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Teenage binge drinking has gained particular prominence recently. We see that young people are drinking more and drinking younger. The Government’s educational programmes are failing to hit their targets. There is still a culture that suggests that it is acceptable to drink to excess. The Government, however, focus on the criminal justice system and category A drugs rather than on the large number of people, especially young people, who are
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affected by alcohol and, indeed, cannabis abuse. According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people dying from drink-related causes has doubled.

Government policy is failing to affect the most vulnerable. In her opening speech the Secretary of State mentioned homeless people, but where are the funds to deal with alcohol abuse and homelessness? There is no dedicated funding for the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to provide alcohol rehabilitation services; it is left to primary care trusts and hard-pressed social services departments to pick up the bill. It is hardly surprising that there is little after-care provision for alcohol rehabilitation.

Finally, I want to say something about the powers in the Greater London authority Bill. When we consider issues of concern in our communities such as drugs and alcohol, we see a missed opportunity, as was pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling). We are not against the principle of devolution or more powers for an elected Mayor, but what is being done to improve the Mayor’s strategic role in matters of real concern to people in Enfield, Southgate and, indeed, across London? What about issues such as public health, and drug and alcohol policy? Such issues should be freed from the restrictions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, which is often far removed from local communities, and from the expensive, bureaucratic and fixed criminal justice model of the national drugs strategy. Why not give powers of that kind to an elected Mayor?

What we are left with in the Bill is not based on the principle of devolution—the principle of more powers for the local community. It seems to be based on pleasing the current holder of mayoral office, on hoovering up important policies and guidance on such matters as planning, and on ensuring that we have a Mayor who is pleased by this Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst gave one example; I can give another from my constituency. The Mayor was not pleased by Enfield council’s decision on an application by Middlesex university to build on green-belt land. Local people opposed it, and the council decided not to allow it in accordance with its unitary development plan. For his own reasons, the Mayor did not like that. Could it be that he wanted authority to make the decision himself under his strategic powers?

Local people in Enfield, Southgate had said no, and local councillors had said the same. They do not want the Mayor to take their policies away from them. In fact, the Mayor has enough to deal with. He is currently failing to deal with the question of the North Circular road, which involves considerable strategic influence—and if he cannot deal with that, we tremble to think what he would do with the greater strategic powers involved in planning.

Whether we are talking about the powers of the London Mayor or about drugs and alcohol policy, the Government are clearly out of touch. They are out of touch with the communities of Enfield, Southgate, and out of touch with the people of this country.

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9.24 pm

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): I want to touch briefly on the joined-up thinking that we will need if we are going to deliver truly sustainable communities. With approximately 26 million houses in this country and 27.3 per cent. of all carbon emissions coming out of houses and homes, we have to have joined-up thinking in the Government. I was disappointed that the Secretary of State did not touch on what measures she will put in place to ensure that the Department for Communities and Local Government communicates that vision. The Select Committee that I am on criticised the lack of joined-up thinking between Government Departments. If we are going to get truly sustainable communities, we need to get this absolutely right.

The number of houses that my constituency is supposed to take is among the highest in the area and we have, apparently, some of the lowest public expenditure in the area, so we must ensure that we get the infrastructure that supports sustainable communities. According to WWF, in St. Albans, we are living in a combined lifestyle sustainable by 3.7 planets. Its “Living Planet” report showed that we were using resources 25 per cent. faster than they can be renewed, yet when the East of England regional assembly chooses not to sign off its local plan because it has been given more houses than it can sustain, it is overruled.

Our growing deficit in infrastructure is not being met by the Government. I do not believe that the Secretary of State addressed how communities such as mine that are expected to take housing can survive. We have a carbon footprint that is one of the worst in the country, yet we are supposed to take the houses. I look forward to hearing what she will tell me about that.

I look forward, too, to getting an early funding decision on Thameslink 2000. If we are going to expect people to get out of their cars and into trains, it is no good accepting bids such as the First Capital Connect franchise bid in my constituency, which meant fewer passenger places and increased fares of 84 per cent. We need the transport infrastructure and an early funding decision next year. I hope that we will hear something about that.

We need positive incentives to have greener houses. The Government are looking at new build, but 96 per cent. of all our housing is old stock. I did not hear anything about the positive incentives that we should have in place to ensure that our old stock is brought up to a environmentally friendly standard. A renewable energy scheme in my constituency has brought a listed building to a zero carbon footprint. It can be done, but where are the carrots for that to happen in our communities? We see plenty of sticks.

I had hoped that the Government might say something about empowering district councils to be able to look at having a green tariff within their council budget. If, as the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) said, we can make this a cost-benefit for us as a society, the Government should look to help by giving additional funding to councils that encourage greener measures in established housing stock. We are not seeing that. I know we are talking about new build, but I want us to look at bringing up our existing housing to
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environmentally friendly standards. That will benefit our elderly, particularly if it means that they get reduced council taxes at the same time.

A huge increase is planned for expansion in the east, but we do not have the resources. The Government have not touched on water resources at all. They must look at that more closely if we are to ensure that we have truly sustainable communities.

