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I suggest that the first thing the Minister should do is talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government. It holds my Bill in trustand it is not delivering. Talk to the Department of Trade and Industry, too, because it is responsible for generation
and renewables, as well as the creation of new energy sources. Talk to the Department for Transport, because transport is an important sector, which has to be tackled. Talk to the Treasury, because taxation is also a significant element of this.
The most important thing is for the Secretary of State to be clear in his own mind that while we can produce press releases, and perhaps burn up political capital on statements, declarations and conferences, as well as playing about over what we do with our cars, what will make a difference in this country is whether we tackle the built environment, in which 50 per cent. of the energy we use is wasted, even though we already have on the statute book the legislation that can deal with it.
Will the Minister agree to take action where he does not need to do anything special? All he needs to do is sign a couple of orders, get a few things going and cut the energy waste of the built environment by 50 per cent. That, surely, is an offer he cannot refuse.
Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): When I became an MP, I approached this issue in relation to a concern about peak oil, our reliance on fossil fuels and how we would provide the energy to make our lives comfortable. However, having met former Vice-President Al Gore at this summers Hay-on-Wye literary festival, and having seen extracts of his slide show, the urgency of the global challenge was brought home to me in a way that it had not been previously. I am especially pleased that this debate is taking place in Government time.
Much has been said about the effects of global warming, illustrated by statistics, but we have not touched on its impact on the acidification of the oceans. According to the Royal Society, 50 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions have been absorbed by the worlds oceans. The impact of that on fish stocks alone is hard to predict. Joan Kleypas, a scientist from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, has said that
unfortunately, this is not an environmental problem that weve had to deal with in the past, and so we really dont have a very good grasp of what this means for ocean biology.
I am pleased that my neighbour, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), is back in his place, as I want to mention two effects in the local area where we both live. Olive groves are not being planted in Shropshire, but vineyards have been planted in the past decade that are starting to bear fruit more rapidly than had been predictedso there are some upsides. Activity to ameliorate the impact of flooding has also occurred. As has been intimated, Shrewsbury, which has suffered flooding in recent years, will have what I hope will prove to be an effective flood barrier defence system. There are ways of addressing some such problems locally. The problem of the constituency of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) falling into the sea, which was mentioned earlier, is not
one that I am particularly keen to see addressed, but I am sure that others are. It sounds like a rather more expensive challenge than keeping Shrewsbury dry, but no doubt there is a challenge.
What will we do to answer those challenges? I do not have lots of natural solutions, but I want to pick up on two or three. Clearly, this is a global problem, and Members on both sides of the House must acknowledge the work of the Government in seeking to lead international debate on the issue, and I give credit to them, from the Prime Minister downwards. However, the Governments thinking needs to be more joined up. In a recent embarrassing example, only two Sundays ago, a Sunday newspaper reported that the Secretary of State was in favour of a scheme to privatise the rain forest. Within four days, he had issued a denial saying that he was not in favour of privatising the rain forest and that he had been misunderstood. It transpires that that was because he had not bothered to discuss the matter with the Brazilian Government, who took rather a dim view of the rain forest being privatised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) referred appropriately to the challenge of deforestation and its contribution to greenhouse gases. I hope that the Minister will pick up on his idea of conservation credits.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that a blatant example of the Governments double standards in international affairs was that they joined the dirty countries in Europe to vote against Austria and Denmarks proposal that we should put a date on the banning of HFCs? At this moment, the Government are having four HFC chillers installed in their refurbished former Home Office buildingchillers that use a gas that is 2,000 times as bad for global warming as CO2.
Mr. Dunne: That is a remarkably insightful intervention. I intended to refer to a point that I came across yesterday when we were talking about food procurement in the Public Accounts Committee. Other hon. Members have mentioned the DHL contract, but out of the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Skills and the Ministry of Defence, only the last is seriously considering the sustainability of its food procurement and bothering to visit other countries to ensure that livestock is reared in accordance with UK welfare standards. The other Departments have made no progress on that issue, save some lip service paid to local procurement.
