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Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which comes into operation now. However, I calculate that we have about 62 minutes until the winding-up speeches must start. Eight hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so, if they are feeling charitable, I shall leave the maths to them.

5.38 pm

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I shall bear your comments in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Given the consensus in the Chamber and the view that we need a new political approach, perhaps the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) will withdraw his motion so that we will not need a vote. That would put the Government on the back foot and would certainly be new politics.

It is well known that I do not make great visionary speeches in the Chamber and talking about the problems of 2050 is something that tends to be lost on my constituents. I wish to speak about my experience of
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what I believe to be climate change. Those hon. Members who can remember past the general election know that Carlisle experienced horrendous flooding on 8 January. About 3,000 houses were flooded and two elderly constituents died a dreadful death by drowning in their homes. Some £500 million of damage was caused. Jobs were lost. It was a staggering blow.

The Government responded well. My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who is responsible for dealing with floods, came to the constituency before it had stopped raining and £30 million was made available for flood defences. Six Ministers, four of them Secretaries of State, visited us. We dealt with the flood well. We also received an extra £30 million for our schools.

We thought that it was a flood that took place once every 150 years. It had happened and we could put it behind us. The Deputy Prime Minister came to the city and said that it should have a renaissance. We were to have a new fire station, new police station, new commercial centre and new civic centre, because they were all flooded. We were looking forward to that, but yesterday the rain started again. The storm clouds came over Carlisle, settled over Cumbria and we had 4 in of rain.

Those facts do not bear any resemblance to what really happens to people when they are flooded. I arrived home from London and someone said, "Do you want a boat trip round your house?" After the flooding went away, we went into the houses, took our personal possessions, which we had had for many years, and threw them into a big skip. But that was just the start. The builders then came in. They tore the house to pieces, ripped up floorboards and took down the walls. Massive heaters were put in the house to dry it out before it could be reconstructed. It was horrendous. Some 66 per cent. of the people flooded in my constituency in January are still not back in their homes. That is the reality of a massive flood—and of global warming.

It is global warming because the same thing has happened again. Fortunately, when I came to the Chamber, the rain had stopped, but last night my constituents lived in fear. I am not exaggerating—I am not prone to exaggeration—but they would not have slept. I was in London and I did not sleep. The curtains would have been open and they would have gone to the window every half hour to check whether it was still raining. The local bus company moved its £3 million-worth of new buses out of the area. I talked to senior managers at United Utilities today who said that the climate has changed and Carlisle is no worse than many other areas. My tale could well be repeated in other constituencies if we do not do something about the problem.

As I said, I am not a great visionary, but a practical politician. Some things we can do quickly. Although tackling emissions will take great debate by statesmen and wise counsel, we have to be ready for more floods. There is a commitment to provide flood defences, but they will not be up for a while. However, yesterday's problem was not with the rivers. The Environment Agency is in charge of those and they did not flood. The problem lay with the run-off of surface water, the drains and the sewers.
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The practical difficulty is that the county council and the city council have different responsibilities for the different gullies. They argue about who should clean what and not enough are cleaned. The city council is responsible for the drains and United Utilities, the privatised utility supplier—privatisation does not help in this situation—is responsible for the sewers.

We therefore lack the necessary co-ordination to deal with the practical difficulties. If we do not get that right—I know that the Secretary of State is listening—we will fail to deal with future floods. Anyone representing a constituency with a flood risk should look at the reports about what happened in Carlisle, because they provide a blueprint for the way in which the Government should react as well as a warning about what can happen.

I sometimes think that our priorities are wrong. Many environmentalists in the Chamber have been in the vanguard, and have pushed for action on climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) raised the issue of sewerage and flash floods, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). United Utilities said that we must spend £3.5 billion in the next five years to improve environmental water quality in the north-west, but we have only £100 million to spend on improvements to the sewerage system. I live in the centre of Carlisle and when I look out of my windows I can see otters and kingfishers, which is tremendous. It may be necessary, however to reduce the £3.5 billion that we spend on water quality and put more money into improving the sewerage system. We need to reconstruct the drainage and the sewerage systems in most of our cities, as they were built at a time when people did not experience flash floods or intense rainfall. Another option is to increase costs to pay for those improvements, because United Utilities and the other privatised utilities will always seek a profit.

I hope that people will treat my warning seriously. We can introduce practical measures quickly, but we must resolve the underlying problems. Wind power has been mentioned. In my constituency, a local company, Pirelli, has received planning permission for a large wind turbine that will cut its costs by about £750,000 a year. I think that that was the right decision. Having had nuclear power in Cumbria for many years, I believe that we should keep an open mind about it. Environmentalists who say that we should have nothing to do with it are probably wrong, and might think differently if they shared my experiences. The Liberal Democrats cannot claim to build a consensus while ruling out nuclear power. That is simply not feasible.

I hope that I have warned the House about the practical problems of climate change. The right hon. Member for West Dorset would give a true sign of consensus if he withdrew the motion.

