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I now turn to social housing. People are willing to accept more houses in their communities if they are for their young people. In Broxbourne, people with local links—youngsters who were born and educated in the community, and who work and have family there—are
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given additional points toward getting a housing association house. That is a good thing. Strong communities need to be inter-generational. At a time when more and more women are entering the workplace and having to balance their family duties with their work duties, it is important to have that network of support—aunts and uncles, brothers, grannies and granddads. So we should have mixed provision to support inter-generational communities, and ensure that in building social housing, local people know that they will be first in the queue for those houses.

I urge us to consider the environment. The Environment Agency, which has no particular political axe to grind, has told me that the east of England is running short of water and that there is simply no more available. We know that, because when we drive around Hertfordshire we see many rivers at a fraction of their original flow, and some that have run dry. When we are talking about saving the planet from global warming, it is incumbent on politicians in this place not only to think globally, but to act locally to preserve our environment, particularly our riverine environment.

Finally, let us consider the green belt. It does not belong to anyone in this Chamber; we are purely custodians of it for future generations. I urge the Government to think carefully, as I am sure they will, before building on the green belt. I say that with the best will in the world. Once green belt land has been built on, it can never be got back. Broxbourne is lucky to have green belt land. Perhaps I take it for granted, but I know that many London families come from Harrow, Enfield and other boroughs to enjoy it at weekends. They walk their dogs and enjoy the wonderful picnic places that our green belt provides.

That is the sum total of my contribution. I have spoken for three minutes less than my full allotment, and I hope that the time can be used wisely by other colleagues in this place.

4.26 pm

Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): I shall endeavour to use the time wisely, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker)

The Queen’s Speech charts a clear course of action for this Government and for our country. In an era of insincere political gimmicks and gesture politics of the worst kind, the Government’s legislative programme sets out to tackle the major issues of our time in a methodical, measured and practical way. It contains a sober analysis of the issues that the country faces and sets out the policies to address them. For all its surety, there is a profoundly progressive and radical element to the Government’s programme, which no amount of shrill criticism can drown out. Members of this House perform a great disservice to politics when they fail to engage with the arguments and the policies put before them for their consideration and instead attempt to mislead the public that black is white and white is black. This programme is remarkable, in part, precisely because it seeks to avoid that tired practice and because it tackles the issues of our day head on.

Of course, it is the Opposition’s job to oppose, to interrogate and to scrutinise these proposals, and I hope that they do so well. Perhaps, if the right spirit is adopted, they will seek to form a consensus with the
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Government on a series of issues for the benefit of the nation. That is a sincere hope. I will now identify a series of areas where such an approach is needed immediately.

The first such area is the Climate Change Bill. The Government should be commended on being the first Government in the history of this nation and the world to bring forward such a far-reaching and ambitious Bill. There can be no doubt that it is truly radical. The fight against climate change is for my generation what the Cold War was for my parents’ generation and what the fight against fascism was for my grandparents’ generation.

The nature of the problem means that this is not a simple matter of generational politics. As most of us know, but not all of us accept, it is the issue that most threatens our very existence, whatever our nationality, religion, race or class. No part of the political spectrum can claim sole ownership of this issue, but I firmly believe that the fight against climate change can be fought and won only with progressive policy solutions. The market will not rescue the planet from rising sea levels and burning woodlands. Climate change will affect the poorest first and it will affect them the worst. That is perhaps its only certainty, and it is why it demands a progressive response. It cannot be left to the market, because the market cannot solve the problems caused by climate change, nor can market mechanisms, of themselves, provide us with the means with which to fight climate change.

The state, acting nationally and internationally, is the best and most effective tool that we have to combat climate change. The issue requires better government, not simply smaller government, so let us work together on both sides of this House to make the Bill work, bearing in mind that if we do not do so, my generation and every successive generation will believe that this House, and perhaps even democratic governance itself, is unable to solve the problems of most importance to the country and the planet. Let us consider the ramifications of that for not only the environment, but society, democracy and our entire way of life.

