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Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend might perhaps have been as concerned as I was recently during the informal European summit at Hampton Court a few weeks ago, when the Prime Minister referred to putting much more emphasis in our energy policy on working with European partners. The reason why I am concernedparticularly in this multilateral, international contextis that it is very clear that the European Union constitutes one of the brakes on having a successful trade negotiation because of its attitude to the lack of agricultural reform. I would be very concerned, given the importance of persuading countries such as China and India, if too much of our energy policy were dependent on getting the whole of Europe moving in the same direction, given the negative effects that we have seen in our trade negotiations.
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Mr. Forth: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who refers to other factors that will inevitably be crucial. We must make a series of important decisions. The first is: what is the best vehicle by which we can try to take decisions and move the issue forward? Is it us alone, is it us through the European Union, is it us with our English-speaking friends, is it us with the Commonwealth or is it in some more global context?
For example, should we be seeking to link the issues of adaptation to climate change to trade negotiations or to technology transfer? Surely spending more resources in the wealthy world on research and development is key to developing the technologies that would enable us and, crucially, developing countries to respond to the problems caused by climate change. All those factors are crucial. Like, I suspect, my hon. Friend, I see no sign of any of that taking place. Instead, our country is acting in an uncharacteristically blinkered, inward-looking and narrow way. We congratulate ourselves on what we are doing, but neglect all the other factors that will eventually be much more crucial. Why are we not having a debate about what we should be doing in terms of technology development, technology transfer and helping the developing world to look more to adaptation as much as to the mitigation of climate change through considering emissions? There is a whole policy area that we have barely touched on.
Whether the technologies that we are talking about make sense is another issue for consideration. Too many rather easy assumptions are made about the efficacy of different types of technology. Unusually todayperhaps because they are not explicitly referred to in the Billwe have not heard too much about some of the more exotic technologies. However, I have always had severe doubts about a range of possibilities in renewables and how efficacious they will be. I will touch on that point when I consider the Bill, which I shall come to shortly.
I wonder whether the focus is necessarily right. One of the great problems in this debate is that, as with many other things, one gets trends and then trendy ideas. Things emerge that are made to sound attractive and people latch on to them. We then make a great mistake in that they are portrayed as being the answer to the problem or one of the answers to it. Sadly, that rarely turns out to be the case.
I remember when I still worked in the real world back in the 1970s. I was involved in a small company that was trying to play its part in developing solar energy in this country. Of course, the technology was in its early stages then, but it became fairly obvious that, in a climate such as ours, solar energy was probably unlikely to be the answer to the problems as we saw them at the time. The technology has moved on but, sadly, our climate has not changed very much at all.
That raises another intriguing possibility that I shall touch on in passing and that is not often discussed. There can be positive effects of global warming in a number of interesting and different ways. Global warming is nearly always portrayed as being negative, as having the most horrendous effects in all sorts of areas. However, most of the analyses seem to demonstrate thatwhether in terms of agriculture or, in many
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countries, in terms of health or many other waysa degree of global warming may not necessarily be that bad a thing.
Norman Baker: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Fascinating though this discourse is, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has been speaking for 20 minutes and has yet to refer to a single proposal in the Bill. Is that in order?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): We are debating the Bill's Second Reading and the right hon. Gentleman is setting the background. However, I am sure that he is about to come on to the Bill very shortly.
Mr. Forth: I forgive the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) for his impatience, but as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the fact that the Bill refers to "combating climate change" gives a fair degree of scope for a discussion of the very concept of climate change. The hon. Gentleman must have learned a lot already from what I have been sayinghe is about to learn a lot more.
I shall get on to the Bill now; not because the hon. Gentleman asked me to, but because you suggested that I might, Madam Deputy Speaker. It will take me a little while, but the hon. Gentleman should relax because I have already said that I do not intend to try to divide the House today. I do not think that anyone else is likely to do that, so the odds are that the Bill will get its Second Reading. He should not irritate me too much, because if he does I might change my mind on that, too. He would then take the blame for the Bill going nowhere, not me. He ought to be very careful.
I take exception to considerable aspects of the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that I have said that I was somewhat relieved by the Minister's excellent response to it. I look forward to reading the amendments that he and his colleagues will try to make in Committee, and I shall have a good look at the Bill when it emerges from Committee. If it is okay, I am sure that it will get through Report and Third Reading just fine, but if there is much that the Minister has not tried to change, we will have to have a jolly good go at it on Reportthat will be a fascinating day for us.
My first problem with the Bill is the vexed issue of fuel poverty. I must confess that I have always thought that the concept of fuel poverty is complete nonsense. It is of course trendy, and I think that even Conservative Front Benchers have signed up to it for reasons that I will not begin to understand.
Why do we talk about fuel poverty, but not about food poverty, clothing poverty or other aspects of poverty? Households have an income. Many households have an income provided solely by the state. People in households have to make decisions about how they dispose of that income, such as whether to spend it on clothing, food, cigarettes, beer, bingo, or fuel. It is bizarre to single out an alleged problem with fuel, but not those other discretionary expenditures.
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The situation is even more bizarre when one considers the huge variation in the circumstances that must inevitably exist in households and the difference in people's attitudes to such matters. For example, some people might keep their heating turned on all the time, or too much of the time, and thus waste fuel. I know of no sensible way of measuring each person's use of fuel, whether that is responsible or not. I know of no means through which even this intrusive Government can measure people's individual lifestyles and the way in which they choose to spend their money on different aspects of discretionary or necessary expenditure. The whole concept of fuel poverty is thus total nonsense, so why we persist in including it in legislation is completely beyond my comprehension.
Before anybody springs up and says, "But what about the fuel handout that people get from this generous Government?", let me point out that that payment is even more ridiculous. I suspect that many households do not spend the fuel handout on fuel at all. I will not ask hon. Members to reveal too much of what they know about how some people spend their Government, or taxpayer, fuel moneylet us not go too far into that; suffice it to say that the payment itself was an absurd response to a perceived, yet completely false, problem. My first difficulty with the Bill is the fact that it repeats the nonsense of fuel poverty yet again and claims to provide a response to it.
"In performing functions under this Act, the relevant persons and bodies shall have regard to . . . the principal purpose set out in subsection (1) . . . the desirability of alleviating fuel poverty"
I can sign up to that. It is something in the Bill that I can support. It does not mean very much, but the desirability of securing a diverse and viable long-term energy supply is an admirable aspiration to which even I can sign up.
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