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12 May 2006 : Column 640

There is a growing recognition throughout the House, shown by the signatories to the cross-party agreement of five parties on climate change and evident among Government Members, that action is needed urgently. Certainly, the recent remarks of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs suggest that there is a growing realisation that we need to act urgently on this issue and that the Government and we as legislators must set a clear framework in which people can operate. This is a classic collective action problem. If someone stands up when watching a football match, the person behind has to stand up, and before we know it, everyone is standing up and no one has a better view. If we can reach a genuine assurance that everyone should continue to sit down, that everyone should save energy and that everyone should be prepared to charge their behaviour in most ways—not by disporting an excessive hair shirt—we can make real progress on climate change, albeit in a country that is responsible for only about 2 per cent. of carbon emissions globally.

Our standing in the international community and our ability to argue in the European Union and more widely for radical international measures depend on our ability to set a clear example. There is an enormous advantage both for consumers of energy and for people who are developing the new technologies of our being the first mover, recognising and adjusting to a new world where climate change is taken extremely seriously. With those thoughts, the Liberal Democrats very much support the measure. We congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith on its progress, and we very much hope that it will reach the statute book in short order.

12.15 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I, too, pass on my condolences to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on the sad family bereavement that he recently experienced.

Like almost every hon. Member who has contributed to our debate, I very much welcome the Bill, particularly the fact that Members of Parliament can hold Governments of whatever party accountable for progress on carbon emissions. That is tremendously important: just as we will be held accountable by the electorate on the issue, the Bill gives us the power to hold the Government of the day to account. In time, that welcome power will lead to a much-needed reduction in carbon emissions. However, it has been pointed out that the major initiatives that will effect reductions in CO2 emissions in this country are the energy review, which is currently on the Minister’s desk, and the full implementation of emissions trading. Sadly, on current projections, the Government will miss the 2010 and 2050 targets. Although we all welcome the Bill with enthusiasm, we are right to temper that enthusiasm with a great deal of concern about the wider picture.

Just over a year ago, the general election took place. Contrary to advice, I made climate change a major feature of my election literature, but I was disappointed that it was little noticed by the constituents whom I met during the campaign. Afterwards, I asked a young man why that was the case. He said that many people of his generation did not fully understand climate change,
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which had connotations of a warmer Mediterranean climate creeping on to British shores, thus preventing the need to hop on an easyJet plane from Luton for a summer holiday. That is a measure of the challenge that we face as parliamentarians—we must explain the issue in clear and simple language, and show why it is important. We should aim to do so in this debate. Weather patterns in this country will be disrupted, and we must consider the future of our planet. However, it is not just our children and our children’s children who are affected, as climate change is killing people today. That point is not made often enough. According to the World Health Organisation, 150,000 people a year die as a result of climate change-related illnesses. It is important to stress that it is not just a future threat but an issue that is taking the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. Does he agree that climate change may well have contributed to the historic situation in the past 10 to 20 years in the horn of Africa? The heat wave in Europe only a couple of years ago, which may have killed 20,000 to 30,000 people, was probably a consequence of global warming.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the horn of Africa, because I was briefly going to give an example from that part of the world before returning to the substance of the Bill. He is absolutely right. As climate change affects less-developed nations, people are forced off their land—because there is no productive agricultural capacity—and that leads to war and conflict. Farmers in Ethiopia and elsewhere have found that they simply cannot grow what they grew 20 years ago. That is directly related to the climate change that the Bill rightly seeks to do something about.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend refers to climate change, but is he asserting that it is all the result of man-made climate change?

Andrew Selous: The vast mass of the scientific evidence is that carbon emissions produced from buildings and transport are the primary producers of the carbon that goes into the atmosphere. I find the overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence such that none of us can dispute it. One of the candidates who stood against me at the last general election denied the existence of climate change. By the time that I come to defend my seat if my local party should choose to pick me as its candidate at the next general election, I very much hope that none of the candidates will dispute the existence of climate change. We must move beyond asking ourselves whether the problem exists. We will not make progress unless we accept the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence from this country, the United States of America and elsewhere.

It has been pointed out several times that the UK produces only 2 per cent. of the world’s carbon emissions. If we are to take the issue seriously—welcome as the Bill will be in holding the Government of the day to account—it is essential that we have an
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international framework with real teeth to consider the issue on a global basis. The United Nations is the only possible organisation that could take that role and provide a moral lead.

I return to points that are closer to home and more relevant to the Bill. Several hon. Members have quite properly mentioned the role of local authorities, of which I would like to mention three. We have heard about Braintree and its excellent scheme of giving council tax reductions to the local residents who have cavity wall insulation of a certain standard. That is practical and results in a meaningful financial gain to people and helps to reduce climate change emissions. Why are the Government and the Local Government Association not rolling that out across the country? If it works in Braintree and is sensible there, why is it not happening more widely? Perhaps the Minister could let us know if there are any moves to extend the measure to other local authorities.

