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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): This has been a remarkable and encouraging debate. Let me begin by paying tribute to the contributions from the Back Benches. We have had reminders from my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and from the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) of some of the real impacts of climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle referred to the regular and terrible flooding that he and his constituents have suffered, and we have heard about the rising sea levels and the coastal erosion in Norfolk and about the hurricane that has happened since we last debated the subject. Although it is right to say that one cannot detect in a single meteorological phenomenon the impacts of climate change, there is now no doubt that the warming of the oceans as the result of climate change is making such events more regular and violent. We heard good and timely reminders.
We heard contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), who made constructive recommendations and proposals as to what we might do to help to counter the problem.
We also heard a second excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). Among other things, he talked about the importance of using market mechanisms to push the agenda forward. I wish that he could have spent some time at the conference of international business leaders from China and all round the world that took place in London this week and that he could have listened to those business leaders, including some from the UK, whose companies are aiming for carbon neutrality. An economic process is going on and people see real business and economic opportunities, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must harness them.
The most remarkable thing about the debate, however, was the level of consensus. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for securing the debate. I do not think that it would have happened in the past, and I think that it is a tribute to the fact that he has moved this important issue to the centre of his own party's policy. I hope very much that he can keep it there.
I am a natural consensualist, so I am instinctively attracted to the proposal that both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) made. The right hon. Gentleman was very generous in his praise of what the Prime Minister has achieved on the international scene, and praise is also due to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. She has also played an extremely important role on the international scene, as has my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who I am
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afraid cannot be here to reply to the debate because he is conciliating as part of our presidency commitments on the bathing water directive in Brusselslucky him.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset was not quite so generous in his remarks about our domestic record. It is important to remind the House that we have the renewables obligation; the climate change levy, although he may disagree with it; the emissions trading scheme, which was UK led; the changes to company car tax; and the changes to the vehicle excise duty.
On the building regulations, we have managed to achieve a 40 per cent. improvement in efficiency in buildings in just three years, because of some of the changes that we have introduced. Hon. Members who raised the issue were right. We need to do more.
We also have the climate change review that will address the very specific criticism that the right hon. Gentleman and others have had that we are not on track to meet our CO 2 targets. I hope that some of the suggestions that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House will help to contribute to that review and help us to get back on track to meet those targets.
I welcome the conversion of the Conservative party to targets, but I remind it that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrat party included the 20 per cent. CO 2 reduction target by 2010 in their manifestos. The Labour party was the only party to do so. That is fine; I welcome the conversion. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is sincere in taking the issue seriously. My fear, howeverI hope that I am wrongis that he has not achieved a consensus in his own party. He may seek a consensus across parties, but the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said in an interview recently:
I therefore ask whether the right hon. Member for West Dorset has a job in his own party to reach the consensus that he needs to accomplish before he tries to achieve a consensus on both sides of the House. We would feel easier about his admirable desire if he could achieve that first.
The hon. Member for Lewes was also generous in his tributes to what the Government have achieved. I think that he would agree that our policies have a lot in common, although it is important to highlight a couple of issues on which we do not agree, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did in reply to his letter. We do not think that talking about imposing emissions reductions on developing countries, especially India and China, is a sensible negotiating position, so we can be honest in disagreeing with him about that. Additionally, advocating a specific proposal for the shape of a future
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climate change agreement after Kyoto would not be a sensible negotiating position at this stage, as my right hon. Friend said.
Apart from the independent body, which my right hon. Friend talked about in her speech, the one thing on which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats seemed to be able to agree was the annual obligation or targetwhatever one wants to call it. The problem with an annual obligation, apart from the fact that it is suggested by two parties that until recently did not want to commit even to an obligation by 2010, is that it would leave no room to take account of the effect of short-term fluctuations in the global economy or the price of certain fuels. For example, what would happen in the event of the situation that occurred over the past two years when more coal was burned because of the price of gas, which created a problem with our short-term CO 2 targets? The hon. Member for Lewes and the right hon. Member for West Dorset do not explain how an annual obligation would help us to cope with such situations.
I am slightly confused about the consensus that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats envisage. I did not think that the hon. Member for Lewes was clear about whether he was advocating an agreement, or an exchange of views. If he was advocating an agreement, it would be incredibly difficult to achieve. For example, I look forward to the day when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will be able to agree on the future of nuclear energy. If he was advocating an exchange of views, we can have that. We have been having such an exchange for the past three and a half hours and it has been an extremely interesting, instructive and educative experience.
Norman Baker: I am happy to do so. I want an agreement, but I said that we should have a solid foundation on which we could agree, and perhaps even an additional couple of storeys, but that we could each have our individual structures above that[Laughter.] No, this is serious. Let us maximise what we can agree on, rather than picking out differences.
Mr. Bradshaw: The right hon. Member for West Dorset was slightly more candid when he acknowledgedI thinkthat he did not really expect us to accept his offer at least until he was ready to come up with proposals, after he was frank enough to admit that he did not actually have any proposals at this stage.
Although I am a natural consensualist, I am slightly cautious of the prospect of trying to reach consensus while the Conservative party is in the throes of a leadership election, the outcome of which we do not know. We do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will still be in charge of its climate change policy after that election, although I hope that he will be for the reasons that I outlined earlier. I certainly hope that his man and wing of the party wins the election so that we might maintain the consensus that we have built over the past few weeks. The hon. Member for Lewes said that we needed to reach out in a fog, but I assumed that the fog to which he was referring was the Liberal Democrat policy review.
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It is not realistic for us to achieve the sort of consensus that the hon. Member for Lewes and the right hon. Member for West Dorset envisage until both the Liberal Democrat policy review and the Conservative leadership election are out of the way. At that time, we might be able to do so. The door is open for this great idea, so I hope that we will be able to make progress when both those issues are resolved.
I take the offer at face value and think that it is an interesting and constructive idea. I welcome both it and the fact that the House is debating one of the most important issues that face mankind in such a constructive and consensual way. However, if the Opposition parties are serious about a consensus, they should take up the constructive suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and not press the motion to a vote.
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