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Dr. Whitehead: In terms of speeches that said substantial things but did not presage as much as those substantial things might have suggested, does the hon. Gentleman recall that he set out Conservative action for a greener Britain in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on 7 December? Can he recall referring in that speech to a single unequivocal commitment to a new policy instrument dealing with climate change, other than the unequivocal commitment to
Mr. Yeo: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on reading out the Whips' brief, but if he thinks that that causes the remotest embarrassment on the Opposition Benches, he will have to think again. I will set out well before the election some specific measures. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but in view of the collaboration that we have seen between the Liberal Democrats and the Government in the terms of the motion, perhaps the Liberal Democrats also have some inside information on the date of the election. Will the Government cut and run before Easter after all?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I set out in a broad way a number of measures that I
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believe the next Conservative Government should take. I will put flesh on the bones of those measures in the next few weeks. I shall return to the point about railway stations in a moment, but I am surprised that Labour Members should think that it is a bad idea to draw extra capital into modernising Britain's railway stations. The only specific quotation that he could produce from my speech to the Centre for Policy Studies was one in which I set out our passionate commitment to getting public transport the extra investment that it plainly needs and is not receiving under a Labour Government.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say when he sets out his stall in due course. He will know that huge commercial opportunities are available in tackling climate change, and many businesses are making good business out of taking those opportunities. Does he not agree, however, that science, technologies and business opportunities may not be enough, and that there is indeed a role for fiscal instruments and perhaps the bolder use of such instruments than we have yet seen in this country, as well as regulations, which themselves can create new markets?
Mr. Yeo: I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend's chairmanship of the Environmental Audit Committee, which has produced many constructive and thoughtful reports on the subjects that we are debating today. He is right that no inherent conflict exists between economic growth, business opportunities and commercial prosperity, and the measures that are needed to tackle climate changeindeed, the two go hand in hand.
Fiscal instruments have an important role to play. I am determined that the next Conservative Government will make greater use of fiscal instruments than the present Government. Unexploited opportunities exist to use our tax system to encourage people to make greener choices.
The starting date for emissions trading, 1 January 2005, was not a great surprise. It is difficult to reconcile the Government's failure to be ready for that date with their claim that they are putting climate change at the heart of the British EU presidency. I wonder how much satisfaction the Minister takes in seeing Britain among the laggards in that process.
Although participation in the scheme, when it eventually happens, will be helpful, it is not the whole answer to getting Britain's CO 2 emissions back on a firmly downward trend, which will require policy changes in four areas. First, energy efficiency may be unglamorous, but as a former Conservative Secretary of State for Energy put it, it is
Even those sceptics who question the science of climate change can scarcely attack measures designed to save households and businesses money. For domestic energy efficiency, the Government rely on the energy efficiency commitment to incentivise consumers. A scheme that does not rely exclusively on promotion by electricity suppliers might excite a wider consumer market. We are studying changes to the energy efficiency commitment to allow more businesses to benefit from promoting domestic energy efficiency, a model that could be applied to business customers as well as households.
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The second policy change concerns transport. I recognise that progress has been made in moving towards greener cars, and I am sure that that progress will continue, but transport still accounts for one quarter of CO 2 emissions. As is the case with energy efficiency, we must engage the public and help them to make more environmentally friendly choices. We should not use regulations or force people out of their cars, which is the Deputy Prime Minister's policy, because cars have enhanced the lives of millions of people. A car is the instrument that allows almost everyone today to enjoy freedoms that were confined to the rich 100 years ago.
One way in which to encourage greener choices by car users is to go much further than the Government in introducing variable rates of vehicle excise duty, which is the direction suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). That would be more effective than the colour-coded labels recently suggested by the Secretary of State for Transport. I am not against colour-coded labels, which sound suspiciously like a watered-down version of the colour-coded tax discs that I advocated last year as a way to make the impact that a vehicle has on the environment clear to the public.
An incentive to buying a greener car even bigger than the colour of the label in the showroom would be a wider range of vehicle excise duty rates. Even if such changes applied to new purchases only, they would influence the choice of new vehicles, and everyone would be helped to continue to enjoy driving while reducing the impact of motoring on the public. The Government's approach is far too timid: the difference in vehicle excise duty between a Ferrari and a Smart car is only £50.
Transport involves more than cars. Aviation, which has already been referred to, is the fastest growing source of CO 2 emissions in the transport sector, and I hope that it will soon fall within the EU emissions trading scheme. A possible tax on aviation fuel also seems to be back in the news. It could make a big contribution to capturing the environmental cost of aviation, but it will work only if it is introduced on an entirely international basis. If international agreement on aviation fuel taxing is eventually reached, some of the other taxes on aviation could be removed.
More immediately, I am concerned about how little understanding the public have of the link between climate change and aviation. In a survey conducted by the Department for Transport a couple of years ago, only one person in eight made the connection between climate change and flying. We would educate the public about the impact of aviation on the environment if we were, for example, to encourage airlines to show emissions per passenger on travel documents, which would remind people that in environmental terms short-haul flights do not compare well with alternative modes of transport. The more information people are given, the more likely they are to choose the environmentally friendly option.
The third area of policy change concerns renewable energy. The Government are in a muddle: their obsession with onshore wind farms, one of the least reliable and most unpopular forms of renewable energy, will ensure that they miss their own target for producing 10 per cent. of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. With only five years to go, it would be much better
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if they admitted that they will miss that target. We should develop a more coherent approach to renewable energy to exploit Britain's natural advantages as an island by using offshore technologies, including tidal power and wave power. In that context, I regret the Government's failure to introduce a marine conservation Bill to facilitate the establishment of offshore areas where marine-based renewable energy projects could flourish.
Mr. Challen: Back in the '80s, Lady Thatcher introduced the non-fossil fuel obligation, the bulk of which was paid to the nuclear industry. We would be able to make greater progress towards our targets now if Conservative Governments had bothered to invest in renewable energy.
Mr. Yeo: I am startled that the hon. Gentleman has singled out Baroness Thatcher as someone to attack on climate change. Anyone who has ever heard of the issue recognises that without her the world would be years behind in responding to the issue.
The hon. Gentleman has attacked nuclear power. The present Government are doing their best to prop up the existing nuclear power stations to get a bit more life out of them, so his Front Benchers do not support him. Nuclear power has an extremely positive effect on climate change because it is by far the largest producer of energy without CO 2 emissions.
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