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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think the hon. Gentleman has met his target.

8.54 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): The Minister has been rather hard on the Opposition for failing to come up with a practical policy proposal about which the House could form a consensus tonight. He is being very unfair on my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). None the less, I am going to provide a single policy initiative, which I am sure will meet universal approval among Labour Members and my hon. Friends. It would save money for people on low incomes, cut pointless bureaucracy, reduce the burdens on local councils and, of course, reduce carbon emissions, and in doing so, supply not just hot air but hot water and, indeed, central heating.

We all know that one of the major causes of CO 2 in the atmosphere is household emissions—far bigger than vehicle emissions—and 75 per cent. of those emissions comes from heating and boilers. We now come to a peculiarity, and I want to use the debate to draw it to the Minister's attention in the hope that he can clear it up tonight. It would be a wonderful thing if he did so. He might like to come with me to the lovely village of Sonning Common—one of the largest villages in south Oxfordshire—and if he would be so kind as to come, he would see a large estate full of semi-detached houses built in the 1960s, with an attractive array of south-facing roofs. Mrs. Ann Anley, who lives in one of those houses, has written to me to explain that she has a plan, which I am sure that the Minister and, indeed, all hon. Members would support.

For an outlay of £3,000, Mrs. Anley can add to her roof a wonderful panel by which she can heat her water. It is a photovoltaic pump. I do not know the exact technical details. The Ministers is nodding sagely; he knows of what I am about to speak. It is a wonderful thing. She assures me—I have no reason to doubt her, since I have taken the trouble to look up her plans on the
 
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internet—that she can reduce her carbon emissions by half a tonne of CO 2 a year and that she can supply up to 70 per cent. of her hot water needs in doing so. It is a good thing that the installation is subsidised by the Government—the Minister is nodding again—to the tune of £400. We all support that. The kicker is that she has to get planning permission. I refer back to the very prescient words of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, who pointed to the absurdity of having to get planning permission to install a small windmill on a roof.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): On Friday 11 November, time ran out for the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill precisely because of the determination of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), ably aided and abetted by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), who did their utmost to talk out that Bill. I should like to ask the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) if he can explain that sabotage by two Conservative Members.

Mr. Johnson: Henley.

Nia Griffith: To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I meant the right hon. Member for West Dorset, because he was present for the debate and I assume that he will sum up. Am I right, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady is seeking to catch my eye later. Perhaps she has said enough for the time being, and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) can respond to that.

Mr. Johnson: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. It is precisely to address the point that she makes that I seek to build a cross-party consensus tonight on the very issue in hand. The problem is that this good lady—indeed, anyone who wants to do so—must get planning permission.

Mr. Morley rose—

Mr. Johnson: I think that the Minister is about to intervene to say that the need for planning permission will be revoked on these questions.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is on to a serious point. I understand that rooftop installations do not necessarily need planning permission, but there is confusion among local authorities about whether or not they do. I am glad to say that my hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry have recently launched a consultation exercise on micro-generation that seeks to look at barriers to those devices. Part of that is intended to address the planning system to ensure that there are no anomalies.

Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention because we are inching towards progress. I am tempted to say that he agrees with me, but I want to ram home the case a little further. To convince him, may I point out that the device that Mrs. Anley seeks to install is only 2 ft by 4 ft and only 8 cm thick, but to get planning permission, she must pay a non-negotiable flat fee of £135. She must then get an architectural artist to
 
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produce drawings of her house, which, as you will readily appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will push her costs well over £200. Everyone in the House will agree that it is complete madness on one hand to subsidise the project to the tune of £400, and on the other hand to force the good lady to spend more than £200.

It is of no disrespect to the beautiful village of Sonning Common to say that not every house in it is an architectural gem beyond price. The estate in question, which I hope the Minister will visit with me, is not yet deemed to be a critical part of our national heritage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has already pointed out, it is absurd that we allow houses throughout the country to sprout great Murdoch excrescences that pump trash into people's homes. Indeed, one can build the most extraordinary things with no planning permission whatever—I have done so myself—in the form of tree houses, sheds and heaven knows what, yet this single beneficial improvement to the lady's house is forbidden without planning permission.

What do we do now? We do not content ourselves with the discussion process that the Minister outlined. I hope that he will tell the councils that he rightly says are in doubt what is allowed and what is not allowed. He should use all the plenipotentiary powers in his possession as Minister for whatever he is to indicate—I will read this out for the benefit of those who need to take it down—that class C under statutory instrument No. 418, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, does not apply to solar panels. If councils remain in doubt, I hope that the Minister will use his good offices and all his influence to ensure that they are in doubt no longer.

