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Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): In pursuing this excellent new initiative, will my right hon. Friend not forget to bring on board local government? He said that housing has not been a tremendously good example of how we can save energy and contribute to climate change. I asked a major developer who was constructing part of the largest industrial development in my constituency, Solstice park, near Amesbury, "Why haven't you got greener buildings?" They said, "The building regulations don't require it and the local authority doesn't encourage us to do it, so we don't."

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend, who has a long and distinguished record of interest in those matters, is right that local government has a major part to play. So does national housing policy, which brings me to my penultimate point.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State will admit it, but I suspect that she does not greatly disagree with most of my comments. I also suspect that she, through no fault of her own, is in a position in Whitehall that often makes it difficult to pull levers and find something at the other end. I suspect that she often pulls levers only to find that there is not much at the other end. The reason for that is the way in which the power structures of Whitehall operate. Many powerful forces are at work in Whitehall—the Treasury, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Transport, energy and the Department for Trade and Industry, which sponsors it. Each is a power base. It is difficult to corral a whole Government into a joined-up policy—to adopt one of the Government's favourite phrases —that delivers a serious reduction in carbon while keeping the lights on and the economy growing.

The sort of cross-party agreement and framework that we and the Liberal Democrats propose would have the added effect of immeasurably strengthening the Secretary of State's hand—and, bizarrely, that of the Prime Minister—against other Departments because it would suddenly become almost imperative for them to play along with the effort to do something serious about carbon. That would be true of not only the current regime but subsequent Governments of different hues. The Secretary of State has a personal interest in playing an active role in moving in the direction that we and the Liberal Democrats suggest.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 25 minutes and has told us what we read in The Independent this morning. Does he accept that it is easy to talk about a new Lib-Con coalition, which I welcome—I hope that the Secretary of State responds positively to it—but that hon. Members want to hear his specific proposals for backing up the coalition? Does he acknowledge that he opposed interim targets in his election manifesto?

Mr. Letwin: No. We have not opposed interim targets; indeed, I am proposing them. Although I have been speaking for 25 minutes, I have spent much time answering interventions. I do not have concrete proposals and there are two reasons for that.

First, I came to the post three or four months ago and I have been working helter skelter to get my party into a position whereby we can make concrete proposals. We have been developing the computer programmes and
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in-house expertise that is required to enable us to participate constructively. By the time the climate change programme review is announced, we will have had many of the discussions and be able to enter into it.

Secondly, even when we are in a position to make concrete proposals, rather than the hon. Member for Lewes or us saying, "Here are our proposals; take them or leave them", we would like to have a three-party discussion and try to devise proposals with which we can all live and that will not be "the Government's proposals", "Conservative proposals" or "Liberal Democrat proposals" but joint proposals. I understand that that will be a culture shock in British politics but if we do not do that we will not have something that stands the test of different regimes.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): If the right hon. Gentleman asks nicely, he might even have four-party support for his proposals. Before we invest in such a grand coalition, he would have to convince us that the Conservatives are genuinely committed to tackling climate change. In Scotland, we observe Conservatives running around opposing almost every renewable scheme. Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on that?

Mr. Letwin: I cannot invite the hon. Gentleman and his party into a multi-party coalition about devolved matters. I hope that we can co-operate with other parties in other parts of the United Kingdom about matters that are not devolved. We need to take a proactively favourable attitude to renewable power.

