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Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) on an excellent maiden speech. She was eloquent and cohesive, and showed a real commitment to her constituency. I am sure that she will be an excellent Member of Parliament. I do not, however, think that she should be obliged to name her child after you, Mr. Speaker, no matter how elegant you are, not least because the child's sex might be inconvenient for that purpose. I am reminded of the
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fact that, when I became a father, I was dealing with legislation on energy on behalf of my party. The then Minister, Helen Liddell, suggested that I should name my daughter Neta, after the new electricity trading arrangements. That was not an option that I wanted to pursue, but I was grateful for the suggestion nevertheless.
I also congratulate the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on his elevation. I think that it represents a promotion, although the Department of Trade and Industry might seem a poisoned chalice to some. It is known as the "Department of Timidity and Inaction" in Private Eye; it remains to be seen whether that will be the case under his tutelage. I also genuinely welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs remains in post. She shows an understanding and commitment to important issues such as climate change, and I am very pleased that she has not been reshuffled, or worse.
That leads me to the main issue that I want to raise today: climate change. I make no apologies for doing so, because it is the most serious issue that we face. That is not a view that I alone hold; it is shared by many people, including the Prime Ministeraccording to his own wordsand the Government's chief scientist, Sir David King. It is therefore a great pity that the subject barely featured in the election campaign. As far as I am aware, no press conferences were held by either the Conservative or Labour parties on the subject, and the issue was not reported by the broadcast or written media in any major shape or form during the election period.
The Liberal Democrats held a press conference on the environment, which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), where we raised the subject of climate change. When we did so, however, we were challenged by a reputable BBC journalist, who asked why we were not talking about serious issues such as immigration. We have a long way to go to educate some of our media friends on the importance of climate change, and to ensure that it has a proper profile in the House.
During the last Parliament, there were four substantive debates on climate change. Three took place during the very limited Opposition time afforded to the Liberal Democrats, which shows our commitment to this issue during the last Parliament. The other took place in Government time. There was to be one in Conservative time, but the subject of that debate was changed at the last minute to one that attacked wind farms. We did not therefore have the opportunity to discuss climate change on that occasion, but I hope that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who has now taken over responsibility for these issues on behalf of the Conservatives, will do rather better than that in his negotiations with his colleagues on the allocation of Conservative time for debates. He is an affable chap, and well liked in House, but I understand from the press coverage that he sees a move to the environment portfolio as a chance to take his foot off the pedal a little, and that his new responsibility is not so important as the big job that he had shadowing the Treasury. I hope that that is not really his view, because consideration of climate change should not allow anyone to take their foot off the pedal. It requires the diligence and application that I know he can deliver, and I look forward to hearing his speech later in the debate.
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Climate change was the dog that did not bark during the election campaign. One reason for that could be the media's approach, to which I have already referred. Another could be the Government's record on climate change. They regularly make all the appropriate noises, drawing attention to the need to take action, but the action itself is often not forthcoming. When it is forthcoming, it sometimes does not work very well. The Government's record on climate change, in relation to the domestic indicators that they themselves cite in support of their case, is not one of which they should be terribly proud.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on making climate change a priority during our presidency of the EU, and on the work that he has put in, with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, among others, during the G8 process. That is very welcome, but to convince other countries of the need to take climate change seriously, we need to ensure that our own house is in order. Quite clearly, in many ways, it is not.
The UK's domestic record leaves a lot to be desired. We have already heard Members referring to the fact that carbon emissions have gone up since 1997, and that we are in danger of missing our Kyoto target. The Government say that we are in line to reach that target, but we are not. We are actually moving backwards in that regard and, unless the Government put in place some serious policy levers now, there is a real danger of our missing the target. The only reason that we are anywhere near it is because of what happened during the Conservative years. Before the Conservatives assume that I am praising them for their contribution, however, I should point out that there was a big cut in carbon emissions at that time because they smashed the coal industry. I do not think that carbon emissions were uppermost in their minds when that decision was followed through by successive Conservative Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry.
The UK's domestic record is not goodcarbon emissions are up; energy consumption is up 7 per cent. since 1997; renewables, to which the Government are committed, produce less than 4 per cent. of the UK's domestic electricity; and car and traffic generationin terms of mileageis running out of control. The Government's transport policy is equivalent to a car going down a hill with the handbrake off, and there seems to be no way of arresting that movement. We are also seeing a big growth in carbon emissions from road traffic, and road traffic is forecast to increase by up to 25 per cent. by 2010. That is an enormous increase, and the Government seem to be adopting a "predict and provide" policy to accommodate it, rather than trying to arrest it. Aviation emissions are also out of control, with a projected increase of 83 per cent. by 2020.
The Government must face up to these, their own serious indicators, and take action to try to arrest them and to change direction. The time for fine speeches from the Prime Minister and others is over. In this Parliament, we want to see proper policy mechanisms put in place that will lead to an improvement. The time to do that is at the beginning of a Parliament that will run for four or five years. I accept that, as a natural political response, the Government might have been concerned about the electoral implications of doing that, but the election is now out of the way, and they
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have a chance to get this right. I hope that they will do so in the months ahead. If they do, they will have the support of the Liberal Democrats.
In moving forward on the Kyoto agreement and on greenhouse gasses, we also need to persuade other countries to take the necessary action. It is disappointing that the increase in carbon emissions in some European Union countries is even worse than that of the United States. We need rigour at EU level to ensure that action is taken by all countriesincluding the Spains and Portugals of this worldto decrease their emissions. I hope that, when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responds to the debate, she will give the House a flavour of the techniques and tactics that the British Government will use to persuade other European Union countries to cut their emissions.
The Secretary of State recognises the need to bring India, China and Brazil on board in this regardthe projected increase in emissions from those countries is enormousand that involves extremely difficult diplomacy. I understand that, but I would say to her that it is made more difficult by European Union countries and the United States roaring ahead with increases in their carbon emissions. It is difficult to argue with India, China and Brazil that they should cut their emissions when the developed world is performing so badly.
Doubtless, some people will accuse me of being anti-American, but I want to make it plain that I am not anti-American. I am anti-Bush, which is not the same thing at all. That is an important distinction. What is happening in America is, in some ways, very good, because a lot of progress is being made, although not by the Bush Administration. Steps are being taken by individual north-eastern states to shadow the EU's very sensible emissions trading policy. Schwarzenegger is making good progress. Some American states are attempting effectively to shadow Kyoto. There is a commitment in those individual states, and there is a commitment in American industry, which now recognises the opportunities for business to tackle climate change. There is also a commitment among the American population in many instances. There is, however, no commitment on the part of the Bush Administration.
It was frightening to read a press report of what the White House said a couple of days ago. Apparently George Bush's top economic adviser, Allan Hubbard, said that he wanted to get the oil price back to $25 a barrel. It is now over $50 a barrel. Allan Hubbard is living in cloud cuckoo land. He must understand that the oil price has gone up, and is unlikely to fall much, if at all. America seems to think that it can exploit Alaska, that it can find resources from elsewhere, that it can put pressure on Saudi Arabia, but that is not going to work, and the sooner the American Administration wake up to the fact the better.
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