Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) on her maiden speech. Wales is the heart of oratory. We have heard some great Welsh orators in Parliament, and she spoke with clarity, humanity and humour about herself and her constituency. The one thing that she did not mention was the wonderful singing that comes from Wales. I remind the hon. Lady of the opportunities of the parliamentary choir, and I am sure that, should her voice be appropriately mellifluous, my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) would be only too happy to invite her to join. The more good voices, the better the choir performs.

I wish the hon. Lady well in her parliamentary career. I hope that she follows one or two other traits of her august predecessor, the right hon. Denzil Davies, with whom I used to participate in economic debates. One never quite knew what Denzil was going to say. He had his own unique and very independent perspective and as time wore on, that independence shone forth. He was a keen analyst of the economic situation and what he had to say was always worth listening to.

I begin my contribution to this debate by drawing the House's attention to the business interests that I declare in the Register of Members' Interests. I shall deal with matters connected with the environment and climate change, especially in the context of the work of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I had the honour of being Chairman in the previous Parliament. Subsequently, I shall deal with issues connected with my constituency's manufacturing interests and the future of the UK aerospace industry.

When the Queen's Speech was finally printed, I thought that an error had been made. I was looking for a sentence to the effect that the Government would continue to recognise the importance of worldwide action to combat the threat of global warming, and so on. However, no such sentence appeared, not even one of a declaratory nature. That is disappointing, especially given the priority assigned by the Prime Minister to the   impact of climate change, Britain's current G8 presidency and our forthcoming presidency of the EU.I salute the fact that the Prime Minister has given climate change a top priority, but it is disappointing that the Queen's Speech did not mention it, and that there are
19 May 2005 : Column 325
no specific proposals to deal with some of the challenging issues exposed by the most recent Select Committee report.

My first concern has to do with the G8. The sentence that I found to be missing from the Queen's Speech would, I hope, have gone on to say that the Government hoped to influence the US, India, China and others to take up their Kyoto treaty responsibilities. If that was not acceptable, I would have hoped that some other means of bringing those countries into line could have been found, but only yesterday I heard an American city mayor say on Radio 4 that he and other mayors would like to get together and do something about climate change on a city-by-city basis. American science appears to be in denial about the problem of climate change, but it is clear that American mayors would like to introduce some form of emissions trading arrangement in the US. It seems that they feel guilty that their country is not prepared to take its international responsibilities seriously, and that they want to do something about one of the greatest threats facing mankind.

America may have the technological solutions to the problem, but there is no national impetus for that country—the planet's largest polluter—to take action. The existence of climate change is still a subject for debate in America, even though our chief scientist, Sir David King, told the Select Committee that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels. We know the facts of the matter, so measures to reduce greenhouse gas production make sense, both in terms of the precautionary principle and of simple politics in respect of the world and of energy. I cannot understand why the US refuses to put technological emphasis on reducing its dependence on hydrocarbon fuels, as that would relieve its dependence for fuel on some of the most politically unstable countries of the world—a dependence that stems from the current slowdown in the world economy.

It was disappointing that the Prime Minister did not use his G8 presidency to address those issues. It remains to be seen whether he will be brave enough to use his EU presidency to include aviation in the emissions trading regime, or adopt some other approach that might deal with a problem that is getting worse all the time.

The Select Committee looked at the problem, and it was clear that there are many Government fingers in the climate change agenda pie. The Treasury, the DTI and DEFRA are all involved, as are many other parts of Government, but the response does not appear to be joined up. For example, whatever the overall performance in reducing carbon dioxide emissions since 1997, the amount of those emissions arising from the transport sector has been rising. It is a source of great sadness that the UK has no coherent policy to deal with the problem.

