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We want to explore the rights and duties inhering specifically in citizenship. This is a complex and difficult area, and it is not about excluding anyone. We want it to be a genuinely inclusive process for all the peoples who live in these islands, but we believe that specific rights and duties inhere in citizenship. One area that we want to explore—I reassure my hon. Friend that I am not advocating this, but it is important to explore it—is whether there should be a duty to vote. Voting is a fundamental expression of our citizenship, and is obviously a fundamental act in our democracy,
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so it is important to look at that. We will also look at other ways in which to ensure that the democratic process is legitimate.

My hon. Friend will know that as part of the reforms that we are taking forward, we have looked at a range of measures such as modernising electoral administration to try to increase participation. We must look carefully at the levels of participation in society, because it is crucial, in everything that we do, that the democratic process is seen to be legitimate. People must have faith in that process.

Everything that my hon. Friend discussed would contribute to enhancing the legitimacy of the democratic process, but we can go further and look at ways of increasing participation. We must be careful, because if we have reached a stage in our constitutional development at which participation falls to the level that we saw at the last general election—and possibly even lower—we face the prospect of successive Governments being elected by a very small minority of voters, with other voters abstaining or voting against them. That must be cause for concern, and we must see what we can do to increase participation.

One measure that we shall take forward is to consult intensively with the British people, using new processes, on whether we should move the voting day to the weekend. Associated with that consultation, we shall look at other measures, and we must keep an open mind on that. As my hon. Friend knows, I announced in a written statement a review of voting systems, which sets out a survey of all the different voting systems that we have introduced in this country—again, a significant measure of constitutional reform. The debate about the first-past-the-post voting system often ignores the fact that we now have a plural system of voting arrangements in this country. It is enriched. The review of voting systems analyses experience and draws out some of the lessons.

When my hon. Friend considers what we are doing, I hope that he will feel able to take part in the debate about what is the most appropriate voting system. If one is concerned about participation and its implication for legitimacy, the alternative vote system—I stress that I am not advocating this, but it is a subject for discussion—

Mr. Allen: In the one minute remaining, will the Minister address the question of how to excite the media and the public to become involved in our democratic renewal?

Mr. Wills: My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important challenge for all of us. It is obviously my job, the Government’s job and the Prime Minister’s job to persuade the media not to be cynical about the process, and to understand that it is fundamentally about things that genuinely matter to people. It will not be easy, for the reasons that I suggested earlier, but we will shortly publish—there are a lot of publications on the stocks right now—our view about some of the ways in which we can better engage with the British people. If we can engage with the British people, online, practically and physically in town hall meetings up and down the country—

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.

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Climate Change

2.30 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): When I was at school, the standard orthodoxy in geography lessons was that we were on the threshold of a new ice age. Another orthodoxy was that the world faced an era of unparalleled mass starvation unfolding as a consequence of a Malthusian population growth trap. Forty years later the science of global cooling has been replaced by the science of global warming and the Malthusian crisis has been solved by man’s capacity to adapt, using new technology. In the latter case, high-yielding crops delivered what became known as the green revolution. We need to be careful about swallowing orthodoxies. I have initiated the debate to make one straightforward point about the latest orthodoxy. I support the view that mankind might be contributing to global warming, but there is little evidence to support the view that the correct response at this time should be rapidly to decarbonise the economies of the world.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I was at school slightly more recently than my hon. Friend—probably about 30 years ago. One other orthodoxy to which he has not referred, and which has since been disproved, was the idea that we were going to run out of oil and gas by the end of the century. That was the theory of well-paid Government scientists who had research grants in the late 1970s. The same people, or perhaps their successors, are now coming up with the theories that I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to explode.

Mr. Tyrie: That was an interesting intervention. The idea of a peak oil moment in the resources industry is an old chestnut that has been around for at least 50 years. Anybody minded to give the idea houseroom could do no better than read the outstanding paper that was written only a few months ago by Professor Peter Davies of BP in which that theory is decisively scotched—of course, it is complete nonsense.

On current knowledge, acting swiftly to reduce carbon emissions across the world could be as economically imprudent as it would certainly be morally reprehensible.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): As my hon. Friend knows, I share many of his views. Does he agree that it would be a mistake to act too swiftly when, according to the Met Office Hadley Centre, last year there was a 12-month long drop in world temperature sufficient to wipe out a whole century of warming? In addition, China, which is supposed to be spewing out more carbon emissions than ever before, has had its coldest winter in 100 years.

