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8 Nov 2007 : Column 304

Clive Efford: I just want to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on doing a U-turn on a bridge that has not yet been built. He has changed his position twice.

Mr. Evennett: The hon. Gentleman always gets his facts wrong. He is known for that locally as well as in the House. The fact is that it is a different proposal for a different bridge to go to a different place and to be built at a different time. Unfortunately, he is stuck in the past just like so many of his colleagues on the Government Benches.

It is interesting that the Government have a plan for cutting emissions and improving air quality, but what is the result? We are all united against the Thames Gateway bridge in our area of south-east London and there was a public inquiry. The public inquiry inspector said that the bridge was not necessary for the development of the Thames Gateway, but who was it who would not accept the report? The answer is the very Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who opened the debate. She did not like the outcome of the inspector’s report so she has reopened the public inquiry so it can perhaps come to a decision that she would like. The Government speak with one voice to say that they want a cut in emissions to improve air quality and to deal with the problems that we have in south-east London, but if the proposal for the bridge goes ahead, it will increase traffic, have health consequences and increase the problems for the environment. Of course, we now know that the reopened public inquiry will not take place until 2009, so people locally have that sword of Damocles above them.

Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Government that we need new nuclear power to cut carbon emissions, or does he share the view of his party’s leader that we do not?

Mr. Evennett: Nuclear power will be discussed later. I am trying to get across— [ Interruption. ] I am discussing the issues affecting my local area and they include the emissions from traffic. I would like more public transport and not the Thames Gateway bridge. My approach would help to cut emissions and, as well as dealing with issues of road safety, help to improve health in my area.

I am concerned that other issues have not appeared in the Queen’s Speech. In my time outside the House, I worked for Bexley college and dealt with young people and others who were at the college trying to obtain the qualifications that would enable them to lead fulfilling lives and have a good future. I therefore welcome the Bill on education and skills that proposes to improve education and training and to enforce duties on young people and parents to ensure that young people participate in education. I welcome moves to improve access to post-16 education. After all, we now know that there are more than 250,000 more people not in education or training than there were in 1997. That is under a Government who keep telling us how successful their education policies have been. That statistic is really worrying.

If we have spent so much on education and invested in it, why are so many young people disaffected? They do not have the skills of reading and writing at the ages of 11 and 16 that they need to be able to participate so that they can make something of themselves. That big
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question has not been addressed in the Queen’s Speech and although I welcome the proposed Bill, there is much more that we should do to raise standards for those within the current statutory school age of between five and 16.

The diversity and variety of Bexley’s schools is excellent. We have grammar schools, technical schools and single-sex schools, and our council is determined to do the best for all children. I know that school attendance has been a national problem. The number of children of compulsory school age having at least one unauthorised absence has increased by 22 per cent. nationally in the past five or six years. That is very worrying because every day that a child misses at school cannot be made up. We want to ensure that children have the opportunity to be in school and to learn. The Government boast that they have spent £1 billion on tackling truancy, but truancy has increased. That needs to be addressed seriously, not only because children are losing education, but because we wonder and worry about what those children are doing when they are not in school.

May I suggest that the Government examine the work that is being carried out in my borough of Bexley that is led by our two excellent cabinet members, Councillors Simon Windle and Teresa O’Neill? I hope that their “every day counts” strategy will do much to improve attendance in Bexley, even though it is not as bad as that in many other parts of the country.

Bexley head teachers said that they wanted much clearer guidelines and advice, and, more importantly, policies that were applied consistently across the borough. From this year, there will no longer be differences for children in different schools. Parents have been asked to try to keep to a minimum the time that their children are absent from school. Additionally, schools no longer have holiday forms to complete. Instead, parents or carers will need to write directly to their child’s head teacher to justify why holidays should be granted during term time. Any pupil’s attendance at school is a partnership among the child, parents, the school and the local authority. A child’s formal education is a valued asset that should be treasured and looked after carefully. Teachers in our schools do a tremendous job, but they can be allowed to do their very best only if everyone ensures that children attend school as much as possible.

