Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 120-139)



  Q120 Mr Ainsworth: Who actually took the decision?

  Mr Blair: The Government takes the decision.

  Q121 Mr Ainsworth: Did it go to a Cabinet sub-committee? Was it a DTI decision or a Defra decision?

  Mr Blair: In this instance it has gone to a Government sub-committee, because it is important we try and make sure we have all the facts and figures there—

  Q122 Mr Ainsworth: Who chaired that sub-committee?

  Mr Blair: If I could finish what I am saying. The DTI and Defra have been working on this together and the reason why the allocation we have submitted has gone up is because business has come back to us with estimates which indicate they will emit more than we thought because of strong economic growth. I am simply saying to you that I have to be careful with British business as well. I cannot have a situation where British business is going to be unfairly penalised vis-a"-vis the rest of Europe when actually British business and Britain has probably done more on climate change than any other country.

  Q123 Mr Ainsworth: Prime Minister, who actually took the decision? Was it you in the end who had to resolve the row?

  Mr Blair: All Government decisions are taken by me. It was not a row between Government. DTI and Defra are fully agreed about this, because the original allocation plan which was put in was put in on the basis of an estimate which was provisional. It is very important, Peter, if I can say this, that we do not send a signal to Europe that there has been some disagreement within Government over this because there has not. In the end we both understand what we have to do, whether it is from Defra or DTI, is to make sure we put in an allocation plan which is consistent with what business will actually be doing.

  Q124 Mr Ainsworth: The problem, as you will understand, is that the signal you are sending out is that we are asking for special deal for our businesses—

  Mr Blair: No, we are not.

  Mr Ainsworth: It is a 3% increase in the allocation, which is in practical terms probably neither here nor there anyway, at the same time as going round the world telling people to get their act together on climate change.

  Mr Blair: I am sorry, that is wrong. I am sorry to be so sharp about it but it is important that we do not send that signal out to the European Commission. It is not that we are asking for some special deal on behalf of Britain, on the contrary every country put in provisional estimates, the reason why our estimate has changed from the provisional estimate is that the facts have changed. If the facts change about British business and British industry, it is our job to put forward those changed facts. The actual "business as usual" reduction that we are asking from our business would actually increase, so we have a very, very strong case for saying, perfectly consistently with our obligations and our determination to tackle climate change, we have got British business with changed estimates as a result of changed facts. When the facts change, it is right our estimate changes. I think it would be wrong and damaging for our industry, quite apart from the case we are making to the Commission, if people thought either there was some dispute about the change in estimate which had happened or that we in Britain were asking for some special deal over the rest of Europe. On the contrary, Britain has a record second-to-none in relation to this issue in Europe.

  Q125 Mr Jack: Prime Minister, one simple question, what actually have you said to President Bush about the lack of United States' engagement in this matter? Has he actually offered to do anything to recognise the problem and bring the United States as a country, as opposed to the action of individual states, on board to make a contribution? Because it seems to undermine the whole approach if the world's biggest polluter is not on board.

  Mr Blair: Of course, which is why it is so important we get the United States back into a dialogue again.

  Q126 Mr Jack: How are you going to do that? Tell us.

  Mr Blair: That is the very task for the G8. I think it is possible to get the United States back into a dialogue on this.

  Q127 Mr Jack: How?

  Mr Blair: By patient and successful diplomacy and negotiation, Michael. Before you do something like this, the worst thing you can possibly do is have a discussion where you have everything out and talk about it before you get to the point where you think you can get an agreement. I happen to believe we can get an agreement on this. I think it will be very difficult, but I think the United States is ready to come back into dialogue on this question. I think they do not want to be left out of that dialogue, they recognise that it is an issue, they recognise it partly for reasons of security of energy supply as well as climate change, but it is not sensible at this stage of the negotiation to start talking too much about the details of it.

  Q128 Dr Gibson: In this country, if we could convince business by growing renewable technologies we would get new business, new jobs and so on, what a shining example that would be to the United States. We could introduce technology jointly, whatever, in this area.