Mr. Tyrie: There are a lot of measurement problems with global warming. There has not been any global warming for the past eight years, although that is not well known, and whether there was a rate of faster growth in the temperature of the planet in the 1930s or in the 1990s is hotly disputed—if I may use that phrase. There are also some interesting disputes about whether the last century or the mediaeval warm period was the warmest in the last millennium.

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Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has secured this debate, and I am glad to be able to squeeze in between the interventions of his hon. Friends. Does he accept that if the downside risks of not acting are greater than the downside risks of acting, given the scientific knowledge that we have—even with the qualifications that are put on that scientific understanding—it is imperative for us to act?

Mr. Tyrie: That is the nub of the matter. I shall discuss that in a moment as it is why I have initiated this debate.

To finish off my comments on the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the summary of the Harvard-Smithsonian centre for astrophysics’ study on proxy climatic and environmental changes in the past 1,000 years states:

There are, of course, equally well-qualified people who dispute that vigorously, so a fierce debate is going on about this.

The Government are advocating a policy of almost completely decarbonising our economy over the next 40 years. That will mean drastic reductions in the use of fossil fuels on the roads, for heating our homes and in industry. Such a policy will cost a fortune and will represent a massive undertaking. It will also almost certainly mean a fundamental change in our way of life and will leave us less well off. We are embarking on such a policy without having properly thought through the consequences, or the alternatives.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Has my hon. Friend read the recent report by Professor David Newbury of Cambridge university, which concludes that if motorists were required to pay the true cost of the effect of motoring on the environment, they would pay fuel tax at 20p a litre? Our fuel tax levels are nearly 60p a litre, so whatever side of the argument one is on, there is not a case for further increasing tax on the motorist.

Mr. Tyrie: I need to think carefully about that point. At first blush, I am not convinced of the argument, so rather than dwell on that now, I shall move on.

Six conditions need to be met to justify the Government’s proposed action on carbon emissions over the next 40 years. The first is to establish whether the planet is actually warmer, which was what we were just discussing. Establishing that involves considerable measurement problems, but it is clear that the planet has warmed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s median estimate is 0.6 per cent. over the past 100 years, with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.2 per cent. Secondly, it needs to be shown that we are causing that increase.

Thirdly, we need to be confident that global warming will continue and that the so-called feedbacks that will come with any change in the temperature will not abate the warming. Fourthly, we need to be clear that by sharply reducing mankind’s carbon emissions, we can secure an arrest or reversal of temperature increases. Fifthly, we need to be sure that the main carbon
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producers of the world—the UK contributes about 2 per cent. of total carbon emissions—will co-operate and implement massive reductions with us. Sixthly, we need to ensure that the cost of largely decarbonising all the world’s economies is less than the damage that would be caused by a failure to abate carbon emissions. That was the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith).

I intend to consider only the last of those six conditions today, although it is important to bear in mind that they all need to be fulfilled before any country embarks on sharp reductions in carbon emissions. As I have pointed out, several of those conditions might not be fulfilled and, contrary to popular perception, all six are highly controversial. There are strong majority views among experts on some of the issues, but the world of climate science is new and fast-changing and, contrary to what we are often told, there is certainly no consensus on many of those matters.

Mr. Mark Field: Like my hon. Friend, I have a sceptical frame of mind. It is important to consider this matter in such a frame of mind and not to be blind to certain evidence or science that is important in relation to climate change. He referred to initial conditions that he will not discuss at great length now. I want to mention one issue. On a number of occasions he said that we needed to be sure. Does he not recognise that, at least in the context of this debate, this is not a matter of being absolutely certain, but about the balance of probabilities? That perhaps makes his argument a little less forceful than might otherwise be the case.

Mr. Tyrie: That is an issue of cost-benefit analysis. Clearly, one can never be absolutely sure when one tries to mitigate a risk, but one has to apply a probability, and the balance of probabilities—51 per cent.—is clearly not enough to justify a complete restructuring of our economy. What percentage should be applied is one of the issues that we need to examine carefully.

People often invoke the precautionary principle. If that means anything, it should lead us to be wary of embarking on a policy unless we are clear that it is right. The risk of making a mistake, prejudicing global growth and consigning a substantial proportion of the world to continued poverty, not to mention the risk of hitting hardest the poorest in our own community—they are the people who pay for this—could be even greater than the risks of global warming. In other words, the precautionary principle is double edged. This is only another way of addressing the sixth condition to which I referred. The key question is how one weighs the benefits and costs of mitigation policies to remove carbon from the atmosphere against policies to adapt to warming once it has happened.

By far the lengthiest piece of work on the subject has been produced by Professor Stern, the former chief economist to the Treasury. He concludes that the damage caused by unchecked global warming would substantially outweigh the costs of reducing carbon emissions. The key question is: is he right?

