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Alan Johnson: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are following the best scientific advice, which is still that the upper level for deaths will be 2.5 per cent. of those affected by the pandemic. That remains the case, and that is the reasonable worst-case scenario. To take absolute precautions on the reasonable worst-case scenario, and ensure that we have what we call defence in-depth, we should move from 25 per cent. coverage to at least 50 per cent. coverage. The scientific advice is very much with us on that. The mortality rate remains 2.5 per cent. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman speak
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to his hon. Friend the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who can explore the issues when we gather with the experts, but that still remains the best scientific evidence, and I must be guided by that evidence.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Inner-city communities such as mine are characterised by very high population turnover—we have 30 per cent. change on the electoral register—high diversity, and a very low proportion of registration with GPs. That feeds through into relatively low screening and immunisation rates across the board. That is bad enough for measles, mumps and rubella and cervical cancer; it could be catastrophic in the circumstances that we are talking about. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he is liaising with primary care trusts, hospital trusts and local authority organisations to deal with the particular pressures on inner-city communities, where people are not registered with GPs? There is also the issue of casualised workers who do not have sick pay entitlement; we need to have a dialogue with employers, to encourage them to ensure that employees take time off when symptoms occur.

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right to say that that co-ordination is essential. Our plan is for the national flu line service, run by NHS Direct, to be the first port of call. GPs’ surgeries, and hospitals in particular, should be left for the most serious cases. Our plan is that people ring an easily accessible number and explain their symptoms. The national flu line service can then ensure that there is a supply of antivirals ready to be picked up from a supply depot. The flu friend I have talked about would then go and collect it for them. In the vast majority of cases, there will be no need to go to a GP’s practice. We have to make sure that people understand that, and understand the arrangements that are in place, so that when there is a pandemic outbreak, the national health service and GPs’ surgeries are not inundated with people who are there because they think that the GP may be able to do something for them, when we have plans in place to ensure that antivirals can be distributed without the GP being involved.

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Climate Change

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now come to the main business, which is the second of the topical debates. May I share with the House the difficulty of determining the appropriate time limit for Back Benchers in an oversubscribed debate? Under the rules, the Front Benchers could, between them, take 26 minutes or, if intervened on to the full extent, 52 of the 90 minutes available. I do not want to inhibit the debate in any sense, but the more interventions that are made, the less time there is for us to try to ensure the fullest possible participation in the debate. I call Mr. Phil Woolas.

1.7 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will try as best I can to accommodate a good debate. There is always a balance between taking interventions and eating into Back Benchers’ time, so I will get on with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It would help if the Minister moved the motion.

Mr. Woolas: I beg to move,

It is appropriate that climate change has been chosen for one of the first topical debates, because in the Government’s view it is the greatest challenge of our time. It threatens not only our environment, but our security, prosperity and future development. Last weekend, right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change; its conference is taking place in Valencia. The report has given the world the loudest possible wake-up call. The warming of the climate system is now unequivocal. I am not aware of any country in the world that doubts the existence of man-made climate change. It is incumbent on us all to provide the leadership and take the decisive action that the scientists have called for.

The report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change report comes two weeks ahead of the meeting of the world’s Environment and Finance Ministers in Bali as part of the United Nations framework convention on climate change. At that meeting, along with our EU colleagues, we want to see the launch of comprehensive negotiations to deliver a post-2012 agreement to tackle climate change, 2012 being the end of the first period of the Kyoto agreement.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Minister tell us what percentage energy reduction his Department will achieve this year?

Mr. Woolas: Not off the top of my head, but I can send that information to the right hon. Gentleman. We in the Department take very seriously our role as an exemplar of reducing carbon emissions. Clearly, if we are trying to influence public opinion, we must set a good example. Parliament, and not least the right hon. Gentleman, will make sure that we do. I thank him for that intervention.

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It is important to avoid a gap between the first and second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol. For that reason, we need to secure agreement by the end of 2009. Apart from the need to avoid such a gap, it is important that Parliaments and legislatures have time to scrutinise agreements, and perhaps even more important that businesses and organisations, particularly the energy industry, have time to put their policies into place.