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), to his Front-Bench post. For some time, his Department has been advocating the establishment of a UK biofuels industry, and it has produced a nice coloured brochure entitled "The Facts on Biodiesel and Bioethanol". I read it assiduously. It talked about the job opportunities that would arise and the benefits that would accrue to UK agriculture, and gives the impression that the Government are entirely sold on the idea. However, in
19 May 2005 : Column 326
successive Budgets, the best that the Treasury has been able to provide is a duty derogation of 20p per litre. As a result, we are struggling to establish a viable biofuels industry.

The UK is a signatory to the European directive that requires us to achieve a biofuels inclusion rate of 2.75 per cent. by 2005, rising to more than 5 per cent. by 2010. If we cannot achieve that, we are required to say why. DEFRA subscribes to our having an indigenous biofuels industry, but we have no industry producing bioethanol—the green element included in petrol—and the Queen's Speech contained nothing to suggest that the Government intended to accelerate the process. All we have is a British Sugar planning application for a plant that would produce 55,000 tonnes of bioethanol a year.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, unless urgent progress is made, the risk is that we will simply suck in imports from Brazil and other countries instead of creating our own domestic industry, even though that industry would help our agriculture by providing a new stream of income?

Michael Jack: I was about to come to that. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the EU-Mercosur regional trade agreement gives Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay a bioethanol tariff quota of 1 billion litres, at generous rates. Perhaps that gives us the answer to the question of why the Government are not supporting a UK bioethanol industry enthusiastically. They have surrendered the supply of that commodity to Brazilian interests.

I woke up this morning to the news that an area the size of Belgium in the Brazilian rain forest has been destroyed in the past 12 months, which brings me back to the UK's G8 presidency and our environmental credentials. If we are serious about saving the world's environment and biodiversity, and about encouraging sustainability, we should address the problem of Brazilian rainforest degradation—a matter that has been raised in every one of the 18 years for which I have been a Member of this House. However, the international community appears powerless to stop the loss of the fantastic biodiversity resource that the world's rainforests represent. The latest finding from Brazil is just another example of that. If the G8 is to show its environment credentials, it must address that problem.

To achieve a 2.75 per cent. inclusion rate in bioethanol, our bioethanol production target is 660,000 tonnes, and a rate of 5 per cent. would require us to produce 1.2 million tonnes. The East of England Development Agency has conjectured that a UK bioethanol industry could create 12,000 new jobs. That is a prize worth having, and DEFRA itself has estimated that 5,000 new jobs would arise in connection with biofuels.

The Minister of State in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs very kindly supplied me with a parliamentary answer indicating this country's capacity for biodiesel production, and in that context it is interesting to examine the plants currently available. Some 45,000 tonnes of indigenous biofuels
19 May 2005 : Column 327
using animal fat as a raw material ingredient are manufactured. In order to meet our 2.75 per cent. inclusion rate, we need to produce 440,000 tonnes of UK-produced biodiesel; to meet the 5 per cent. inclusion rate, we need to produce 880,000 tonnes. On adding up all the projected production of biodiesel in this country—be it from UK-grown oilseed rape, or from the recycling of cooking oils or other fats—our potential production is 478,000 tonnes, which is about half the amount that we need to produce to meet our 5 per cent. inclusion target.

I say in all sincerity to the Under-Secretary that if this Government are serious about the CO 2 reduction capabilities of a biofuels industry, his Department has got to be a much more effective champion of it within government, to ensure that it actually starts. It is no use falling back on the lame-duck excuse that if we are too generous with our duty derogation, that will somehow suck in imports. As I have said, the EU-Mercosur agreement makes it absolutely clear from where the European Union currently thinks that its biofuels will come, in the absence of an indigenous industry.

Given the fundamental changes to UK agriculture with the advent of the single farm payment, and given that land will now be available that can produce these fuels without in any way compromising the new agricultural regime, the time is now right for the United Kingdom to have its own biofuels industry, in order to help contribute to a reduction in CO 2 per cent. reduction in CO 2 emissions. I checked to see what evidence had been given to the Select Committee, and according to paragraph 25 of our report, DEFRA's Minister of State said that

So there we have it—an admission from the Minister of State himself as to the reasons why the 2020 target has had to be revised downwards. We cannot dodge this issue.