There is a place for regulation. Other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), referred to a climate change Bill and I am proud to have signed up to the big ask, mainly because it will impose on the Government an obligation to report back to this House, and to be seen to introduce measures that will start to help to meet the targets. I am instinctively not someone who seeks to impose undue regulation on business, but in this case the issue is so significant that it requires a stimulusand this stimulus is right.
There is also a place for taxation. There has been some discussion of party conferences recently, and I enjoyed a debate at our party conference with members of the Liberal Democrats, in which we discussed the
question, Who are the tax cutters now? The issue of green taxation is therefore something that I have considered in some detail. The Liberal Democrats proposals have some gaping holes, because the behavioural changes that the taxation is designed to introduce will reduce the revenues on which they hope to rely, should their policies ever come into force.
Chris Huhne: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the behavioural changes, as far as we can estimate them from the MORI research commissioned by the Government on the effects of the vehicle excise duty changes, have been taken into account in the revenue projections.
There is broad consensus on the polluter pays principle across the Chamber, but the difficulty is that energy costs are a higher proportion of the income of lower income households, whether in transport, heating or other usages. Therefore, most such taxes are highly regressive. That is why much thought needs to go into green taxation. It should not be dreamed up on the back of an envelope. I urge the Government to consider carefully, as our Front Bench team is doing, what green taxation we should consider, especially as it impinges on individual households, to ensure that it is introduced as sensitively as possible.
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is making a direct criticism of our proposals, but we specifically did not propose any green taxes on households for the reasons that he gives. Our proposals were for two transport taxesaviation and vehicle excise duty. If he reads the recent study done for the Nordic Council, he will see that those taxes are not regressive as they have been applied in the Nordic countries. Some 28 per cent. of British households have no access to a car, so they will not be affected by a tax on new cars, and the average income of a person flying out of UK airports is little short of £50,000, which is double the national average. The hon. Gentleman is misinformed on the progressive or regressive effects of green taxes.
Mr. Dunne: I do not want to turn this into a slanging match between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on their respective proposals for green taxation. I will just say that the impact on aviation use of the significant fuel price increases of the past five years has been negligible. How a tax on air tickets would have an impact has yet to be explained.
Finally, I shall deal briefly with the role that the Government have to play in technical innovation, leadership and pump-priming for technological solutions. There are various examples of Government putting their toe in the water and trying to introduce market solutions by means of pump-priming, but the results have been disappointing. The clear skies initiative came to an end earlier this year, and has been replaced by a scheme that provides less funding for households to convert their energy sources to renewables such as solar. That is very disappointing, given all the rhetoric about what the Government are doing to encourage just that.
The Minister is due to visit Church Stretton in my constituency next month to address a climate change symposium organised by the Methodists. I should like to invite him to come to see a scheme, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that involves the first operating anaerobic digester in the country, by means of which putrescible household and green waste is turned into electricity
The scheme has been set up by South Shropshire district council, with full cross-party support from Liberal Democrat, Conservative and independent councillors. I am afraid that the council does not contain any Labour councillors, but I should like to show the Minister the facility in action. The Department has a pot of money to fund such projects that amounts to £30 million, and £2 million has been made available to support the initiative in my constituency. However, the disappointing thing is that it is the only one that is up and running, and my impression is that most of the money devoted to other initiatives across the country has been absorbed by legal fees, research and feasibility studies. I am sure that the Minister will be keen to see the project, given that there is very little else to show for all the work that has been done.
Science has a big part to play in these matters. British companies are innovative and keen to take advantage of whatever pump-priming the Government are prepared to put in place. They are willing to meet the regulatory burdens placed on them in the search for alternative solutions, and that is why I was impressed to hear that my party is proposing a prize for innovation in the commercial development of wave technology. That is an example of the imagination needed to get such enterprises going.
For example, we had a drought this summer. Why did no one suggest undertaking the commercial exploitation of desalination? The world needs more water, and I am not aware of a single commercial desalination plant that does not rely on subsidy. It is exactly the sort of project on which leading British universities can bring their expertise to bear in finding a practical solution.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I have received some 800 cards from members of Friends of the Earth in relation to the big ask, and I am sure that other hon. Members will have received a similar number. I want to add the voice of Hornsey and Wood Green to the call for a climate change Bill. If one does not ask, one does not getso I am asking.