With an estimated 26 million homes, we have to ensure that we are create homes and communities that people want to live in. If we are going to have a better carbon footprint, I will be looking to the Secretary of State to come to my constituency to explain why we have ever increasing air quality management areas and traffic, yet we are not given any tools to deal with that. It is not good enough just imposing that on constituencies and communities such as mine. If the Government want us to take these homes, they should not call us nimbys when we say no, but listen to us and the reason behind that. I am not convinced that there is anything in the Queen’s Speech that means that local communities such as mine will have an informed say. We cannot take any more until we are given the infrastructure in advance.

I want to talk about the planning gain supplement as briefly as I can. I am not convinced that there is anything concrete in the Queen’s Speech that will give a firm indication that planning gain supplements will be tied firmly to the communities that suffer the damage or harm caused by the building. That is another tax that can be raised by the Chancellor in his Budget. We have not been given assurances that the harm associated with section 106 development will be fully explored. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) touched on that. We have missed a trick by not fully exploring what we could do with section 106 money and just leaping at another lever that will possibly deliver revenue to the Chancellor to fill holes. That is not what we want in our community when we have an infrastructure deficit.

The Secretary of State is not taking this seriously enough when she says that it will all be sorted out. The Select Committee that I was on was extremely sceptical and far more work is needed. She should have said more on that in her speech.

I know that some Members would have wished to have spoken at greater length on certain subjects, but I want to touch on one more point. If we are to look at, for example, how we can have a truly sustainable community, please can we stop having party political politics? I applaud what the hon. Member for Wallasey said about having the Stern report at the forefront of our minds, but it is negative constantly to harp back to the past, to what the Conservatives did or did not do when they were in office. We must all move forward on this issue because it is a one-world issue and I hope that the Secretary of State is looking positively for measures for my constituency, rather than penalising it because my constituents happen to have voted Conservative.

9.30 pm

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): It is a pleasure—and rather surprising—to be about to deliver my maiden wind-up speech. We have had a marathon debate that was also wide-ranging, sensible and grown
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up. I am pleased that we had the opportunity to link the issues of the environment and local government, because there is often a silo mentality in the way that we think about matters. Local government has a hugely important role to play in delivering local environmental improvement across the country, and it has been good to have been able to make that connection.

There were a number of interesting, worthwhile and authoritative contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) opened for my party—as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main), who has just spoken, closed for us—by referring to the lack of joined-up government that affects so much in the fields of the environment and local government. She made a powerful speech about the tendency of this Government to go for top-down, centrally imposed solutions, particularly in relation to planning. She said that truly sustainable ways of dealing with environmental matters would be based on local analysis of problems and local need.

The right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) made some sensible comments on climate change. He distinguished between an annual assessment and annual targets, which I might have more to say about shortly, and, importantly, he said that climate change presents opportunities as well as challenges; I do not think that it is possible to repeat that theme often enough.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) criticised the shallowness of the Secretary of State’s performance and said that the Conservatives were spot-on about the Government threatening the power of boroughs and districts. No Conservative Member would disagree with that analysis.

As we all know, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has a distinguished record on the environment. He praised the Stop Climate Chaos coalition. It did a superb job; I attended its great event in Trafalgar square. He also touched on climate change targets and stressed that outcomes were more important than targets, but the point about targets is that they can help influence outcomes; the debate about that will undoubtedly continue. He emphasised how important market trading mechanisms will be in the fight against climate change, and I cannot agree with him too much on that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) made an authoritative and powerful speech. He wondered whether the energy White Paper of next year, which we are looking forward to, might be changed into a climate change White Paper; that is an interesting idea. He referred to the cutting of funds to the Energy Saving Trust, which seems strange in the context of concern about climate change. He also referred to the powerful case for international agreement in respect of tackling climate change and we all know that the only real and lasting solution to climate change will be at international level. He made another interesting observation when he said that there is an existing technology being developed in the United States—green aviation fuels—and he asked the Secretary of State to explain what we in this country are doing to develop it here. I hope that the Secretary of State will address that.

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The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) also has a long history of service on environmental matters. She made a thoughtful speech, which dealt with climate change. She was the only Member who raised the dreaded spectre of nuclear power—but let us move swiftly on from that. In the latter part of her speech, she made a compelling case, based on her first-hand knowledge, concerning the iniquity and inequity of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It was a moving contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who has great knowledge of local government, spoke of the erosion of local independence and mentioned that there have already been four attempts to impose a planning gain supplement on this country, all of which have failed. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) made a wide-ranging speech and talked about the importance of skills and training.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who made a very interesting contribution, spoke of the woeful inadequacy of infrastructure investment in the south-east and said that that threatens the quality of our environment. He referred to the pressures on the health service and the water supply, and to building on flood plains, which is an unsustainable practice. Speaking as someone who also represents a south-east constituency, I know well of what he spoke. He also referred to the extraordinarily wasteful, expensive and unnecessary proposals for local government reorganisation, a subject on which other Members touched.

