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12 May 2006 : Column 613

Finally, as a report by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs recommended in the last Session, we must carry out a comprehensive analysis of the sources of renewable energy in the UK, including wind, solar energy, biomass and geothermal energy, so that we can inform the choices and decisions of local communities and make sure that further major developments are as energy-neutral as possible. We should aim to generate energy in such developments, to reduce the demand on the national grid as much as possible.

Again, I welcome the Bill, which plays an important part in taking the debate forward in Parliament, throughout government, among the electorate and in the country, where there is a huge question mark over how we should proceed. The energy review later this year will play an important part in trying to focus that public debate, and I very much hope that the Bill will complete its passage through Parliament later this year.

10.29 am

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I am particularly pleased to be called to speak on the Bill, because it does an awful lot to make us all more accountable for solving the problems of climate change. The Bill talks about the need for the Government to report to Parliament annually on greenhouse gas emissions, and that will be an extraordinary help in addressing the problem in a meaningful way. I am also pleased that the Chancellor will be put in a position in which he would need to have a tax policy to promote microgeneration. That is another important move in enabling us all to have an opportunity to get involved in the issue.

I know from talking to my constituents that many people find it difficult to engage in, or talk about, the issue of climate change. When we look at the facts, we see that 42 per cent. of the CO2 emissions come from China and the United States. It is very easy to say that we cannot control that, that it is a matter for other people and that the problem will be dealt with by international policy. However, it is important that, through this debate, we say to all our constituents that climate change is not somebody else’s problem. We can all address the problem and make a meaningful contribution towards solving it.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): The Bill goes some way to making us all more accountable, but does my hon. Friend not agree that it will also cheer the hearts of anyone listening to the debate today? They will see that Members on both sides are joining together to put in place legislation that will have a real impact.

Mrs. Miller: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. All too often the perception among my constituents and those of many other hon. Friends is that we spend a great deal of time in this place arguing with each other rather than working together to come up with practical tangible solutions.

As I said earlier, the debate provides us with an opportunity to reiterate to all our constituents the need for all of us to take personal responsibility for climate control and then, on the international stage, to have a
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little more moral authority when putting pressure on countries such as China and the United States, so that they see that a lead needs to be taken on these issues.

One aspect of the Bill on which I would particularly like to focus is the role of local authorities. To return to the issue of increasing accountability, giving them a role is an excellent way of our trying to take the policies to our communities so that we can all play a role. I particularly welcome the inclusion in the Bill of new clause 28, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). It requires local authorities to consider microgeneration and energy efficiency in planning applications. That is especially pertinent at this time when the Government have such ambitious house building policies. Some 140,000 new houses are being built every year, and the figure will go up to 260,000.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab):To pick up on the hon. Lady’s point about local authorities and planning changes, the relaxation of the permitted development guidelines will be tremendously helpful particularly in the rural areas that do not havea good gas supply. Enabling people to put up microgeneration projects within the curtilage of their property will also undoubtedly be a significant change.

Mrs. Miller: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. The Bill works in many ways to give local authorities far more control and input into the issue. If we do not approach it as a national Government issue, we will make many others accountable.

Mr. Newmark: Does my hon. Friend not agree that many microgeneration projects are becoming almost economically viable? However, the cost of planning permission is prohibitive. For example, planning permission for a wind turbine on a house costs £265. If we want to encourage microgeneration projects such as wind turbines on people’s houses, surely we should encourage local councils not to have such prohibitively expensive charges for planning permission.

Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and perhaps I can illustrate why I support what he says with an example from another area. Not that long ago, unleaded fuel was not widely used. However, through the use of fiscal measures and cuts in taxation, we were able to promote its use. He suggests that we should consider measures such as cutting the cost of planning permission to promote microgeneration, and I agree that we need such tools to promote the behaviour that he described.

Anne Milton: My hon. Friend is being most generous in giving way. On the subject of local authorities, does she agree that councils and constituents are keen to use their imagination to take innovative measures and that we need to create the climate through legislation that allows councils to innovate and to take decisions locally so that they can drive measures forward?

Mrs. Miller: I agree, but I was about to come on to the fact that there is an awful lot that we could all do now. Rather than merely relying on legislation to cut
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CO2 emissions and deal with climate change, we should all consider at a local authority and, indeed, personal level what we can do to address the issues. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that this place should set the tone and allow things to take place locally, but we should also remind people that there are practical steps that they can take now.

Let me return to the effect that house building has on climate change. I said earlier that the Government’s policies mean that there will be a significant increase in house building if the Barker report is adopted. In my constituency, about 800 houses are built every year and that is in a part of the south-east which, as many hon. Members know, is under drought orders and hosepipe bans. Furthermore, many housing developments in my area and throughout the south-east are being built on floodplains. How environmentally sustainable is that policy? Although we are debating what we can do about climate change, we must not forget the broader issues when we discuss house building with the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

As I said, 800 houses are built every year in my constituency and one of the consequences is that our local electricity station, Bramley Frith, will have to increase significantly in size, with substantial impacts on the local environment that are being dealt with. There is a planned 1.5 per cent. increase in electricity demand in my constituency in the near future. Yes, there is a lot of house building going on, but surelywe should be looking at how we can reduce consumers’ demand for electricity and not just accept as afait accompli that electricity demand will go up exponentially. We must consider that point more closely.

