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Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that the Chinese have also just completed two new nuclear power stations? Does she think that the UK can continue to meet its global warming commitments without new nuclear build?

Margaret Beckett: I do not intend to get drawn into that argument today, but I am very conscious that China is building about one new power plant per week. It is not concentrating on nuclear power, but is drawing on every possible technology. China has vast coal reserves, and will continue to use them. It is looking at renewables, but the Chinese Government are so seized of the need for energy supply that they are looking at every alternative, including nuclear. Other countries are likely to go down that road.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): If the Prime Minister decides to go for the nuclear option as part of the Government's climate change strategy, does the Secretary of State think that he will be able to take his parliamentary party with him?

Margaret Beckett: I think that we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. I am sure that the hon. Lady is up to speed with these issues, even though she was not in the House when the Government produced our energy White Paper some two years ago. We said then that it would be most unwise to close down the nuclear option. However, if that option had to be reconsidered, we also committed ourselves to a very thorough examination of all the implications of such a course of action. We also
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committed ourselves to publishing a special White Paper on the matter, but I assure her that we are not quite at that point at present.

I have referred to the huge difficulties faced by China and India, but they are only two of the countries that demonstrate the other side of the coin. The potential silver lining to the vast cloud that has been described is the immense opportunity available to them to make use of assistance to develop in a sustainable manner, and the immense opportunity that those vast markets provide for UK and EU businesses.

Those countries, however, demonstrate another aspect that is absolutely pertinent to the prospects for international agreement. As I said a moment ago, China and India have massive needs, and those needs are, and will remain, the priority for their peoples. They are also proud and independent states, but they are only two among the 189 countries sending delegations to the Montreal meeting of the UN convention on climate change. I shall be frank with the House: to attempt to lecture or instruct those 189 countries about what they should do in respect of climate change—let alone to prescribe how they should go about doing it— would be grossly impertinent and probably utterly counterproductive.

A worrying tendency is emerging in the public debate on this topic—I do not accuse the right hon. Member for West Dorset in this respect, as he showed no signs of it today—to take all these matters for granted. I therefore remind the House that Montreal will be the first meeting of the parties that have ratified the Kyoto protocol, which came into force only in February of this year. That alone makes it a truly historic event. The most important and urgent business at Montreal will be to reach agreement on the final legal underpinnings of the protocol—something that could not be done until it came into force. Moreover, that process of achieving agreement to those legal underpinnings is not without difficulty, controversy and disagreement.

By all means let us lift our eyes from time to time to the peaks and pinnacles that further global agreement might, in time, make attainable. I give further reassurance to the right hon. Member for West Dorset that the Government pledged in our election manifesto to pursue such an agreement, but we must not fail to observe and tackle the icefields and crevasses that yawn at our feet, and which stand between us and such an outcome.

Mr. Chaytor: On the question of the ice fields and crevasses and looking forward beyond 2012, is my right hon. Friend attracted to the concept of contraction and convergence as a means of bringing on board China, India, Brazil and other powerful developing countries? Does she believe that the basis of equal per capita rights to emit carbon should form the basis of any agreement beyond 2012?

Margaret Beckett: If I may, I will come to my hon. Friend's question in a moment. First, I want to advise, if I may, him and the House to ignore anyone who says that the Montreal meeting will be easy. It will not. They must treat with polite scepticism anyone who says that all this is simple. It is not. The only people who think that they already have all the answers—I know there are some—are, frankly, those who have not understood the question.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) asked me a slightly different and specific point. I can see the attractions of the idea of contraction and convergence, but it is only one of a plethora of ideas that are already in discussion. I cannot tell whether, when we finally come to whatever agreement around which might coalesce some international acceptance and understanding, some of the elements that have stimulated the proposal for contraction and convergence might be reflected. That is entirely possible but at this moment, there is as much opposition as there is support among those who would have to agree on that proposal.

I do not say this pejoratively, but contraction and convergence is the fashionable option. It has obvious and evident attractions, but it is not the only idea around and there are many people who have great reservations. No one at all will sign up to it until they have thought carefully about the implications, not only for their own economies but for the economies of others. With genuine respect, I remind my hon. Friend and the House that the most loaded word in the English language is "fair".

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Secretary of State will recall that the globe forum that she opened before the Gleneagles summit focused on exactly that issue and that Senator McCain, a champion of climate change within the United States, nevertheless clashed with the Chinese representative, saying that he did not think that America should give up one ounce of emissions unless China did the same. Contraction and convergence is not the answer but we have to break the deadlock. Does she think that progress can be made in the near future?

Margaret Beckett: It is certainly within the capacity of the international community to begin to make progress, but it will be difficult and delicate and will require tremendous respect for the genuine concerns of all the players, not just the major ones, and a genuine recognition of the different circumstances.

The UK Government have three criteria for the possibility of an agreement. One is that it should be robust and be able to be adjusted and so on, but one of the key criteria is that the agreement should be capable of reflecting the very different national circumstances of different players. That is why I did not answer the perfectly fair and legitimate question put to me by the right hon. Member for West Dorset about whether we expected to negotiate a future Kyoto that is, in a sense—some people are talking about this as the only option—exactly like the existing Kyoto agreement but bigger. We are a long way from concluding that that is either the only or even the best way to go, for some of the reasons that I hope I have begun to identify—reasons that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) recognises from the international dialogue. It is not as simple as saying we should have a bigger number or give everybody else targets along the same lines. We have to
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think carefully about what will work, what will be effective and what will be genuinely acceptable as well as effective.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Does the Secretary of State think that a global agreement will be in place by 2012 to replace Kyoto?

Margaret Beckett: If it is not, we will be in deep trouble. As I said in all seriousness a moment ago, less than a year ago it was not possible to get more than a handful of countries to sign up even to the notion of talking about the future. We have come a long way in the past year and it is not sycophantic but accurate to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government have played a huge role in creating the extra momentum. Indeed, that is very much recognised outside this country. We will have a better idea of progress after the first meeting of the Gleneagles dialogue, when we will begin to see the scope for practical partnerships to begin to deliver action on the issues and whether that is shaping people's approach.

One reason why I hope today's debate will lead to a more mature and sensible dialogue in the UK, which will focus on the real hard choices we need to make and how to convince the country that we need to make them, is that it is not only world leaders who need to face up to the challenges as well as the opportunities of climate change. We the people need to help support and facilitate that process.

In the slightly different context of the campaign to make poverty history, Bob Geldof made a comment that also applies to the campaign against climate change. He was asked to name and shame the people who were not prepared to do enough to tackle global poverty. His answer was:

That is not a bad thought on which to end.

5.17 pm

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