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1.48 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): It is the first Bill introduced into any national legislature with binding targets designed to limit and then slash national carbon emissions. Although its target of a 60 per cent. cut by 2050 is not nearly high enough for my liking, it is certainly ambitious, and its sponsors deserve praise for their political courage, their foresight and their willingness to tackle one of the most important challenges facing the world today. So, perhaps the Government will take the earliest opportunity to congratulate Senators Richard Warner of Virginia and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on the American Climate Security Bill, which they introduced into Congress on 18 October. Yes folks, we have faffed around for so long with our Climate Change Bill that despite the fact that Friends of the Earth launched its “big ask” campaign in May 2005 we risk being overtaken by George Bush’s America, of all places.

As the USA is responsible for 20 per cent. of global greenhouse gas emissions, its Bill is of such global importance that I want to ask the Minister what discussions he has had with fellow Ministers at the Foreign Office to ensure that pressure is put on the US Administration not to veto it.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I do not think that it is fair to say that we faffed around. We used pre-legislative scrutiny, for which the Liberal Democrats have always asked. Of course, it is the period of the enactment of our Bill that counts. It is important to recognise the efforts of those in the US Senate who have made similar proposals. The Foreign Office has been involved in debates with the White House, the Senate and the Congress on those points. I acknowledge the importance of the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Martin Horwood: I am pleased by the Minister’s response. Al Gore and other climate change campaigners have achieved a remarkable turnaround in American public opinion, but the oil man in the White House still has his head in the sand and his boots in the air. The British Government and the EU need to apply whatever pressure they can to ensure that the Lieberman-Warner Bill is passed.

The Lieberman-Warner Bill tackles an question that I have asked several times in this House and that also appears in the Stern report. I have never heard an adequate reply from Ministers. What can be done about those countries that do not or will not put a cost on carbon in their economies and seek a short-term competitive advantage in mobile industries, such as the aluminium industry? We might see a flight from stricter carbon regimes, thereby making the situation worse in such industries rather than better.

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The Lieberman-Warner Bill suggests that imports from countries without an emissions cap should be subject to compulsory purchase of admissions permits. Stern considered a similar approach. What is the Government’s preferred option? That would clearly form a part of the discussions on the international regime that we need after 2012, which must involve the World Trade Organisation, but we need a clear position.

I suspect that that might be another example of the Government not thinking things through. If it is, it pales into insignificance beside the worst example of the Government’s left hand not knowing what their right hand is doing—aviation. Transport is the only sector of the economy in which emissions seem set to keep rising, and aviation is by far the worst offender per mile. It has more than doubled its emissions since 1990. Richard Branson is earnestly and sincerely seeking a sustainable biofuel for use in aeroplanes, but even he is not holding his breath. In the absence of some miracle “get out of jail free” card, we have to contain the growth in aviation. The fact that the Government support a third runway at Heathrow and are set to allow 60,000 more flights a year on the existing runways undermines their credibility on climate change. Serge Lourie, leader of Richmond upon Thames council and spokesman for the 2M group, which represents some 2 million London residents, has said:

He went on to say that that would be “devastating”. In terms of carbon emissions, he is quite right.

Excuses are already being made for the expansion of Heathrow. I was sad to read the editorial in The Times today that said that opponents of the third runway were

It went on to say:

Let me make it clear: I oppose extra runways at Heathrow, Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. This has to be a global and European campaign.

Mr. Evans: Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on his party’s policy? He has no say over Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt, which have all expanded and compete with Heathrow. If he is going to contain the number of flights, at what yearly level will he do so? How many people would be able to fly in any given year? Who will he tell that they can no longer fly?

Martin Horwood: Restricting carbon emissions from aviation is not the same as restricting the number of people who fly. If we were to have an efficient regime whereby more people flew in full flights, and if we were to shift taxation on to flights rather than people, we could achieve both those things. Of course, we need to work at a European level. I want the Minister to confirm that he is working with colleagues across the EU to consider restricting aviation’s growth rather than its massive expansion.

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Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is great potential for switching from planes to trains for domestic and European journeys? We should encourage movement in that direction.

Martin Horwood: I absolutely agree. The example of Eurostar, which has reduced the number of cross-channel flights, is relevant. It is important that we have a joined-up transport strategy. For example, if we supported the high-speed rail link to Scotland, we could cut domestic flights. We could then encourage an international rail network, which would cut the use of aviation.