5.48 pm

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on tabling the motion and enabling the House to debate this important issue and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on his cross-party initiative. This is clearly an issue that transcends party politics and I welcome the joint approach of the Opposition parties, which, I hope, will be embraced by the Government in due course.
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who spoke eloquently about the local nature of climate change. When it comes home in that way, people really experience its effects, but it is a huge global issue. Every time that we discuss climate change in the House, the problem has become worse. Hurricane Katrina may or may not have been caused by climate change, but it gave us a preview of life after extreme climate change, including the collapse of social order, the loss of life and the destruction of property, all of which the scientists have warned us about.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Hurricane Katrina reminds us that, particularly in developing countries, it is often the poorest who are most immediately at risk because of climate change and face more horrendous consequences than us?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is right. Last year, a bunch of NGOs produced an extremely good report called, "Up in Smoke", which forcefully made that point.

The hon. Member for Lewes touched on the disappearing Artic ice cap, which is disastrous for indigenous species and for people who live there. The situation is worse than that, because the disappearing ice desalinates the north Atlantic, which could switch off the gulf stream. If we want to live in a climate like that of Labrador, that is the way to do it. The disappearing Arctic ice cap also reduces the Earth's ability to reflect light back to the sun, which creates a vicious circle whereby the ocean warms up, the capacity to absorb CO 2 is reduced, more ice is lost and the ocean warms up again. If the cycle continues until 2060, there is likely to be no ice at all.

Yesterday's UN report stated that, as a result of climate change, some 50 million people may need to seek refuge elsewhere because they will be driven from their existing homes and livelihoods by deforestation and extreme flooding. It recommends creating a new status of "environmental refugee". Is the developed world ready for 50 million environmental refugees? I think not.

The situation is bad and it is in danger of getting a great deal worse. Climate change is unlike any other economic or political problem. It concerns irreversible changes to the planet that is our common home and requires a different kind of politics and a different kind of economics. That is not the least reason why I am so pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and the hon. Member for Lewes have launched their initiative, which is a step in the right direction.

Somebody once said, "It may not be cost-effective to save the planet, but it is probably worth trying to do anyway." That leads me to one simple observation, which is blindingly obvious but consistently overlooked by politicians and economists alike: the economy is part of the environment, not the other way round. The economy is subsidiary to the environment and until that plain truth enters the mindset of economists, industrialists and politicians, we will never attain the necessary will, determination and courage to save future generations from the consequences of our irresponsible
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behaviour. The challenge is massive and time is short, but the problem can be solved because the tools are there.

We clearly need international agreements and structures, which is why the Kyoto protocol is so important. By itself, the Kyoto protocol will make only a minimal impression, but it proves that the world can more and less come together and achieve agreement on what needs to be done. It is therefore an important milestone in making progress on climate change. It is essential that work continue on developing an effective post-Kyoto international agreement and I was somewhat comforted by the Secretary of State's remarks on that point. The Prime Minister may become dispirited in his negotiations with George Bush, but he should not allow himself to be downhearted and should push on with that important work.

It is vital to include China and India in international negotiations and future agreements. China opens a new, large coal-fired power station every five days and plans to build a further 600 power stations in the next 25 years, a period in which India wants to build about 200 and the rest of the world a further 600. If all those coal-fired power stations are built with conventional coal technology, we might as well give up our weekly trip to the recycling bin and forget about energy-efficient light bulbs. The plain truth is that the United Kingdom is responsible for only 2 per cent. of global climate change emissions. In that context, the ongoing debate about whether nuclear should be part of our energy needs seems peripheral.

The need for international agreement to drive down CO 2 emissions is fundamental. The technologies already exist to sequester and store emissions and to convert coal to gas—we just need to make sure that they are deployed. Of course there is more that we could do nationally, at home, to play our part in meeting this great challenge and to give a lead. The fact that CO 2 emissions have risen in the UK in recent years is not only an embarrassment but a serious problem.

I regret that the Government's new climate change programme has been delayed, but we must hope that, when it emerges, it will be radical and specific. I should like to see a far more imaginative use of fiscal measures to encourage the take-up of new technologies in transport, energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. On 11 November, two important private Members' Bills will be a test of the Government's commitment to sustainable energy. I hope that hon. Members will make a note of that date in their diaries.

We need an effective education programme, including formal education, but we must do more than just preach—we need to give people incentives to do the right thing, and to reward good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour. That is all part of environmental education.

We need sensible, clear and targeted regulation. Most industries in this country, as well as the CBI—at least, it says so—now accept the need for environmental regulation, but they need to know what the Government are asking them to do, and at the moment they are making noises that suggest that they do not. Only when the Government set out a clear vision of what they expect from industry and set regulations accordingly will the investment flow. The financial sector needs to
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have that kind of certainty too. It is not enough just to say that technology will solve all our problems. Of course technology has a vital role to play, but for technology to develop we need investment, and for investment we need national and international systems of reward and punishment.

We should recognise that, since climate change is a public good, there is a need for Government to back their fine words with more and better targeted support in areas such as research and development. Of course, there will always be concerns about costs, but as the Association of British Insurers—that newly converted band of eco-warriors—is so keen to remind us, the cost of doing nothing will lead to massively greater costs in years to come. Hundreds of billions of pounds are at risk if action is not taken now.

Learning to live within environmental limits, reconciling today's economic aspirations with the forces of nature, harnessing new technology for the sake of our children and their children and forging international consensus: these are the greatest challenges facing our generation of politicians. We must not fail.

5.58 pm

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