Reference has been made in this debate to renewables and wind farms. I support renewable energy, but the fact is that given the many inquiries and delays that have taken place, we are going to slip behind. Such production stands at about 5 per cent., but the target is to reach 20 per cent. by 2020. Given the decline in nuclear capacity from some 20 per cent. to 7 per cent. on a similar time scale, all that we are doing is using every 1 per cent. of renewables to replace 1 per cent. of CO 2 — free nuclear power generation. However, such power generation is already being eliminated through the phasing out of the Magnox stations and the advanced gas-cooled reactors.
19 May 2005 : Column 328

I say with all the passion of a Member who represents the constituency in which the majority of Britain's nuclear fuel is manufactured that if we are to retain our ability in this area, and if we are to create a diverse portfolio of energy sources that gives this country the security that it has always benefited from, the Government have got to make clear their attitude to nuclear power. They must recognise that we already have a portfolio of energy sources that cost different amounts, recognise that the renewables option is expensive and survives only by virtue of the renewables obligation certificates through which renewables get the "necessary" subsidy, and recognise that we do need a new generation of nuclear power stations. Finally, Corwm should pull its finger out and get on with identifying the long-term deep depository that we need to deal with not just nuclear waste generated by the nuclear electricity industry, but with the stockpile of material in Sellafield. Once that issue is attended to—it has been done in Finland and in other countries—we can have an affordable future for nuclear power. I remind those colleagues who have criticised the economics involved that the advanced gas-cooled reactor industry already has to make its own provision for the decommissioning of fuel and, eventually, of those stations.

The Department of Trade and Industry got the all-party group on aerospace to look at the industry's innovation and technology requirements. My constituency is home to BAE Systems, to the Eurofighter Typhoon and to the Nimrod MRA4. We manufactured the Tornado, and we are working on the future offensive air system. Members may wonder why on earth I am getting hot under the collar about the future of our military aerospace industry, but the answer is very simple. When we come to the end of the current Eurofighter production run—be it tranche 2 or tranche 3—and we start manufacturing the American-designed joint strike fighter, to which the Americans hold all the technology keys, we will have nothing left. There is no new United Kingdom-based or European-based advanced-technology aerospace programme. We are moving towards becoming a jobbing shop that buys technology from other people.

The situation crystallised for me when last week, I got a copy of a magazine entitled Aerospace International. I turned with enthusiasm to the third page, which said "BAE Systems' unmanned air vehicle. New prototype flight." I thought, "At last, it has broken through into the next generation of military aircraft." But on investigating further, I found that the development was not at Warton, in my constituency, but somewhere in north America. It was BAE Systems North America that had produced this vehicle, as part of an American contract. Could the people in north America talk to the United Kingdom about it? No, because of the technology transfer barriers. So one of Britain's biggest manufacturing companies faces the dilemma of deciding where to invest in future. We are seeing major investment in north America and continuing investment in the United Kingdom, but against the background of an uncertain future.

In previous debates on this subject, I have posed many questions to Ministers about the future of our aerospace industry, be it projects or the development of materials or new technologies. We are good at aerospace—we are among the world leaders—and if we
19 May 2005 : Column 329
want to keep those high-value-added jobs, this Government must invest in making certain that we have the right technologies for the future and the right projects. On the joint strike fighter, the Prime Minister should call in a favour from President Bush and make certain that we have access to such technologies, so that a final assembly and check-out plant and a maintenance plant for the JSF can be built. Most importantly, we need to be able to change the JSF in future to meet evolving technologies and capability requirements; we need to add our value and technology, to make certain that we keep up with the best in the world.

I want my constituency to maintain its nuclear manufacturing and aerospace capability, and I want my farmers to contribute to reducing greenhouse gases. I want this Government to put a tick by all those issues, to show that they are among key priorities that perhaps were not touched on in the Queen's Speech.

2.9 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page