The Government have done well to champion the cause of climate change internationally and to introduce a Climate Change Bill at last. However, DEFRA needs to stop congratulating itself so much and to start working with other Ministers to ensure that all of Government works just as hard to tackle climate change.

1.56 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): In my brief speech, I want to focus on a single point: the skills needs demanded of our society by policies such as those that we are debating. My starting point is the Prime Minister’s speech to WWF on Monday. He gave resounding answers to some of the important questions. First, he does get it. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, the whispering campaign that suggested that the Prime Minister does not understand the urgency of climate change was completely and emphatically denied by that speech on Monday.

Gregory Barker: If the Prime Minister understands the urgency, why did he wait five months to make a speech?

Mr. Kidney: That is a poor point. The Prime Minister runs the country and determines every aspect of our life. He made many decisions on climate change before he made his speech last Monday.

Let me get on with the serious issues under consideration. The Prime Minister’s second answer was that our global leadership on the matter will continue. His third answer, which followed another whispering campaign, was that we will play our full part in meeting the targets set by the EU spring Council. We should remember the ambition of the three targets of 20 per cent. by the spring Council—20 per cent. increased energy efficiency, 20 per cent. of total energy from renewable energy sources and a 20 per cent. cut in carbon emissions, all of which are to be achieved by 2020. If we link those targets to our Climate Change Bill and the legally binding target to cut carbon emissions, we can see what a huge challenge we face.

The Prime Minister has talked about “a fourth technological revolution.” What kind of technologies are we talking about? What will change in our lives because of those changes? We will demand greater efficiencies in existing processes. We will need technologies that allow different processes, particularly ones that do away with carbon, so we can expect a great expansion in renewable energy industries. We will need to manage raw materials more efficiently and to make meaningful use of the imperative “reduce, reuse and recycle” at every turn. We will need to manage finite natural resources, including water, more efficiently.

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In order to reach the low-carbon global economy that we need, we will all have to embrace sustainable development in every aspect of our lives—in our home lives, our working lives and our travel arrangements. That massive change allows us to predict a massive expansion of new sustainable development technologies that will start immediately. However, if we do nothing about it the constraint will be that the skills will not be available.

Schott UK in my constituency, a company that sells solar technologies, finds that the greatest restriction on its ability to improve its sales is to get people who can install solar panels at businesses and homes.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, with which I agree. He makes an important point—I have tried to get renewable energy training courses set up in my local college, but there is a marked reluctance and lack of money, which must be overcome. Is it not time that we examined the matter in the context of further and higher education?

Mr. Kidney: My hon. Friend anticipates the direction in which I am heading and I hope to give him some solutions shortly.

Let us consider some of the skills that will be needed for invention, design, manufacture, installation, financing and sales, and repairs and maintenance. In a few years, a much larger proportion of our work force will need such skills. Let us remember the drivers for putting those technologies in place. In the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday, he referred to the Climate Change Bill setting five-year budgets for three Budget periods at a time—a 15-year period of assurance for those who make the decisions to invest in the right technologies. The energy Bill will reform the renewables obligation to introduce new technologies, including—in the jargon of the consultation on the renewables obligation—the emerging technologies. The Planning Bill will speed up infrastructure projects and the Housing and Regeneration Bill will pave the way for 3 million new homes. Let us not forget the Olympics. The drivers for the big surge in skills demand are already in place, and the Prime Minister understands that.

Gregory Barker: Why has the renewables obligation, which has existed for nearly eight years, failed to bring forward the new technologies, despite the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been taken from consumers? Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the system of feed-in tariffs in Germany has been more successful? I believe that it evidently has.

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman invites me down a side route. I shall try to reply to his question briefly. Much of the answer lies in our country’s history compared with that of Germany. We have taken the renewables obligation route rather than that of the feed-in tariff ever since the non-fossil fuel obligation. We should reconsider feed-in tariffs, especially with smart meters and microgeneration, to ensure that we get much more decentralised power in this country. I believe that the renewables obligation is a reasonable mechanism. The hon. Gentleman asked why it has failed. I believe that the reason is an inefficient planning system—200 or so
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wind farms are currently stuck in the planning system. There are other obstacles such as connecting systems to the national grid. We must remove them as soon as possible.

