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I have started an initiative in my constituency called Fylde Low Energy. I set out with the target of making the borough of Fylde the most energy efficient in the country. The first problem that I encountered when trying to mobilise 35,000 households to play an active part was one of finding the resources to employ an organiser to bring together the enormous body of interesting ideas that are already out there. Such ideas have been pioneered by local authorities such as Woking, which has shown what can be done in relation
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to the local authority estate, although it has not yet reached out as widely into businesses and communities.

Fylde Low Energy has had tremendous support from the Government office for the north-west, the Environment Agency, the regional development agencies, local authorities and local businesses, and some organisations have put money into the pot. However, when I look at what the Government are spending on these issues and I see how quickly the resources of the climate challenge fund were gobbled up, I have to say to the Minister that if he really wants our citizens fully to engage in the kind of initiative that I hope to pioneer in my constituency, a little more pump-priming funding would be enormously important.

There is much that Members of Parliament can do in this regard. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe and other hon. Members who have been working with the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, but let us go wider than GLOBE. Let us look at what each one of us can do, with the right direction. For example, we could write to Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Capitol hill and ask them why, in this new political climate, they are not doing anything to bring the United States firmly on board. Whether we like it or not, if the United States, India and China were involved in some kind of global framework, we might make some progress.

Half the Select Committee went to China recently, and the other half went to America. Anyone who has spent time with Mr. Harlan Watson, the United States negotiator on Kyoto—who finds it difficult to admit that there is even something called a climate—will understand the difficulty that the United States is having in moving forward. There is deep scepticism in its politics. Perhaps it needs to feel the heat, if that is the right term, from those of us here in Europe who are concerned and who have a track record of doing something about climate change. We should challenge it, as fellow democrats, about what it is doing.

Let us use our contacts in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and, indeed, the Commonwealth Heads of Government, who are soon to meet; in the Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty said that she was looking forward to going there. Why not ask them to make climate change the theme of their gathering this year and use the mechanisms that we have at our disposal to influence heads of state and fellow parliamentarians? Climate change is the global issue, and we must use the global mechanisms available to us.

I want to conclude with one or two observations about taxation. As a former Treasury Minister, I was most interested to hear the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) giving advice on being careful about taxation. I do not think that he did that when he was in the Treasury, but a sinner that repenteth is better than someone who continues on the same course.

Let me focus specifically on aviation, because much has been made of the possibility of some form of aviation tax. When the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee undertook its work on bioenergy,
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we discovered that in South Africa synthetic kerosene was being manufactured by the so-called Fischer-Tropsch process. Half of all aviation fuel in South Africa comes from that process. The same process, without, as in South Africa, using coal as a raw material to manufacture synthetic kerosene, can be used to take any cellulose raw material and convert it into bio-aviation fuel. Where is the Government’s support for that? Surely aircraft in the future should fly on the most environmentally benign fuel possible. Let us use our resources to develop that, and not merely leave it to Sir Richard Branson to invest his £1.6 billion. I applaud what he has done, but where is the European response on aviation fuel? Green aviation fuel exists. In the United States, a company called Syntroleum has already produced a synthetic aviation fuel from natural gas for the US air force. A B-52 bomber is undergoing tests to prove that such cleaner aviation fuels are a reality. If that can be done in the United States, we in Europe should be pursuing it as vigorously as we can.

The question of climate change unites people in the United Kingdom. We need to unite all the energies of our people, our businesses and our legislature; if we are able to do that, we can make meaningful sense of the climate change Bill. A White Paper that brings these policies together would be a singular contribution to debate on the subject.

4.38 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate on climate change. As I could not expect to be called again on Wednesday, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that I might have your indulgence in speaking on foreign policy as well.

In 1995, as shadow Minister for environmental protection, I was consulted by the Prime Minister’s advisers who were nervously preparing his very first green speech. I was astonished when they asked whether I was absolutely sure about the dangers of global warming. We have come a long way since then. Once the science of climate change is accepted, it is overwhelming, and the Prime Minister is to be congratulated on his consistent role in advancing the international agenda.

In terms of global politics, the climate change Bill proposed in the Queen’s Speech could be hugely significant, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on bringing it forward. Making a legally binding commitment to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 is truly groundbreaking. It is not only right for the UK but essential for our continued leadership of the international agenda. As we have heard, that leadership has already been advanced by the outstanding Stern report commissioned by the Chancellor. Sir Nicholas’s analysis of the economic cost of not taking action is crucial in persuading emerging economies and recalcitrant nations to act. His warning that business as usual could lead to a 5 per cent. reduction in global gross domestic product each year, and for ever, is a threat to all our future standards of living. Spending just 1 per cent. of global GDP to make the necessary changes makes obvious economic sense; the challenge
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is in finding the political will to do so. Our climate change Bill will be the test of the nation’s political will.

Other lessons in the Stern report apply as much to the domestic agenda as to the international. Stern sets the time frame for action within the next 10 to 15 years, and argues that the benefits of strong, early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to heed his words. British industry has more than demonstrated its innovation in this field. Of course, the Government have put vital mechanisms in place to back existing technologies and bring new ones to market, but early and urgent action requires a step change right across Government. I very much endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith).

