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The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is entirely wrong. The proposals by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not weaken the work of English Nature or the advocacy role of the Countryside Agency: they will strengthen the service and the support given to rural people.
Mr. Yeo: That is an interesting assertion. When I met senior officials from English Nature recently, they said exactly the opposite. They were very concerned that their statutory rolean important role that has been carried out from time to time in defiance of ministerial wisheswill be weaker after the changes that the Government propose. For the reasons that I have mentioned, we have reservations about the proposed Bill and we hope that the promised pre-legislative scrutiny will provide the Government with the chance of a rethink.
We support the principles behind the animal welfare Bill, although we have some concerns about the extent to which it will give Ministers powers to act through secondary legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden will refer in more detail to the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill when she winds up later. Those measures are certainly necessary. Fly-tipping has increased by two fifths since 2001, littering increased by 12 per cent. last year, and the number of abandoned vehicles increased by 39 per cent. in two years. Unlike the present Government, we will take environmental crime seriously and we will start by making fly-tipping an arrestable offence.
I now turn to what was not in the Queen's Speech. There was a serious omission from the programme, which I hope the Minister will address: the absence of a marine conservation Bill. Will he explain the reason for that extraordinary omission? Is it, as many people fear, that his Department has simply been outgunned by the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry? If so, it is another worrying sign that on environmental matters the Government are all talk and lack real commitment. The Bill is urgently needed and, if introduced, would have our support.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who has worked tirelessly on that subject. His early-day motion 171 in the last Session attracted the support of about half the Members of the House. Both that early-day motion and his private Member's Bill in 2001 enjoyed all-party backing, as well as the endorsement of many outside organisations, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the World Wildlife Fund, the wildlife trusts and the Marine Conservation Society. It also enjoyed
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endorsement from the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. The absence of any marine equivalent to the sites of special scientific interest, despite the fact that more than half our biodiversity is in the marine environment, is scandalous. Furthermore, a marine spatial planning framework would enable rational decisions to be made about the priorities to be attached in different places to development, nature conservation, fisheries and so on. The Government's attitude to that Bill is a litmus test of whether they take environmental issues seriously. What the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality says this afternoon will show whether the Government have passed or failed that test.
I turn to a subject that did get a mention in the Queen's Speech: climate change. I am pleased that the Prime Minister intends that to be a theme of both Britain's chairmanship of the G8 and our presidency of the EU, but I should be much more pleased if he backed his fine words with a bit of action. On climate change, so far the Government have been all talk. Let us consider carbon dioxide emissions, on which Britain is committed to a reduction of 20 per cent. by 2010. Up to 1997, under the last Conservative Government, carbon dioxide emissions were falling; over the first six years of the Labour Government, they have risen. Unless there is an urgent policy change, Britain has no chance of meeting its targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
To make matters worse, the Prime Minister has failed to show the international leadership that Baroness Thatcher provided[Hon. Members: "You're joking!"] It is a very, very instructive response that Members on the Treasury Bench say that I am joking when I refer to Baroness Thatcher's contribution on the issue of climate change. The guffawing is a disgrace to the Minister and it will be an embarrassment to his right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who played a distinguished role in trying to get the Government to take the issue seriously. These proceedings will be watched and listened to carefully outside this place and a number of the distinguished non-governmental organisations working in the environmental field, some of which I am about to quote, will have noticed what the Minister said and did a few moments ago.
When my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister, she was the first Head of Government of any substantial country to take the issue of climate change seriously. What a tragedy it is that, 15 years later, the Minister whom the Secretary of State has sent to address the debatethe monkey sent by the organ grinder who is absent this afternoonon these important issues, fails to recognise that.
The Prime Minister has failed, too, to use his unique relationship with President Bush to persuade the United States Administration to address the issue of climate change constructively. As Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace said recently:
"The Prime Minister can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt. So far his record on climate change is almost entirely a record of fine words and no action. His repeated failure on this issue is undermining his diplomatic efforts . . . Fancy speeches are not enough."
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman appears to pray in aid the comments of Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace for the position of the Conservative party. Greenpeace has been strongly pursuing the issue of wind energy and the need for its increased supply both on and offshore. Does he accept that, as his party has been at the forefront in opposing any move forward on wind energy, off or onshore, his protestations about the Conservative position on global warming are rather hollow?
Mr. Yeo: If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard that I was praying Stephen Tindale in aid as a harsh critic of the Government's complete failure seriously to address the question of climate change. We are not opposed to wind power or wind farms in principle; what we are opposed to is the Government's attitude that wind farms are to be imposed on local communities regardless of the wishes of the people who live and work there. We are concerned that through planning policy statement 22, a situation will arise that is analogous to the way in which the Deputy Prime Minister sits in Whitehall saying to one county after another, "You have to build x thousand homes, no matter what the local needs are and no matter how the local environment will suffer". Just as he sits in London making orders about where development should take place, so the Government plan to use a similar method for the siting of onshore wind farms, simply ignoring the concerns of local people.
The truth is that wind farms can appropriately be sited in some parts of the country where they will have the full support of local communities, and we are happy for them to be in those areas. However, we shall continue to fight against two things: first, the imposition, against people's wishes, of wind farms where they may be environmentally damaging; and, secondly, the Government's absolute fixation that onshore wind is the only form of renewable energy that is worth supporting.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the tremendous record of Baroness Thatcher on climate change, which is in stark contrast to that of the Prime Minister. We could also contrast the Prime Minister's record with that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition. He paid a significant personal role in persuading President Bush senior to sign up to the Rio convention, unlike the Prime Minister who has exacted absolutely zeronothingin return for his grovelling approach to the United States.
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