I draw the attention of the House to the statement that we published on Monday setting out the approach that the Government believe should underpin a post-2012 framework for international action. There are four key principles. First, the post-2012 regime must fit the scale of the challenge. To avoid the dangerous impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 10 to 15 years and fall by at least 50 per cent. by 2050.

Secondly, the agreement must be fully effective, involving all countries with significant emissions. For that to be real, the Government believe that a truly global carbon market needs to develop, because putting a price on carbon is essential to incentivise new investment in energy efficiency and clean energy sources, not just for the developed world but for the developing world as well.

The third principle is that of fairness. Developed countries such as ours have the greatest responsibility and the greatest capacity to reduce emissions. The larger emerging economies, however, also need to adopt new commitments that reflect their growth and pace of progress, ensuring that their future prosperity goes hand in hand with environmentally and economically sustainable development. Fairness also demands that richer countries play their part to support developing countries as they make the transition to clean energy technologies.

The fourth principle is that a post-2012 agreement must be comprehensive, addressing emissions from energy at the same time as controlling emissions from land use and, as I said to the Forestry Commission yesterday, deforestation.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): With reference to fairness between the developed world and the developing world, will my hon. Friend say a little about the Government’s attitude towards the transfer of know-how, technology and funding from the developed to the developing world without opening up a loophole in a future binding agreement, so that we do not all buy credits in other parts of the world for schemes that should have been undertaken by another route anyway, as part of meeting our own obligation?

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend identifies a crucial point. Our responsibility to the developing world requires a binding commitment on ourselves and other developed countries in agreement to contribute—I was about to say more than our fair share, but it is not more than our fair share because, historically, we have that responsibility. Carbon markets and offsetting can help the technological transfer that my hon. Friend calls for, but it is crucial that we avoid the outcome that he is concerned about.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I agree 100 per cent. on the case for a carbon market, but does the Minister agree that it is important that we get the pricing right? Does he accept that there will be an impact on the nuclear debate, because nuclear energy is
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not zero carbon? It has a carbon footprint. In the consultation that is scheduled to report soon, will there be a statement on the carbon consequences of the nuclear industry, taking the mining of uranium into account?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman raises a point that is central to the debate. Underlying his question are the crucial debates and decisions about the starting point, as different countries are on different trajectories. That makes his first point even more important. A carbon market must be based on robust science.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Woolas: Perhaps I could finish my remarks about the principles before taking interventions.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend take an intervention about the carbon market?

Mr. Woolas: Yes. I will not use up the injury time, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Chaytor: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s assurance that he will visit my constituency to speak to the Bury climate change coalition in the near future, and I look forward to agreeing a date for that visit with his office. Before we leave the topic of the carbon market, will he look again at the question of the cap on the number of credits that the Government could buy through the carbon market as a means of securing their CO2 emission targets? The response to the pre-legislative scrutiny is not strong enough on that point—the Government suggested that there should be no limit to the number of credits that could be purchased.

Mr. Woolas: I look forward to visiting Bury and engaging the public in these debates. That is important and I commend my hon. Friend’s leadership in his constituency. The Climate Change Bill will soon be debated in the other place and I look forward to the advice of the other place on the point that my hon. Friend makes. The priority is to achieve a global carbon market, but within that we can take account of his point.

The fourth principle is that the agreement must be comprehensive. It must address emissions from energy at the same time as controlling emissions from land use and deforestation. Following the preparatory committee meeting in Indonesia, I am much more optimistic that forestry and deforestation can be included within the framework conversations. There has been positive movement on that issue, although one must be cautious. All significant sources and gases must be included, not just CO2. Aviation and shipping are crucial international industries, which must be covered by a long-term framework.

