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22 Nov 2007 : Column 1379

Martin Horwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: I will, because I tempted the hon. Gentleman.

Martin Horwood: I have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman’s recent work for the Conservative party and his work when he was in government.

Let me clarify the Liberal Democrat position. If we were in government, we would aim for 100 per cent. net reductions by 2050. However, we accept that that is not widely supported in this place and we therefore campaign with Friends of the Earth for a reduction of at least 80 per cent.

Mr. Gummer: So as usual, when it comes to the crunch, the Liberal Democrats do not stick by their beliefs. That is a typical Liberal situation—“If you don’t like these policies, we’ve got some more.” If God had been a Liberal, we would have had the 10 suggestions. That is the nature of the Liberal Democrats, so I shall not take from their campaign.

Martin Horwood: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No; I have got another thing to say that will annoy the hon. Gentleman even more. I remember what the Liberal Democrats did on taxation on domestic fuel. They were in favour of it until there was a by-election, when they stopped being in favour of it in order to win the by-election. [Interruption.] I shall not give way, and I had better continue, as you were clear about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me deal with aviation. Someone who flies at the back of the plane from London to Sydney and back again uses as much carbon as someone who uses 700,000 plastic bags. But tackling plastic bags is an easy thing to do; dealing with aviation is difficult. So I bothered to get hold of the Government’s document on aviation, which the Secretary of State for Transport quite unaccountably and unacceptably did not come to present in the House. Let us look at this document. It has a covering note, which does not talk about climate change until right at the end, even though the document is about aviation. However, the covering note just says that there will be another document about climate change called “UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts”. All that is given is a list of details about the figures, with no comments about what we are going to do about them. Indeed, interestingly, there is a comment about National Air Traffic Services, but no discussion of the fact that we could reduce our emissions from air transport by 11 per cent. if we simply had a single version of NATS across the European Union, instead of being divided up as we are now. That is a simple measure that the Government do not even propose in their document.

The introduction of the document, which one would have thought would refer to the real issue of climate change, does not refer to it at all. The Minister talks about the loudest possible wake-up call, but it has not woken up the Secretary of State for Transport or anyone in her Department. Then we open the pages and we read the Government’s words:

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which dealt with aviation and was by the man who ran British Airways. However, the one word that is not in the document is urgency; indeed, there is no urgency in it at all. It talks about the European trading system without mentioning any of the problems that everybody else recognises must be solved before the system can deal with aviation. One would think from the document that the problems had all been solved so easily.

Then one reads, on page after page, every kind of argument, but no promise from the Government that they will pioneer, at the European level, the stopping of new runway building throughout the European Union. The document does not mention that; it just says, “There’re more elsewhere, so we’ve got to have one.” The document does not mention that nearly one quarter of the flights out of London’s airports go to places that are easily reached in the same time by train. For example, what are we going to do about the 30-odd flights a day to Manchester? There is no reason to have those. There is nothing about those in the document, nor is there anything about reversing the slot pricing, so that people pay more for short-haul flights and less for long-haul flights. There are none of those creative systems that one might put forward.

Mr. Evans: My right hon. Friend will know that half the people on the flights from Manchester to London are in transit, travelling to other destinations. Asking them to catch trains from Manchester to London and then to work their way through London to get to Heathrow or Gatwick is unreasonable.

Mr. Gummer: It is more unreasonable for their children and grandchildren to be under water. My hon. Friend does believe in the urgency of the situation, but I am afraid that we must face it much more toughly than that. Anyway, if that issue really matters, what about a transport policy that would enable people to go by train from Manchester to Heathrow? What about a transport policy that was properly tied up? What about a transport policy that recognised that we want to get people from Scotland to London fast enough for them not to want to fly in an aeroplane? What we have got is a transport policy that accepts the nonsense of Eddington that we do not need high-speed rail. That in itself makes the Eddington report totally unbelievable in the international context.

The truth is that the Government’s document is an outrage, because in effect it says, “We don’t really feel we need to do the big things”. Of course my hon. Friend is right: it is very difficult to do them. Indeed, we might have to do all kinds of things that are uncomfortable, but we should at least face up to the situation. At least let us say, “We’ve decided in this area we’re not going to do it, because we’re going to do it somewhere else.” I say this to the Government: do not slide out a document but then not come here so that we can ask these questions directly of the Transport Minister. Do not produce a document that is 10 years out of date in its approach, that ignores Stern and that does not back up what the Prime Minister has already said to us. That is the problem with everything else that the Government are doing. That is why I want to press the Minister who is here today, because I am a great supporter of his. I believe that he is tough enough to fight for these issues.

