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Mr. Alexander: Amid his indignation, the hon. Gentleman suggested that there was e-voting in Scotland on Thursday. As someone who actually voted in Scotland, let me say that it is clear that he does not understand that it is e-counting, rather than e-voting, that we are discussing today. If he is suggesting that it is fundamentally wrong that Members of Scottish Parliament are elected
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under a proportional representation system, I would simply say, with respect, that that matter was resolved at the time of the passage of the Scotland Act 1998, and I am not convinced that that is particularly relevant to our discussions today.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): We do not have the figures for rejected ballot papers in the Scottish Parliament elections, but if the number is very high, what will it take for the election to be rerun?

Mr. Alexander: I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and offer an analysis or description of why the spoiled ballot papers were spoiled. In a limited set of circumstances, people choose to spoil their ballot papers intentionally, but I think that the prudent and responsible course in the circumstances is to allow the Electoral Commission to take forward its statutory review and explore whether there were other factors that contributed to the number of ballot papers spoiled in Scotland on Thursday evening.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that on election night, when ballot papers were rejected they were shown to the agents and the candidates and the rejection was agreed, and that when the declaration was made, the number of spoiled ballot papers was announced? If that is the case, why can he not tell us now how many ballot papers were rejected?

Mr. Alexander: As I have said, when I sought from officials this morning the definitive number of spoilt ballot papers, a figure was available for a number of constituencies, but not the total number of constituencies in Scotland. That work is continuing. On the first point that the hon. Gentleman put to me, I cannot comment with authority this afternoon on the conduct in each individual constituency at the count, which is rightly the responsibility not of a politician but of the electoral returning officer in that constituency. If there are specific concerns about specific counts, the appropriate action to take is to discuss that with the electoral returning officer in that particular constituency on the night, and thereafter, if necessary, to take whatever further action is required.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): There is no doubt that great damage has been done to trust in the political system by the events of last Thursday and Friday, and everyone involved in Scottish politics, as a politician or in an administrative position, has a responsibility to make sure that they never happen again. In that connection, will my right hon. Friend have early discussions with the Scottish Executive about introducing legislation to ensure that as far as possible local government elections under the single transferable vote system are not held on the same day as Scottish parliamentary elections—or, indeed, UK parliamentary elections?

Mr. Alexander: As my hon. Friend knows, for a long-standing campaigner for devolution like me, the rightful place for the decision on the timing of local government elections in Scotland is Holyrood. I am sure that careful consideration will be given to the report that the Electoral Commission is preparing by
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the incoming Scottish Executive, of whatever hue. That said, it is heartening that Scottish Executive Ministers have already made it clear that they wish the conduct of the Scottish local government elections to be considered as part of the statutory review undertaken by the Electoral Commission.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): I do not wish to prejudice the forthcoming trials of the guilty, but I do wish to make some points about the remit given to the Electoral Commission. In particular, may I ask whether it will be allowed to make publicly available all the ballots that were ruled out, so that they can be examined—either the ballots themselves or copies thereof, particularly the local government ballots? That will enable us to clarify whether, when three Xs had been marked, there would have been some way of allowing at least one of those votes to be counted. Can the rules for recounts be clarified, and can we ask the Electoral Commission to clarify whether a financial clawback from the returning officers and the firms involved would be possible, as they have not delivered adequately? Will my right hon. Friend examine the question of wasted votes, too? In Glasgow there were more than 78,000 wasted Labour votes in the second ballot. There were also 91,000 wasted Labour votes in the West of Scotland, and 112,000 wasted Labour votes in Central Scotland, on the second ballot. I certainly hope that the House will reject his proposal that the European Union be called in to monitor the situation. It should not be called in to monitor any European—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Alexander: I shall try to deal with the multiple questions that my hon. Friend put to me. First, for the sake of clarification, I can assure him that it was not a proposal of mine that the EU be called in to look at the conduct of elections in the United Kingdom. I was merely reflecting the fact that it was intriguing that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) had not chosen the EU, given its role in electoral observation missions elsewhere in Europe. On my hon. Friend’s second point about so-called wasted votes, he is a long-standing campaigner on the issue, and given his commitment to the Co-operative party and its ideals, he has long argued that there could be a case for standing Co-operative candidates from the regional list. That is a matter on which I am sure he will continue to campaign.