The hon. Members for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) and for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) both spoke about the climate change Bill. The former said that she was struck by the consensus that now exists on climate change. There really is such a consensus—among non-governmental organisations, Members of this House and economists——and the Stern report is a very important contribution to the wider debate. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) took a slightly different view, and I look forward to reading his comments tomorrow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who is carving out a reputation as a thoughtful observer of environmental affairs, spoke of flood risk in his constituency and of how intertwined environmental issues are with international development issues. Indeed they are. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), who is chair of the all-party group on water, spoke of the importance of oceans, and she was right to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) spoke about London’s local government structure with great authority. The hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) spoke of the importance of infrastructure to accompany investment in house building. It was nice to hear that view coming from the Labour side of the House, for a change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has enormous experience in the Greater London authority and brought that to bear effectively in a well-informed speech about the relative
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powers of the London assembly and New York city council. He gave us some interesting ideas to take forward.

The hon. Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) drew on her constituency experience to speak of the importance of decentralising power from Whitehall and regional authorities. Her remarks struck a chord throughout the House.

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) spoke about the consensus on climate change and the need for greater devolution and decentralisation, which was a recurring theme of the debate. He memorably said that development in this county is too often fuelled by greed and not by need—a view with which I have much sympathy.

The hon. Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall) clearly has strong views on local government organisation in Bedford. I do not know what his constituents think about those views, but I have a pretty good idea what the Government will make of his criticisms of their policy. However, I am pleased that he emphasised that he is not in favour of compelling local authorities to reorganise. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) spoke movingly and in a very informed way about drug and alcohol abuse, the impact of which blights many local communities across the country, and about the importance of local decision making. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans spoke about the lack of joined-up government.

This has been a wide-ranging, well-informed and stimulating debate. I want to agree with those such as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe who regretted the absence of a marine Bill in the Queen’s Speech. It has been promised several times and was a Labour manifesto commitment at the last election; indeed, we were promised a draft Bill in the last Queen’s Speech. Will the Secretary of State give us some idea of the Government’s timetable for the introduction of a marine Bill, which will deal with issues that are not easy but none the less very important? The whole House wants to see that.

The Queen’s Speech contained no measures to sort out the unholy mess that the Government have made of the Rural Payments Agency. The House has debated that shambles on several occasions and will no doubt do so again, although I commend our campaign to make them pay by Christmas day, which hon. Members from both sides are entitled to support.

On the climate change Bill, the only true solution to the problem will be international. If we are to take a lead internationally, we must put our own house in order. It is important that the trajectory of our carbon emissions is falling, not rising. We have been pressing for a climate change Bill for some considerable time and we are as pleased as anyone that the Government have finally conceded the point. I look forward with interest to the details of the Bill. We have, as the Secretary of State knows, our own views about what it should contain and I look forward to hearing what he makes of our proposals.

We believe that we need a robust system and that the Government should be more accountable than they have been so far. Therefore, we believe that we need an independent commission that not only considers the
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issue but sets the targets. We want an annual report to Parliament, followed by votes on any measures proposed to address climate change. We believe that we need a long-term target of at least a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050, framework targets to help us on our way and annual targets set on a rolling basis. I know that the Secretary of State has reservations about those proposals and that, if there is a spike in the oil price or the weather changes, it could throw out the targets in any given year. However, that is exactly why we have proposed flexible arrangements —[ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State shouts at me from a sedentary position, but I do not need any lessons on targets from him.

Does anyone remember the three manifesto commitments that Labour made to cut CO2 emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010? That target was dropped in March. Does anyone remember the 5 per cent. target for energy from renewable sources by 2003? Three years later, we are still at 4 per cent. Does anyone remember the target to improve domestic energy efficiency by 30 per cent.—a target that the Government now deny ever having made in the first place? Does anyone remember the commitment to shift tax from environmental goods to environmental bads? The proportion of green taxes as a percentage of the total has fallen since 1997, not risen. The Government have also failed to meet targets for making payments under the rural payments schemes.

The Government set a dramatic target of 0.3 per cent. of all our fuel coming from biofuels, which is below the EU target of 2 per cent. The actual turnout was 0.24 per cent., so we do not need lessons in targets. The reason we want annual targets on climate change is that it is much too important an issue to continue with the fudge and failure of Labour’s approach to targets. We want independent targets, independently monitored and set annually, on a rolling basis, so that they can be revised in the light of changing circumstances.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in criticising the Government’s targets, but can he give us one example of a specific Conservative policy on transport emissions to achieve those targets?

Mr. Ainsworth: That is a silly question and I am sorry that I gave way. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we have policy reviews going on and he will —[ Interruption. ] Well, we have announced that we would support a carbon levy and I have not noticed his comments on that.

We want to work with the Government on climate change, but I am concerned about the current state of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have had many reports of serious cuts in the Department and its agencies, which may put at risk very important environmental work. It appears that DEFRA has lost control of its budget, and environmental causes are suffering. As the Secretary of State and the whole House know, when the environment suffers, we all suffer.

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