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Can we have feed-in tariffs without any more nonsense? That is what we need. Can they be tied up by the immediate introduction of the Bill already in Parliament—the Liberal Democrats’ Bill, with all-party support—that would enable smart metering? If we did that over the next eight years, we could make a huge difference. Those policies can be delivered only through the European Union, so can we also show that we have a positive policy in the EU? That is the only area big enough to make the world different. However, we will not be able to do that if the Government do not even say in their document on aviation that they are seeking to ensure that there is no increase in runways throughout Europe. Unless they promise to do that, everything else that they say is hollow. That is why I say to the Minister: this is too urgent an issue to allow anybody to do anything without thinking about the climate change results. Why did the Government say that they would close 2,500 post offices without telling us what the climate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

2.16 pm

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I welcome this timely debate, particularly as I had the honour of serving on the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill, which is further proof of the Government’s unswerving commitment to the global challenge.

Britain continues to lead the way, with innovative policies and proposals, which will lead to a measurable change in our lifestyles. The green homes service outlined in the Prime Minister’s speech to the WWF will be the first nationwide, dedicated service advising people on a wide range of green issues. There is undoubtedly a desire on the part of the consumer to act more responsibly with regard to their individual carbon footprint. People wish to reduce their carbon footprint, but all too often they are not given the tools with which to measure their energy output accurately.

Mr. Jack: I wonder whether the hon. Lady could tell me what her carbon footprint is.

Ms Barlow: My exact carbon footprint for this year is being calculated. However, I bought a hybrid car recently, which has not only reduced my carbon footprint but changed my driving behaviour, because I am constantly aware of how much energy it takes when, for example, driving up a hill.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken about the need for people to monitor their energy output easily—indeed, I have just spoken of a way in which it was made easier for me to monitor my energy output. Given the technology that we now possess, it seems archaic that the vast majority of energy consumers still operate through a metering system, which merely estimates a household’s energy consumption. It is impossible through that method of billing for the individual consumer or household accurately to measure their energy output on a month-by-month basis, let alone do so day by day or hour by hour.

I should like to mention my constituent Derek Lickorish. Formerly the chief operations officer for EDF Energy in Hove, he has also been an advocate of smart metering
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systems for an amazing 25 years. Mr. Lickorish has seen both the benefits and the obstacles that need to be overcome before such a system for household energy management could be installed in every home. Currently, some energy companies offer consumers the choice of installing smart meters in their homes. Although some companies have agreed to sign up to such a scheme, others have not, which means that should a household change energy supplier, the smart meter would be removed. Smart meters are also currently quite expensive.

Colin Challen: Does my hon. Friend agree with the proposal that in the meantime, before smart metering is introduced, it would be right to insist that electricity supply companies provide their customers with electricity display devices? They have already demonstrated that energy consumption is reduced if consumers can simply see how much it costs them.

Ms Barlow: I shall get on to a related point about smart boxes in a moment.

In order for a smart metering system to be truly effective, it would require the co-operation of all the energy suppliers in the UK. One way to circumvent that problem would be to introduce smart boxes into our homes. They would enable an individual to trace every single light that was switched on in their house, and to measure the resulting carbon cost. For the first time, the consumer would be able to make a real, measured assessment of their household energy consumption. This is one possible alternative to smart meters.

Many of our leading media and internet providers have already considered introducing smart boxes that could be linked to the internet to provide solid data on our energy consumption. That would make the measuring of such data much easier. If, however, we were to opt for smart metering, the organisation required would present one of the industry’s biggest challenges. The energy suppliers’ trade association has prepared a smart metering operational framework. However, it represents only the suppliers view. A new organisation consisting of suppliers, distribution network operators, the national grid, Ofgem and, of course, the Government would have to be set up. The involvement of communications experts and providers would also be important.

Legal competition issues are judged by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and by Ofgem to be preventing the creation of an understanding of a reliable and cost-effective two-way communication system from authorised parties to the metering device and from the metering device to other components of the system.