People around the country want to take responsibility in these matters. As we have heard today, that sense of personal responsibility goes hand in hand with the global need to address the threat to our world. Everyone in this Chamber is a committed environmentalist to some degree, and the question that we have to answer has to do with how we get that message across.
Education and the dissemination of information are very important, and I am sure that the House will agree that Al Gores film about climate change bridges the gap between what this House knows and what the man in the street is ready to take into his soul. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider arranging for
the film to be shown in secondary schools, as that would be intensely useful. Members will be delighted to know that I have tabled an early-day motion urging them all to support seeing the film. I even tried to word the motion so that Members could sign it only if they had seen the film, but unfortunately the rules of the House did not allow me to do so. It was a name-and-shame plot that did not work.
Climate change issues are important at every level. Housing and energy are critical and my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) made a good case for the implementation of his measure, the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, sooner rather than later.
I am worried about transport issues and very much liked the suggestion about speed limits made by the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). It is a good idea and would be cheap to implement. The ease with which ordinary people can do things and the cheapness of proposals is important.
I want briefly to speak about travel planning, which involves a lifestyle survey of an area to find out who could give up their car and what public transport is available. There is no chance of change for 30 per cent. of people, but others can make changes if they are given the right information and support. In Perth, in southern Australia, travel planning reduced congestion by 15 per cent., which is about the same reduction as under the congestion charge, but without even a penny of investment in infrastructure.
Many people will not get on a bus because they do not know where it goes or where to change buses. Travel planning is a good thing, because it shows people what they can do. I championed it when I was chair of transport at the London assembly. Indeed, Transport for London has just sent me a travel planning survey form, so it has now arrived in Hornsey and Wood Green. We are okay in London, but many areas of the country could never undertake travel planning because they do not have the public transport infrastructure to develop it. There is a woeful need for investment in public transport.
Even in London, where I have used public transport for six years, I was forced back into my car by the collapse of the Northern line last November and its ongoing problems thereafter. As I had to use my car I decided not to use planes, so I made some strange, but enjoyable, train journeys around Europe this summer. However, I had to catch a plane to go to Prague.
Ordinary people have ordinary lives, and my experience shows that, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said, we can carbon-offset our consciences if we have to use aeroplanes. We should think about disseminating those means and mechanisms to the ordinary folk. We must all do our bit. We do not have to wear hair shirts and never use our cars, but each of us needs to do a little and there are many ways to do it.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was right in the structural point she made. If we are to have car sharing or car clubs, or when people have to charge an electrical car in the street, local authorities need to make things feasible
and easy through planning regulations. They should not stand in the way of such innovations, as often seems to be the case.
It is nearly 18 years since Margaret Thatcher alerted the world to the dangers of climate change, in a landmark address to the Royal Society. Since that groundbreaking speech, which called for action against global warming, and was reinforced by subsequent speeches to the United Nations, Britain has continued to play an international leadership role.
I start by paying tribute to the current Prime Minister and successive Labour Environment Ministers for keeping the issue of climate change on the international agenda. Indeed, the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary, who has a record of commitment to tackling carbon dioxide emissions and a sound understanding of the issues, has undoubtedly further reinforced Britains international reputation in the field. The new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairswherever he is at the momentclearly has a very real personal commitment.
We may not have a written agreement, sadly, but there is a consensus in British politics about the need to tackle the causes of climate change. This afternoons debate has demonstrated the breadth of concern right across the Chamber. Barely a week goes by now without yet more scientific studies reporting that climate change is not only happening, but increasing at a faster rate than previously anticipated and that the effects are being felt more widely and more acutely with every passing year.
Since Margaret Thatcher made that famous speech at the end of the 1980s, we have witnessed a succession of the hottest years on record. In the past decade, we have seen not just a rise in global temperatures, but a catastrophic increase in extreme weather across the globewhether shown by Hurricane Katrina in the northern hemisphere, the onset of previously unheard of hurricanes in the southern hemisphere, flooding in south-east Asia or the relentless onward march of drought and desertification across Africa. At the north and south poles, the icecaps continue to shrink at an alarming rate.
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