Much more needs to be done on standards and discipline in education. The present system is failing too many children, which is a disgrace. When we look forward, we want to see a well educated, enthused and aspirational group of young people who can take this country forward. That was what we were looking for from the Queen’s Speech.

We approve of some aspects of the Queen’s Speech. We welcome what is proposed in the Climate Change Bill, although we will need to tweak it. We welcome the proposed education Bill, but it is not enough. More needs to be done in schools, but such action was lacking from the Queen’s Speech.

My constituents will find the Queen’s Speech wanting in addressing many of their concerns, notably the NHS, crime, immigration and education. The Government seem to be rather bankrupt of new ideas and the Queen’s Speech proves it.

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2.2 pm

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): In view of the time limit, I shall confine my remarks to some of the matters raised by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee regarding the draft Climate Change Bill and the Government’s response. I welcome the all-party agreement of the Committee, on which I serve, on the principal purpose of the Bill: to enshrine national carbon emission reduction targets in law. We will be the first country in the world to do that, which is hardly an indication that the Government are running out of ideas and commitment, as some hon. Members have suggested. Doing so will not only firmly place such issues on the political agenda and the Government’s agenda, but strengthen the will of the Government to create and deliver the certainty that is essential so that businesses and other organisations can be confident that the matter is here to stay for decades to come, and that investment can be put in place and decisions taken in the knowledge that the Government will not back off. That crucial political aspect of the Bill is absolutely essential and is entirely consistent with the message of the Stern report, which described climate change as the

Stability and certainty in policy and the political will will be crucial if major players in the economy are to tackle that market failure.

The draft Bill proposed that, by 2050, carbon dioxide emissions must be at least 60 per cent. less than they were in 1990. The Committee heard evidence that the science on which that figure was based has moved on. However, we did not think that, as politicians, we should just pluck another figure out of the air. We thought that the expert committee on climate change would be best placed to make recommendations on the matter and that that committee should be free to alter targets—certainly the 2050 target, and also the interim 2020 target. The draft Bill did not allow for that, so I was pleased that the Government’s response indicated that the climate change committee will have the power to do that and that it must report on the target by autumn 2009.

I would like the report to happen a little earlier because I understand that the Government intend that the committee should exist in shadow form before the Bill is enacted. That will be helpful, and the committee is bound to be doing some work on that while it is thinking about the period of the first carbon budget. The public will be looking to the committee to do so.

The 60 per cent. target will be very tough in itself. The CBI has signed up to it, but I understand that some of its members are moaning and groaning. That is all the more reason why, if we are to end up with the higher target that I think we will need, the argument for it must be based on science. However, there is not yet a consensus on the science. For example, the Tyndall centre for climate change research argues for a 90 per cent. reduction from the 1990 base. It recommended that figure in a report that it prepared for Friends of the Earth, which gave evidence to the Select Committee, but Friends of the Earth did not adopt that figure and went for 80 per cent. There is not yet consensus, but the science is moving on.

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Mr. Peter Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is making a number of extremely powerful points. May I push him a little further? How sensible does he think it is that the Bill—we expect—will set the targets and that the climate change committee will come to a decision on what the targets should be only after that process?

Patrick Hall: The issue needs careful consideration. It will be important that there is a figure in the Bill because that will show that the Government mean business. I hope that the expert committee will start its work early next year. If the door is open under the framework of the Act to use a mechanism involving the expert committee so that the figure can be upped in the light of scientific consensus, that is a perfectly sensible way of going forward. The Government cannot be accused of vagueness at the start of such a serious process.

The Bill will propose five-year periods for carbon budgeting, starting in autumn 2008. Binding limits will be set for each five-year period and three consecutive periods may be examined at one time. The draft Bill included a requirement that the committee on climate change should make an annual report to Parliament on the progress being made. That provision was very welcome and supported by the Select Committee. The Committee also supported five-year budget periods. Some argue for annual statutory targets, but they would be bound to create a focus on shorter-term reduction objectives. Such targets would also be too sensitive to weather, short-term climate change and changes to the market price of energy. Five-year periods are thus more sensible and fit in with the internationally agreed time periods involved under Kyoto and the European Union emissions trading scheme.

When Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds gave evidence to the Select Committee, they supported annual statutory budgets because they thought that the fact that a five-year period could span a change of Government might weaken a Government’s resolve to address the situation. However, that Select Committee evidence session shows that both Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds would be content with five-year budgetary periods, provided that there be explicit annual milestones, so that the Government could be held accountable and could make decisions regarding emissions during a five-year budget period, not just at the end of it. The Select Committee agreed with that and supported a five-year period, but with annual milestones set and published by the climate change committee.

In their response, the Government welcomed the support for the five-year budget period, but apparently they are set against annual targets or milestones, which they say would undermine the credibility of the system. They cite all kinds of problems—and the Select Committee would agree with them, if we were talking about annual statutory targets, but we are not, and I am not. We are talking about milestones that are not statutory. Milestones will exist anyway along a five-year route—a 15-year route, in fact—even if the Government do not want to recognise them.

The minute that the Bill becomes an Act, people will talk. They will be anxious and interested. Parliamentarians and all sorts of organisations will
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want to know what progress we are making, and what the ifs and buts are. It would be better for the Government to embrace that reality, and not to seem to set their face against indicative milestones. Such milestones are not statutory targets. I believe that they are entirely consistent with an annual emissions report to Parliament—something to which the Government are committed. What will that report talk about, unless it is the progress that has, or has not, been made, and how we will deal with the situation? Of course some people will misunderstand or deliberately misrepresent the annual milestones, but that is no reason why the Government should not embrace the concept, and I hope that they will consider doing so.

As I have said, I am pleased that the proposed committee on climate change will start its work sooner rather than later. The Select Committee made a number of comments about it. Mainly we wanted to make sure that it was independent and had sufficient resources, but I will pick on just one comment: the proposal that, among the experts on the committee, there be a specialist in dealing with and understanding biodiversity. Biodiversity is obviously affected by climate change, which has all sorts of human and economic consequences for it. I am disappointed and surprised that the Government disagreed with that in their response. They said that biodiversity was considered in everything that the Government did, and that it was in the ether, as it were, at all times. Well, I am sorry, but I am not terribly convinced by that. We are setting up a mechanism through which to consider climate change, and biodiversity should be among the issues that are constantly considered; it should not just be assumed that it is being considered at all times, because that is not convincing.

In the draft Bill, it was proposed that international aviation and shipping emissions not be included, but that they be included at some future point. The position now, I believe, is that the Government accept the logic that they must be included at some point. That will of course affect the difficulty, or otherwise, of achieving a 60 or 70 per cent. reduction target, but at least the target will be based on reality. The Government are right to indicate that the committee on climate change will have the power to recommend the point at which emissions from international aviation and shipping be included. I must say that in the evidence that the Committee received, the opinion was overwhelmingly that they should be included from day one.

There is a case for saying that although there are clearly technical difficulties, and although clearly the planet cannot deal with the issue until there is proper international agreement, there is such a thing as political leadership, which perhaps involves taking a few risks. No one is going to say, “You shouldn’t do that.” No country will deny that we should do it, ultimately. We, as the first industrialised country, are in a strong position to give political leadership on the issue. We should look towards an early inclusion of international aviation and shipping emissions, rather than wait for the European Union emissions trading scheme or some other international agreement, which will clearly be needed beyond that. It will strengthen the Government’s arguments for securing those international agreements if they take the lead in the way that I suggest.

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Colin Challen: On the inclusion of aviation in the European emissions trading scheme, does my hon. Friend agree that it will be quite wrong of the EU and the Government not to include the impact of radiative forcing when calculating the impact of aviation, when there is eventually trading within the scheme, as its impact could be up to four times greater than is currently calculated?

Patrick Hall: I think that my hon. Friend is referring to contrails and that sort of thing.

Colin Challen: All that sort of thing.

