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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I have listened intently to this afternoon's debate. The forum in which it is taking place—the parliamentary Chamber of the House of Commons—is usually completely unsuited to the topic that we are discussing, yet it has been striking that speaker after speaker—with the possible exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz)—has stressed the importance of consensus and the building of coalitions. I do not criticise my hon. Friend for taking the opportunity to expose some of the political inconsistencies in one part of the Opposition, however.

In my view, climate change is of such overwhelming significance—in the opinion of the chief scientific adviser, it represents the most significant threat that we face and a far greater threat than terrorism—that the conventional forms of debate and parliamentary procedures to which we are all accustomed are increasingly irrelevant if we are to rise to the challenge of formulating policy on the matter. It is striking, too, that I should follow a Conservative speaker, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who could have delivered his speech from the Labour Benches. With the exception of the three words "as a Conservative", everything that he said could have been delivered by one of my colleagues or, conceivably, by anyone on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

I want to dwell a little on how we can do more to build such consensus. I entered the House in 1997, when climate change was still a marginal issue that was poorly understood, if it was understood at all, by most Members. If we continue along the path that we have taken since 1997, with each party remaining nervous of
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the risks of setting out the radical options that are needed, we shall never make progress; we shall continue the drive towards the precipice. We must construct a new way of operating, and build new alliances between the parties.

I was very taken by the remarks of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) about the need for an external framework within which to operate, and which had public support. His analogy of the sub-contracting of responsibility for interest rates to the Bank of England was an interesting one. I do not know whether we could get an independent body to establish a national carbon budget or achieve all-party agreement on such a budget or some other framework, but the right hon. Gentleman made exactly the right analogy and pointed us in the right direction.

There are already good examples of cross-party agreement and working on this issue. Only this morning, several of us here attended the inaugural meeting of the all-party group on climate change, whose chairman is my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen). We launched the 25-5 challenge, in which Members are urged personally to commit to an annual 5 per cent. reduction in their own CO 2 emissions. I think that that is imaginative, that it will take off and that it will gain an increasing measure of public support.

In addition, the all-party globe group, of which I am the secretary and the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) is the chairman, will hold an important conference here this weekend that will bring in parliamentarians from all across the globe, including China, India, Russia and south America, and which will be addressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The guest of honour on Sunday evening will be Senator John McCain, a potential presidential candidate. These coalitions and alliances are forming and a huge amount of work is being done to reach consensus.

If, however, we are to continue to build consensus, we have to redefine the nature of the problem. To date, it has been defined as a conventional domestic political issue of redistribution. The whole argument is about who will gain and who will lose, and what are the consequences of any change of policy or redistribution. Hence, when the issue of the role of fuel duty arises, the problem is defined as one of hitting the long-suffering motorist; when the question of the climate change levy arises, the problem is defined as yet another burden on business. We must move away from that.

To support my argument, I want to introduce the other issue of fossil fuels apart from the science of climate change. The right hon. Member for West Dorset made the point that it did not really matter whether the science was 100 per cent. accurate, as it made sense in its own right to start to make the move to renewable energy sources and a renewable energy system—whether the transfer is from a carbon economy to a hydrogen economy remains to be seen. However, there is another problem that is hardly discussed at all—the whole question of the finite nature of fossil fuels. The purpose of making the shift away from fossil fuels is not merely because of the threat of climate change, although that is the primary reason at the moment, but because we all know that fossil fuels are finite and will one day be exhausted.
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It is remarkably interesting to see in the press in the last two, three or four weeks the increasing number of articles not only about the rising price of oil, but about the onset of peak oil—the concept of the peak of global oil production, after which oil production will inevitably decrease. Many Members will be familiar with the work of various scientists on peak oil. There is now an Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and that Colin Campbell is the leading exponent of the theory. The argument put forward by that association is that the peak will be reached in 2010—far earlier than was previously thought. That does not mean that oil will be exhausted by 2010, but it does mean that from 2010 onwards oil will inevitably be in shorter supply, and as current consumption increases new discoveries of oil will decline and the price of oil will continuously increase.