I also wish to comment on the local authority in Woking. Coincidentally, and like Braintree, it happens to be Conservative run, and it has been highly innovative in producing the first commercially operating combined heat and power station of its kind in the country. I understand that it is up to 90 per cent. efficient and produces very few serious emissions. Fuel poverty has been mentioned in the debate and it is covered by the Bill, and I note that pensioners in social housing in Woking have made savings equivalent to6 to 7 per cent. of their income. Owner-occupiers have made savings of between 7.5 and 10 per cent. It is a win-win situation. People who are often on low incomes and in need have money taken off their fuel bills and something is done about the carbon emissions produced in this country.

Many hon. Members may know that Ken Livingstone, having seen what happened in Woking, pinched Woking’s borough engineer, Allan Jones, who now heads the London Climate Change Agency. Ken Livingstone has made the point that the great cities of the world produce about three quarters of carbon emissions globally. So there is a real opportunity for great cities, both in this country and around the world, to do something to make a difference as far as climate change is concerned.

That relates to the points that several hon. Members have made about the inefficiency of the national grid. I hope that we will move away from the concept of a national grid in time. We know that, on average, coal-fired power stations are only 36 per cent. efficient, gas 46 per cent., and even nuclear only 38 per cent. Some 70 per cent. of carbon emissions from London are wasted in the transmission of power from centralised power stations to buildings in London. We will all be watching with interest as Allan Jones rolls out what he has done in Woking in London. That is very welcome.

A great deal of new housing, across the country and particularly in the south-east, is planned by the Government. It is true that the Government have brought in new part L building regulations, which are compulsory, and which will, I believe, lead to a 40 per cent. increase in energy efficiency. That is good and welcome as far as it goes. However, I do not understand—perhaps the Minister can enlighten us today—why the Government have been so reticent in
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not enforcing the Building Research Establishment standards, which are known as BREEAM—the Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method. For domestic housing, the term is EcoHomes. Those standards are voluntary and frankly there is not the will and they are ignored by developers at the moment. If the Government are really serious about the issue and about making progress, why are they not bringing those much higher standards into force?

In my county of Bedfordshire, there is a firm called Agrifibre Technologies. I have no financial link with it, but its managing director is one of my constituents. He tells me that he is able to produce £40,000 affordable houses to extremely high environmental standards—in fact, they are all made from renewable materials. However, he gets pushed from Government agency to Government agency and is unable to roll that scheme out to the extent that he would like.

I have seen recently from my constituency mailbag that the first wind turbine will be going up on a house in my constituency. I welcome that. However, as other hon. Members have said, the £265 planning fee for those domestic wind turbines seems excessive, as does the fact that one has to have planning permission at all. Sky dishes and antennae do not require planning permission, so that seems curious.

Luton airport is close to my constituency. We know that the current Government projections for aviation growth show the entire quota of CO2 emissions being taken up, as far as this country’s international targets are concerned. There is a large issue in relation to aviation growth that is not being remotely squared. We wait to find a proper answer.

Many hon. Members have referred to the issue of leaving electronic gadgets on stand-by. That seems to be yet another example of the House of Commons telling people to do as it says, but not as it does. I hope that moves can be made to ensure that more of the equipment in Members’ offices, and particularly the television monitors, can be turned off when we arenot here.

Ms Diana R. Johnson: I have managed to turn off the television in my office—there is actually an on-off button. I am surprised to hear that Opposition Members have not been able to do so.

Andrew Selous: I am not sure when the hon. Lady became a Member, and perhaps hon. Members have different generations of equipment. I am not sure that it is possible to do that with all the monitors, and certainly the advice from the Serjeant at Arms Department is to leave them on. The issue needs to be examined, but I am delighted that the hon. Lady is setting a personal example.

Biomass can make an important contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It is especially sensible for the UK to go down that route because biomass could provide us with our own safe supply of energy. We would thus not need long transport routes to bring energy to this country and, additionally, we could provide a lot of help to our beleaguered farming community.

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12.31 pm

Michael Gove : Like many Conservative Members and, indeed, hon. Members on both sides of the House, I welcome the Bill. I join them in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and expressing my condolences for his inability to be here today. I am sure that we all send condolences and best wishes to his family, too.

There is widespread consensus across the House on the specific dangers that we face as a result of climate change. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out, that consensus now includes the Pentagon. It is a remarkably wide consensus that can embrace both Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen and the Pentagon, but I am glad that it has been reached.

While we all recognise that climate change is occurring, there are others, many of whom are mainly well-intentioned sceptics, who argue that the man-made contributions to the process of climate change have been exaggerated. Two things must be said to that. The balance of scientific opinion—from David King, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, down, up, or across—is that man-made contributions play a significant role in accelerating the process of climate change. I would not like to put my judgment in balance against the huge weight of scientific evidence that suggests that man-made contributions play their part.