Rather than going into too much detail, perhaps it would help if I gave the considered view of some of the world’s leading environmental and welfare economists
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on the subject. Professor Richard Tol of Carnegie Mellon university, who is a top environmental economist, said:

the Stern report—

Professor Dr. William Nordhaus of Yale university, arguably the world’s leading environmental economist, has described the policy prescriptions of the Stern review as “completely absurd”. Professor Dasgupta points out that the implications of Stern’s logic are “patently absurd”. These people are queuing up. The list is so long that I do not have time to read out all the names, but what about a few more from the home team? There is Professor Wilfred Beckerman, one of Britain’s and the world’s leading environmental economists of the past 30 years and a former economic adviser to earlier Labour Governments. There is Sir Ian Byatt, the former director general of Ofwat; Professor David Henderson, the former chief economist of the OECD; Professor Alan Peacock; Lord Skidelsky—the list is virtually endless. To cut a long story short, they all say that Nick Stern has got it wrong, that he has overestimated the damage relating to global warming, and that he has underestimated the costs of decarbonising the economy.

Perhaps, though, we should not be as harsh on the Stern review as some of those academic colleagues. For a start, Stern does have some equally eminent supporters. More importantly, he has done us a service by setting out a framework for thinking about how to address this hugely complicated question.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a case that he obviously believes quite sincerely. Does he remember that back in the 1980s, more than 100 eminent economists wrote to The Times, I believe,to slam the policies of Margaret Thatcher, saying that she was doomed to failure?

Mr. Tyrie: That is exactly my point. When we see a consensus, we should be wary of it. That one turned out to be completely wrong. Another from the list of those that we have had to address in the House in the past might be appeasement in the 1930s. A better one, which is more closely related to that cited by my hon. Friend, would be post-war Keynesian economics as a means of controlling inflation. That idea has now been overturned and rejected by the Labour and Conservative parties, but it was the prevailing consensus. To challenge that consensus in the economic community took a great deal of bravery in the 1950s and ’60s. It was down to the bravery of a small number of economists, mainly the Chicago school—whether we agree with everything that it said is another matter—that there was a breakthrough to enable us to re-examine it.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in taking interventions. In principle, there ought to be an objective scientific issue to be debated. Relatively few of us are expert scientists, but what puzzles me about this issue is that it tends to cause alignment on political grounds. I wonder whether
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he has any thoughts, because he is a thoughtful man, about why it tends to be people of the right who are sceptical about the science. Is it that climate change might imply some sort of collective action, which is anathema to them, so they look for the flaws in the science? That is an important question. Why does it tend to be the right that does not believe the science?

Mr. Tyrie: That is quite an interesting question. I have not come to debate this issue because I have a hidden agenda about attacking a new form of collectivism that might derive from the science. I have studied a good deal of the material carefully and come to the conclusion that we are rushing to take action about which we should be very cautious.

I wanted to defend Nick Stern a little, having had a go at him. This man stepped up to the plate and at least set the right framework for analysis, so even if he got the answer completely wrong, as I think that he probably did with his main conclusions, that should not necessarily be treated as a blot on his escutcheon. However, he really should stop digging. He is still trying to defend a position that has been pretty much discredited.

At the very least, even those who want to support the view in every particular would have to conclude that Nick Stern’s conclusions are deeply controversial. That point is beyond controversy. Therefore, the question that we should be asking ourselves is: should the UK, or the rest of the world for that matter, embark on such a radical restructuring of our economies on the basis of that controversial advice?

Philip Davies: This is not just a question of Nick Stern. My hon. Friend will know that Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth”, was ruled by a judge to contain at least nine inaccuracies, yet the Government have sent it out to every school in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is more propaganda than science?

Mr. Tyrie: Absolutely. The Gore report is a scandal. The fact that it has been distributed to our schools reflects badly on the House. It has been comprehensively rubbished by a series of top papers produced by the American Academy of Sciences, so much so that even a judge felt the need to intervene in the debate. It should be withdrawn from our schools. There are many mistakes in it. If hon. Members want to challenge me on that, I will start going through them one by one, but if I do so, others will not get a chance to speak. I am not quite sure how many Members have put in to speak. At the moment, I know of only one, so I do have a bit of time.

At the very least, we all have to agree that the Stern report is deeply controversial. It should have been the duty of the Treasury and the Opposition parties to listen to some of the trenchant criticisms, but both, regrettably, have swallowed the Stern report whole. My party’s Front-Bench spokesmen welcomed the recommendations of the Stern report before they had even had a chance to read it, and I find that quite shocking.

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