Let us also consider something else when we debate the minutiae of this policy: this is a time for solutions, not gestures. It may be that our political culture and our political dynamics are simply not suited to achieving effective solutions to issues such as climate change. The adversarial nature of this House at present facilitates only the achievement of fleeting, partisan political advantage, and that is worthless. We all have the opportunity to change that: we have the opportunity to demonstrate that the Members of this House seek to serve the people of this country and to solve the problems that they face. That is the change that the British people require, and those are the changes that this legislative agenda demands of us in this House. The stakes have never been higher. The consequences of failure have never been greater. These issues are more important than any of our individual political fortunes.

For the Climate Change Bill to work, it requires a series of complementary Bills, especially on planning and energy policy. Changes to the planning system of this country are long overdue and I am pleased that the Government have recognised that in the Queen’s speech. The Climate Change Bill also requires a
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consensus. But the area where a consensus is most urgently required is energy policy, especially nuclear energy. Put simply, without new nuclear energy in Britain, we have no chance of leading the fight against climate change, strengthening our energy supplies and continuing our economic growth.

Before entering the House, I worked in the nuclear industry and campaigned for new nuclear and for a better understanding of the industry in the media and across the political spectrum. I must say that, for the most part, I have found the understanding of nuclear issues in this House to be nothing short of pathetic—that is the most charitable word I can find. Since entering the House, I have worked with the industry, the Government, utility companies and the trade unions to further the nuclear case. It has been a relentless endeavour, but logic, science, the imperatives of climate change and the overwhelming national interest would appear to have prevailed.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister has shown the strength and courage necessary to take these difficult decisions. It would be easy for the Prime Minister to strike populist oppositional poses on nuclear, much as the Leader of the Opposition has done. But difficult decisions call for people of real strength and integrity: there is no room for cowardice or opportunism on such matters, and the Prime Minister has demonstrated that he is the only party leader prepared to take the tough political decisions this nation needs. On behalf of 17,000 workers in my constituency and more than 40,000 nuclear workers nationwide, I thank him for that.

In the spirit of consensus, I want to change that. I want, and the market wants, a consensus on nuclear. The Liberal Democrats have an official view—they are anti-nuclear. That position is, in my view, deeply flawed, but it is at least sincerely held. But I know that several Liberal Democrat MPs—none of whom is in the Chamber at present—are pro-nuclear, and I hope that they can find their voice and help to build the consensus that I seek.

The official policy of the Conservatives is anti-nuclear, but I also know that the majority of Conservative MPs are pro-nuclear. I hope that those men and women find their voice soon and force a change in the views of the Leader of the Opposition and his Front-Bench energy spokespeople so that we can achieve a consensus. The policy of nuclear energy as a “last resort” is perhaps the best illustration of the political malaise that the Queen’s Speech seeks to leave behind. Indeed, it was cited as such by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) when he left the Conservatives for Labour recently.

The Conservative position deserves some exploration. The policy of nuclear as a last resort, if adopted, would ensure the demise of the British nuclear industry and with it, more than 100,000 British jobs, directly and indirectly. It would weaken our national scientific, engineering, academic and mechanical disciplines, impoverish our ability to strengthen the security of our energy supplies and undermine our efforts to combat climate change. Why? Because after decades of decline and having now won the arguments, the nuclear industry needs new entrants at every level—scientific, mechanical, professional, academic and industrial. Decades of neglect
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have resulted in a shrunken, ageing skills base. Unless the industry is supported now, there will be no industry to support in the future. To delay is to decide—as I wrote in my letter to the Leader of the Opposition, calling on him to abandon his opposition to the industry earlier this year. I still await a reply.