  Mr Blair: I totally agree with that, Ian, it would be very welcome indeed. The other thing to remember about the United States is that this argument is shifting there. The argument about Kyoto has not shifted, and let us be absolutely blunt about that, the Senate voted I think it was 100 to nothing against Kyoto. It is very convenient sometimes for people to say it is the Bush administration, in my view whatever administration was in power, Kyoto would not be passed. However, if you look at what is happening in individual states in the United States, if you look at legislation now being brought forward by individual senators, some of whom are Republican, there is a changing debate going on in the US and we should make use of that and see if we cannot mould that to a greater consensus.

  Q129 Mr Key: Prime Minister, I bring you a solution. Why do you not phone up Arnold Schwarzenegger and tell him to have a word with the President about the progress which is being made in California.

  Mr Blair: That is a brilliant suggestion!

  Mr Key: Thank you very much.

  Mr Blair: Thank you.

  Q130 Mr Key: I make no apology for coming back to this question of new house building and standards in technology, because after all 25% of our carbon emissions are caused in the domestic sector. You referred earlier to the increase in housing supply in the South in four areas, but the building regulations have actually reduced standards of insulation in social housing. Incidentally, the building regulations refused to allow any impact on noise between buildings; they reflect the ambient noise from motorways, aircraft and roads, but most of the trouble with anti-social behaviour is neighbour disputes, and yet there is nothing in the building regulations on insulation for noise. Coming back to the energy thing in particular, why is it that we have had two Treasury consultations on fiscal incentives to improve household efficiency in energy but nothing has happened as a result of those two?

  Mr Blair: I would like to come back to you and to set out in detail for you on the building regulations, because my understanding is we had actually set quite tough new energy efficiency requirements for those. On noise and so on, you may be right, I just do not know but I would like to check it out, if I may; there may be reasons for it. The biggest incentive you can give is in building regulations. If you have to build a new home with, I think I am right in saying, a 25% increase in energy efficiency—but I will check that figure for you—that seems to be quite a significant step forward.[2]

  Q131 Mr Key: I admired your candour in answering Richard Allan's question about technophobia, which is a problem lots of people have, and I would not ask this if I had not been able to tick the boxes myself. What are your own family actually doing to change your own lifestyle to help change the planet? For example, do you have a hybrid car?

  Mr Blair: No, but if you will forgive me I do not think I will get into my family and what we are doing on global warming. I know I am responsible for—

  Mr Key: It is very important.

  Mr Blair: There may be certain newspapers which would headline it, "Blair finally admits he is responsible for global warming"!

  Q132 Mr Key: But it does matter what we do with our own lifestyles. Do you have a green electricity tariff?

  Mr Blair: If you will forgive me, I am not going into what my own family do. Sorry.

  Q133 Mr Key: Okay, let's move on. Do you believe the rapid growth in cheap international air travel with tax-free aviation fuel, the impact at home of needing new runways and all of that, the impact the other end of environmentally-damaging tourist resorts and the damage to the atmosphere in between caused by high level emissions of carbon, is really sustainable? Do you think it is really acceptable?

  Mr Blair: I think it is a very good reason why the science and technology needs to be explored; aviation fuel in particular. I also think, and it is something I said in Davos and I repeat and I know people think it is not the right thing to say but I believe it is true, hands up around this table how many politicians facing, let us say or not say, a potential election at some point in time in the not too distant future, would vote to end cheap air travel? Right. None. Oh, Richard!

  Mr Hinchliffe: He is not standing!

  Q134 Mr Key: It is really not a question of ending it, is it?

  Mr Blair: It is not, but that is why I say this is what is important, if we are realistic about this, then the only way through is to take a hard-headed look at what the science and technology offer us. For example, the new Airbus we went down to Toulouse to celebrate is actually on fuel efficiency far more fuel efficient than the current airliners, and that is the sort of thing you need to be looking at and I think that is the only way through it. I do not think you are going to have any political consensus for saying, "We are going to slap some huge tax on cheap air travel", unless you think differently.

  Q135 Mr Key: But that is a bit defeatist. We cannot just say, "Okay, it is terrible but we will do nothing."

