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This would seem an appropriate time to pay tribute to the Prime Minister for his tireless work over the past decade to put climate change at the top of the international agenda. Nearly 20 years ago, the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, became the first world leader to send a clarion call to the planet to wake up to the dangers of man-made climate change. It
would be churlish not to recognise the current Prime Ministers considerable efforts to build on Lady Thatchers legacy as a forceful international advocate for action against global warming. I sincerely hope that he will continue that role when, after a decade at the helm, he finally retires to make way for an older man.
It is not the general analysis of the problem that divides us from the Government, nor even many of the solutions that they advocate. It is the singular lack of urgency, after 10 years of complacency, that we find unacceptable. Erudite speeches abroad are no substitute for effective action at home. Three manifesto commitments on reducing emissions by 20 per cent. by 2012 have been quietly shelved. Everyone knows that Labour will meet its Kyoto commitments only because of the carbon dioxide cuts achieved under the last Conservative Government, largely with the dash for gas, despite the fact that when the Labour Government took office, they tried to turn the clock back with a policy bias in favour of dirty coal.
I would do a disservice to the debate if I were to wrangle over only Labours serial failure since 1997. The new politics of climate change are about the future, not the past. The scale of the challenge requires politicians to find new ways of working together. We cannot afford the efforts of one individual Parliament, or one Prime Ministers Administration, to be anything other than part of a coherent long-term strategy to combat the greatest threat that mankind faces in the 21st century.
On Saturday night, I joined a debate on climate change with the students of the Pestalozzi college in my constituency. The Pestalozzi organisation brings disadvantaged but gifted children from the worlds developing countries to the United Kingdom so that they can study for the international baccalaureate and prepare for university. Students from Asia, Africa and the Americas gave their perspective on the global challenges that we face. One of the many inspiring comments that were written on a banner that they produced at the end of the evening was, Our approach: less accusation, more action. Thanks to the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the modern Conservative party is squaring up to the daunting changes required to tackle man-made global warming, but it is doing so with a sense of hope and optimism.
Clive Efford: If the Conservatives are facing up to the challenges of climate change, would the hon. Gentleman care to explain why certain Conservative authorities have cut recycling facilities? How many of the recently elected Conservative authorities does he anticipate will make similar cuts, and will he defend their record in future years, after they have made those cuts?
Gregory Barker: I am afraid that I do not recognise a word of what the hon. Gentleman says. He will know, if he was out on the doorsteps in the national campaign, that Conservative authorities across the country have the best record on recycling[Hon. Members: Not true!]excepting possibly Liberal-run Liverpool. He will also know that Labour authorities have the worst.
Gregory Barker: As I was saying, thanks to the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney, the modern Conservative party is squaring up to the daunting changes of climate change with a sense of realism, as well as of hope and optimism. We have embarked on the most ambitious and comprehensive environmental policy review in our partys history under the leadership of Zac Goldsmith and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). That work is close to completion, and we will be able to find common ground with the Liberal Democrats in many elements of it. I hope that in future they can work with us more constructively than they have done in the recent past.
Gregory Barker: It was a great shame that the hon. Gentleman tore up the cross-party agreement that was so meticulously put together by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and I hope that when he intervenes, he will confirm that he will be more constructive in his politics in future.
Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for finally giving way. He will know very well that when we suspended our participation in our agreement with the Conservative party it was because the Conservatives were unwilling to bring forward any specific policies whatever on the subject, and that continues to be the case. Before he gives us any lectures about following in his wake, or about the efforts of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), he should be aware that the latters local authority, West Oxfordshire, has just cut its recycling budget. That will have an effect on global warming, through the effects on landfill and methane. When the right hon. Member for Witney is able to show that he has some influence over his own
Gregory Barker: We have had 25 minutes of listening to the dirge of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne); that is quite enough, and I do not intend to take many more interventions from him. It is a shame that he could not be a little more constructive. Obviously, the new politics of climate change have yet to infect the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrat motion contains many good ideas, several of which have been championed by Conservative Members, but the motion is nevertheless uncosted, broad-brush and loosely worded, which is fine for a party facing perpetual opposition, but somewhat more problematic for a party clearly focused on forming the next Government. However, it is right to flag up the latest science, and absolutely right to call
for a new sense of urgency. An action plan is well overdue, too, and many people will be surprised to learn that there is no Cabinet Committee charged solely with climate change policy. However, when it comes to tackling transport emissionsa subject mentioned in the motionConservative thinking is considerably more ambitious and comprehensive than Liberal Democrat policy on transport. In recent times, it has seemed to begin and end with an attack on 4x4 vehicles, which in reality represent only a fraction of the real problem.
