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Perhaps understandably, the document does not even set out what it states that it sets out, which is where the United Kingdom climate is going in the next century, because we do not know the answer. When people talk about dealing with the effects of climate change, the discussion is often predicated—this is true of some of the adaptation plans in the document—on longer, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters in most of the United Kingdom. That might not happen, however, because we could end up with a Newfoundland climate. Those of us who have spent time in Canada—I have never been to Newfoundland, but I lived in Canada for many years—know that the climate is not nice, and the latitude is similar to that of the UK.

We should do a lot more on storm damage, subsidence, health advice and research on plants, including an each way bet—will we get olives in the west midlands, or will we get tundra plants, such as those grown in northern Canada, because we have got a Newfoundland climate? We should consider the built environment in terms of not only insulation, but bigger gutters and drain pipes, because the rain will become more torrential—it has already become more torrential in parts of the UK in recent years.

Landslides because of heavy rain are also an issue. Imagine if an event such as that at Boscastle were to happen in, for example, London—disaster! What are we doing about disaster planning in looking to avoid landslides and so on by taking prophylactic action?

On immigration control and ID cards, Opposition Members will not like it, but we have to be realistic. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) rightly referred to the poorest in the world being hit the hardest. They will understandably want to move to the UK. What are we going to do about water supply? What are we going to do about disease control when we have different diseases here? What are we going to do about coastal erosion? What are we going to do about polderising Norfolk to stop the flooding? What are we going to do about the likely increased incidence of forest fires up in Scotland with lightning strikes on dry timber, which I used to deal with for a living?

Those effects of climate change are all happening in the UK. I urge the Government seriously to address those effects as well as the wonderful work that they have done on the causes—emissions. I urge hon. Members to wake up to the effects that we know are coming and not to continue to have the kind of debate that we have had today, which, though important, is almost one-sided.

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4.50 pm

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), because I want to echo what he says about the dangers of cosy consensus. We have had a lot of consensus in the Chamber this afternoon, but that is easy to achieve when we talk only about what the problem is and much harder if we take the difficult step of talking about what the solutions might be.

I do not want to break the spirit of consensus, because it is important that parties work together on this issue. I pay tribute to the Government for moving it up the agenda, particularly at the Gleneagles summit last year, but they have given us precious little detail as to how we are going to meet the 60 per cent. reduction by 2050. That is a matter of great concern to me. I come from a constituency that includes the town of Godalming, which was the first town in the world to have a public supply of electricity back in 1881. Interestingly, at that time public transport used biomass as its fuel; now, 125 years later, we are coming round to seeing that that might not have been such a bad thing.

We have consensus in two areas but not in a third. We have consensus about the scale of the climate change that is happening. The Secretary of State said that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there has been for 750,000 years. I have heard scientists say that it is more like 40 million years. Whichever it is, there is a huge amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, on a scale as never before. NASA scientists say that the earth is warmer than it has been for 1,000 years and within 1° of being warmer than it has been for 1 million years. That results in several of the effects that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West talked about, such as desertification in Africa, the melting of the ice caps and of permafrost, and global dimming.

There is, too, a relative degree of scientific consensus about what will happen if we carry on as we are: the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase from 380 parts per million towards 1,000 parts per million as a result of the industrialisation of China, India and so on. There is a danger that 50 million to 100 million people could be displaced, mainly in the poor parts of the world, following the disappearance of islands and countries.

The difficult question is what we should do about it. Today, Shell published a projection that it would cost £4 billion a year to deal with the effects of climate change in a way that would meet our 2050 target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent. That is a lot of money, but it is less than a third of 1 per cent. of our gross domestic product. That is a tiny price to pay for dealing with the sheer unpredictability of messing around with our natural environment on the current scale. We have to be brave and accept that there will be costs to pay.