Stern proposes a three-strand solution: pricing carbon; supporting innovation and the deployment of low-carbon technologies; and removing barriers to energy efficiency and involving individuals. Let me say a few words on each of those. On carbon pricing, there can be no doubt that we must press for urgent international agreements to include aviation and shipping. On low-carbon technologies, we must not be distracted by the promise of future new nuclear build. The Department of Trade and Industry acknowledges that it will be 2021 before there is new nuclear production, yet the imperative to tackle climate change is now and within the next decade. We need to deploy renewable energy technologies much faster and on a greater scale, and to invest in carbon capture and storage as the serious answer to continuing with medium-term fossil fuel use.

Finally, we need a dynamic campaign to engage the public. There are so many things that people can easily do that will save them money, as the Energy Saving Trust’s 10-point plan demonstrates. Replacing 30 light bulbs in the average home with low-energy bulbs would give an energy saving equivalent to the output of three 1,000 MW nuclear plants. It is astonishing what we can achieve ourselves, but we need to give much greater impetus to that idea and to bring people with us, so that the more difficult decisions, which involve more difficult changes to people’s lifestyles, will be more palatable, and the Government will be able to legislate for them.

Mr. Jack: Does the hon. Lady agree that one way to encourage citizens to engage in this issue would be the rapid removal of some of the planning barriers to and costs of installing windmills, home generators and other forms of self-generation, which are made more expensive by our planning arrangements?

Joan Ruddock: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I stress that people can do even easier energy effective things more rapidly.

I have supported annual targets, but I have listened to the arguments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I believe that he will accept interim targets—I also listened to the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe—but five years is too long a gap. I hope that there can be a compromise, and I think that two or three years would provide sufficient discipline over delivery while allowing the flexibility to adjust for unforeseen events.

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I would like to say a lot more on that topic, which is the greatest threat to our security, but another topic increasingly distracts from it: the so-called war on terror. I have recently returned from a visit to Palestine with the International Development Committee. I shall speak personally, not on behalf of the Committee, and about the politics rather than the development issues. On the plane home, I was given a copy of The Jerusalem Post. Its editorial dealt with the loss of life in the mistaken Israeli shelling of civilians in Gaza. It said:

Sadly, all our conversations with the Israelis were reduced to military operations. The issue, however, is not just military operations; it is the military occupation.

Of course, Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against attacks, but it has no right to continue to build settlements deep in Palestinian territory, nor to build a barrier deep in Palestinian territory. Only 20 per cent. of that barrier now runs along the internationally recognised green line. Over half the west bank barrier, as we saw it, is now complete—42 km in concrete blocks, and 320 km in 50 m-wide wire fences with patrol roads, barbed wire tracking sands and electronic observation. It has to be seen to be believed. Most of the barrier separates Palestinians from Palestinians—people from their towns, hospitals, schools and agricultural lands. In order to cross those barriers, they need permits. In some towns, no permits at all are allowed for young men. Many roads in the west bank territories are for the use of Jewish settlers only. Where Palestinians are allowed to travel, they require a whole range of permits and more than 500 checkpoints impede their passage.

Continued settlement in defiance of the road map and the building of illegal barriers are cutting the west bank in two, jeopardising that internationally recognised and proposed solution. The Jordan valley is now entirely cut off. Since Israeli disengagement, Gaza has become effectively a fortified prison, with its three crossing points more often closed than open. The thousands of Gazans who had jobs in Israel are no longer allowed to pass. Following the disengagement, a business consortium bought over settlers’ greenhouses and successfully raised crops of fruit and vegetables. All were pre-sold for export but had to be dumped in the sea when Gaza’s only trade crossing point was closed.

Earlier this year, however, the occupation took on an even more insidious dimension when Israel stopped transferring to the Palestinian Authority the revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians from trade—worth around $60 million a month. Those revenues have not been paid to the Hamas-led Government for eight months. As a consequence, the Palestinian Authority’s health workers, teachers, police and others have gone unpaid, with direct or indirect consequences for up to a third of Palestinian families. With no resolution in sight, the health workers in Gaza stopped going to work this month, resulting in every emergency room being closed in the Gaza strip during its worst period of violence.

Time is running out for the Palestinians. Their lands are occupied and divided. The constant tightening of
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the occupation on millions of people cannot be the answer. Of course, Israel is under attack from the hundreds of home-made rockets launched constantly from Gaza, and Corporal Shalit is still unaccounted for. The oppression of a whole people, however, is disproportionate and cannot be sustained. The Prime Minister is right in seeking to engage Syria and Iran in tackling the problems of Iraq and recognising that returning to the road map and the two-state solution for Palestine is crucial to any wider settlement.

The Palestinians, as I know from more than one trip and many meetings with them, are among the most liberal, educated and entrepreneurial peoples in the middle east. They have chosen historically to live in a secular society with a high degree of religious tolerance. We need to ask ourselves in what direction continued oppression will drive them. It makes no sense to talk to the leaders of Syria and Iran if we cannot talk to the democratically elected leadership of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority.

