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Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman says, "despite the facts". In fact, we have ruled that out, but for what we believe are very good reasons. However, rather than concentrate on the differences, let us analyse what we agree with in the energy mix. We agree with quite a lot of it, so let us try to make progress on that.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Before we move on, let us set the record straight. The nuclear contribution to British energy is not 25 per cent.; it is slightly more than 20 per cent. of electricity production.
She used those words this afternoon. I wrote them down in shorthand, so I have got them accurately recorded. I welcome the fact that she said that. She may be rather sceptical this afternoonfair enough. It is up to us to prove that we are serious about this business, and I hope that she will respond accordingly.
The Secretary of State's letter includes a number of reasons why she was not prepared to join us at this juncture. In one paragraph, she refers to uncertainties in the two Opposition parties: first, the Conservative leadership election; secondly, that party's position on a number of key issues; and, thirdly, the Liberal Democrats' policy review. As for the latter two reasons,
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I reiterate that we should seek out the many areas of agreement, rather than trying to identify one or two issues that she would use as a veto on any agreement. We do not need to have everything agreed. So, with respect, I do not think that those are very good reasons. As for the Conservative leadership campaign, I sincerely hope that the right hon. Member for West Dorset will still be in his position after that process has concluded. That would be good for continuity's sake.
The Secretary of State's letter also refers to the position of India and China, and I know that she takes that seriously. We have exchanged views on this before and I recognise and accept how sensitive the issue is. I recognise absolutely that we cannot start to dictate what those countries should have. I spent some time over the summer in India meeting Indian politicians and business leaders on the very issue of climate change. I came away with a strong view of how they feel. Of course, the issue is to guide all the different ships into harbour, and that is not necessarily easy to do.
The Indian politicians whom I met said that they were potentially very responsive to what the EU was doing. They recognised that we in Europe were giving a lead, and they were also quite happy with the idea of contraction and convergence, which they regard as a fair and equitable way forward. I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard the same response. However, they were vociferousthat is a fair word to useabout the attitude of the American Administration. The Indians take the view that they do not see why they should make sacrifices when the American Administration are not doing the same. That seems to be a perfectly fair position to take.
I want to digress slightly to pick up what the Secretary of State said about the Prime Minister. I, for one, am perfectly happy to accept that he has been going out of his way to deal with the issue internationally. I am happy to accept that he has got this on the agenda and that he has made some progress. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to say that. I wish he could make even more progress.
I made the point, however, in the last Liberal Democrat Opposition day debate before the election that I am genuinely worried. The Prime Minister is playing a difficult game diplomatically to try to get everyone corralled in one place and then get them going in the same direction at the same time. I do not underestimate the difficulties of that. On the one hand, he has countries such as India and China and, on the other, he has the United States, which takes an unhelpful view. My genuine fear is that, to try to bring the US Administration on board, he will be prepared to sacrifice the idea of mandatory targets in some shape or form to make sure that they can sign a piece of paper. I understand why he would want to do that, but it would not be a satisfactory outcome.
I understand the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman voices, and considerable anxiety was expressed in the run-up to the Gleneagles summit by, for example, campaigners in America. In the summit's aftermath, they greatly welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister had not taken the path that the hon. Gentleman had identified as the one that had concerned him and those campaigners. The Prime Minister had, indeed, maintained his push for the kind of forward look
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that everyone wants. However, I caution the hon. Gentleman against the assumption that mandatory targets for everybody are necessarily the only way forward. We are nowhere near that conclusion yet.
Norman Baker: I accept that we are nowhere near that conclusion, but I remain to be convinced that it is not the right mechanism. There are mandatory targets for countries that signed up to Kyoto, very few of which are meeting them. I fear what the effect will be if there are no mandatory targets at all.
Margaret Beckett: I do not want to nit-pick, but there are mandatory targets for the developed countries that signed up to Kyoto. A great many countries signed the Kyoto protocol, under which there are not mandatory targets. If the hon. Gentleman has had discussions in India, he will know that the notion of such targets is extraordinarily sensitive.
Norman Baker: I accept that. Such targets are sensitive, not least because of the US position. The point that I was trying to make is that, even where there are mandatory targets for the developed countries, including this country and those in the EU, very few countries will meet them. If mandatory targets cannot even bring the ship into harbour, it is not clear what other mechanism will achieve that end. However, I am willing to be convinced and to see what comes out of negotiations. Like the Secretary of State, I am looking for results that end up with significant carbon cuts across the world in an attempt to stave off a growing crisis. That is our common objective.
I have referred to the Secretary of State's letter in which she mentioned the Conservative leadership election, Liberal Democrat policy and Conservative positions on the issue. The reasons she gives for not entering into an agreement at this point are not dissimilar to those advanced by the "Today" programme for not covering the item this morning. I sometimes wonder whether the "Today" programme is entirely independent of the Government, but that might be unduly cynical of me. Be that as it may, I am glad that the initiative that we have launched has received coverage beyond the "Today" programme.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman has called for a cross-party approach and he and many others have talked about the need to engage the public to galvanise the political process. Does his party's approach on engaging the public continue to be sending strong signals through tax policytaxing 4x4s and flightsor does he agree with our approach that people's hearts and minds need to be won first, not least by educating consumers about the consequences of their choices?
There is a range of ways in which the public need to be brought on board, so I shall try to cover that wide topic briefly. Education of course has a role. Schools have a role and the public sector can lead by example through its public procurement, such as by fitting photovoltaic cells on school roofs. I would like the Government to produce leaflets to put through doors to educate the public, in the same way as they do
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with concerns about terrorism. However, market mechanisms can also play a significant role, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his Conservative colleagues agree that if we made it cheaper to do the right thing and more expensive to do the wrong thing even members of the public who had not bought the science would nevertheless respond in a way that would generate the right result. By the way, that would not involve increasing taxation. My party has suggested creating a section of the Treasury that is designed to examine exactly how taxation influences environmental behaviour, with a view to reorganising such taxation to ensure that it is revenue neutral and achieves such ends.
A third way in which the public can be educated is through not what we can do, but what the media can do. The media do not always approach the matter as they shouldI have made that point before and do not hesitate to make it again. They either do not cover the subject at all, or cover it in a way that does not make connections. The increased risk of floods has been widely reported in the past 24 hours, but none of the news media has made much of a connection between that and climate change. Alternatively, the media report climate change as a straight science story with two pages on how the polar ice caps are disappearing, but without any indication of what politicians of any party should do about that. The media thus have a role in educating the public.
We are at the beginning of a new Parliament, so we have an opportunity to do something new. The right hon. Member for West Dorset and I are genuinely trying to reach out in some sort of fog as best we can to find a way forward that will provide a different sort of politics to deal with this most significant of issues. We are making a genuine attempt and, as politicians, we owe it to the public to do that. A policy of business as usual will not deliver action on the environment to tackle climate change effectively. We are convinced that our approach is the way forward and we genuinely want the Government to join us.
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