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Climate Change

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now come to the debate on climate change. I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.14 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I beg to move,

The motion was tabled by my hon. Friends and myself, as well as by Liberal Democrat Members.

When we last held a debate on climate change in the House, Government Members reasonably requested us to put before the House a more emollient motion if we sought consensus on the way forward on climate change and carbon reduction and to remove from that motion any vestige of criticism of the activities of Her Majesty's Government. We could not have obliged more than we have done this evening. Liberal Democrat Members and I have concocted a motion that does not offer any criticism whatsoever of the Government but seeks consensus on the need for consensus. As someone inclined to emollition I cannot imagine a more emollient solution.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Can the right hon. Gentleman clear something up for me? I find a great deal to recommend in the motion, but will the hon. Gentleman oblige me to vote on it?

Mr. Letwin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making an intervention—uniquely, in my experience—that enables me to progress my speech. I hope that the motion will not be forced to a vote. That lies not in his hands but in the hands of the Government Front Bench team and the Whips. If they choose, as I hope they will, not to force the matter to a vote we should be delighted. We shall have to wait and see how Ministers respond.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would have been helpful if the Government had added their amendment to the motion rather than seek to delete it?

Mr. Letwin: That would have been a possibility, but in the spirit of seeking consensus and avoiding criticism I shall assume that the Government would have done so if the hon. Gentleman had recommended it in advance.

The broad framework around which the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and I seek consensus is well known to Members who attended our previous debate. I do not want to dwell on it in detail, as it would bore the House, so I shall remind hon. Members who attended that debate and inform hon. Members who did not that we do not imagine for a moment that consensus would consist of point-by-point agreement on every possible policy relating to climate change, which is manifestly impossible. Nor do we imagine that it will go beyond, at least at first, the establishment of common ground on principles on which the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment and I broadly agree. The nation should have a settled framework of year-by-year targets and
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requirements for carbon reduction, and that framework should include the appointment of a well-articulated independent body capable of informing Parliament on a regular basis of whether, as we look forward many years, the Government's policies are calculated to achieve those targets to a 90 per cent. or a 10 per cent. degree of probability, or whatever is the judgment of that independent body.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): If such a framework were set up, should not the Government be prepared to accept that it could be used to investigate the view that they are talking to their advisers on the basis that they will not meet their Kyoto promises, which is very damaging?

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): No, we are not doing so.

Mr. Gummer: Advisers certainly say that that is the case. Should not the Government refuse demands from the European Union that we should break our word on our emissions limit? Should they not also accept that we ought to ban hydrofluorocarbons instead of being the dirty man of Europe and opposing attempts to ban them?

Mr. Letwin: My right hon. Friend has an extraordinary record as a successful Secretary of State for the Environment and is a beacon of light to the Government in that respect. However, I shall not pursue the line of inquiry that he recommends because I hope that the answers to his questions are in the affirmative, that the Government and succeeding Governments will recognise not only where they are succeeding, but where they are failing, and that that will occur not in the spirit of pointing the finger, but in the spirit of seeking, as a nation, to achieve real and sustained progress.

Mr. Morley: I was surprised at the comments from the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is generally well informed on these matters. I want to make it clear that there is not the slightest intention that the Government will renege on their Kyoto agreements. We are well on track to meet our Kyoto targets—one of the very few industrial countries to do so. We expect not just to meet our Kyoto commitments, but to surpass them.

Mr. Letwin: I shall not pursue that debate, although as the Minister well knows, though it is probably true that the Government will just meet their Kyoto greenhouse gas emissions targets, the reduction in carbon that both the Minister and I would like to see is not happening. It will be recognised by the Minister, because he has recognised it on previous occasions, that after a period during which the dash to gas created significant carbon dioxide reductions, more recently it is a combination of what has happened on adipic acid and the performance of farmers that has largely rescued the Kyoto targets. So there is considerable force in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, as the Minister knows.
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I hope that across the Chamber this evening, rather than engaging in defensive and offensive manoeuvre, we can get to the point where we understand that as a nation we face a very serious problem, and that we can agree on a framework for tackling it.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): My right hon. Friend is in danger of being far too kind to the Government this evening. Did he not see the report by The Economist? In their election manifesto in 1997 the Government promised to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. In their 2001 general election manifesto they promised to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. Nothing has happened. It is only now that they are proposing to set up a review next year to work out how they meet their Kyoto targets. I caution and counsel my right hon. Friend not to be too kind to them.

Mr. Letwin: I understand the temptation on the part of my hon. Friend and others to point out uncomfortable facts, but in the end, those are not uncomfortable facts for the Government. They will probably sail on without anybody in this country, alas, caring as much as they ought about those things. It will be other issues that bring about the downfall of the Government, in all probability. We in the Chamber all know that. Alas, the danger that arises in relation to the points that my hon. Friend makes is a danger for the country. That is why it is so critical that we translate good will into action.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): In the interests of consensus, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that targets should be set. One of the targets that the Government have set is 10 per cent. renewables by 2010. To achieve that, there will be a massive roll-out of offshore wind farms, the first of which will be off my constituency—200 turbines. Do the right hon. Gentleman and his party support such proposals?

Mr. Letwin: We will in all probability need to see a considerable extension of renewables in this country, if we are to get anywhere near meeting the targets that we seek. I accept that there will frequently be constraints against which those bump up and tensions that they create, and as a nation we will have to accept some things that we do not find comfortable. I do not know the particularities of the case that the hon. Gentleman cites. I would be happy to come and look at it for myself.

We must understand that it is not for us in the House or for Governments to make decisions about particular technologies, to pick winners or to advance the causes of this or that. It is for us—this is the onus of what the hon. Member for Lewes and I are trying to do in the process in which we have engaged—to attempt to bring it to the attention of the political establishment of this country that we need a settled framework which is translated through market incentives into the production of appropriate solutions, which will be wide ranging in nature. So politicians determine direction, and the market responds with solutions. That does not mean that it will be easy or that there will not be tensions or conflicts. It means that instead of debating
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particularities in the House, we can debate the general thrust and create a set of arrangements that deliver against targets.

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