Another significant change in this debate concerns my party. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Conservative party has made climate change and the environment one of the issues that is right at the top of our agenda. I like to think of it not as Saul having a conversion on the road to Damascus but as a reaffirmation of our traditional beliefs in conservation of the environment, and in not
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only a green and pleasant land but a green and pleasant planet. That is important because the Conservative party has traditionally understood the importance of wealth creation as an engine of change in society and fought against over-regulation of business.

If ever there was a “Nixon goes to China” moment in the environment debate, it is now. It means that there is now no excuse for the Government not to introduce a climate change Bill. We need to see details of how we will meet the 2050 target. The Government are good at long-term targets. We had the 2050 target for reduction in CO2 emissions, a 2025 target for equality of respect for disabled people and the 2015 millennium goals, to which we are all signed up. They are important, but they could be described as NIMTO—not in my term of office—goals. If we are to make progress, we need targets that apply to all our terms of office. There is no excuse for not introducing a climate change Bill and starting the national debate about what we are going to do. I urge the Government, for the sake of all our futures, to take that opportunity.

4.56 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on giving us such an excellent exposé and clearly making the case for concerted action to combat climate change.

We can argue for ever and a day about the role of climate change Bills and targets, but the important thing is to devise solutions and implement them. Some solutions will be short term, some will be medium term and others will be long term. Some will involve more Government intervention and others will mean more individual responsibility, and we need to get the balance right.

I was lucky enough last week to have the opportunity to see a tidal turbine, courtesy of Marine Current Turbines. It is an exciting project. We watched the tide come in—it is totally predictable—and produce enough energy for 800 homes. A few of those could obviously fuel a town, and we all know how many towns are close to the coast. There are therefore many opportunities, and I believe that the company is hoping to sort something out in Northern Ireland after Christmas. It will be its first commercial project there.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) for raising the subject of clean coal technology, which it is crucial to examine. Thirty-five per cent. of our electricity is generated by coal in our existing power stations, and that rose to 50 per cent. in the cold spell last winter. Clearly, we will depend on that for a considerable time. We should do everything possible to create a level playing field for clean coal technology. We should also consider using more of our indigenous coal. The scales have tipped and we are paying more for imported coal because of world coal markets than we are giving our producers at home. That has serious implications not only for security of supply and balance of payments but for the local economy and transport. Why do we waste fuel transporting coal around the world when we have it here? We need clean coal technology and carbon capture technology. If we can get ahead of the game, we can not only use it here but export it to countries such as China and India, which will clearly use coal for a long time.

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I want to consider not only the big solutions—the expert solutions, such as developing renewables and clean coal technology—but what we can do in the immediate future. We must convey the message that we cannot wait 10, 15 or 20 years, and that we have to act now. I shall make some suggestions that may be unpopular, but I should like to open the debate on them, and I hope that hon. Members will genuinely consider what we can do.

We should seriously consider speed limits. We all want our cars and the freedom to go to places and be flexible, and the individual opportunity that those of us who own cars enjoy. But why could we not simply decide to have a much reduced speed limit? There are advanced countries where 50 mph is the norm. There is a psychological effect: when someone who is driving at 50 mph sees that everybody else is travelling at 70 mph or 80 mph, they feel that they are going very slowly. A psychological change could easily lead to a change in behaviour. There would be cost consequences: people would immediately save money on fuel and in other ways. Few people realise how much of an economy they can make just by travelling more slowly, but they cannot do that at the moment, because unless everybody else does so, they will feel that they are slowing everybody down. So I suggest a national speed limit of 50 mph, which would have the obvious added effect of making our roads safer. Speed is frequently a factor in fatal and serious accidents.

We could also look at our urban speed limits. Speed is an extremely important factor in serious urban road accidents, and many road safety campaigns are highlighting the need for 20 mph limits in certain urban areas. Many Members will have had constituents coming to them who are desperate to get drivers to slow down as they pass their front doors. But those who complain about that can the next moment be driving a modern car themselves, not realising that they are going at a considerable speed. We have the ability to drive at speed, but we cannot change our human reaction speed. It would be nice if we could achieve a sea change in mentality, so that slowing down could truly be considered.