I have read some of the correspondence from councils, which are receiving more and more applications for solar panels because they are becoming more popular. I think that we can all agree that we should encourage them. The Minister himself said that this is not just a national or international question, but a question of our own individual actions and of taking our own initiative to reduce our carbon emissions. Addressing the matter would be a perfect way in which he could encourage and assist that. I very much hope that I have succeeded in my brief speech in forging the consensus that the Minister sought earlier on a single, practical policy. I look forward to hearing later that he is going to do a little bit more than set up a committee in the DTI to clarify matters, because this needs to be done urgently, and he is the man to do it.

9.3 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): It is widely accepted—the debate has confirmed it—that the Government so far have a pretty good record on climate change. We played a significant role in securing the Kyoto protocol in December 1997. We chaired the European Council in 1998 that produced agreement on the allocation of carbon reduction targets among all EU member states. We then produced a programme for countering climate change that was probably the most detailed and extensive of any country in the world. It is fair to say that we have been consistently proactive and effective in international negotiations to push the climate change agenda. We have been one of the only two or three countries in the
 
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EU on track to meet our Kyoto target by 2010—so far, so good. However, there appear recently to have been disturbing shifts in policy that I fear are beginning to undermine that excellent record, which is why I have been prompted to speak in the debate.

A few months ago, British officials started lobbying in Brussels to try to persuade other EU countries that the successor regime to be implemented after Kyoto ends in 2012 should contain no targets or time scales. That is of course what President Bush wants, but it would defenestrate the entire global effort to stop and reverse global warming.

Then, a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister stated at a private conference in New York that the way to deal with climate change was not through the Kyoto mechanisms, but by more research and development in improved technology, as has been referred to. In other words, it should be business as usual, but with more scientific ingenuity to try to lessen the catastrophic consequences. I profoundly disagree with that approach.

If the world is to achieve the exceedingly exacting target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions not just by 5 per cent., as Kyoto requires, but by 60 per cent. by 2050, which scientists say is necessary to reverse global warming, a post-Kyoto international treaty that lacks targets, time scales and mechanisms is, to be honest, hardly worth the paper on which it is written. If that is the line that we are now taking as the presidency of the EU at the Montreal conference of parties, which is starting next week—I hope that I am wrong—it is a seriously retrograde step.

We will never solve the problem through business as usual plus merely improved technology. Welcome and useful though that new technology may be, we will do so only if we remove the causes of climate change: the burning of fossil fuels. To those such as the Prime Minister who seem to fear that that will inhibit economic growth—there has been a good deal of discussion about that in this debate—I say that helping developing countries to do that via the clean-development mechanism, which was specifically put into the Kyoto protocol, will not dumb down economic growth. It will increase the opening up of vast new international markets for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

That worrying shift in strategy—there have been some confusing signals, so I am not absolutely clear about the policy—is now beginning to seep into other more specific areas of policy. Over the summer, the national allocation plan targets that set out the carbon dioxide limits that are allowed for each industrial sector were increased by the Government, in one case above the levels already agreed by the EU Commission, as a result, of course, of industrial lobbying. I believe that I am right in saying that we are still intending to take the Commission to court in order to force it to accept that 3 per cent. increase. I hope that I am wrong, but if I am not, we should think about that again.

The building of 250,000 new homes—this point has been made and I very much agree with it—in the south-east of England offers a great opportunity to ratchet up the low energy-efficiency standards in housing, but as far as I can see, so far it has not been taken up.
 
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The fastest rising cause of greenhouse gas emissions is of course transport, yet too little has been done to replace the fuel duty escalator, which was so abruptly dropped in the face of the lorry drivers' blockade of oil refineries in 2000. I know that some things have been done, but certainly not enough.

Air travel, which may soon become the single biggest generator of greenhouse gases, is—let us be honest—being strongly promoted by the DTI. In addition, the Government heavily subsidise the airline industry—all Governments have done so—so that real-terms fares are falling year on year. The Government impose no tax on aviation fuel, which is a huge discrepancy when compared with the undoubtedly high tax on petrol for cars. They are now proposing a huge expansion of airports and a 300 to 500 per cent. increase in air travel in the next 30 years. All I can say is, fine, I know people want to do that, but I should like to be told how that is compatible with achieving a 60 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Now we are being told that the only way in which we can reach our Kyoto targets—


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