Both on the ground of responding to climate change and the ground of increasing scarcity of fossil fuels as each year goes by, we must redefine the nature of the problem as not an issue of sharing the pain within each nation, but as an issue of national security.

It seems to me that perhaps this year the public throughout the United Kingdom will start to understand those problems as they have not done previously. That is partly because of the impact of the recent hot weather, partly because of stories about drought, partly because of the experience of the drought in France two years ago, partly because of the recent assessment given by the Italian Government of the excess mortality through drought in that country, and partly because of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's lead in placing the issue at the top of the agenda for the G8 meeting. As a result, the public mood is now far more receptive than ever before to more radical policies to respond to the threats of climate change and the finite nature of fossil fuels.

To do that, however, we cannot argue among ourselves about punishing motorists or putting more burdens on business—we have to identify the problem as one of national security, and we therefore need a framework that will work in the national interest and help to move us towards self-sufficiency in energy.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and especially with what he is saying about the need for consensus. He mentioned the need for fuel security. Given the shift in the public mood, is this not the time for the Government to make a decisive move on the biofuels obligation?

Mr. Chaytor: I can only agree. Later I will specify aspects of domestic policy about which more could be done. It has been argued that biofuels are not the whole solution and that the acreage of land required to generate the amount currently consumed by our transport fleet would be enormous and unsustainable, but biofuels make an important contribution. It is regrettable that in my part of the country, the north-west of England, there does not seem to be a single filling station that sells biodiesel. I have raised that with the Minister more than once.

I have said that we need to develop a new way of working in Parliament. That can succeed only if there is consensus. We also need to redefine the problem as an
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external threat and we need to respond to what the public are saying. I think that in many areas of environmental policy the public have moved ahead of the Government. There is an analogy with waste issues. There is now a general understanding of the waste crisis: ordinary citizens recognise that it is impossible to go on putting more and more waste into the ground and they seek a lead from the Government on recycling. We are moving in the right direction in that regard. I believe that the public are ready to accept a lead on climate change and fossil fuel production as well, and we must respond to that readiness. The difficulty arises with the question of costs and benefits. We must redefine the problem. If we define it as something that will simply impose more costs on individual households, businesses and motorists, we cannot win the argument.

That brings me to areas of policy in which the Government have made great progress, but could do more. Arguably, the most controversial area of domestic policy related to climate change in which progress is needed is transport, and aviation is central to that. The aviation lobby is mounting a huge campaign to resist duty on aviation fuel. It supports emissions trading, but emissions trading is not the solution. The Government have committed themselves to including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme that will begin by 2008. I do not think that any Minister believes that aviation will be part of the scheme by then. I suspect that it will not happen until many years later.

According to the Environmental Audit Committee report published earlier this year, or perhaps late last year, if we do nothing aviation will contribute 60 per cent. of our carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The situation cannot continue and the public know that. While benefiting from and enjoying the amazing increase in the number of cheap, sometimes free, airline tickets, the public understand that the situation is unsustainable. From experience, I would say that they are prepared for the Government to take a stronger fiscal line.

Biofuels were mentioned earlier in connection with transport. In the Budget, the Government took important steps on the taxation of alternative fuels. They reduced duty on liquefied petroleum gas and also on biofuels, which brings it down to the level of duty on conventional diesel. Again, however, there is much more to be done. The Government have tried to introduce a banded system for vehicle exercise duty. I am not sure how many bands there are now, but the system is designed to encourage people to use more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The reality is that the existing fiscal incentives to trade down to a more fuel-efficient vehicle are derisory. For anyone currently running a larger-engined, more inefficient vehicle, a saving of £80 to £90 a year in vehicle excise duty is an insufficient incentive to encourage them to trade down. The public understand the principle behind that idea; they are waiting to be given a lead in terms of greater fiscal incentives to trade down. Exactly the same analogy applies to domestic energy efficiency. Grant schemes exist that provide incentives for making greater use of insulation, but those incentives do not yet send sufficiently strong signals to encourage people to make the change.
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There is more that I would like to say, but I hope that my contribution has built on the lead given by my hon. Friend the Minister and that it has been reasonably consensual. I should stress that if we continue with the conventional parliamentary modus operandi, we will not rise to the challenge of climate change.

6.26 pm

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