Mr. Newmark: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Part of the process of reducing demand is to ensure that new houses are built with minimum quality criteria for insulation. One of my concerns about the Deputy Prime Minister’s initiative for more low-cost housing—I believe that it was a good initiative—is to ensure that builders do not cut corners by building houses without the necessary insulation. Through the sensible insulation of housing, we will have warm homes, reduce costs for the poorest in society and consume less energy.

Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I would like to look at some of the other aspects of house building and the things that we can do to our current housing stock to reduce CO2 emissions. Half of UK CO2 emissions come from buildings. Indeed,30 per cent. of them come from houses. Three quarters of those CO2 emissions come from the generation of heating and hot water. We need to look at ways of making our current housing stock, as well as our new housing stock, more energy efficient. There are many different ways to do that. In my hand, I have a piece paper entitled “Reducing personal emissions”—something that I am sure that we could all think about. My hon. Friend has talked about insulation, which reduces heating bills. CO2 emissions from heating equal 1 tonne a year from each house. There are many different ways in which we can try to address that on a daily basis. I have even seen one example of adopting
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natural insulation—from wool. We can also lag boilers and use energy-saving light bulbs.

Anne Milton: As I know that my hon. Friend is a parent, perhaps she will join me in saying that one thing that we can do is to get our children to turn off the lights.

Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. A point was made earlier about the issue of stand-by. Under a year ago, I moved into my office in the House of Commons and was told that I could not turn the television off because that was not the way in which the system worked in the House of Commons. That is quite extraordinary when one thinks that there are more than 600 of us here, all having to leave our televisions on at night when we go home—albeit that we do not leave that early, so perhaps there is not that much to be saved.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I wonder whether the hon. Lady would accept that the Government are doing quite a lot to encourage individuals to be more efficient in their use of energy through the warm front scheme. It has certainly helped a lot of people in my constituency who are on low incomes to use energy-efficient measures, including insulation, in their properties.

Mrs. Miller: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I am a great supporter of that scheme in my constituency. However, there is so much more that we could do and, as I have outlined already, there are measures that are easily put in place—measures that local authorities can assist with.

Mr. Sarwar: Everybody in the House acknowledges that local authorities can play a major role in saving energy by introducing guidelines and by encouraging and providing incentives to individuals. Would it not be a good idea for every Member who is present to make sure that we give every councillor in our local authorities a copy of the Hansard for this debate?

Mrs. Miller: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I will leave it to hon. Members as to whether they wish to follow that through. Certainly, I will talk to my councillors in Basingstoke—on the new Conservative-controlled council—who take this issue very seriously. The issue was at the top of the agenda during the local elections in Basingstoke. The council in my constituency has been controlled by the Liberal Democrats and Labour for the past 10 years and, as a result of that—perhaps as a result of other measures, as well—we have achieved only a 17 per cent. rate of recycling in my borough. I am not that pleased about that. Our neighbours in East Hampshire achieve a recycling rate of 34 per cent., so it is not an overall problem. There are others achieving better rates. The issues need to be taken seriously on the ground.The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point.

Anne Milton: Perhaps my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Guildford borough council in my constituency? It has the highest recycling rate in the
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whole of Surrey. Perhaps she would also agree that it is tremendous to see Conservative councils throughout the country making such huge strides in addressing things such as recycling and other energy-related and sustainable measures that they can put in place.

Mrs. Miller: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As a Hampshire Member of Parliament, I am not as familiar with what is going on in Surrey—albeit that Surrey is a neighbour—and I thank her for bringing that to my attention.

Mr. Newmark: Perhaps I can make a bold statement and encourage the new leader of my hon. Friend’s council to visit the council of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) to see their recycling initiative and to come to Braintree to see how we do insulation.

Mrs. Miller: I will, of course, bring that to the attention of the leader of the council. I am very pleased to be able to offer him the opportunity of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency and I am sure that he will consider that.

I had a public meeting with local residents in my constituency recently. We had a range of speakers talking about the issue of climate change. I was pleased that residents had taken the initiative to set up such a meeting because it is through such meetings that we can try to highlight the issues in our communities and explore what people can practically do today to address them. One of the speakers at the meeting raised a point that I want to share with the House. He raised the issue of whether we are all in denial about climate change—in other words, we talk about it, we debate it, we try to put measures in place to address increasing CO2 emissions, but we do not truly believe that there is an issue. Perhaps we can all think individually about whether we truly believe that climate change is an issue. As Members of Parliament and representatives of our communities, we have to be leaders on this issue and take the message back to our communities that climate change is not a figment of the media’s imagination or the climatologists’ imagination. It is a real issue that will affect not just people living in other countries, but us, our children and our future generations. As I said, I was pleased that the residents of Basingstoke felt strongly enough about the matter to have a public meeting where the issues were debated in full.