We also have to recognise that there are limits on each of the solutions to the problems of carbon emissions. That is why no one solution is the answer. In the few months that I have been doing this job, I have been extraordinarily impressed by the number of people who have said to me, "My solution is the solution." Each one is wrong, not in the sense that their solution does not have a part to play, but in the sense that we need all of them to a moderate and limited degree that recognises the constraints involved. Those involve other environmental constraints, including non-carbon environmental constraints, economic constraints, and constraints relating to the supply and timing of the technologies.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, even if he is not in a position to come forward with concrete proposals at this stage, the House as a whole has a responsibility to address some of the ambiguities about climate change that his colleagues have raised? It is not that the public are uninterested in the issue. If we ask them whether they are bothered about flash flooding that sends sewage into their streets and living rooms, they are as sure as hell interested. If they are asked whether they are worried about their cars being swept down the streets of Boscastle, they are interested. They would also have been interested if they had been asked, during the summer of 2002, whether they wanted to die of heatstroke. As politicians, we must at least begin to consider the practical realities of the climate change challenges that threaten the very lives and livelihoods of the citizens we represent.
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Mr. Letwin: I agree that we have to bring home to people the relationship between these apparently abstract matters and the very concrete results, which are of huge importance. In doing so, however, we must not make the mistake of asserting causal connections that are either tenuous or non-existent. We must not suggest that every appalling event that occurs is the direct consequence of climate change, when many of them are not. That is a difficult balance to strike. We must bring it home to people that we are talking about the distinct possibility—indeed, the likelihood—of significantly increased numbers of catastrophic events taking place some years hence if we do not take action now. That is a difficult proposition to get across in a democracy, but I believe it to be possible, and because we are talking about taking action now to affect a time far in the future, doing it together is the only option.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Letwin: I believe that I have tired the House long enough. If I answer any more points now, I shall be accused of going on too long.

4.47 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I must begin by saying that, with great respect to the measured tone adopted by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), both the timing and the wording of the motion strike me as faintly odd. The motion

I say that the timing is somewhat odd because this debate occurs between two relevant events. Last week, I co-chaired a two-day business conference sponsored jointly by my Department, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Climate Group. That conference was clearly germane to these issues. And in only a couple of weeks' time, we shall see the first meeting involving an unprecedented dialogue: the Gleneagles dialogue.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to the Prime Minister for his activities in this regard, but we should place it clearly on record that no Government and no leader anywhere in the world have done more than our Prime Minister to create the circumstances in which the world community—and I mean all the world community—can begin to explore the possibility and scope of international negotiation beyond the first Kyoto commitment period. This country ought to take pride in that.
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I suspect that most world leaders would have thought that fighting and winning a general election campaign provided enough pressure for one year, and, if forced by chronology to combine that with the presidency of the G8 alone, never mind that of the European Union, would perhaps merely have used the opportunity to be seen on the world stage. However, it has been widely observed that our Prime Minister has made more forceful and more constructive use of the G8 mechanism than anyone can remember. It was as a result of his efforts that the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January—for the first time, I think—had the impact and opportunities of climate change as a major item on its agenda. At that meeting, he not only made a keynote speech but hosted a breakfast with 30 senior players, each from a different sector of global business, to ask them to stimulate discussion in their sector on the challenges of climate change and report back before Gleneagles, as they did.

In February, we hosted a scientific meeting in Exeter, and the consensus of that expert group was greater certainty about global warming, which was the bad news, but that tackling it should cost less than predicted if done early enough, which was the good news. In March, we organised a round table discussion of Energy and Environment Ministers from some 20 countries with major and growing energy needs—another first—at a meeting which also drew in major players from industry and finance, as well as countries such as India, China, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and so on. Then, in July, at Gleneagles, the Prime Minister brokered agreement not only that all the G8 accepted that there was a consensus on the science but that global emissions should slow, stop and reverse, and that there should be an action plan to help to deliver on that agreement—a plan that engaged not only the G8 but the World Bank and International Energy Agency. I am genuinely uncertain as to whether this part of the agreement—on the outcome needed and the steps that might deliver that outcome—was the most significant achievement from Gleneagles, or whether it was the equally unprecedented agreement to a follow-up dialogue to explore what might be done to move forward on tackling climate change.

Bluntly, therefore, what makes no sense at all, despite the right hon. Gentleman's measured tone, is the rather ridiculous suggestion in the motion that after all that personal commitment of time and energy—made in the face of much discouragement—towards a future international agreement, the Prime Minister has suddenly abandoned the idea. It certainly makes it a little hard to take as seriously as I would like to do the right hon. Gentleman's recent suggestions that we should rise above party political jibing and strive for a cross-party consensus on climate change.

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