  Mr Blair: I am not saying do nothing, but the way through it is to focus on, for example, on aviation fuel how we would improve the environmental sustainability of that, and that is what is happening with the whole hydrogen fuel cell debate in relation to cars in America. Incidentally, America is putting probably the largest sum of money into science and technology in these things of any country around the world.

  Q136 Mr Key: Can I finally ask you a question about good governance. Lots of people still do not believe in climate change, they do not trust us, the politicians, they do not trust journalists, they do not trust the scientists, some of them might trust a pressure group or two, but in the interests of good governance how can the Government and Parliament raise the quality of knowledge and debate about all these difficulties, whether it is the low carbon economy, nuclear power, GM crops, stem cell research? You have been there, Prime Minister, over GM. What are we doing about this anti-science culture in this country, so we can come to more rationale assessments of different risks and find a sensible way forward?

  Mr Blair: I think that is a very good question.

  Q137 Mr Key: What is the answer?

  Mr Blair: The answer is, and I do not think it is just my responsibility to have the answer to this, to try and engage in a genuine, sensible debate about science and about risk, and I think those are two separate but related issues which are very difficult. I faced this over the GM issue, I faced it over MMR, for example. There are issues to do with mobile phones which you can see coming up where again, if you are not careful, you can have a debate that ends up being not entirely rational in terms of the evidence there actually is, and I think we do need a far greater exchange between the scientific community, the media and politicians, and that is politicians of all political parties. The other thing is risk, which I think is one of the biggest things which faces modern political decision-makers. You can spend vast sums of money protecting yourself against quite small risks, but if there is a sufficient campaign which gets behind it, you end up coming under enormous pressure to do it. I think one way is doing it, for example, on food, and we have the Food Standards Agency and I think that has helped somewhat, but I think the other thing is to try and get a sensible, rational discussion about science in the country.

  Q138 Mr Key: So we are back to education, education, education in schools from Key Stage One?

  Mr Blair: It is in part, but it is also about people like us going out there and being prepared to have a proper, sensible discussion about it. These things are very, very difficult and I certainly faced this over the GM issue. It is the most popular thing you can ever do, rush out and say, "I'm banning this and banning that" but it is not always the most sensible.

  Mr Key: Absolutely.

  Q139 Tony Baldry: Prime Minister, your other priority for the G8 is Africa, and I think on that you will probably have broad support right across both Houses and we all look forward to seeing what proposals the Commission comes forward with in March. The Chancellor has been working extremely hard on the International Finance Facility on volumes of aid and he managed to get some 34 countries supporting him, including support in principle from France and Germany, but last weekend at the G7 Finance Ministers the US Treasury Under-Secretary, John Taylor, was barely off the aeroplane before he was bludgeoning the IFF and saying it was not appropriate for the United States and not needed. My Select Committee last week were in Darfur, and I have to say there were some pretty grim scenes of camps as large as any one of our constituencies, and Hilary Benn made it clear at the weekend he thought those responsible for those war crimes and crimes against humanity should be brought before the International Criminal Court. Saddam today is before the Security Council, where I am sure there will be a recommendation for a reference to the International Criminal Court which I suspect the United States will block. Going back to what Michael Jack said about Kyoto, is not the simple truth this: we are always the first to be amongst the coalition of the willing supporting the United States, but whether it be on the International Finance Facility, Kyoto, climate change, the International Criminal Court, we have to make it clear to the United States we expect them to be amongst the coalition of the concerned and support us as much as we support them.

  Mr Blair: I do not agree that there is a sort of quid pro quo here. I happen to be part of the coalition with America in respect of Afghanistan and Iraq because I believe in it on its own terms, but I also think it is important of course that we engage in dialogue with America. I think on Africa you will find America willing to come along with the international community. Indeed there is an American on the Africa Commission. I think Kyoto and climate change is a different issue; there has been a real disagreement. My own view is that the Africa Commission and what it comes out with should not just be about the amount of money or debt relief, it should also be about conflict resolution and governance. The Sudan is a classic example where, if you had what I would like to see in terms of the capability of Africa in conflict resolution and peace-keeping, you would not have these camps in Sudan at the moment. The reason you have them is you had no outside intervention capable of keeping the peace.

2   See Ev 26. Back

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