellow birdwatcher, and I know that, like me, he recognises the value of the UK's marine environment and understands why we need to do more to protect it.

Hon. Members will probably know—they will almost certainly be saddened—that my Bill was defeated in another place, despite the strong support that it had in the Commons and in the other place. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may also think that that would give me a reason to want House of Lords reform, but I stick to what I said earlier: the suggestions that have been made will not help the situation, as appointed Lords will not have to listen to constituents.

I was especially disappointed to see that the Government's new programme of legislation contained nothing on those issues. I hope that that is not because the Minister for the Environment was unable to persuade the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the marine environment is a priority; if he wants some help, I shall come round and see what I can do. However, I shall be positive. I know that the Minister will be pleased to hear me say that the Government have published their marine stewardship report. There is also an ongoing Government-sponsored review of marine nature conservation, which I think will issue its report soon.

The Government will say that that should be proof of their commitment to introduce legislation, but no amount of consultation and deliberation can disguise the fact that we seem to have been waiting for legislation for an awfully long time. Those of us who support better marine conservation and management are beginning to feel that we might be waiting for Godot. I hope that the Government can assure me that we will see some legislative proposals very soon. Perhaps Ministers will have some exciting news for the Select Committee on

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when they appear as part of its current marine environment inquiry.

Ministers will be aware of the campaign being conducted by the Wildlife and Countryside Link, which includes organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the WWF-UK, the Wildlife Trusts, the Marine Conservation Society and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. They are all seeking comprehensive legislation to improve the protection and management of our marine environment. I support their campaign, as I am sure many hon. Members do, and their contention that the protection of our seas has fallen well behind what we are doing on land and urgently needs to catch up. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and more recently the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, have been introduced to sort out the way in which we protect our most precious wildlife sites on land, and we urgently need equivalent action on the marine environment.

Those measures serve only to highlight the chasm or abyss—I think that that is the appropriate marine term for a deep, dark hole—that has opened up between terrestrial and marine conservation. We need a saltwater equivalent of the Wildlife and Countryside Link's campaign. Specifically, we need better protection of marine wildlife and heritage sites, which my private Member's Bill, in a modest way, went some way towards securing. That includes improved species protection and stronger enforcement of marine legislation to ensure that we can deliver what we say we will deliver in the marine environment.

There should also be a marine spatial planning system. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill deals with land-based issues, but we should also think about the marine environment, because intelligent and informed decisions must be taken about which parts of our marine sphere we can and should develop and which areas we should protect, as well as about the better management of inshore fisheries. That might appear to be an expansive and ambitious package, but it is one that we should all support.

I recognise, of course, that legislation on the environment is more likely to be given Government time if it is seen as having wider benefits. In my opinion, comprehensive marine laws could be a winner in that respect, too. At present, the marine environment is governed—I use the term loosely—by a range of often conflicting and outdated legislation and regulation, with plenty of gaps between the constituent parts. That is bad news not only for marine wildlife but for commercial, industrial and leisure users of the marine environment. New, rationalised legislation to provide a more strategic approach to marine planning could deliver a range of benefits for those sectors. For example, developers of offshore wind farms face the same problems with locating wind farms at sea as they do with those on land.


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