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Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I was delighted to hear the acknowledgement in the Gracious Speech that the Government will, in holding the G8 presidency in 2005, include work on climate change as one of their priorities. This afternoon, we have heard a substantial debate on what climate change may mean for the legislation in the Queen's Speech. I remain bemused as to why our other opportunity to discuss global warming in this Chamber was removed and replaced with a debate bemoaning the presence of wind farms across the country, but I shall let that pass.

The Conservative party's late conversion to the idea that global warming is real and that all hon. Members need to take urgent measures to combat it is important.
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I say that in the context of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently said at the Labour party conference—that

climate change. Unpacking that statement, it means that the measures that will get us to the target that we need to arrive at by 2050 need to be in place by 2020. That is a time scale that is probably not only in the lifetime of most hon. Members in this Chamber, but in our political lifetime. That means, in effect, that we need to think about, decide on and put into action the measures that will make any stabilisation or reversal of climate change possible by 2050, and we have to do it by 2020—in other words, after no more than three general elections.

I hope, and am confident, that we will have Labour Governments for that entire period—it will be a grave responsibility on the shoulders of those Ministers—but it is just possible that we will not. We therefore need to achieve a consensus in the House whereby the necessary measures on dealing with global warming and moving to a low-carbon economy are taken, agreed to and adhered to. The conversion of the majority of Conservative Members to achieving that consensus is genuinely welcome. If a Government were to come to power and to decide for populist reasons, or because they found it too hard, that they wished to reverse all that had been done to move towards a low-carbon economy, the damage that that would do to the trajectory that is necessary in order to move forward would be immense and immediate, and would undo the long and hard work that will be necessary over a long period.

Although I welcome the Conservative conversion, it has come with a number of loudly quacking canards, one of which—we heard it this afternoon—is that the reduction in CO 2 emissions proceeded faster under the previous Government than it has under the present Government. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) nods. I was about to agree with that, but to point out that the reduction happened solely as a result of the dash for gas. Virtually no other measure made any significant difference to the amount of CO 2 emissions during that period. There is no second dash for gas in view—although, given the wobbling of the Conservatives in relation to nuclear power, we may have a dash for nuclear.

Gregory Barker: I am afraid that I must tell the hon. Gentleman that part of the reason why the last Conservative Administration was able to reduce carbon emissions was that we embraced cleaner technology. One of the main reasons why emissions have gone up under this Labour Government is that when they came into office they halted—purely for ideological reasons, because they were still in hock to old industries and trade unions—the conversion to cleaner gas and went back to coal, thereby embracing dirty, old-fashioned technology.

Dr. Whitehead: I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the overall reduction in CO 2 emissions was almost solely the result of the dash for gas, and that several other measures that have come on stream since are beginning collectively to make an impact. Because
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we do not have the option of another dash for gas, the measures that now need to be put in place—I trust that they will be—are much more diverse and difficult to achieve immediate results from, and therefore need support and consensus beforehand. It is sad that in the last few years that consensus has not been there as I would have hoped.

We need to concentrate on actions, rather than action plans. We do not necessarily need immediately large amounts of new legislation to take action on climate change, energy and the environment. Many measures that could make a difference are in place. They may need to be amplified or taken much further, but they are in place. We have in place measures ahead of the EU on carbon trading in the UK, renewable obligations for energy supply, the carbon levy on carbon emissions in industry, and the implementation of the landfill directive and other such directives. I am sorry to say that the Conservative party opposed all of those measures when they were first raised in this House.

This afternoon we have heard of action plans, some of which I wholly agree with. I have raised some of them in the House myself, for example on the need to develop much greater use of biofuels, on the benefits that that would bring in terms of energy crops, and on the relationship that that has with sustainable agriculture. I am delighted to see that clothes have been stolen in that respect. At least stealing clothes reflects on the good taste of the person who bought them in the first place. I am saying, not that I thought of those matters first, but that a number of hon. Members from all parties have an honourable record on raising these issues about energy crops and the use of renewable fuel. It is good that that is now a live issue in the Chamber.

I spoke of canards earlier. It was mentioned that it might be a good idea to have a renewable fuel obligation. We have in energy legislation a renewable fuel obligation. That is on the statute book. The Secretary of State has powers to bring in a renewable fuel obligation. Yet it appears that certain Opposition Front Bench spokesmen have not noticed that. Those measures are already in place, but need to be amplified and taken further.