What informs the Conservatives’ policy? It is based upon a tragic conflation of factors. First, the Leader of the Opposition is anti-nuclear and believes that the public are anti-nuclear. He is wrong in that assertion, but he believes that it is a populist position. Secondly, fearful of his colleagues who support the industry, he has not the courage to confront his Back Benchers with the reality of his policy. Thirdly, he hopes to shave votes from the Liberal Democrats in Tory-Lib Dem marginals in the south of England, having clearly abandoned the north of England, Scotland and Wales. Finally, he either fails to understand the need for nuclear in the fight against climate change, which in itself provides a shocking illustration of his understanding of the realities, or he does understand, but is willing to place his political fortunes above those of the future of this country and the planet. The change that this country needs is the change from cynical, cowardly, political calculations such as that. The Leader of the Opposition can help assist this change in one of two ways—either by admitting his policy is wrong and supporting the Government, or by taking a clear, principled anti-nuclear position and allowing his colleagues a free vote on the Government’s plans.

I am passionate about this matter, because it means everything to my constituents and to the very fabric of my constituency. For me, it is not a question of choosing one electricity generating source over another. The nuclear industry dominates my economy: indeed, it sustains 60 per cent. of it, including schools, hospitals, services in both the public and private sectors, the housing market and the transport infrastructure. There is not one area of west Cumbrian life that the nuclear industry does not touch, and that is why the Conservative proposals are so dangerous. They threaten not only the future of the British nuclear industry and all that depends on it, but west Cumbria’s very existence.

The future success of west Cumbria is facilitated by the Queen’s Speech. That success is the only reason I am in this House. Nowhere else in this country or even the world is the symbiosis of economic, environmental and energy policies as evident as it is in west Cumbria.

I could go on but, in fairness to other colleagues, I shall bring my remarks to a close. Politics matters, and on Sunday I shall join hundreds of others at Whitehaven’s war memorial in reflecting on what happens when politics fails. Robert Kennedy said:

I appeal to hon. Members of all parties not to be the enemies of change.

4.36 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I want to offer the debate some brief observations about the Climate Change Bill, from the perspective of someone who, like the hon. Member for Cambridge (David
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Howarth), served on the Joint Committee that considered it in draft, and who also sits on the Environmental Audit Committee.

It is clear that the Bill is needed. The inconvenient truth is that our country, which legitimately takes pride in its leadership on climate change, is failing to stabilise emissions, let alone reduce them. Carbon dioxide emissions in this country have risen since 1997 and, at a critical time in the international process, it is very important that we get back on track. We need a new process for setting targets, and for testing their validity and relevance. We also need new ways to test the Government’s credibility in meeting those targets and setting a framework to which the market can react.

We have an opportunity to set an example for other countries to follow. The Climate Change Bill is welcome and extremely important, and I have four observations to make about it. First, there will be a lot of debate about the long-term carbon emissions target for 2050—that is, whether emissions should be cut by 60 or 80 per cent. A year ago, I wrote a report for the Conservative party’s quality of life commission saying that emissions should be cut by at least 80 per cent. That is my personal view but, while it is entirely right that we build consensus through the voice of an independent Committee, it will be too sluggish a process if we have to wait until 2009 for that opinion, given that it is the trajectory of emissions reductions that is important.

In that context, I encourage the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—who I hope will have a bit more time to focus on climate change, after all the other matters that he has had to deal with—to think more carefully about the language that the Government use about the temperature stabilisation ranges that drive emissions targets. They talk about their desire not to cross the 2° increase threshold, and that is enormously important in view of the costs and risks that would arise if it were crossed. We have a moral duty, as the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) noted, to keep temperature change below that level, but Government statements on the matter sound increasingly incredible because they continue to talk about a stabilisation range that includes an extreme for carbon emissions of 550 parts per million.

As Stern has said, that is a very dangerous place to be, given that his models suggest that there is a 63 to 92 per cent. probability that the 2° increase threshold will be overshot. If the Government stick to the vague and broad language that they have used hitherto, they will lose credibility. They have an opportunity to send a much stronger signal to the international community, at a critical time, about this country’s level of ambition.

However, I am reluctant to allow the debate to focus on the long-term targets alone. I believe that the interim targets for 2025 are the most important, as they are the ones that will bite on today’s decision makers, whether they be in Whitehall or in Britain’s civic centres and business boardrooms. The challenge, in the context of failure, is to really get on top of emissions, and the interim targets are essential. Like the hon. Member for Cambridge, I do not understand why there is an upper limit and why we continue to drag our feet about aviation and shipping. Neither do I understand why the targets do not include—or at least refer to—all
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greenhouse gases, given that we are in danger of sounding extremely complacent in that regard.