In the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday, he recognised the need for skills and spoke about the “train to gain” programme and the need to expand the number of apprenticeship places in this country. He also called for a national skills academy for environmental industries. He reminded us that, even today, the environmental industries in this country are worth £25 billion to our economy and employ 400,000 people. The Prime Minister and I perceive the export opportunities for British technologies in that.

The solution to fulfilling the skills need—my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) will pay especial attention now—is a network throughout the country of sustainable development technologies centres. We need places where we can see the technologies that we are discussing. Members of the public and business representatives could visit them to see what the future holds, and students and children would go there as part of the sustainable development component of their education. Members of the work force would visit those places to acquire the skills that they need—that is crucial.

I am not making some hypothetical suggestion to the Minister; realising such a proposal is in our grasp. I am one of the promoters of the first such centre, which is at the Rodbaston college of further education near Penkridge in my constituency. We have money from the Learning and Skills Council and the regional development agency to conduct a feasibility study to show that the crucial demand for skills means that the proposal stacks up financially.

I anticipate colleges, universities, manufacturers, RDAs and local councils throughout the country wanting centres that provide such a range of services. I would like people to have the bricks and mortar and the technologies before their eyes to see that the technologies work and can be implemented now in this country, and to have hands-on opportunities to train for skills that are needed to operate those technologies. That should happen as soon as possible.

Mr. Jack: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, does he agree that we must get the economics right? We are inviting the citizen to invest between £4,000 and £10,000 in the technologies that he describes. Unless we get the economics right, the services that he advocates will not follow.

Mr. Kidney: Yes. When I answered the question by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle about the renewables obligation, I said that there was a range of obstacles. I emphasise that there is no silver bullet to solve the problem, but I am considering a specific bottleneck that will occur. We do not have the skills in place to make the expansion happen. That is important, but only one of many aspects that the Government must tackle immediately.

I want to name the centres that I described SEE-change centres. “SEE” represents the three limbs of sustainability—social, environmental and economic. It
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also suggests visibility. People could visit the centres and “see” the change that is necessary. The name also sounds like “sea change”—the massive change in pace and the direction that we need in this country. I hope that the Minister will wind up by saying, “Kidney’s got the right answer. I shall back his centre at Rodbaston with every ounce of my ability. I hope that he is successful in his constituency and that we achieve success throughout the country in developing the skills training facilities that we desperately need right now.”

2.5 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I hope that the Minister acknowledges that I am the first to congratulate the Government when they are doing the right thing and that I press them because we have a common desire to win the battles that we are considering. When I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I would have benefited from a similar approach from Labour Members. If they had been tougher and had a more advanced programme, I could have got more out of my Cabinet colleagues because they would have pressed me hard. I do not, therefore, want to let the Minister down when I press him.

Although I welcome the Prime Minister’s apparent acceptance of a target higher than 60 per cent. by 2050, it is pretty easy for politicians to set targets for dates long after they are active. We need targets for now and we need to be kept to them. That is as important for Oppositions as it is for Governments. Annual targets are important because they keep us under control. If we have annual targets, we cannot complain that the Government are doing something unpopular without presenting a sensible alternative. Annual targets are good for keeping Oppositions up to the mark. However, they are crucial for Governments.

That is why the organisation of the committee that will consider climate change is also crucial. It should begin its work immediately, be independent and have the majority of its members appointed by the Royal Society, not the Government. The chairman should be appointed according to the clear proposition that we presented in the all-party early-day motion about the qualities that are necessary for that post if the Committee is not to be perceived as the Government’s patsy. Genuine steps can be taken now.

The Government must take practical and direct steps. It does not help when some of their supporters talk about whispering campaigns. Going back on our commitments in the European Union was not a whispering campaign, but a campaign by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, led by Sir Digby Jones. He should never have been taken into Government, because his record on environmental matters is appalling. To choose him as an example of business was a peculiar step.

It is worrying that the Government do not take seriously the problems as they arise. I have genuine sympathy with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). Of course, the Liberal Democrats need to adopt our view of getting an independent organisation to consider the figure. That would enable them to settle their problems. Some say that we should have a zero carbon figure and others say that it should be 80 per cent.

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