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Alan Johnson: The fact that we have such a problem with basic literacy and numeracy among many adults is a result of some of the policies that the previous Government pursued between 1979 and 1997. As for how we tackle it, the skills agenda puts business at its
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centre, instead of Ministers, politicians and academics suggesting that they know what business needs in relation to skills shortages. Our whole approach is to place businesses at the heart of the skills policy through sector skills councils and other measures announced in our skills strategies.

As for Rover workers, an enormous effort is being made. Many companies from around the country want the very skills that Rover workers possess, and at the same time many Rover workers are improving their skills to enhance their employability. That is a crucial part of the way in which we tackle the problems at Longbridge.

John Bercow: The Secretary of State cannot get away with his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). On the subject of skills, particularly in relation to the teaching of reading, what does the right hon. Gentleman make of the contribution to that debate by three leading and apparently respected experts in the teaching of reading—Kimberley, Meek and Miller—who are on the record as saying:

Does he think that helpful, or does he agree that it is precisely that sort of attitude that has done so much to damage the life chances of a generation of kids in state schools?

Alan Johnson: I was reading that soundbite only this morning. As the father of a four-and-a-half-year-old child, I am very interested in the way in which reading is taught in our schools. My point is that we did have a problem, and it is the legacy problem of adults out there who do not have even the basic level of skills that they need—not through any fault of their own but because society has let them down. The entitlement to a level 2 qualification will be an important aspect of dealing with that. I accept that, as well as considering the current generation out there, we need to ensure that future generations do not end up in the same situation.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Before we leave this point, may I add that we cannot just blame society when people at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are saying that, in the future marking of English, spelling is to account for only four marks in the entire examination, and a person sitting the examination can mis-spell every word in the long writing requirement and not lose a single mark when the results come out? Surely that is something that the Government should stamp on firmly from above.

Alan Johnson: I do not want to become embroiled in an education debate, but let me make it absolutely clear that we are not blaming society—we are blaming the hon. Gentleman's Government.

The days when Britain could be actively marketed by its Government as the sweatshop of Europe are gone for good. We have harnessed work force protection to increased employment, but have done so while also concentrating on tackling climate change. Since 1997, we have experienced significant reductions in air and water pollution, our beaches, rivers and drinking water
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are cleaner than ever, and recycling has taken hold, with household recycling rates up from 7.5 per cent. of household waste in 1997 to 18 per cent. today. We have added an area the size of Liverpool to the green belt, and seen air pollution in urban areas fall by 16 per cent. in the 10 years to 2003.

We have taken radical action to meet the biggest environmental challenge of all: global warming. Britain led the world in introducing the first ever economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in 2002, taking tough action on the environment by harnessing the power of market forces to protect our planet. We have introduced the climate change levy and the renewable energy programme, both of which were opposed by the Conservative party. We are spending more than £500 million between 2002 and 2008 to help develop emerging renewable and low carbon technologies, in the form of research and development spending and funding for capital grants. We are projected to meet our Kyoto targets to cut greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2012.

Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): With all that the Secretary of State has said, and acknowledging that the Prime Minister attaches great importance to the issue, can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had to reduce the Government's target of a 20 per cent. CO 2 reduction by 2010—

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett) indicated dissent.

Michael Jack: Secondly, why have transport emissions continued to rise, seemingly without any brakes being applied by Government policy?

Alan Johnson: I know that the right hon. Gentleman chaired the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the last Parliament. I am unaware—and my right hon. Friend has just confirmed my impression—that we have made any change to the target of 20 per cent. reduction. In fact, it has been reaffirmed. With regard to transport, the right hon. Gentleman raises an important factor. Transport is an essential element in the reduction of carbon emissions. That does not detract from the changes that have taken place in this country. The Government have every right to be proud of their record, but on the threshold of our historic third term in government, there are new dilemmas and fresh challenges.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): While the Secretary of State is still feeling proud of his record, can he confirm that, in 2002, greenhouse gas emissions were 14.4 per cent. below 1990 levels, but in 2004 they were only 12.6 per cent. below, so greenhouse gas emissions have deteriorated over the past few years?

Alan Johnson: For various reasons that the hon. Gentleman may be aware of, there was an increase over those two years. The party that opposed not just the introduction of the climate change levy—a tough
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decision, which was also opposed by the Liberal Democrats—but the emissions trading scheme as well, has no right to lecture us on the problems that we face in some aspects of our policies.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): We propose a carbon tax, which is far more effective in tackling climate change than a climate change levy, which is hopelessly complicated. The Minister faces a real challenge with regard to carbon emissions. As he knows, some of his officials are desperately keen on nuclear power. Does he accept that nuclear power generation through a new wedge of nuclear power stations would be hopelessly uneconomic? It would require a massive influx of taxpayers' money and would choke off money needed for energy efficiency and renewables.

Alan Johnson: No, I do not accept that. What I do accept is that the affordability of waste disposal is as central now as it was in 2003 when we published our energy White Paper. There must be a balanced approach. In the climate change review programme, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I are considering why there was the increase to which the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) referred, and how to get the scheme back on track. We also need to re-examine those matters in the world as we find it now, two years after the White Paper. I am making no commitment, and nor are the Government, to move any further than we intended at the time of the White Paper.

We must accept that the industrial landscape is changing fast. Within a generation, China will challenge the United States as the largest economy in the world. India is producing 3 million highly skilled graduates a year. Ten new central and eastern European democracies, with wage costs a fraction of our own, have joined the EU. Meanwhile, technology and scientific understanding are changing our world faster than ever before.

We cannot, and should not, hold back technological change or compete on low wages and poor working conditions, but we can compete by producing goods with high added value and services that the world wants to buy. So we need sustainable businesses that are responsive to what consumers want and technology makes possible—businesses that fulfil the potential of their employees and reap benefits for all, which employ the brightest and the best regardless of colour, background or creed, and which continue to be responsive to environmental needs and the possibilities of new technology.

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