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Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I am delighted to follow some eloquent speakers whose knowledge and expertise so far outweigh my own. I am also delighted that the Opposition chose to debate this issue because, unlike some of the more pessimistic Members in the Chamber this evening, I can say that many of my constituents are highly concerned about the issue, which was raised with me during the election campaign by a number of people.

I am also delighted that the Opposition chose to debate climate change because, as we have heard, the environment is not an issue traditionally associated with the Conservative party. Regardless, for example, of whether the dash for gas had only a serendipitous effect on carbon emissions or whether it was deliberate, it has always been true that the Conservative party has been extremely effective at a local level in conserving the environment. Any campaign to preserve a local wood or green space tends to be packed with Conservative activists.

The environment is not and never should be the exclusive territory of the left, and a striking feature of today's debate is the call for all parties to make this a priority. Clearly we will have significant distinctions on the way we address the issue, most notably on nuclear energy, but one thing that must unite us is that we cannot go on like this; something has to change and we must work together to drive the issue up the political agenda.

I believe that Conservative and centre right parties have demonstrated that they have always had the knack for working with the grain of human nature and for achieving policy goals in a way that is in tune with how people think and live, rather than forcing top-down centralised plans on an unwilling public. We need that kind of inventiveness in this area as well.

In line with other speakers, I should like to see the Government subjected to more control, scrutiny and accountability on reducing carbon emissions. By contrast, I should like to see consumers given more incentives and encouragement to reduce carbon emissions.

At the heart of what the Opposition are arguing for this evening are institutional changes to deal with a key problem, in that effective measures to tackle climate change yield rewards only in the very long term, yet the pain caused by such changes and effective measures is immediate. The way the political system operates militates against effective action on climate change for precisely that reason.
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My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) advocates the idea that, essentially, Government action on climate change that is effective should be recognised and rewarded and that Government failure on climate change should be exposed and punished, to build genuine accountability into the system. We have heard a number of ways in which this can be done, in particular the establishment of an independent body, which is crucial. I am surprised that so many Labour Members who spoke at length about the lack of progress and their concerns on climate change cannot support such an obviously positive goal.

Driving energy issues up the agenda in every single Department of State is also crucial. There is no point in having an environmental policy that comes solely from DEFRA; we have to strengthen the hand of the environmental departments so that environmental issues are covered right across the Government, particularly transport and industry. We must encourage consumers to take action, bring consumers with us in tackling climate change, and encourage consumers to reduce their carbon emissions, in particular by focusing on energy efficiency.

There is much more I would like to say but I am conscious that we are rapidly running out of time.

6.34 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I thank the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) for her generosity in allowing time for me to speak. I also pay genuine tribute to the truly worthwhile initiative taken by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). I hope that the Government will take that initiative seriously, not only in their response to the debate tonight, but in the months and weeks ahead. At best, it provides the opportunity for the Government—and opposition parties—to be more courageous in some of the more difficult decisions needed.

Although we talk about how the public are beginning to understand better the imperative to tackle climate change, we are still a long way from getting the message across about the priority of taking effective action. We see that when oil prices rise and fuel protests are threatened. As political parties, we must get away from narrow party politicking and recognise the bigger goal of achieving real change.

When I talk to climate experts at the University of East Anglia, they tell of their fear that we are already too late to take effective action, but that is no reason for not trying. I want the political parties to lead public opinion on the issue. It is difficult to establish a link in the public's mind between what they hear about global warming and the actual effects on their lives. We hear of extreme events, such as Boscastle a couple of years ago and the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, but there is no irrefutable proof that they were caused by global warming, although they probably were. However, we have examples in this country of real proof of the impact that global warming will have on us—the impact will of course be much greater in countries such as Bangladesh, where the potential loss of life is horrific—and evidence is building in my county of Norfolk of real potential damage. Experts say that sea levels could rise by 1 ft—with apologies for using the old currency—in the next
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50 years, primarily because of global warming. Added to that, the Government are neglecting sea defences. For example, this year the Environment Agency will not be funded to replenish beaches in my constituency south of Sea Palling, but that is the point at which the sea can get into the broads.

In 1953, 300 people lost their lives in the east of England, but 8,100 people drowned in Holland. At that time, global warming had not had an impact, but rises in the sea level of 1 ft and an increased incidence of extreme events, such as storm surges, could lead to a devastating impact on the broads area, causing loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. We are on the front line of the impact of global warming and it is therefore essential for the Government to address the issue of sea defences, so that we can prepare for the future, and essential for us all to tackle the imperative of climate change.

Mark Lazarowicz: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's particular constituency interests, but does he agree that a difficult choice will have to be made in some areas about the wisdom of building sea defences higher and higher? I make that point in a genuinely consensual spirit, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman may wish to reply theoretically, avoiding the implications for his constituency.

Norman Lamb: Of course I understand that difficult choices have to be made, but above all else we have to ensure that effective action is taken now to tackle what is happening.

Finally, I wish to mention a worthwhile initiative by Greenpeace. Hon. Members have mentioned the horrendous inefficiency of the national power grid system. Greenpeace is advocating a much stronger focus on localised power generation, such as the initiatives in Braintree, Woking and other places. A move towards much more efficient power generation locally is one element of a new system of energy generation that will start to tackle this really serious problem.