If Mahmoud Abbas can bring together a technocratic Government, as he has struggled to do for months, with the support of Hamas, the international community must not hesitate to embrace that Government. Without justice for the Palestinians, Israel will never be secure, and there will be no prospect of peace in Iraq or in the wider region.

4.50 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I apologise for the fact that I will not be able to hear the Front Benchers sum up the debate. I will read the report tomorrow.

It is interesting to follow the “split” speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I shall focus on the first part—the environmental part. I agree with the hon. Lady that there are simple things that we can do. The look on the face of the man who came to read the meter when, several years ago, I rewired my property and installed low-cost lighting was second only to the delight on my own face when I received a dramatically reduced bill. It can be done, easily and inexpensively.

You missed an interesting speech from the Secretary of State, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was a trip around the rose garden in which the Secretary of State looked at all the rosebuds but ignored the greenfly and the thorns. I thought I might touch on one or two of the thorns, but let me first mention one of the buds. The Secretary of State and the Government are going to reduce the number of targets considerably; at least, that is how it looks on paper. Such action constitutes a dramatic about-turn for local government, which over the past few years has been loaded with targets and Bills such as the “best value” Bill—a misnomer if there ever was one—that restricted and handcuffed it. They were followed by the comparative performance assessment, by myriad targets, and by books and books of prescriptive guidance.

Of course, the Secretary of State’s Department, in its previous guise, was not alone. All the other Departments piled in to shackle local government, or nail it to the floor. There was also the problem of the
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way in which the grant was redistributed and re-thought out three times, mostly to move money to northern urban areas.

We have heard before from Government that they will cut the number of targets and cut bureaucracy. What usually happens is that they take away some of the targets with one hand—we have heard talk of a reduction from 1,000 to 200—but put them back with the other. As I said in an intervention, although this Department—as part of an unjoined-up Government—is taking some of the load from local government, the others continue to pile it on.

I hope that the Secretary of State will give some thought to the fact that even in her Department there are examples of increased bureaucracy that she ought to be tackling. The new local area agreements are hyped as a new way of streamlining funding and reporting, but as far as I can see they involve an excessively bureaucratic and time-consuming performance. There are hundreds of pages of prescriptive guidance on process, format and the local public service agreements that local authorities must follow. There is minute scrutiny by Government offices, under policy directions that come straight down from central Government. There are mandatory indicators—with continued emphasis on national priorities and indicators effectively removing the so-called local aspects—six-monthly review meetings, and so on.

At the same time, local government must look over its shoulder at grossly expensive, non-elected, unwanted, interfering regional government. It is worse in London, which has a Mayor, and below him—if my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) will allow me to say so—a talking shop, the London Assembly. It has no power to do anything. It can watch the Mayor, it can talk about the Mayor, but it has little or no real power to have any effect on the Mayor.

The Government say that the London Mayor is to have new powers to interfere in the running of London’s strong unitary authorities. Perhaps the worst will be his new wider planning powers. Local people in London boroughs vote for local councillors on local issues, of which planning is one of the main ones. Soon, unless the Secretary of State wakes up, the London Mayor will be able to ride roughshod over local planning decisions to an even greater degree than he does at the moment.

The Mayor is supposed to interfere only in planning issues “of strategic importance”, but he alone interprets what is of strategic importance. The whole process will take longer, as will the challenging of any decision. It will slow down even more planning programmes and planning development. There will be furious arguments between the two teams, yet there is no arbitration process. Even if the Mayor takes over a planning application, he will require the local borough to handle the application and, of course, to pay for it. This particular Mayor has a history of trying to get involved in major applications merely to squeeze section 106 money out of developers as a price for his agreement.

That brings me to one aspect of the proposed planning Bill. The Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local
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Government and the Regions recently looked at the proposed planning gain supplement. It is a new name for an old tax on development. There have been four attempts by previous Governments to tax in that way: the 1947 development charge, the 1967 betterment levy, the 1973 development gains tax and the 1976 development land tax. They all failed.

We have, as the Select Committee has pointed out consistently, an opportunity to look at the existing 106 agreement process. Many local authorities make that work very successfully. It is agreed locally, it is collected locally and it is utilised locally. It has some problems in some areas, but a renovation of the 106 agreement process would be a much more sensible way of proceeding. Instead, we will have a tax that is centrally collected, at a rate set centrally, and distributed centrally. Anyone in local government with any knowledge of how this Government have worked over the past few years will cynically point to the Government’s central collection of locally achieved capital receipts and their redistribution, and to the three engineered changes in revenue grant support.

The planning gain supplement is a not so stealthy tax. Its aim is to increase public taxation on developers in excess of that already collected through 106 agreements. It is to apply to virtually every development, from major to minor, and it will not help to progress development.

I have just touched quickly on a few items in the Queen's Speech, each of which, bar the one or two rosebuds, will ultimately further shackle local councils. Our local authorities may still be local but they represent less and less government under this national Government.

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