Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Norman Baker: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether it is Conservative party policy to build new nuclear power stations to tackle climate change?

Mr. Yeo: Conservative party policy is to develop energy on the most economic basis. If the nuclear power industry shows that it can compete economically with other forms of power, and if it satisfies the proper and legitimate concerns expressed by some people about the disposal of waste, there is no reason why we should not build nuclear power stations.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: Will my hon. Friend accept that the nuclear industry has managed to compete in the past only with huge dollops of taxpayers' money, and that it is unlikely to be able to solve those problems any time soon?

Mr. Yeo: I am open-minded about nuclear power. [Laughter.] Liberal Democrat Members express great mirth at the idea that one should be open-minded. If a particular type of energy that happens to score well on CO 2 emissions shows that it can compete economically, it seems extraordinary that others—notably the Liberal Democrats, who claim to be so concerned—should want to rule it out. The Liberal Democrat approach is extraordinary, and characteristically inconsistent. As I have said before in this House, we will wait and see whether the industry can meet the challenge that I have laid down.

Mr. Simon Thomas: If the hon. Gentleman is right about the Liberal Democrats and their attitude to nuclear energy, why is he prepared to rule out wind
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1382
energy? In Wales, the Conservative party has opposed all wind farms, both offshore and onshore. We have the greatest wind resources in western Europe, and the technology is ready to go. Why is his party ruling out wind energy?

Mr. Yeo: We are not, as it happens. We are saying that the Government's policy is extraordinarily distorted in that the help that they provide for renewable energy sources is directed heavily towards onshore wind farms. Local communities should have more say on whether an onshore wind farm is built in their area, and any strong local objections should be recognised. Ultimately, there should be a mix of renewables, including wind, wave and tidal power, and a whole variety of other sources.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I was gratified to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about the opportunities that we have on this island for marine renewable technologies. It grieves me to remind him that research into wave energy was killed off in the early stages of the Thatcher Administration. That was not a very good contribution, because had the work continued, that source would almost certainly be commercially available today.

Mr. Yeo: If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the effect of Government policy on research, why does he support the present Government's policy, which has effectively choked off nearly all the resources available for research into anything other than wind power? He appears reluctant to call the Government to account for failing to learn the lessons that he says should have been learned by the Conservative Government.

Dr. Turner rose—

Mr. Yeo: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once, and I am afraid that I must make some progress.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Yeo: No—I am sorry.

The fourth area of policy that needs to be changed concerns the planning system, which should be used to avoid making the consequences of climate change worse. For example, planning policy guidance must be strengthened to make it easier for councils to refuse consent for building on flood plains or on sites where development would make flooding more likely because of run-off problems. We must bear it in mind that one of the characteristics of climate change is that rainfall is becoming more violent and we more often experience high winds. I sympathise with the concerns of the Environment Agency about wrongly located development continuing to make the risks of flooding greater. The harm that such development inflicts is not confined to new buildings but can cause problems for existing properties, and in the end it may be the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Planning guidance can also contribute positively to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging development at or near railway stations—a point that I made in a speech just before Christmas. It is a scandal
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1383
that we have failed, under public and private ownership models, to make better use of the huge brownfield development opportunities that exist around many stations. Starter homes or commercial and retail development on those sites would be beneficial environmentally and in other ways. Planning agreements should ensure that such developments provide funds to improve stations in order to bring them into the 21st century and increase the capacity of the railways at a time of record demand. Those gains could be obtained without taxpayers or travellers having to contribute a penny. Development around stations would offer people more chances to choose environmentally friendly transport options. The Government's role is not to coerce people out of their cars but to facilitate those choices.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): My hon. Friend raises a serious point. Some innovative planning is taking place whereby affordable housing is being built on top of supermarkets, and there is no reason why we should not use our stations more imaginatively by doing the same thing. That would be a sustainable way of going forward, because people's housing would be near to the transport that they were going to use.

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend is right. The situation is nothing short of scandalous. Those of us who regularly travel by train are aware of how many opportunities there are around the country to use stations and the land immediately around them for development purposes.

The four changes in domestic policy that I mentioned would add up to a coherent programme to get Britain back on track. With evidence of Britain's determination to tackle climate change at home, we would once more be able to resume our leadership on the issue abroad. Internationally, we should have three aims. First, and most obviously, the Prime Minister should press President Bush much harder, not only on Kyoto but on climate change generally. It is painfully clear that the Prime Minister will not say boo to a goose when it comes to President Bush. What on earth has Britain got in return for its unquestioning support of the United States in the past three years? It does not appear that our influence has been exercised over any important policy area.

Secondly, as the hon. Member for Lewes said, Britain should be more active in reaching out to those elements in the United States who do take climate change seriously. Some states, industries and companies are clear-sighted enough to see that climate change cannot be ignored. They realise that whether or not the United States ratifies Kyoto, there are advantages to America in taking part in emissions trading, in helping to shape the post-Kyoto framework, and in developing the technologies that will lead to the win-win situation of continued economic growth and steadily falling emissions.

Thirdly, although it is crucial to engage the United States in the process, it is equally crucial to bring China and India on board. One way in which Britain could put pressure on the United States is to start negotiating international standards with China and India. I am pleased that the Government's chief scientist has recently been in Bangalore. The growth of those giant
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1384
economies inevitably means that more energy will be consumed, and in particular coal power. The challenge is to accelerate progress towards minimising the environmental impact of that consumption.

The post-Kyoto framework should have the positive aim of promoting climate stability. The achievement of that aim will not harm business or slow down economic growth, nor will it impede the progress that developing countries make towards greater prosperity. Indeed, climate change is the very background against which developing countries will grow sustainably, and the only background against which that growth will be secure.

I regret that the Liberal Democrats chose to insert a point-scoring phrase into their motion, because without it I would have been able to give the motion my support. However, I can and do confirm that the Conservative party is wholly committed to the actions needed at home and abroad to achieve climate stability. When we were last in government, we took those actions. While we are in opposition, we will support the Government when they propose policies to promote climate stability, and a future Conservative Government will have those policies right at the top of their agenda.

2.26 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page