I now turn to the really controversial bit. In order to make this a cheap change, I suggest that we interpret all our current speed signs not as miles per hour, but as kilometres per hour. If we do that, we will not need to change any of the national speed limit signs—50 mph would be 80 kph—because we do not have 70 mph signs; instead, because we have a national speed limit, we have “end of speed limit” signs. So 30 mph signs in towns would actually mean 30 kph, which is approximately 20 mph, and 40 mph signs would mean 40 kph, which is about 25 mph. That would also deal with the many requests that we receive for improved traffic-calming measures and the introduction of speed cameras.

That solution would cost very little, and it has the nice advantage that it could easily be copied by many other countries. As has been mentioned many times today, these issues affect not just our own country but our fellow European Union member states and the rest of the world. If we can do something, that would be a good example to others.

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Car sharing is an old idea that has been mentioned many times before, but we must promote it in partnership with our local government colleagues, because it is something that we really can do. I know that people are terrified of the idea of being tied to somebody else’s routine for five days a week, so let us introduce the idea in a more user-friendly way. If we were to car-share three days a week, people would still have two days when they could pop off to the shops, or whatever. The benefits in terms of congestion in towns, for example, would be enormous. We see so many queues of cars waiting to go through traffic lights with one person in each car, but if there were three or four people per car, the traffic would move three or four times more quickly.

There would also be benefits in terms of pressure on parking. In many town centres, people coming in to work clog up parking spaces, and as a result nobody can come in to shop or to visit the town. That has a detrimental effect on local traders and persuades people to use the big out-of-town shopping centres. There would also be an impact on air quality in towns, because fewer cars would lead to less pollution; and the impact on climate change goes without saying. There would also be economic savings for commuters. The implementation costs—education, advertising and promotion—would be extremely modest, and implementation could be achieved very quickly.

So there is hope. As we have seen with the ozone layer, it is possible to reverse trends, and we should grasp that hope as we address climate change. We must make the necessary decisions, although I accept that they are very difficult to make because they extend much further than simply the issue of the ozone layer. It is easy to give up using spray cans—like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), I have long since given up using aerosols—but it is important that we grasp the nettle and act immediately to begin to halt, and then to reverse, the effects of climate change.

5.4 pm

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate, and it has been extremely interesting to listen to the speeches that have been made so far. I would guess that this is the first time—and it will probably be the last—that the hon. Members for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) have been in agreement on anything. The word “consensus” has been used a great deal, and it is important to recognise that there is a belief—not only here in the House but more widely—that the moment has come for serious action to be taken on climate change.

I want to pay a compliment—perhaps unusually, coming from these Benches—to the Deputy Prime Minister. The House ought to recognise that it was he who represented Britain’s position at the Kyoto summit and played an active part in securing an agreement. At that point, many of us thought that there was an opportunity for Britain to show continuing international leadership as well as national leadership. Perhaps it is part of the cycle of hope and disappointment that is inevitable in politics that that has not really been followed through.

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At that time, I took on the energy portfolio for the Liberal Democrats—a post that I held for a number of years. I was therefore one of our representatives on the Standing Committee on the Energy Bill in 2000. Great efforts were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House—although regrettably, not from either the Government or the Conservative Front Bench—to strengthen the Bill and to put into it some positive, hard-edged proposals that would have implemented the kind of policies that we need in this country if we are to change our behaviour and modify the way in which we use energy.

This is not all about taxation policy, although that is important. Nor is it all about regulation, although that is important, too. A lot is about changing the culture involved in our acting out our lives. I should like to give a parallel illustration. Long before I arrived in the House, legislation was introduced to make it compulsory for motorists to wear seat belts. It was not terribly popular, and for a long time it was not particularly well observed. It is now very well observed, however, and people believe that wearing seat belts simply goes with being in the car.

