Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I welcome the tone of the debate. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) introduced it in a consensual and constructive way, and the Secretary of State responded in mostly the same tone. I shall say honestly and straightforwardly at the beginning of my contribution that I am here today because I regard climate change as the most important and challenging issue facing us.

I do not think that normal politics, as we have had it so far, is delivering the answers. I do not underestimate the difficulties, but I am not here to make party points. I am here because we need some agreement on the way forward in the interests of all our countrymen and women and the world at large. That is the spirit in which I stand here today, and I ask the Secretary of State to accept that. It is also why I have written to her and to the right hon. Member for West Dorset, and why my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) wrote to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition before the election.

It would be easy, if we wanted to do so, to pick out something wrong with the Conservatives' policy, something that a Liberal Democrat council has done, or some target that the Government have failed to meet. I am not interested in doing that today. We must find
12 Oct 2005 : Column 377
not the differences between us, but the common ground. We must find a constructive way forward that helps to reduce carbon emissions in this country. It is my judgment, and—I believe—that of the right hon. Member for West Dorset, that a consensual approach would help the Government to take the decisions that they may want to take but fear to take because of public reaction.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about reducing carbon emissions, and that is very encouraging. However, can he explain why the Liberal Democrat manifesto in May contained nothing about reducing emissions by 20 per cent., which the Government have pledged to do within five years?

Norman Baker: I assure the hon. Lady that Lib Dem policy is a 60 per cent. cut by 2050—a target that is equal to or better than Labour's. However, I am not here to trade issues about whose manifesto had better targets and I ask the hon. Lady and her colleagues to accept that. Let us try to find a new way forward.

We are at the beginning of a Parliament. We have an opportunity over four years to try to do something constructive, to rise above our normal exchanges and collectively, among all parties, to find some way in this new era of politics, as I hope it will be, to achieve a consensus to bring about real cuts in emissions. That should be our objective.

Things are becoming serious. I will not regale the House with all the science, but Members will have seen information produced by the Tyndale centre over the summer. Eight per cent. of the Arctic ice cap is disappearing every decade and there will soon be no ice at all at the North Pole. The ice sheet is thinning in Antarctica. Snow is disappearing on Kilimanjaro. The evidence is there for all to see. The ice is going so quickly that we can see it disappearing before our very eyes. We have to do something about it.

Scientists in every country of the world are saying not only that climate change is a reality—that is now accepted—but that their predictions about climate change were an underestimate. The situation is worse than they thought and things are getting worse faster than they thought. That is the reality.

It was depressing to listen to Prime Minister's questions today, because not one MP or party leader mentioned the environment or climate change. That is the elephant in the room and we have to grasp it—if we can grasp an elephant. We have to address the issue. We cannot go on pretending that it is not there. We must do something different.

I am not making party points about the UK position. The Government have introduced strategies to try to deal with climate change and have, in many senses, given leadership, but we are missing our targets for carbon emissions, which have gone up over the past three years. There are problems with aviation to which no one has found a solution. The evidence is that if aviation emissions continue at their present rate the increase will wipe out all the gains that would have been made if the Government's other targets had been met. That is how serious the problem is. These are really big issues and no
12 Oct 2005 : Column 378
solutions are forthcoming, because they are politically difficult. We must make it politically easier to take the right decisions. If the three parties can reach consensus we have more chance of convincing the public—to pick up a point made by Conservative Members earlier—of the need to take action, and we shall take the public with us.

Margaret Beckett: I remind the hon. Gentleman that in fact we have proposals for tackling aviation. We believe that we should try to integrate aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme. Only a few days ago, the Commission published a communication that suggests that it too thinks that is the way forward. The approach of the Environment Council is not wholly clear, but if we can make a start on such proposals in the EU it could have a huge impact.

Norman Baker: I agree that that is one of the ways forward. The Secretary of State will know that the objective of including aviation in emissions trading is shared by all three parties—an example of consensus.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this great accord that we are trying to achieve might be destroyed by our attitudes to nuclear power alone?

Norman Baker: No, because it is unrealistic to expect that as a consequence of discussing such matters and trying to find a common base all three parties will produce identical policies. That is impossible and it would be pointless to try to achieve it. However, we can reach agreement on some essentials; for example, on the science, on the 60 per cent. cut in carbon emissions, on aviation and the emissions trading scheme and on more money for energy efficiency. There are many things on which we can agree. I want a solid foundation to be laid and for us to communicate that to the public. We could even build a couple of storeys on that foundation and each of the three parties could build their own different structures on those storeys. Some will include nuclear power; others will include something else. It does not matter. What matters is that we stress our common agreement rather than always picking on differences and reducing the debate to saying, "You're wrong about nuclear power or you're right about something else." That is not productive. Let us try to find out what we have in common.

It might be appropriate to quote Churchill, given that he served as a Liberal MP and as a Conservative MP. He said, of a different matter:

That is where we are now with climate change, which is the driver that needs to bring us together. Normal national politics has not delivered. We in our own parties have attempted to grasp the solution, but no one has delivered the cuts in emissions and the approach that is necessary given the threat that we face. So let us, as political parties, find what we have in common, rather than the differences. I welcome the fact that, in response to my letter, the Conservative spokesman, the right hon. Member for West Dorset, has said, "Yes, let's try to do
12 Oct 2005 : Column 379
that", because doing so is not easy. It would be much easier to find differences and to go on about congestion charges in Edinburgh and so on. Such things are easy to find, but that is not constructive, and the public would not thank us for doing so.

I stress that, as far as I am concerned—I think that I speak for the right hon. Member for West Dorset as well—the motion is not about attacking the Government. We are interested not in doing that, but in doing something constructive. We want the Secretary of State on board because she has expertise and any arrangement must eventually have the Government on board if it is to carry weight with the public. If all three parties worked together and agreed in some shape or form, it would help to communicate the message to the public and it would be easier to take the difficult decisions that are necessary. Such decisions are sometimes necessary for the long term, but they may also have short-term political consequences. I do not pretend that all the differences will disappear, that everything will be sweetness and light and that there will be no difficulties about certain issues—of course, there will—but let us try to go some way along that road.

Mr. Goodwill : The fact remains, however, that 25 per cent. of our energy is produced using nuclear power and that, by 2020, only Sizewell B will not have been decommissioned. How can we have a cohesive energy production policy within the line of Kyoto if we do not replace that nuclear capacity? Although I am pleased that the Government are objectively considering new nuclear build, the Liberal Democrats seem to have ruled that out, despite the facts.

Next Section IndexHome Page