Patrick Hall: Right. Of course, the science will, hopefully, take on board all of that, because we are interested in dealing with the reality, and not with what happens to be fashionable at any point in time; the subject is far too important for that.

I should like to draw attention to one or two other related matters. It is important that the Bill establishes a clear relationship with the rest of what the Government do, in terms of joined-up, seamless government, certainly as regards the terms of the legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s Speech. There is to be a planning Bill, a housing and regeneration Bill, an energy Bill and a draft marine Bill. Those four, at least, have a strong influence on how we reach our emission reduction targets, on our trajectory, and on the issue of cumulative reductions in carbon dioxide. I was going to go through all those Bills, but there is no time. However, the important point is that we must make sure, when each Bill is introduced and goes through its stages in the House, that the scrutiny includes remembering that the Climate Change Bill seeks to overarch all of that. We will not deliver on climate change unless those Bills and other measures succeed in addressing the concerns in detail.

Clearly, I support the Climate Change Bill, but I support changes to the draft Bill that the Select Committee examined. I look forward to the Bill’s publication. There are some hopeful indications in the Government response, but further changes need to be made. I say that because I want a robust Bill that will command support throughout the country and in the House. It is such a crucial issue; we just have to get it right.

2.17 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate on the Gracious Speech. I want to focus on the issues in the speech that particularly affect my constituents in Fareham. Those topics happen to be the subject of the earlier interchanges between the Front Benchers—housing and planning. Let me give the House some background that will enable hon. Members to understand my concerns, and why I am articulating the concerns of my constituents.

Fareham borough council is one of a number of councils in south Hampshire that have formed the partnership for urban south Hampshire, to develop plans that will form part of the south-east plan. The partnership proposes that 80,000 houses be built in the area between just to the west of Southampton, through Portsmouth to Havant. Under those plans, 13,000 houses will be built in my constituency over 20 years—10,000 in a strategic development area, and 3,000 in areas of
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Fareham that are already developed. The plans are partly to help stimulate economic growth, and partly to accommodate population growth in the area. The population studies that the councils commissioned to help inform their decisions show that in the 20 years from 2006 there will be an extra 53,200 single-person households, and only an extra 5,700 new family households. It is clear from the analysis that has been done that there is demand for more houses in the area.

Despite the logic that underpins those plans, my constituents have some concerns about development, which are rooted in their experiences to date—and are not, I hope, a reflection of the experiences they will have in future. They have three particular concerns: infrastructure, density and location, and a lack of democratic accountability.

In Fareham, there has been rapid development over the past 20 or 30 years. New communities have grown up, but there has also been a shortfall in infrastructure. Whiteley, for example, is a community split between Fareham and Winchester. It has a single primary school, which does not have enough places for the children in the community, who have to be bussed to the other side of the M27 to schools elsewhere in my constituency. In September I was proud to open a new permanent GP surgery in Whiteley. It is the first and only such surgery in Whiteley; the doctors were operating out of portakabins until earlier this year. There is one road in and out of Whiteley, and 3,000 to 4,000 houses, and residents think that new houses are being built without adequate infrastructure. Elsewhere in the borough, there has been large-scale infill development in recent years, but Blackbrook maternity hospital has closed, there is no investment in new road schemes, and it is difficult for local residents to find a dentist in the area. For them, new housing means pressure on existing local services, and they cannot see the Government taking any steps to relieve that pressure.

Hampshire county council and other local councils supported the south Hampshire rapid transit scheme, which proposed to operate a tram through Gosport into Portsmouth. Unfortunately, the Department for Transport decided not to proceed with the funding of that scheme, yet no other funding has been made available to improve public transport. Interestingly, the panel empowered by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to investigate the south-east plan said in its report that it was regrettable that the rapid transit scheme did not proceed, because when people were considering how to accommodate the additional housing growth in the area, they would have to look afresh at public transport and other schemes to improve infrastructure. Local people therefore believe that development has taken place without the incentive of new infrastructure to maintain or enhance their quality of life.

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