More than that, however, we should broadly apply a prudential principle when considering something as immense as climate change. While I absolutely believe that we need to balance risk and prudence in many areas of life, we are considering something as momentous as our planet’s climate, its impact on the environment, its impact on biodiversity and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) pointed out, its impact on international development. When we weigh all those considerations in the balance, we need to step carefully—to ca’canny, as we say in my native Scotland. That means that by erring on the side of caution, we should give the Bill a fair wind.

The Bill will achieve much more than simply a step change in our national contribution to combating climate change because it will also lead to welcome developments in the energy field. By promoting microgeneration, it will play a part in helping us to achieve greater national energy security, and it will help us to embrace the principle of decentralisation and competition in the provision of energy supply.

As I am sure that we are all aware, there have been ominous developments abroad, not just in Russia but in the middle east, that put at risk our over-reliance on fossil fuels. Oil and gas, for a variety of reasons, are overwhelmingly located in countries in the middle east or the former Soviet Union that are either fundamentally politically unstable, or in the hands of regimes that, to put it mildly, do not have our best interests at heart. Anything that we can do to encourage domestic energy generation, especially microgeneration, is welcome.

Mr. Newmark: I reflect again on the speech made by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson). We have a huge supply of coal in this country, so we should
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not throw fossil fuels right out of our thinking. We should think about harnessing new technologies. The hon. Gentleman talked about carbon capture and carbon sequestration, which mean that no CO2 is released into the atmosphere. We must be creative in our thinking and ensure that the Government give the necessary economic stimulus to our fossil fuels, as long as those fuels do not chuck out loads of CO2 intothe air.

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that he has a long-term commitment to the north-east and therefore has the interests of mining communities and former mining communities very much to heart. We on the Opposition Benches would stress the vital importance of pluralism in energy supply. I do not think that any of us would contemplate the disappearance of fossil fuels in playing a part in the generation of energy tomorrow. I think that we all recognise that the imaginative use of fossil fuels in future, particularly in harness with new technology, can play a significant role. I pay tribute to some successful energy companies, not least BP and Shell, that have been pioneering new ways to ensure that fossil fuels can play an appropriate part in a balanced energy strategy.

Mr. Newmark: As Members may or may not be aware, there is the threat by UK Coal to shut down 70 to 75 per cent. of the mines that it has remaining. There is urgency in stimulating and doing what we can to harness new technologies to save the coal industry, which is a strategic resource and part of our debate, in terms of providing sustainable energy for our country.

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Minister with responsibilities for energy is in his place and I am sure that he will take into account in his deliberations the future of energy policy and my hon. Friend’s passionate commitment to coal mining communities.

Not only should microgeneration and diversity of supply play a part in securing our national interest in energy security in future, but encouraging microgeneration is a way of embracing the principle of pluralism, which has been alluded to, to create the right sort of energy market. My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) referred to the Jurassic age of energy policy in the past, and we all know what he means. It is the man in Whitehall knowing best and taking decisions about the future of energy in a way that was Gosplan-ish at best. We need to ensure that we have genuine pluralism and that people are encouraged to play their part in providing energy to the grid rather than being passive consumers at the behest of decisions that are taken at a strategic level that provide insufficient diversity to ensure that we have the right energy structure in future.

In that respect, the Bill should be welcomed,and not only by those people who are natural environmentalists. It should be welcomed also by those people who take our national security seriously and by those who believe in competition, diversity and pluralism in markets.

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There is another reason why the Bill should be commended, and that is new clause 28, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). The clause enjoins local authorities to take account of climate change and microgeneration when they consider planning development. The clause is important because, as some hon. Members may know, housing is dear to my heart. I and my party accept that there is a pressing need for new housing development. Unfortunately, there is a need to expand supply to meet the growth in households. Over the past 10 or 15 years we had a mismatch between the growth in the number of households and the provision of new homes. Between 1991 and 2000, according to figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, about 500,000 new households were created for which no new homes were supplied. We need to provide new homes for those people for reasons of social justice. We must also do something about the runaway rate of house price inflation.

As we accept the need for new homes, we must recognise that there is resistance to new development. We need to analyse why that new development is resisted. The Secretary of State—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Will the hon. Gentleman now relate his remarks to the contents of the Bill?

Michael Gove: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

One reason for the resistance to new development is that people recognise that new housing development contributes to CO2 emissions, and that new housing development can have a detrimental impact on our environment. New clause 28 directly addresses that well-founded fear, which exists among my constituents and throughout the south-east, as well as throughout the country.

We saw recent evidence of the concern that many communities have about the impact of development on the environment in the response of the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to a series of developments literally in her own backyard. The right hon. Lady made an admirable plea for more housing when, recently, she was on the “Today” programme. The reality of the situation in her constituency is that she has been the ally of those resisting development. Why? The answer is that the system under this Government does not provide people with the necessary assurances that they need to welcome new development.

People need assurances that infrastructure will be funded, that their wishes will be heeded and that local government will play a vital role in shaping new development. People need to know also that the environment and environmental considerations will play a part in new development. My hon. Friend’s clause will enshrine in law a requirement for local authorities to take that into consideration, and therefore play a part in building the new consensus that we need on genuinely sustainable development.

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