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Paddy Tipping : There has been remarkable consensus in the Chamber today, but is it not the case that the programme advocated by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) is based around the isolation of the United States? Surely we must engage with the largest producer of carbon, hold sensible discussions and acknowledge the work that is being done there so that we can find an appropriate way forward in all our interests.

Margaret Beckett: In fairness to the hon. Member for Lewes—perhaps I misunderstood him—I do not entirely share my hon. Friend's interpretation of his remarks. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we believe that we will stand our best chance of success through engagement.

Malcolm Bruce : Is not the reality that the Liberal Democrats are expressing frustration with the United States because its technology on, and capacity for, energy conservation would allow it to gain the most from, and give the most to, solving the problem? We must of course enlist its technology in addition to our own to solve the problem. Expressing frustration is not the same as not engaging.

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I am sure that everyone in the House shares his view on the need for such technological engagement. Indeed, we welcome the focus that the present American Administration have put on research and technology. We must avoid the trap of depicting policy frameworks and technology development as not only alternative, but mutually exclusive, ways of tackling climate change. We take the view that both are essential. In the absence of mandatory policies at federal level, we welcome the fact that several American states are increasingly putting their own innovative policies in place. We are co-operating with those who wish to learn from the UK and EU experience.

The Government have consistently sought to provide leadership on climate change. We have done that through our leading role in the negotiations at Kyoto, Bonn and Marrakech, through our ambitious national targets—our 12.5 per cent. Kyoto commitment, our 20 per cent. nationally set carbon dioxide goal for 2010,
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and our longer-term 60 per cent. objective for 2050—and through our ground-breaking programmes of national action to deliver them.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: Does my right hon. Friend agree that plant diversity can play an important part in climate change? The World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which is based in Cambridge and funded by the United Nations Environment Programme, is a worthy institute that needs consistent and sustained funding to do its work properly. Will she give a commitment to try to find a stable source of funding for that greatly renowned institute?

Margaret Beckett: I agree with my hon. Friend's general point about the importance of plant diversity, and I understand her anxieties. We are conscious not only of the consistent funding difficulties of the United Nations Environment Programme, but of the discussions that have been taking place about the centre. Although I cannot undertake to solve its problems, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment continues to be engaged in discussions on the matter.

I referred to the programmes of action that the Government have put in place. They include the climate change levy, climate change agreements, the world's first economy-wide emissions trading scheme, the renewables obligation, our energy efficiency commitment and the work of the Carbon and Energy Saving Trusts. However, we recognise the need for further action to meet our commitments, which is why a review of our climate change strategy itself is under way.

Incredibly, it appears—I hope that we will flush out a denial during the debate—that although the official Opposition claim, I think, to share those common goals, they propose to sweep much of that away. The Conservatives' response to the biggest threat to our quality of life and our children's future has been to oppose some of the most important elements of our climate change programmes. The Conservatives opposed the climate change levy, which has effectively provided business with an incentive to cut emissions and financed new initiatives to do so, such as the Carbon Trust. All revenue from the levy is recycled to support businesses in cutting emissions, which casts doubt on any proposal for its abolition. The Conservatives have also opposed our proposals for the EU emissions trading scheme and, apparently, the Government's renewable energy programme. That is all too consistent with their wider environmental agenda, as the motion points out. Their proposals under the James review include slashing spending in some of the most important elements of our environmental protection and conservation work.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Margaret Beckett: I shall be pleased to give way; I hope that the hon. Gentleman is about to tell me that his policy has changed.
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Mr. Paice: I want the Secretary of State to go back over the accusation that she made against the Opposition about the European emissions trading policy. On what basis does she suggest that we have opposed the European emissions trading scheme?

Margaret Beckett: I am afraid that I am not carrying any Hansard references with me—[Interruption]—but that is certainly the impression that we have been given. If that is not the Conservative party's policy, I am delighted to hear it. Would the hon. Gentleman like to tell me from the Dispatch Box that the Conservatives do not propose to abolish the climate change levy? Perhaps he would like to confirm that, as we understand from the last time that the Opposition were asked about the issue, the Conservative party does not feel able yet to support our 60 per cent. target on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. I see that that, too, seems still to be Conservative policy—or rather lack of policy.

Richard Ottaway : In attacking the Conservatives on the climate change levy, is the right hon. Lady not missing an important point about carbon trading, which I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has confirmed we are supporting? With carbon trading, the climate change levy becomes ineffective. The climate is not changed; it is not a levy but a tax.

Margaret Beckett: I do not share the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but I am grateful to him for intervening, because it gave my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment the opportunity to remind me of what led us to what I have been told is the erroneous conclusion that the Conservative party does not support the EU emissions trading scheme. We were led into that error by their praying against the regulations that introduced the scheme. It is clearly a mistake to think that that had anything to do with their policy. We were also led into the error by the continued criticism, which I am sure I recall hearing from the Opposition Benches, that the targets, including the initial national allocation plan which we have since sought to amend, were too harsh on British industry. A sinner who repents is always welcome.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): The motion also mentions the Environment Agency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the agency does sterling work? For example, it helps to respond to increasing extremes of weather, such as flooding, and has driven up the quality of our drinking, bathing and river water to a superb level. Is that not because of consistent and substantial Government funding?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right in drawing attention both to the value of much of the work of the Environment Agency and to Government funding and the dangers of the James review proposals. The Conservatives propose to take £47 million from the Environment Agency through 1,286 job cuts among those whom they dismiss as operational staff. They are the very people who clean up after disasters, whether in the circumstances that my hon. Friend has identified or those involving the Sea Empress, which caused a massive oil spill off the Welsh coast in 1996.
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The Conservatives also gloss over the role of those whom they intend to sack in enforcing the rules on, for example, fly-tipping—abandoned cars, beds and other rubbish—which blights so many landscapes and brings great misery to many ordinary families and communities. Again, that is consistent at least with the voting pattern that the Tory Opposition have displayed. That is why they opposed the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill on Second Reading on 10 January, when they said that such matters were "urban issues" and not rural concerns. This Government disagree, and think that our proposals will improve the local environment for all in urban and rural areas.

Let us consider the Tory approach to climate change. Claiming to recognise the dangers while rejecting potential solutions is not merely backward-looking but typically short-sighted. The motion correctly stresses that it is possible to grow our economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2003, our gross domestic product went up by 32 per cent., while our greenhouse gas emissions went down by about 14 per cent.

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