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David Taylor: That is the result of economic growth.

Mr. Letwin: Economic growth may well have contributed to the carbon increase, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to advance the proposition that we should avoid economic growth. If we are to have sustained economic growth, as we both want, and if we are serious, which I am and which I suppose he is—certainly the Secretary of State is—about trying to achieve carbon reduction we must find a means of allying it to economic growth, not explaining away carbon increases in terms of economic growth.

There is an empirical fact of the matter. I do not wish to attribute blame to anyone, and am merely stating the facts. We are moving remorselessly in the wrong direction domestically. It is true that that has been masked by a particular change in 1999, when the production method of adipic acid altered and nitrous oxide was reduced serendipitously. That will not happen again, and I know of no other industrial process that will make a similar contribution. We are now on a track which, without a significant change of course, will lead to an increase not a reduction in carbon emissions in this country.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman is spot-on, but does he agree that we are where we are because of a regulatory framework that has produced unintended consequences, including the destruction of investment in combined heat and power? Does he not acknowledge that unlocking that investment would reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially and enable us to meet the Kyoto target? Does he agree that the Government ought to find a mechanism that does so?

Mr. Letwin: The sad demise of combined heat is only one element of many contributing to this sorry tale. Others include the lack of micro-generation and the fact that boilers are not being replaced with micro-generators; the difficulty of installing small domestic windmills on people's houses; the relationship to the electricity supply industry; the lack of enforcement of building regulations; the fact that we are building large numbers of environmentally unfriendly houses; and the fact that our transport system does not yet have a renewable transport fuel obligation despite years of inquiry. Those factors, and many other things besides, have contributed to the problem, and each of them is important.

I want to discuss an overarching question: how can we—as a country, as three political parties and as the Government or a potential alternative Government—ensure that we do not have debates in the House of Commons for the next 50 years in which anybody who is honest must stand at the Dispatch Box and say, "The situation is getting worse rather than better"? That is not a partisan point, because many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with it.

I could suggest to my party that at the next election we should address the problem, to which the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) rightly
 
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alluded, of our not being seen to be involved in environmental affairs, by adopting a partisan position. The way things are going, nothing would be easier than adopting that approach. We could spend a lot of time picking holes in the Government's record, but it would not be productive.

Today, the hon. Member for Lewes and I are proposing a productive agreement involving the Secretary of State and the Government, because we have an opportunity to agree on some things. The opportunity exists, because we already agree on a subset of those issues—for some time, all three political parties have been signed up to the idea of reducing emissions in this country by 60 per cent. between now and 2050, which is a considerable rock on which to found much else.

It cannot be rationally asserted that three political parties in a mature democracy have signed up to a target for 2050 without it following that those three parties can agree year-by-year targets between now and 2050. We cannot get to a 2050 target by waiting until 2049, and we all know that there must be a path between here and there. The nature of the path, which will involve energy security, economic progress and available technologies, is immensely complex, and much room is available for discussion, which should commence now.

There are good grounds for supposing that we can go further, because we can all agree to the blindingly obvious. Just as the hon. Member for Normanton (Ed Balls), who intervened earlier, was right to establish the Monetary Policy Committee as an independent body to help to countervail against the natural tendency in a democracy for Governments to take short-term decisions, which may have bad long-term consequences, on interest rates for electoral reasons, so it is clear that in the domain of climate change and environmental policy, a distinct tendency exists in our or any other democracy for Governments to take a short-term position that leads to long-term deficiencies.

Just as the MPC corrected that effect, we need an independent monitoring body to engage in a probabilistic analysis along the lines of the MPC's trumpet-shaped curves. Such a body would come to Parliament every year, when it would state whether on present policy the Government of the day have a 50 per cent. chance, a 90 per cent. chance or a 2 per cent. chance of meeting the year-by-year targets to which all three parties would have signed up in the world that I am gesturing towards. That does not mean that the Government would immediately have to take specific action—nobody can remove the democratic power that lies with a Government—but they would be sorely embarrassed if they did not take actions that led to such a body predicting a high likelihood of meeting the year-by-year targets.

In the course of our joint endeavours during the past 24 hours, the hon. Member for Lewes has made the good point that a Government who increased the probability of meeting those targets, as assessed by the independent monitor, and who knew that both of the other major political parties were also signed up to the process, would be immune from petty politicking, which would otherwise go on all too easily, along the lines of "You are causing a cost for my constituents. I can make some political capital out of this, notwithstanding the fact that I know that the policy is
 
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right, if we are to meet the targets in the long run." That would be prohibited, so to speak, because all three parties would be conjoined in a consensual approach to these matters. That is a very desirable result.

Ed Balls : I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's analogy about independent advice. Back in 1998, the Government went to the president of the CBI—who, I am sure you would agree, is not at all a partisan political figure—and asked him to look at the issue of climate change. He recommended, independently of Government, that we move towards emissions trading in the long term, but in the short to medium term we should have the climate change levy, with negotiated agreements, and supported by the CBI. For partisan political reasons, the right hon. Gentleman and his party opposed it. How can he now, with any credibility, lecture us about not being partisan?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that he must use the correct parliamentary language when addressing the House.

Mr. Letwin: The tone of voice that I was attempting to adopt was one not of lecturing the hon. Gentleman but of making a positive proposal about a way in which the three parties might go forward. If he wants to persist in the rather paltry business of continually defending a partly defensible and partly indefensible position in relation to a tax that has had some desirable effects but others that are unfortunately not so desirable, that is a pity. Rather than worrying about all that, we have an opportunity to do something that is of extraordinary significance not only for the way in which this country behaves but in giving us the ability to engage in moral leadership globally. Unless we make serious strides, not backwards but forwards, in reducing carbon, we cannot lead globally to anything like the extent that the Prime Minister rightly wants.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are unlikely to make progress on climate change until the public take it more seriously, and that we have all failed in doing that job? By way of a small example, I made climate change one of the lead items on my election literature, but not one person in my constituency commented on it during my campaign, either positively or negatively.

Mr. Letwin: This debate is in danger of turning into something that is positively interesting. My hon. Friend is right to say that most people in this country are not particularly interested in what we are debating. I very much doubt that it will feature as the main item on the 6 o'clock news. However, I do not agree with him that we should therefore wait until people are interested. In fact, we have the opportunity to engage in leadership of the sort that he demonstrated in his leaflet; and we can go further. The very fact that most people do not put this high on their agenda is the reason why we and the Liberal Democrats have come to the conclusion that we need a cross-party consensus so that we can do the right things, notwithstanding the fact that they will often not gain immediate electoral appeal.
 
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