The Bill is another signal to communities such as mine that the House is not in denial, that it takes the issue very seriously and will do all that it can to try to promote a change in consumer habits on this matter. I find it unacceptable that UK CO2 emissions have risen, not fallen, since 1997. We should not accept that; we should fight against it. The Bill increases all of our accountability on this matter. It drives the issue of climate change not just upwards into international Government and national Government, but down into our communities. At the end of the day, it is down to all of us to address this issue if we are really to see change.

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10.49 am

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I, too, am very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) is not here and I send my condolences to him and his family. I congratulate him on the excellent work that he has done, which has brought the Bill so far in its passage. I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the Bill and to have been able to contribute as a member of the Standing Committee.

My main reason for supporting the Bill is my consciousness of the urgency of the problem. The chief scientist has made it absolutely clear that we have a short window of opportunity in which to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change. For example, it is not widely understood that it is possible that there will be a reversal of the Gulf stream, which would make this country much colder, not warmer. It is possible that countries such as Bangladesh could be flooded, and although people are worried at the moment about refugees and asylum seekers, if that happened, the current problems would pale into insignificance.

I agree with the hon. Member for Basingstoke(Mrs. Miller) about people being in denial. We must not move from denial to despair when we contemplate the problem. Action now will be much easier and more economic than action later. The key to achieving our target and tackling climate change effectively is a change to our culture.

In 1973, when I was a schoolgirl, I went to a summer fair in Ashbourne. I entered a competition about the environment that was run by Friends of the Earth, with a prize of membership of Friends of the Earth. I won the prize because I was the only person who had entered the competition, but I think that consciousness has been raised since then.

Fifteen years later, I was a Treasury civil servant when John Major was a Treasury Minister. We were having the annual round of spending cuts and he was thinking about cutting the home energy efficiency scheme, which was the forerunner of Warm Front. When I pointed out to him that the scheme was good and that it tackled fuel poverty, benefited the environment and created jobs, he agreed not to cut it. That is a good example of the way in which people are prepared to act once they understand the issues.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The hon. Lady says that people will act, but is sheaware that under her Government, according to a Government document on microgeneration, the number of people in fuel poverty rose by 1 million between 2003 and 2006?

Helen Goodman: I am not aware of those statistics. I must say that I am slightly sceptical about them, given our excellent Warm Front investment scheme, which is running at record levels.

Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the reason for fuel poverty is that the fuel companies are overcharging low earners, so the reason is not necessarily any Government legislation or programme?

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Helen Goodman: It is true that there are problems due to the charges of several of the intermediaries, but I will not go down that path because we are not considering that today.

When we examined the Bill in detail in Committee, it became evident that some of the old thinking still exists in small pockets of bureaucracy. In general, they are quite obscure, but planning and building regulations are absolutely vital to the situation. The fact that many of our constituents have contacted us to say that they want the Bill to get through shows that the tide has definitely turned with the general public.

Mr. Sarwar: Our constituents are extremely worried about the impact that climate change can have on communities and globally. My constituents have written me many e-mails and letters to ensure that I support the Bill. Why are the international community and developing nations not taking the problem seriously? What more can the Government do to exert maximum pressure on the United States and other nations to ensure that they put climate change at the top of the international agenda?

Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend anticipates one of my points. It is important that we take action and set a good example because although the UK’s emissions are not especially significant in global terms, because we have higher standards of living and consume much more than other countries, our carbon dioxide emissions per capita are higher. That is driving the position of India and China, which is why it is important that we pass the Bill and take practical measures.

The Bill is now in a better state than it was before it went into Committee and its provisions are now easier to implement. I especially welcome the accountability clause at the beginning of the Bill because if we are accountable and have to report annually, we will have an incentive to take more action. There are practical measures in the Bill on microgeneration, building regulations and combined heat and power.

Mrs. Maria Miller: The hon. Lady talks about taking more action. Does she agree that we should take additional action on air transport? We all know that24 per cent. of CO2 emissions come from transport in general. Emissions due to aviation represent an enormous part of that, but there is no tax on aviation fuel, which grossly distorts the cost of flying in environmental terms. Does she agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that we should consider introducing an air passenger duty tax that better reflects the environmental effects of emissions from planes?

Helen Goodman: As it happens, I am a member of the Standing Committee that is considering the Finance (No.2) Bill. We had such a discussion earlier this week. The hon. Lady is not right that there is no duty at all, but it is about half the level of the other duties. When we asked the Treasury Ministers about the matter, they said that they would not be able to take action until they had renegotiated international treaties. My feeling was that they should energise—

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