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Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debateand it will be brief, especially as the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) has spoken about one of my major points.
I wanted to dwell on the Government's record in this area, which has been one of lamentable failure. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for breaking the consensus, but my generation cares passionately about climate change and we feel that this Government have missed a golden opportunity to make the changes that are so desperately needed in the fight against it. This country is still woefully behind the rest of Europe in our attitude to energy conservation and recycling.
I want to make four brief points. First, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who said that it is essential, when we debate climate change, to work with the grain of human nature rather than against it. People will always want to use their cars and go on cheap holidays, and we must be aware that great scientific strides will be made as technology develops. Many fuel-efficient, low-emission cars are already available, and they will get better; British Airways has already given up some of its carbon allowance because it uses more fuel-efficient planes; and people are already changing their lifestyles by working at home using the internet. Energy use will change and be reduced through the use of technology. Mention has also been made in the debate of the use of biofuels. Science will find a way.
Every type of major energy source is available in my constituency. Harwell is the site of the first nuclear reactor to be built in Britain, and Didcot is dominated by the large power station that supplies most of the energy for the south-east. Recently, our community was divided by a vigorous debate about the siting of a wind turbine in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
However, I want to speak about nuclear power. I support what the hon. Member for Copeland said. I am fully aware of the risks, such as the difficulties involved in dealing with nuclear waste and in ensuring security.
Mr. Vaizey: The costs are incurred by the construction and running of power stations and by the disposal of nuclear waste. Nevertheless, two of the chandeliers above us in this Chamber are powered by electricity from nuclear power, either our own or bought from France
If the hon. Gentleman will not answer the question of costs, may I supply it instead?
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Building a new-generation nuclear power station costs £30 billion: would not it be better at least to try the possibilities offered by micro-generation, which could provide as much energy at half the cost?
The vital aspect and the Cinderella of this debate is energy conservation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood pointed out, 25 per cent. of CO 2 emissions comes from our homes. I hope that the Government will seriously consider reforming stamp duty laws to reward energy-efficient homes and reforming building regulations so that new homes are built with energy-efficient methods.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), who rightly emphasised the fact that science and technology have a role to play, although we have not today fully explored the issue of nuclear power. It is too late now for me to run through the issues, but perhaps the House will have an opportunity in the future to debate them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) rightly reminded the House that the headline issue for the G8 in Gleneagles next week is addressing the problem of global poverty, especially in the poorest countries. I have some misgivings, however, about the way in which the G8 agenda has been set. The eight richest countrieswe might call them the R8will discuss the problems of the poorest. We should apply the maxim "Never about them without them". In other words, we should not talk about the poorest countriesperhaps we could call them the P8without inviting them to be present. The R8 should not discuss the P8 without eyeballing them at the same time, to ensure that the R8 fully understand and speak to the countries that will be affected by the decisions that come from the top table.
In the lead-up to the summitof grey-suited men discussing complex issuesit has been encouraging to see many members of the public drawn into the debate through Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign. Now that their passions have been aroused, I hope that those people will not feel only a momentary compassion on arguably the most serious issue facing the globe at presentthe poverty of those in developing countriesbut that their compassion will continue in the weeks and months ahead. As people leave the rallies in Edinburgh and the concerts in London, at the Eden project in Cornwall and elsewhere, I hope that they will carry on the campaign. I hope that they will go to supermarkets and ask, "Where does the food come from? Can you reassure me that my purchase of this product will not damage the very people I have been campaigning about, who are the reason why I am wearing this wristband?" People need to apply the principles of that compassion to their activities. They want information and reassurance, and I hope that such continuing interest will be one of the outcomes of the campaign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was, as ever, forensic and passionate on the issue of climate change and spoke strongly for the motion. As
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the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) explained, the debate as a whole has demonstrated the difficulty of persuading others as well as ourselves of the consequences of our actions. When we bring a hammer down on our finger we can see the connection between the hammer, the finger and pain. We learn from that and we make future judgments on that clear relationship. However, when we turn on the ignition of our car or decide to go on holiday, we do not necessarily see the immediate connection between that choice and some meteorological catastrophe elsewhere in the world or some unwelcome climate change that undermines our efforts to eradicate poverty in developing countries. But, as the right hon. Member for West Dorset arguedI think fairlywe need to apply a precautionary principle to this matter before it is too late. If we are wrong, at least we will have achieved some improvements in the way that we live. On the balance of scientific opinion, however, I feel comfortable with the line that we are taking, and it is clear from the Government's line and the policies of all parties that we are going in the right direction in tackling this issue, about which, to be fair, there is still some uncertainty.
I shall try to skirt over the Minister's selective quotations from manifestos and so on, and his failure to acknowledge the fact that when non-governmental organisations requested political parties to sign up to their four key commitments at the time of the last general election, we signed up to them too. Perhaps he did not surf the websites that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) did, otherwise he would have uncovered that.
One of the main points that the Minister made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes was that Britain is leading the world in the action that it is taking on climate change. He asked what other G8 country was on track to meet the Kyoto target. What other European country is on track to meet the Kyoto target? I look for reassurance from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), who will wind up the debate in a moment, that those words are not a sign that we are going to see the politics of the lowest common denominator. That would be most unwelcome and I hope that the Government will continue to be sincere in their language and ensure that we are attempting at least to set the highest possible standards.
The Minister said that there had been a decline in the number of people who need to be converted to understand the consequences of our lifestyles and their impact on climate change. I think we know where to find those on whom we primarily need to concentrate; they are some rather large and difficult nuts to crack, mostly across the other side of the pond. We might argue that we areI hope that we arewitnessing the last days of the modern-day equivalent of the Flat Earth Society as far as that is concerned. I urge the Minister and the Prime Minister to do all that they can to ensure that the United States is seen to be isolated in its unwillingness to act in the way that the UK and other countries are prepared to act.
The Minister said that the G8 should not set targets for the rest of the world and I agree that it should not take a patronising approach, although the General
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Secretary of the United Nations has written to the G8, encouraging it to ensure that it at least sets an agenda that can be pursued still further.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset attempted to pour oil on troubled waters, to be conciliatory and to offer to adopt the role of peacemaker in the rather more fiery exchanges that we witnessed between my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and the Minister. He applied his intellect and principles to the issue rather than, if he does not mind my saying so, his expertise. I think that, on balance, he made a significant contribution to our debate. I do not say that simply because he announced that Conservative Members would support the Liberal Democrats in the Division Lobby this evening, although on that basis I shall resist attacking some of the past Conservative policies and what they have achieved.
The right hon. Gentleman made a significant point: we in all three parties, as well as other parties, agree that we must face up to some very difficult economic challenges in persuading our electorates that we must make progress. In fact, we need to sell such messages to our electorates. I hope that we can stick together and help each other to sell these difficult decisions and conclusions. Having gone from the sunlit uplands of conciliatory debate, we went to the depths of partisanship with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. However, it is a pity to end on that point and I look forward to the Under-Secretary of State's response, but I urge the House to support the Liberal Democrat motion this evening.
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