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The final matter that I wish to address is his first point about the remit given to the Electoral Commission. It is important to clarify the fact that I did not invent the Electoral Commission’s role overnight on Friday, and thereby designate it as the appropriate statutory body. As I understand it, under section 5 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Electoral Commission has a statutory obligation to review elections, including the Scottish Parliament elections, so it is not a mechanism that has been devised for these particular circumstances. It is a statutory review which, as a matter of course, has been taken forward. My intervention with the Electoral Commission on Friday morning was to ensure that under the terms of that statutory review, the specific issues that were of concern, and which I elucidated in my statement, would receive consideration, and I was given that assurance by Sir Neil McIntosh.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton) about spoilt papers, and returning to what my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) told us about the Cunninghame North shambles, I too ask whether we can look at the papers. There were 1,700 spoiled papers on the regional and Scottish Parliament vote—over 10 times more than normal. I asked to look at those papers to see what the problem was, but that was denied me—all I was shown was a television screen. One vote was counted because there were two dots in a box. I am sorry, but this is not democracy. What is my right hon. Friend going to do to look at all these ballot papers, which have now been flung in a bucket somewhere, and to put the situation to rights for the people whose votes were not counted?

Mr. Alexander: I can assure my hon. Friend that these ballots are not, as he suggests, flung in a bucket somewhere, but kept. On his substantive point about the facility whereby people are able to see the ballot papers, it is the case that a photograph of the ballot paper was shown on a number of television screens at counts across Scotland. However, the fact remains that I cannot comment today on the conduct of individual returning officers at individual counts, whether in Glasgow or elsewhere. If there are legitimate concerns that it would be appropriate to raise with returning officers, they should in the first instance be raised with those returning officers by the candidates affected.

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Opposition Day

[10th Allotted Day]

Climate Change

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.21 pm

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I beg to move,

It is good to see that Conservative Members are not too ashamed of their party’s manifesto in the Scottish elections. At least some of them are attending the debate, despite the fact that their party scored nought out of 10 for its environmental commitments, according to Friends of the Earth. The toxic Tories north of the border reminded me of the analysis undertaken by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace of the voting record of Conservative Members of the European Parliament on environmental matters during the last Parliament, which found that they were not merely the worst of all the British political parties, but the worst in the whole of the European Union.

Clearly, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has some sins still to repent. He has been leader of his party for 16 months and has yet to put on the table a single firm proposal that would have any impact on greenhouse gas emissions. I hope that his party will be able to support our motion as a first step to rectifying that omission. That would also fit with the ambitious agenda revealed in The Times today by the Conservatives’ policy chief, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who assures us that

No doubt that is deep stuff, but I think that he would perhaps do better were he to speak in English.

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I wish that I could argue that the Government’s record on climate change has been good, but it has not. There is real concern that their aims are not being informed solely by the science of climate change, which must surely be the starting point. I think that we are agreed across the parties that a rise in global temperature of 2° C above the pre-industrial average is at the limit of what should be tolerated if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, with rising sea levels, drought, floods and extreme weather events. However, the Government have been less than open about what that temperature limit means for our behaviour. They have drifted towards a figure of 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide alone as the aim of our emissions policy globally. We now know what that would mean according to the latest—the fourth—assessment report of working group 3 of the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change, which was published yesterday in Bangkok. The working group is responsible for assessing what we need to do to limit global warming. It finds that a range of 485 to 570 parts per million of carbon dioxide alone—in other words, what the Government have been suggesting—would lead to a global mean temperature increase of not 2° C, but 3.2° to 4° C. The top end of that range is nearly double the 2° C that the Government specify. The same report shows that holding global warming to 2° to 2.4° C would require a CO2 equivalent concentration of 445 to 490 parts per million.

Clearly, there is a great disjuncture between the Government’s rhetoric in saying that they want to avoid dangerous climate change and the reality of the targets that they set. On the basis of the evidence of the report, if the Government continue to believe—as they should—that 2° C of global warming is the danger threshold, they must also accept a revision of their international aim and, indeed, a revision of the 60 per cent. reduction in emissions in the draft Climate Change Bill. I hope that Ministers can tell the House exactly where the Government stand on the matter, as the United Nations IPCC report makes it clear that their current position is no longer tenable.

No doubt there will be much hand-wringing in parts of British business at the prospect of a more ambitious target, but we have much to gain by being ahead of the global pack. The countries that establish first mover advantage will have the proprietary technology to give their exporters an edge in new global markets. Energy saving does exactly what any sensible business does anyway: it saves costs. The Stern review has already stated that we would benefit by moving more quickly rather than allowing higher costs to build up later. The UN IPCC report reaches similar conclusions. The costs of the most radical stabilisation proposal are put at no more than 0.12 per cent. of GDP each year, or less than 5.5 per cent. of the GDP level in 2050.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In the light of entirely justified exhortations to improve the environmental performance of the private sector, what assessment has the hon. Gentleman made of the performance of the public sector?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman raises a matter with which I shall deal later. No doubt he knows that the Sustainable Development Commission has had some critical words to say about the Government’s performance.