Andrew Miller: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would point out to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) that a Lexus hybrid uses more carbon per mile than a Vauxhall Astra built in my constituency?
Gregory Barker: That is a very good point, but the key point about hybrids is that they are part of an emerging technology, and only by supporting hybrids will we support the investment that will go on to push back the boundaries to promote better and cleaner energy. A Lexus 4x4 is certainly a good deal cleaner than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo in which I saw the Liberal director of campaigns driving around in the last by-election, and which was stuffed full of Liberal MPs.
Mark Lazarowicz: I have to report to the House that when I recently left the Commons one evening on my bicycle, the hon. Gentleman, who was following in his car, offered to take my briefcase home for me, so he is certainly consistent in his policies. However, will he tell us what Conservative party policy is on congestion charging or motorway tolls, so that we can be clear about that?
Gregory Barker: Our position on congestion charging is very clearit is up to local people to decide what is in the best interests of their local communities. In certain areas, it may have a place, but it is up to the local community to decide.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who is shadow Secretary of State for Transport, has made clear, we have a much more ambitious vision than the Liberal Democrats. Over the next generation, we have set a clear goal of securing a dramatic reduction in the average level of carbon dioxide emissions from cars on our roads. We want the average emission level for new cars in the UK to fall from 170 g per km to 100 g per km by 2022. By 2030, we want that figure to be an average for all the cars on Britains roads. The only realistic and deliverable route to meet such a target is to facilitate a transformation in the types of automotive technology in use in the UK. We all need to drive greener cars.
That is not a transformation that can be delivered overnight. Cars have a life cycle, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) correctly pointed out. Consumers only buy new cars from time to time, and manufacturers take years to develop new models. We cannot change those realities, but we must do what we can both to incentivise consumers to buy greener cars and to incentivise manufacturers to introduce new models and technologies as quickly as possible.
The next Conservative Government will introduce a programme of incentives to achieve that goal with clear milestones along the way. We have asked our quality of life policy group to make clear recommendations on the nature of a programme to set Britain at the forefront of international efforts to make motor vehicles much less environmentally damaging, and that work is due to be published later this summer.
We have an open mind about the technologies that will enable us to make that transition. We already know that hybrid technology and new generation diesel vehicles have made major steps forward in improving emission levels. Biofuels, too, will play an important part in moving towards the achievement of our goals, but onlyand it is an important caveatif they come from truly sustainable sources. We have made it clear that if we are to improve our stewardship of the environment without taking the unrealistic step of reducing peoples access to motor travel unnecessarily, changing technology is an essential part of the route that we must travel, and we must begin to encourage the acceleration of that technological change right away.
Vehicle excise duty is a useful instrument to encourage consumers to switch to greener cars, but ultimately, unlike the Lib Dems, we do not begrudge successful people expensive cars, provided that they do not pollute the planet. One place where people understand that and have started to introduce an ambitious change strategy is California. Writing in The Sunday Times at the weekend, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom we greatly look forward to welcoming to the Conservative party conference in October, said:
Technology, thats how we should deal with global warming instead of trying to make people feel guilty. In short
In short, the technology is there. The demand is there. If governments lead, investment will follow, business will follow and jobs will follow.
Global warming has presented humankind with a tough challenge. Since we all share the planet and breathe the same air, whatever our nationality or political stripe, it only makes sense to work together.
Turning the climate crisis into an opportunityfor investment, clean and green technology and jobsis a matter of leadership.
Sadly, in the UK we do not see those qualities in Government. Despite encouraging signals abroad and sensible progress in some areas, the bottom line is that, despite the urgency, there has not been hands-on leadership at home. That must change.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab):
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about urgency, but that is the weakness in his argument. While the programme that he is outlining on technology is all very worthythat certainly has a role to playapplying it to new vehicles will be an incredibly slow process, and biofuels can have only a limited impact. It is a mistake to rely solely on technology, because we need a range of tools,
including road pricing, whereby people could be encouraged to move on to public transport. Why has his party turned its face against that?
Gregory Barker: The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need a range of tools, but we are not seeing ambitious policies from this Government in any area; I have yet to see credible road pricing proposals from them. It is all hypotheticalafter 10 years, there is not a single ambitious policy in place. Throwing the solutions back on to the official Opposition shows that there is a dearth of thinking and action on the Labour Benches: we will show them how to do it when we are in government.