Martin Horwood: Another measure that would transform the domestic energy sector that we fully support is feed-in tariffs. Does the hon. Lady support them?

Ms Barlow: That is a very interesting idea. However, smart meters would be needed for that.

Mr. Kidney: She says that it is a good idea.

Ms Barlow: It is a good idea.

If the issues to which I have just referred can be resolved, we could, for the first time, open the way for householders to have good information on which to
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make decisions and potentially reduce their consumption, thereby helping to meet the Government’s aspirations for carbon reduction.

I agreed wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who said in his recent speech on climate change that aspiration presents a wonderful opportunity for our nation and, more importantly, for our economy. Too often, the debate on climate change revolves around what we will need to give up in order to meet our targets. This has often led the discussion down a very negative route—not least today—and that is counter-productive to achieving our goals. I am greatly encouraged by the Prime Minister’s commitment to look again at the 60 per cent. target with a view to raising it to 80 per cent, which I would support.

For many, the arguments surrounding climate change are nothing more than an abstract concept with little or no bearing on their day-to-day lives. Others, however, have a genuine awareness and a willingness to modify their energy output, but the tools to enable them to do so are not always there. That is why I believe that the introduction of smart meters or smart boxes would be a major step forward in reducing our individual carbon footprints. By empowering the individual, we also create a sense of collective responsibility.

It is in our nature constantly to strive to move forward and to innovate in order to reach the next level of our technological evolution. Now is the time for the Government to highlight what we as a nation, and as a planet, can gain from meeting the challenge of carbon reduction. A recent poll carried out by the BBC of 22,000 people in 21 countries found that 70 per cent. of them were prepared to change their lifestyle because of climate change. The Government need to do everything within their power to enable them to do so. We are the first country to devise a scheme for quantifying our carbon footprint. Let us now continue to lead the way by introducing a scheme that, in conjunction with the proposals already set out in the Queen’s Speech and by the Prime Minister on Monday, will enable us all to measure our household energy consumption on a minute-by-minute basis. Only by measuring where we are will we know how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

2.24 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): As this debate reveals, there is no shortage of technology and ideas for dealing with climate change. Stern and the United Nations have recently counselled us, and we are aware of the scope and scale of the project, but as a number of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee reports have shown, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in his powerful speech, there is a dearth of urgency to get on and achieve this result.

Mr. Kidney: Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore condemn the Conservative-controlled councils around the country that are holding up the establishment of wind farms?

Mr. Jack: I do not think that is what I had in mind. I applaud the fact that the Government are trying to make it easier for some of the new technologies to be adopted. Obviously we have to look at individual issues
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and individual circumstances, but we must remain committed to the widespread application of renewable energy.

One of the issues that has come to the attention of the Select Committee as it has examined this question is the complexity and the number of Government Departments involved. I suggest to the Minister that, if the United Kingdom wants further to strengthen its leading position on climate change in international forums, the time has now come to have one Minister responsible for climate change who should have Cabinet status. I have made a list of the Departments involved in this issue: the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Foreign Office. We shall shortly also have the office for climate change and the climate change committee. All of those, and other Departments as well, will have a finger in the pie. However, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, we often find the Government going off in different directions on issues such as transport. There is therefore a real need for a single person reporting to Cabinet with that responsibility.

Martin Horwood: The right hon. Gentleman mentions different directions, but does he acknowledge that some interesting different directions have been taken by the Conservatives today on aviation policy? Does he agree with the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and me that we need to try to constrain the growth of aviation across Europe?

Mr. Jack: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to tackle the issue of aviation emissions, although we might have differences of opinion on the way in which it should be done. The Select Committee’s reports have advocated the development of an aviation biofuel. I am also aware of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s initiative known as Green by Design, which contains some very interesting ideas on other ways in which aviation emissions could be dealt with.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend understand why my constituents in the borough of Hillingdon should feel utterly perplexed, having first heard from the Government that climate change is the greatest challenge of all time, and now having seen the green light being given to the fastest growing source of emissions through the expansion of Heathrow airport, which will undermine their quality of life?

Mr. Jack: Speaking as a Member who represents the north-west of England, I am aware that Manchester airport has offered a lifeline by pointing out that more services could go from there to utilise the additional capacity of its second runway, thus helping to address the issue, while not ducking the question of aviation emissions.

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