My next observation on the Bill is that the really important innovation is the carbon budgets. They will allow us to deal with the real issue, which is the cumulative carbon emissions. The other really important innovation is the committee on climate change. It was clear to me in the scrutiny Committee that there is an enormous weight of expectation on that committee. I have no idea what Olympians the Secretary of State has in mind to serve on it, but they will have an extremely difficult task. The key decision, which will perhaps underpin the credibility of the whole Bill and the Government’s process here, is the appointment of the first chairman of the committee. The signal that is sent by that will be very important.

The background to this is that there is a growing voice of concern that the Prime Minister does not have the same passion and enthusiasm for climate change as his predecessor. If the first appointment as the chairman of this body is seen to be a poodle who does not have the authority or ability to cause the Government discomfort—which seems to be a crucial element of that role—it will send a negative signal to the marketplace. That is a key bell-wether decision that will tell us a lot about the Prime Minister’s ambition and true commitment to the climate change agenda.

My last observation about the Bill is that we should not see it as a fig leaf. Let us not see it as a Bill that simply ticks the box for climate change and the environment. The challenge is delivery. Setting the right framework is essential, but the Stern report will not implement itself. A framework Bill is just a framework Bill. It is the policies that underpin it that are vital. This is not a call for more policies and initiatives. In fact, the evidence seemed to come through on the Environmental Audit Committee that we almost have too many policy initiatives. There is a complex framework of policies and institutions that overlap and, arguably, muddle and confuse. There may even be an argument for pulling back and doing less much better.

In that context, I would argue that it is disappointing that in the Bill and the discussion on policy there is not more emphasis on picking the low-hanging fruit and cracking the conundrum of generating more energy efficiency in the existing housing stock. That is the main issue. It is the ultimate no-regrets policy. The time is absolutely right because, for the first time in our generation, energy pricing is a real issue. We have all grown up in an era of relatively cheap energy. That is changing. This is the opportunity to break through consumer inertia on energy efficiency.

I am not convinced—much of the evidence that we received on the Environmental Audit Committee reinforces my view—that the Government have thought hard enough on this issue. They are not showing adequate ambition, and that is a pity. To persuade people to take action to save the planet and save money at the same time seems a compelling proposition if we get it right. We have a key opportunity to engage communities and individuals. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and for High Peak (Tom Levitt), talked about the under-exploited opportunity to make communities and individuals engage with climate change and drive the bottom-up process, which is fundamental
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to sustaining the change in values and behaviour that we must achieve to address the problem.

I close by drawing the attention of the Secretary of State to the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, which it was my privilege to promote in the last Parliament. It jumped through all the hoops solely on the basis of the cross-party support that it had. Two members of the Committee that considered the Bill—the hon. Members for Eltham (Clive Efford) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith)—are sitting on the Benches behind the Secretary of State. The Minister with whom I negotiated the Bill, the now Minister for the Environment, was sitting alongside the Secretary of State earlier. My Bill is potentially a tool in his box. It requires central Government to think more deeply about sustainable communities and to develop a national strategy. It throws down a challenge and opportunity for local authorities and communities to engage in that process and have a real voice in it. For the first time, it gives them an opportunity to see how every pound of taxpayers’ money is spent in their communities and to argue for reallocation of resources and functions. It is an opportunity for them to engage in a genuine way in decisions that will shape the influence of their community on the climate, including how they source energy, distribute energy, move goods and move themselves. It is a wonderful opportunity.

My Bill was not born in the Government and not invented by the Government. My concern is that it should be implemented with the same energy and enthusiasm as if it were. Many people have high expectations, want to get engaged in the process and do not want to be let down by the Government. So if the Secretary of State has not had the opportunity to look at the implications of the Bill for the climate change agenda, I suggest that he does so and encourages his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to implement the Bill with real energy and enthusiasm.


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