A clearer, coherent picture will necessarily include a greater focus on high-speed rail in the UK. It will also require a greater willingness to use tax as a way of ensuring that the full environmental impact of short-haul flights is priced into the cost of a ticket. We need a tax system that discourages pollution across the board and rewards people for making the right choices. We know that the Environment Secretary agrees with us, because he said as much in his secret, but leaked, pre-Budget letter to the Chancellor. He rightly referred to the fact that aviation is our fastest-growing source of greenhouse emissions, potentially set to rise from 5 per cent. currently to 25 per cent. by 2030. Tellingly, he referred to the embarrassment of Labours policy on airport expansion, which is totally at odds with its stated aims of reducing carbon emissions.
That brings me to green taxation. It has rightly gained a bad name under Labour, because although the share of green tax has fallen, whenever the Chancellor has levied a new tax in the name of the environment, it has been all grab, with no offsetting in terms of reductions in the tax burden elsewhere. His green tax motives sit ill with the fact that in his first eight Budget speeches he mentioned climate just once, on average, and at most twice. Then, lo and behold, following the election of the new leader of the Conservative party, it leapt to 16 mentions in 2006. Who says that an old dog cannot learn new tricks? Under this Government, green tax has become just another shade of Brown stealth tax. That has to change.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when the Government introduced the climate change levy in 2001, that was accompanied by a 0.3 percentage point cut in employers national insurance contributions, and that the introduction of the aggregates levy was accompanied by a 0.1 percentage point cut in employers NICs? It is absolutely unjustified to levy the charge that there was no offsetting in this area, and I hope that he will withdraw those remarks.
Gregory Barker: I am afraid that I will not because, sadly, those are simply two remarkable exceptions. What about air passenger duty? What about vehicle excise duty? The list goes on. Unfortunately, the Brown chancellorship is not green.
The next Conservative Government will not increase the tax burden on hard-working families but rebalance taxation so that the polluter pays and the non-polluter pays less. However, we do not simply need a
programme of green taxes; we need a green programmefull stop. I am pleased to say that the Climate Change Bill will go some way towards tackling that. We warmly welcome it and will work as constructively as possible with the Government as it passes through the Commons to make it a better and more effective measure. However, it provides only a framework for action rather than action. Given Labours miserable record in achieving medium-term CO2 targets, we need annual targets in the Bill to keep the Government and any future Government on course and held to account.
It is ironic that a Chancellor who has never shied away from placing ever more reporting and regulatory burdens on business balks at the idea that his Government might find themselves truly accountable annually. There is no alternative. We must start making a difference in this decade and begin achieving our stretching targets. It is our shared responsibility to the next generation to act now, not pass on our failures to our children. Labour cannot put off all the difficult decisions to some distant or unspecified date. As much as Conservative Members champion the private sectorwe want the power of the markets to be fully utilised in the fight against global warmingLabour cannot simply rely on the emissions trading scheme to save its record from years of inertia.
The Government cannot simply rely on the ETS and, as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, leave aviation untouched for the best part of a decade. That is not tenable. Labour cannot cross its fingers and hope that nuclear power alone will provide all the miracle answers. However, the Government would be right to examine the way in which we generate and use energy as a source of huge savings in carbon dioxide. With or without nuclear power, we believe that there is huge potential to cut CO2 in the domestic energy sector. By and large, the sector has remained pretty much unchanged since the Chancellor was a boy in the early 1950s. However, we will unleash a new energy revolution and harness the huge efficiencies made possible by uniting our demand for both heat and power only if we decentralise to the most local level.
Decentralised energy runs counter to the Governments instinctive centralising tendencies. It goes against the grain of the Chancellors old, 1980s mindset. However, the answers to 21st century energy problems lie not in a drawer in Whitehall but in our local communities. We need the Government to hack away at the red tape and overbearing regulation that currently inhibit decentralised energy. We need the Government to make it not only easier but advantageous for new local payers to enter local electricity markets, whether they are large businesses such as Tesco, public sector institutions such as schools and hospitals or simply a family trying to do their bit through photovoltaic roof tiles.
We need to be far more ambitious in targeting energy saving, and innovative in providing solutions. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is right to say that we need to make energy service companies a reality in the United Kingdom. To do that, we need to change the culture of the Governments regulators to put the reduction of CO2 emissions at the centre of
their mission. It cannot simply be an add-on. We need the Government to empower local communities to make a difference, to set new standards locally, to blaze a trail and thus allow local communities to go further than the clunking fist in Whitehall currently deems fit.
If we are to make up for lost time and start to make strides in the next decade towards an enterprising, low carbon economy, we need genuine leadership at the centre and local delivery. As last Thursdays massive gains of nearly 900 seats in the English local elections show, when people want something delivered locallycleaner streets, warmer homes or local action against climate changethey will vote blue and go green.
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