I want to mention two of the actions that need to be taken on global warming and the environment. Over the next 20 years it is not a question of thinking up wonderful Acts which may suddenly make a change in our CO 2 emissions; it is a case of mainstreaming our actions in Parliament in terms of including in all the legislation that we pass a sustainable and environmental context, which ensures that that legislation works. In that context we have heard this afternoon the canard that wind farms do not work and are not efficient, that it would be a good idea if we had something other than wind farms and that the Government have only wind energy as their weapon for achieving immediate goals on climate change. Any perusal of the Energy White Paper will show a timeline of a number of different forms of renewable energy and any perusal of recent investment figures in renewable energy technologies will show that a number of different technologies are funded and coming to market. For wind energy to work, it has to be possible to install it and make the necessary changes in the grid. It is not sufficient to will the ends but not the
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means. Wind energy is the key element for moving towards renewable targets. It is not sufficient merely to state that one is in favour of wind energy and to have a planning policy that favours wind energy, but does not favour it anywhere in particular. That seems an abdication of the real actions that we need to take.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I do not find anything to disagree with in my hon. Friend's exposition of the need for wind farms, but does he agree that if they are to go offshore it would be wise not to put them in heavily used shipping lanes?

Dr. Whitehead: I agree. It would be unwise were we to find that large tankers were mowing down wind farms as they traversed the sea. I am delighted that discussion has enabled that problem to be avoided in the case of the London Array and the Blackpool wind farm sites. Siting is an important element in the development of offshore wind farms. We are grateful for the work of the Transport Select Committee on the issue. It has looked into how sites might be signposted.

I want to pay a little attention to two Bills that will integrate the concept of sustainability into the everyday lives of our people and the work of the House. The first is the Railways Bill. It is important that we take measures to get passengers and freight on to rail and move our railways forward in an integrated manner. The Bill will substantially do that. The Transport Act 2000 gave overall authority to the Strategic Rail Authority when it said that the purposes of the authority were:

It further suggests that the SRA should contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. I hope that the Railways Bill will transfer those requirements to the new organisation for securing the strategic future of the railways. They sum up the way in which the long-term future of the railways should be secured.

I am delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that there will be further securing of freight on the rail network. It is a more sustainable method for transporting goods around our country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) mentioned the difficulties that may arise in the strategic development of ports and the efficiency of ports for the transit of goods. We may face difficulties if we do not ensure that our ports have the capacity that they need in the coming years. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the operation of the land side of ports is as important as the sea side. We must make sure that freight can get to and from ports and is not squeezed out by the requirements of the passenger network. Those issues are very important in terms of sustainability and the environment. In that context, it is important that containers can be carried on our trains without colliding with bridges. That is the
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land equivalent of ships colliding with wind farms. Prevention of such accidents reinforces the need to implement the rail upgrades necessary to ease the passage of freight, and that should be part of our sustainable planning.

I want to draw attention to the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality has worked very hard on the consultation process for that measure, and in the discussions that have led to the proposals in the Bill, which I hope will soon be debated in this House.

I am particularly interested in those elements of the Bill that deal with the disposal of contaminated waste, and fly tipping. Also, provisions in the Bill will serve to switch off part of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 so that local authorities will be able to develop partnerships to develop new methods of waste management, minimisation and disposal. That would represent a substantial step forward in the management of waste, and in the ability of local authorities to deal with it in a way that adds to the sustainability of the process.

I hope that the Bill will also switch off other elements of the 1990 Act. If it does not contain such provisions at the moment, I hope that Ministers will consider making the appropriate changes. I am thinking in particular of section 55, which requires local authorities to collect all domestic waste placed outside front doors, regardless of what it is. Section 55 of the 1990 Act prevents the development of variable charging systems for waste by local authorities. Such systems can incentivise waste reduction and render more efficient the transformation of non-biodegradable waste to biodegradable waste. Moreover, they can make waste collection more efficient, with the result that local authorities can deal more effectively with waste management problems.

Many local authorities would like to be able to do that, as would the people who live in their areas. Although no system need be imposed nationally, those authorities who would like to avail themselves of such powers should be able to do so. That can all be achieved through the simple expedient of switching off the relevant provisions of the 1990 Act. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will bear that in mind when the Bill comes to the House for Second Reading, and in the subsequent Committee stage.

I have listed some of the actions that I believe need to be taken in respect of achieving environmentally sustainable management for our economy and our communities, but I shall end by presenting the House with a puzzle.

The House has heard a number of proposals on environmental management today, especially from Opposition Front Bench Members. One of the Opposition proposals is to remove £4.2 million from local government expenditure over two years by means of freezing budgets at 2004–05 levels. That proposal was put forward in the middle of February by the shadow Chancellor. If it were to be implemented, it would lead to very high council tax levels in those local authorities that wished to maintain their budgets, and impact disproportionately on district councils' environmental protection and cultural services budgets. Those are the councils that are attempting to grapple with the issues of
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waste management and, in many instances, are trying to develop more imaginative and comprehensive methods of waste disposal. They would be grievously penalised by the removal of such funding. I am sure that Opposition Front Bench Members would agree that as the escalator for the landfill levy increases, so the money has to come out of the same budget for paying the landfill levy. If local authorities do not have the resources to divert waste, the consensus on the necessary measures to make progress will not lead to action. We need action, and the Queen's Speech contains several measures that will ensure that action is taken towards reaching our common goal of a low-carbon economy that is both efficient and effective.

5.6 pm

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