Another parallel example that I have cited many times before is that of smoking on the London underground. Smoking on the London underground was always illegal, but it stopped when the King’s Cross fire took place. Not even the yobs smoke on the underground nowadays, because that has become part of our culture. We need to ensure that the changes that we introduce not only run with the grain of popular culture but encourage it to go in the right direction.

I was disappointed when many of the measures proposed by hon. Members on both sides of the House for inclusion in the Energy Bill in 2000 were not adopted. I shall give a small practical example. At that stage, it would have been possible to introduce a regulatory requirement that when electricity meters were replaced, they should be replaced by intelligent two-way meters. An attempt was made to introduce that provision, but it was unsuccessful.

In 2004 I was fortunate enough to come first in the ballot for private Members’ Bills. I chose to introduce the Bill that became the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, which amends the building regulations set out in the Building Act 1984 and gives the Government the opportunity to introduce building regulations relating to sustainability, not only for new buildings but for existing ones. In that way, we can begin to catch the 99 per cent. of buildings that have already been built, and bring them up to an acceptable standard.

It was interesting to hear what the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said about traffic—she is obviously absolutely right—but we need to recognise that our houses produce twice as much carbon each year as our cars. We ought therefore to expend our political energy on doing something about our building stock, and particularly about our homes.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that in the plans for the Thames Gateway and elsewhere, the Government have not insisted on all housing being built to the “excellent” eco-standard—which is, after all, only the beginning? It is now possible for us to produce houses that use only 40 per cent. of the energy that housing uses today.

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Andrew Stunell: The right hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record, which I am happy to acknowledge, and he is absolutely right. If I had time for a longer speech, I would quickly expand on that area.

It is true that opportunities are being missed all the time. My Bill specifically included a provision that now allows the Government to make regulations on the introduction of intelligent metering. Between 2000 and 2004, my Bill received Royal Assent, I am delighted to say, but between those dates 2 million electricity meters were installed to the old standards. My Bill came into force in September 2004. Between then and now, another 2 million electricity meters have been installed to the old standards, because the provisions of my Bill have not been implemented by the Government.

I simply say that, although I was delighted by what the Secretary of State had to say—he was very encouraging—it is a pity that he has only just discovered what the Deputy Prime Minister knew in 1998, which is that this is an urgent problem that needs immediate action. The Secretary of State said that he was proud of this, that and the other, and proud of something else. I am pleased about that as well, but—and this is the big “but”—carbon dioxide emissions are still going up.

To take a very small example, it costs about £5 to install an intelligent meter, as opposed to the stupid meters we are installing at present. Installing 4 million—which have been put in since 2000, when the first legislative opportunity was missed—would have cost an extra £20 million, but that would have meant a significant fraction of UK households having the capacity to install renewable generation plant without even having to blink, and removed one of the important barriers to installation.

What I want to hear from the Secretary of State, and from the Minister when he makes the winding-up speech, is exactly what they are planning to do. The importance of having a Bill in the Queen’s Speech lies not in the Bill itself, or in precisely what that Bill says, but in giving a timetable for performance that can be checked year by year.

I want to say something to the Minister, and I really would like to hear the answer. My Bill—now my Act—contains a requirement for the Government to report to the House every two years what progress they have made. It came into force in September 2004; it is now October 2006. The two years are up and the report has not been issued, and it looks as though when it does come, it will be pretty thin.

Yes, let us have another Act, and let it be Government legislation. The Government supported my Bill, as did, I am delighted to report, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who was one of my sponsors. It was also supported by the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell and by Members all over the House. The support was apparently unanimous, yet the Bill has not been implemented. Having a Bill in the Queen’s Speech is important, as is having the right things in it, but let us hear from the Minister exactly what he is going to do, and how he is going to tell us about it.

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