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Small Shops (Protection)

Brian Cotter accordingly presented a Bill to require local authorities to develop plans to support small shops; to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to impose additional planning requirements in relation to large shops and shopping centres; to make provision about retail purchasing by local authorities and other public authorities; to amend the Local Government Finance Act 1988 in relation to non-domestic rates for small shops and related business; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 May, and to be printed [Bill 57].

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Opposition Day

[4th Allotted Day]

Climate Change and the Environment

12.42 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House endorses the comments of Sir David King that climate change is the most serious threat facing the planet and congratulates him on his work in this area; welcomes the Prime Minister's commitment to make the tackling of climate change a top priority for the United Kingdom's presidencies of the EU and G8 this year; reiterates the UK commitment to a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050; strongly welcomes the coming into force of the Kyoto agreement on 16th February and the strong role the European Union has played in achieving this; believes that it is vital that, post-Kyoto, the international community works to reach agreement on the action needed to tackle climate change, which should engage the United States but which should also recognise the importance of the energy choices which face many of the major developing countries; calls on the global community to work with them in addressing those choices; rejects the notion that tackling climate change will of necessity damage the economy and indeed suggests that it is failure to do so that will lead to that result; believes that all parties in this House should by their own actions help convince the public of the need to take environmental matters seriously; and therefore condemns Conservative plans severely to weaken the Environment Agency through the massive and debilitating cuts proposed for the Agency by that party, and its damaging plans to abolish the climate change levy.

It is a great pleasure to introduce a debate on the important subject of climate change just a few days before the Kyoto protocol comes into force on 16 February. It has been a long, hard struggle, and it is right to pay tribute to people from all parties and all countries who have made Kyoto possible, despite the opposition of the United States, Australia and others. It is nearly the anniversary of a debate that the Liberal Democrats introduced in the limited time that we are allowed for Opposition debates. On 10 February 2004, we held a debate on the state of the environment and, as environment spokesman, I said that the environment was not receiving sufficient attention in the House, and that there should be an annual debate on it. We have waited without success for the Government to introduce a debate in the intervening 12 months, so, almost to the day, we are pleased to introduce another. The Liberal Democrats have a limited number of Opposition days, so it would be very welcome if the Government provided time for such debates.

During this Parliament, we have introduced three substantive debates on the environment in Opposition time. By comparison, there has been only one debate in Government time and the Conservatives have not introduced any at all. They were going to introduce a debate on climate change last year but, at the last moment, it disappeared and was replaced by a debate in which they opposed wind farms. That must be the only example in history where the horse has been pulled up before the runners are off.

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Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman recollect that the last time that his party held a debate on this subject not a single Liberal Democrat Back Bencher made a speech? Is there a three-line Whip today?

Norman Baker: No, I do not recall that. There is not a three-line Whip today—there is genuine interest among Liberal Democrats in the environment, as demonstrated by the number of my colleagues who are here today. I hope, incidentally, that subsequent interventions will be directed more towards the important issues that we are debating, instead of being narrow party points.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Perhaps I can help. Does the hon. Gentleman remember the Second Reading of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill—a Bill about the local environment—in which not one Liberal Democrat Back Bencher spoke?

Norman Baker: No, I do not recall that, but I do recall that we, unlike the so-called official Opposition, supported the Government on that occasion.

I do not want to rehearse at great length the examples that prove that climate change is occurring. We have all seen them in the newspapers and heard them on television and the radio, so there can be no doubt whatever that climate change is occurring or that it is induced by human behaviour. Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, has done a splendid job in drawing attention to the scientific evidence, which is now accepted by the vast majority of scientific opinion across the world. It is accepted by all parties in the House—I see a Plaid Cymru Member in his place—and I am not aware of any Member who fails to believe that climate change is happening and that it is humanly induced. If there are any such Members, I hope that they will make themselves known today.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP) rose—

Norman Baker: Perhaps we have one.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is growing confusion about the issue? A week or so ago, there was a conference led by an Oxford professor, in which it was agreed that there was global warming. The next day's Metro reported that the increase would be 11o, but the professor subsequently said that it would be only 5o. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some people are beginning to wonder whether there might be another ice age before we get really burned up?

Norman Baker: I acknowledge that the science is not exact and that there are different projections for the future in respect of the exact level of temperature change. That is bound to be the case, but it is unquestionable that climate change is occurring and that temperatures are increasing. If the gulf stream switches off, that could well lead to downward changes in temperature for this country, but that does not show that climate change is failing to occur—it is occurring.
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Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman seen the latest scientific assessment of all the papers on climate change by climatologists and other experts, which shows that there is no longer any significant argument about these matters among the scientific community? Indeed, there is hardly a single person who doubts the fundamental fact that the world is warming—and doing so alarmingly quickly.

Norman Baker: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, and I pay tribute to the work that he did in government in bringing this matter forward and to his subsequent contribution in opposition. It is welcome to have such a knowledgeable voice on the Conservative Benches. He is absolutely right that there is no doubt among the scientific community. That is not to deny that some individuals are advancing the theory that climate change is not occurring. Indeed, I shall consider some of those voices now.

One voice is that of Julian Morris of the International Policy Network, who claims that climate change is a myth. Apparently, sea levels are not rising and Britain's chief scientist is "an embarrassment" because he believes that catastrophe is inevitable. It is worth pointing to the close links between International Policy Network and Exxon Mobil, which gave the organisation $50,000. Exxon lists that donation as part of its climate change outreach programme. There are also close links with the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute. We may be able to deduce from the comments of Julian Morris that there is an ulterior motive behind his denial of climate change.

I have already mentioned the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Members may have heard the outrageous interview with Myron Ebell on the Radio 4 "Today" programme. He criticised Sir David King in hugely personal and outrageous terms and called climate change "a tissue of improbabilities", claiming that the objective was for Europe to "attack America's economic superiority". It is worth pointing out that the Competitive Enterprise Institute is also funded by Exxon Mobil—to the tune of $280,000 in 2001.

We could also mention Dr. Roger Bate of Tech Central Station. He also criticised Sir David King, who is fast becoming an object of derision for people associated with Exxon Mobil and others. He says that

apparently that is what we are doing—

I do not think that many hon. Members will recognise that description of this country. The House may be interested to know that Tech Central Station received $95,000 from Exxon Mobil last year for climate change activities.

I am sure that some people are genuine and well meaning. David Bellamy, the former environmentalist, has denied climate change in the newspapers. I am not sure that we can give much credit to his views, but I think that he is genuine. Tech Central Station, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the International Policy Network are linked not by a belief that climate change is not happening, but by a need to advance an argument on behalf of those with a vested interest in
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action not being taken. A plethora of such articles has appeared in the press, supposedly from independent scientists. In fact, they are nothing of the sort: they are being paid by the oil industry to advance some very short-sighted arguments.

In the oil industry, Shell and BP have shown leadership. They embrace new technology and realise that we must change. There is a big difference between their activities and those of Exxon Mobil, which pretends that it can still keep its head in the sand.

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