As all our constituents tell us, the UK cannot tackle climate change alone, but we believe that we are showing strong leadership by taking action domestically to reduce our emissions. We are on course to meet our Kyoto targets. That target matters above all the others and we are making good progress. There is an important message that the United Kingdom and other countries are taking around the world. We have been able to show that economic growth and increased prosperity for our peoples
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are possible while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The fear of the developing world and of many individuals is that that decoupling is not possible. The United Kingdom is in a strong position. The Climate Change Bill, introduced to Parliament last week, is the first of its kind in the world. Through domestic and international action, it will enact our target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2050. In his speech earlier this week, the Prime Minister outlined detailed measures for moving forward on that policy.

We will continue to take significant steps to reduce major emissions and improve the lowest hanging fruit, which is energy efficiency—in our homes, businesses and public sector organisations. We will promote better information and make it easy for the public to act. All the evidence from the Act on CO2 campaign shows that the public are willing to take action, and our job is to put the structures and processes in place so that that can happen. That is why we have announced that homes will have access to a one-stop green homes service, which will provide high-quality, independent advice on energy efficiency, microgeneration, transport, water, waste and related issues.

Businesses are also playing their part. As the Chancellor remarked, a “green industrial revolution” is taking place worldwide. It

The UK environmental industry has massive potential to take those chances. This country has a dynamic and growing sector, with a turnover of £25 billion in 2004; that is predicted to grow to £46 billion by 2015. As I said, while our economy is growing, our greenhouse gas emissions are reducing. That is the crucial part of the policy.

I look forward to the debate and to continuing to make progress with our overseas colleagues. A truly global effort is required. We have our part to play, and this country has a proud tradition of leading opinion.

1.22 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The Conservative party welcomes this topical debate on climate change. It is timely, coming between the Second Reading of the Climate Change Bill in another place next week and the Prime Minister’s first substantive foray into the climate change agenda last Monday.

We welcomed several elements of the Prime Minister’s speech, but it is unfortunate that he waited five months after taking office—indeed, until after he had called off a general election—before making a significant speech on the greatest threat facing humankind. However, it must be a positive step forward that he is now beginning to engage in the debate.

The big question for us all, certainly for all of us concerned about stopping global warming, is this: does this new Prime Minister really get it? The rhetoric of his speech on Monday was positive, but we all know that rhetoric is not enough; if it were, the problem of climate change would have been solved long ago. We need urgent action and we want to work constructively with the Government to achieve it.

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The new politics of climate change puts an onus on politicians of all parties to try to forge a consensus when possible. However, that does not mean failing to hold the Government to account for inaction, contradiction or lack of ambition. Taking the Prime Minister at face value on climate change is a big ask, and his performance so far this year is not encouraging.

Lembit Öpik: Before the hon. Gentleman gets to the confrontational part of his speech, I should like to catch him in his consensual mood. Do he and his party agree with the Liberal Democrat view that smart meters are essential to reduce energy needs? Does he agree that one of the things that we need to persuade the Government to do—it should not be a partisan effort—is to make sure that they set a benchmark and a standardised environment within which all the smart meter and energy companies can compete? Such companies are not against competition, but they need guidance from the Government to achieve their goals.

Gregory Barker: That is a good point, with which I am happy to agree. There has been some good work on smart meters, which we have already pledged to roll out: the report chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) focused on the role of smart meters.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will my hon. Friend remind the Liberal Democrats that it is no good just getting the conformity right? We have to commit ourselves to rolling out smart meters in eight years. That can be done; the industry can meet that target. That will make a bigger difference than anything else. Why on earth have the Government held up the legislation in place to do that?

Gregory Barker: Exactly—we need urgent action.

Mr. Chaytor: The hon. Gentleman talked about a lack of Government ambition. Can he name any Government in the world who have shown more commitment or exercised more influence than ours in putting the case for an international agreement on CO2 emissions?

Gregory Barker: On the international stage, where rhetoric is at a premium, the Government have done well, and I certainly pay tribute to the work of Tony Blair. However, we have a real problem in respect of our domestic performance: we are simply not matching the international rhetoric with delivery at home.

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