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Even at the maximum costs for which the UN IPCC calculations allow, we would still reach the level of income that we might have attained in 2050 by 2053. That does not seem an excessive price to pay for a planet fit for future generations.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the UN figures are predicated not on unilateral action by this country, but on the assumption that we carry the whole developed world with us?

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is right that we need a global agreement. It is useful that the Chancellor of Germany, as President of the European Union, did so much at the recent Berlin and Brussels summits to put that on the global agenda. However, we must plan for success and not assume that no one else will follow. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the EU agreement becomes more ambitious if other developed countries follow along with us.

The first part of the motion merely calls on the Government to bring their professed goals for carbon emissions into line with their assessment of the dangerous temperature rise.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman calling for Britain to act more ambitiously on long-term targets unilaterally?

Chris Huhne: I am pleased to make it clear that we are calling for the Government to set a more ambitious target. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his recent pamphlet, in which he clearly set out some of the muddle into which the Government have got themselves on such matters. It makes a useful contribution to the debate.

The second part of the motion calls on the Government to set out an annual action plan to reduce our own carbon emissions in line with our target. If we are to persuade the developing countries to follow suit, there has to be a far greater sense of urgency about our own efforts in the developed world. That is a moral imperative, given that we rich countries may be responsible for some 70 per cent. of all the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

There is also a strong case for urgent action because of the danger that, if we do not act quickly, the costs of climate change will not mount steadily, but will tip over into highly dangerous areas. Feedback effects such as the melting permafrost on northern peatlands could release large amounts of methane; drying weather could lead to accelerated dieback of tropical rainforest; glacier melt could accelerate due to under-ice streams; and the vanishing of snow and ice cover could curb the albedo effect reflecting warmth away from earth.

An annual action plan should be linked to far greater co-ordination of the Government’s efforts, as the third part of the motion suggests, through a dedicated Cabinet Committee on climate change. No amount of Whitehall reorganisation can bring all the public activities that affect climate change into one Department—nor should it. The Foreign Office is responsible for climate change negotiations; the Department for International
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Development needs to reflect in our aid policy the challenge of climate change for the poorest countries; the Department for Communities and Local Government sets building regulations, including those on thermal efficiency; the Department of Trade and Industry runs energy policy and therefore policy on electricity generation; the Department for Transport sets airport and aviation policy; the Treasury controls the taxes that are such an important influence on decision making on fossil fuels and carbon emissions; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for the energy efficiency of existing housing stock, not to mention the methane output of our livestock.

The potential for a good old-fashioned Whitehall shambles is well established. The Prime Minister has repeatedly told us that climate change is one of the greatest policy challenges of our time and we know that one of its principal effects is rising sea levels and worsening storms, yet last summer DEFRA cut the Environment Agency’s flood defence budget. Meanwhile, the Department for Communities and Local Government is still planning more than 100,000 new homes on flood plains and the Department for Transport is planning an airport expansion that is wholly inconsistent with the need to control aviation emissions. Because the Chancellor was spooked by the fuel duty protestors, the Treasury has steadily cut green taxes as a share of GDP from 3.6 per cent. in 1999 to 2.9 per cent. in 2005. The Department of Trade and Industry was responsible for research cuts at the centres for ecology and hydrology that helped us to understand how flora and fauna would react to climate change. Even more bizarrely, there were cuts in the research budget of the Hadley centre at the Met Office, which had established itself as one of the leading world centres for the study of climate change.

The truth is that the Government do not have a well co-ordinated policy on climate change. As in many other areas, they have elevated spin above substance. They have merely a public relations campaign masquerading as a climate change policy. That is why we make the proposal in the motion for some mechanisms within Whitehall to ensure a semblance of joined-up government around an annual action plan that would help to deliver real policies, not just rhetoric.

The most urgent priority is surely to tackle the transport sector, where our emissions have grown most rapidly since the Kyoto base year of 1990. We need a more steeply graduated vehicle excise duty that will shift most car buyers to low-emission models.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): With a steeply graduated vehicle excise duty, what allowances would the hon. Gentleman make for people in rural areas, particularly farmers and crofters, who need 4x4 vehicles to run their livestock? I would hope that he would not penalise such people unnecessarily.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman knows very well, because we have dealt with this matter in previous debates, that we have proposed discounts for people in remote rural areas and exemptions for working vehicles. The key issue is to ensure that we shift our vehicle fleet towards low-emission vehicles, and we need a more steeply graduated vehicle excise duty to ensure that that happens.

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