6.40 pm

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): What an interesting debate we have had. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) on his consensual approach. He was optimistic and, as always, highly intelligent, yet gentle in his approach. He talked clearly about the path to 2050 and about the steps that we shall need to take to reach the 60 per cent. reduction target. I was disappointed by the slightly cynical nature of the interventions he took, although my faith was restored by the honesty and integrity with which he responded to them.

In her speech, the Secretary of State, was just a little too satisfied with the words of the Prime Minister. I hoped that she might have focused more on the results—what the Government have, or have not, achieved during the past eight years. It was clear from my right hon. Friend's answers to the Secretary of State what the body we had been talking about would do. I hope that she will think more carefully about his answers and the implications not only for the Government but for the whole planet. I agreed with her
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comment that we cannot lecture the other 189 countries about climate change; we must lead by example. I wish we were doing more to achieve that.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) gave a wise and well-informed speech—prophetic, I suggest. I particularly liked his comment that the economy is part of the environment, not the other way around. That balance is key if we are to make the sort of progress that we have been discussing this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) made four interesting suggestions. I do not think that he is a heretic; he made some constructive comments and I hope they will be taken on board. He looks slightly horrified, but he and I have agreed many times in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) talked about the international element of the problems we face, especially whether we shall have agreement by 2012. His speech was concerned, eloquent and measured. He talked about low-carbon technology and pointed out that making it cheaper was fundamental to any constructive progress in reducing the effects of climate change.

I liked very much my hon. Friend's comments on energy efficiency: particularly important for a country that has only 2 per cent. of the problem is whether we can be the role model that we should be. If we are the fourth most powerful economy in the world, we are perfectly positioned to set an example. If we do not, we shall never be more than 2 per cent. of the solution. We must take this opportunity and use our role in the world to make a difference. I liked his suggestion about carbon intensity as a percentage of gross domestic product and I shall think carefully about that.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) made three points. He talked about the house-building programme, about the long-term agenda, stability, certainty and clarity that people need if they are to do the right thing and about how important it is that policies do not conflict. His examples could have taken the third point one step further. I believe that the Government were right when they talked about joined-up government, which fits in with what he was saying about the lack of conflict in policy, but we are not getting the joined-up government that I know Ministers want to deliver but are finding difficult.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) talked about scrutiny of the Government and said that the Government must be open and clear. She said that consumers need to be encouraged to do the right thing. As is typical of her, she dissected the problem clearly. She talked about how the time scale contributes to the difficulties that we face with short-term pain for long-term gain. Her speech was, if anything, far too short, which is typical of her very generous nature.

The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) talked about the consensus element that has been touched on today, the impact of global warming and his worries about the effect on his constituents.

We have been all over the world with the debate. We have talked about the Government's global discussions, about the global solutions that we need to achieve and a great deal about what we can do to make an impact on
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the rest of the world. We could have talked a lot more about what we have done ourselves. When I start to think about what the world will be like in 2050—as I am sure that you do, Mr. Speaker—I realise that I shall be 84 by then. Depending on the Government crisis in pensions, I may well still be here but not yet Father of the House—one can never tell—but if we are still alive by then, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), and I will be grandparents, and when we have our grandchildren on our knee I am worried that we may be dealing with their questions about what we did to stop the climate changing. My concern is that he may have to answer that, although the Government set tough and ambitious targets, they failed to meet them.

We have talked about climate change, but the Government have not got carbon emissions to decrease. In fact, they have increased. We were all promised joined-up government and that we would recycle 25 per cent. of household waste, but we are becoming worse than almost every other country in Europe. It is very worrying that such figures are coming out. We have talked about Britain topping the EU league for increasing carbon emissions from electricity and heat production. If we do not cut our carbon dioxide emissions, we are likely to fail the Kyoto targets. If Britain misses her Kyoto targets, it would be very damaging not only for our environment, but for our standing and place in the world.

The climate change levy, which was discussed earlier, has proven a failure. It raises some £800 million a year, but it is far from clear where that money is spent. Only £40 million has been spent on developing solar energy systems, for example. In June, the Government announced that they would invest £25 million in carbon capture and storage schemes. The cost of creating carbon capture and storage models in the North sea could be as low as £40 million, so why cannot the Government add an extra £15 million from their £800 million to achieve that? The Norwegian company, Statoil, has been successfully using that method in the North sea for the past nine years. The technology is there; we have got to get on with using it.

We have difficulties with transport, which accounts for 22 per cent. of Britain's greenhouse gas emissions. The EU biofuels directive set a target of substituting 2 per cent. of fuels used, by energy content, with biofuels by the end of this year. The Government have set Britain's target at just 0.3 per cent. In 2003, biofuels represented only about 0.05 per cent. of the total automotive fuel market.

California is developing a hydrogen highway. Iceland estimates that it will power its whole infrastructure with hydrogen in 30 years. Britain could be doing so much better. Household waste is increasing by 3 per cent. a year. Germany diverts nearly four times as much and Denmark five times as much waste from landfill per person as Britain does.

On the Government's success rate in implementing the Cabinet Office guidelines on environmental legislation, they have managed to get them right only 16 out of 85 times. Last year, just 34 out of 121 regulations complied with the Cabinet Office guideline of issuing advice 12 weeks before implementation—a success rate of 28 per cent.
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The Government can do a great deal. I believe that they want to do it, and they should take the opportunity of the consensus that has been offered. It is entirely constructive, and I am sure that, when the Secretary of State has had a good chance to think about it, she will see the benefits not only to the Government and our country, but to the whole planet.

6.49 pm

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