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Mr. Ainsworth: I am afraid that my hon. Friend appears to have misunderstood that point. If he is worried about rising domestic fuel bills, he should look at the current price of oil and worry about what continuing dependence on depleting fossil fuel reserves will do to domestic heating, water, transport fuel and every other
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kind of bill in the future. Consumers have real problems with these rising bills—I am afraid that we probably have not seen the half of it yet—and they are intimately related to our continuing dependence on unsustainable ways of living.

Mr. Yeo: On the question of the impact of the Bill on business, does my hon. Friend agree that one reason for supporting the Bill is that it may accelerate the process through which British companies decarbonise their products? It will quickly give us a competitive advantage if our companies offer low-carbon products and services compared with those produced in other countries. Market instruments and even regulations may therefore be helpful to businesses in this case.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee and who has strong personal views on individual carbon trading. I am glad that he did not raise them with me this afternoon. He is right, and that point is central to the one that I am trying to make to the House. It is also integral to clause 12.

Indeed, the CBI has expressed its support for the setting of clear and stretching targets, and the structure of rolling carbon budgets, set three periods in advance. I am pleased that clause 12 now also includes a requirement for the Government to set out indicative annual ranges for the net UK carbon account within each five-year budget period. The CBI also supports the establishment of an independent, authoritative Climate Change Committee to provide advice and guidance on the effort needed to meet our obligations.

As I have said, it is fundamental to our approach that the implementation of measures enabled by this Bill is based on scientific knowledge: economic and social implications will also need to be taken into account, and it will be the role of the Climate Change Committee to do that. I was therefore concerned to read reports that Lord Turner, who was recently appointed to chair the committee, has already announced that he will leave it. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified Lord Turner’s position when he responds to the debate.

One of the committee’s first tasks will be to establish the adequacy of the carbon reduction targets set out in the Bill. I know that hon. Members will be aware of the vigorous campaign—it has already been mentioned this afternoon—to lift the long-term target for CO2 reductions from at least 60 per cent. to 80 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) has pointed out, there are rational arguments for doing so. The 60 per cent. target is based on the advice of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution as it was offered eight years ago. The science has moved on since then. Few in the scientific community now believe that 60 per cent. will be adequate.

The Government will no doubt wish to consider these arguments carefully. Our view from the outset has been that it should be for the Climate Change Committee, not politicians, to determine the scale of the effort needed. The committee will need to have regard to the principal aim of the Bill—provided it is still there—when determining future targets. The scientific understanding of the scale of the challenge will continue to move and
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it is important to retain flexibility. In any case, I agree with those who have already said that it is meeting the nearer-term, rather than the longer-term, targets that will be critical to success or failure. We must set a short and medium-term trajectory to ensure that the principal aim of the Bill is met.

Steve Webb: Is it not the case that this is not a purely scientific question but a political one? It is about how far what we do in this country contributes to the global total, and the science does not provide the whole answer. Surely there is a political dimension and we, as politicians, should take responsibility.

Mr. Ainsworth: Indeed, we are all demonstrating that responsibility this afternoon.

I welcome part 4 of the Bill, which sets out measures to tackle the impact of climate change and the obvious need to adapt to it. I know that it will be particularly welcome to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who has been a tireless cheerleader for adaptation measures. I have never understood why there has been a stand-off between those who argue for efforts to mitigate the risks of climate change and those who argue for adaptation. We need both. The scientists tell us that even if we halted carbon pollution completely overnight, the effects of existing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to be with us for years to come, so we need to prepare and to adapt. I welcome the creation in the Bill of an adaptation sub-committee to take the agenda forward.

There is some confusion over the Government’s intentions regarding part 5, which deals with waste. The Minister shakes his head, but at present the Bill provides for up to five local authority areas to be designated as pilot areas for waste reduction schemes. Schedule 5 sets out the basis for such schemes and includes a provision allowing councils to charge households according to the amount of waste they produce. We in the Opposition would greatly prefer a system of rewards to a system of penalties and I reiterate our belief that any new green taxes should be offset by tax cuts elsewhere. The Secretary of State and his Ministers will be aware of recent press comments to the effect that sources close to No. 10 have decided that they do not want the Government to proceed with the scheme, and so the Government are teetering on the brink of yet another U-turn. Has the Minister spoken to the Prime Minister recently about the plans for variable waste charging? What did he say? What is the status of that measure?

The real test of the Bill will be whether it changes the mindset in Whitehall and Westminster to ensure that respect for the environment truly finds a place at the heart of policy making and Government practice. We must end the absurdity of the present situation, whereby DEFRA spends millions of pounds on public campaigns to get people to use energy more efficiently while the Department’s use of energy is going through the roof.

We need the Government to lead by example. An approach based on, “Do as we say, not do as we do,” will rightly be greeted with cynicism. Neither will we be successful in persuading the UK public or overseas Governments of our commitment to addressing climate change if, at the same time as preaching the low-carbon message, we usher in a massive expansion in aviation capacity, give the green light to the first new coal-fired
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power station for a generation without it providing for carbon capture and storage, or impose biofuels obligations on transport fuels without requiring that biofuels come from sustainable sources. It is madness to cut down the rain forest in the name of the environment.

If the Bill helps this and future Governments to be more consistent and coherent in their approach, it will deserve to be counted as a success. If it helps to unlock the creativity, imagination and resourcefulness of our industry and capital markets, making Britain a leader in the journey towards a prosperous, safer and greener world, future generations will look back on it with gratitude.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches?

5.28 pm

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): We have heard this afternoon about one of the most important elements at the forefront of the need to pass the Bill resoundingly through the House: the international significance of what we do, and the way in which the Bill will be not just closely looked at elsewhere across the world, but seen in terms of the discussions that I hope will prove successful in developing international agreements on climate change as a serious and clear statement of this country’s intent to play its full part in ensuring that climate change is combated both in this country and internationally.

If we are thinking about the international effect, perhaps we need look no further than the successful Democratic nominee for the US presidential election in November, who, as hon. Members have already indicated, has stated on his website and in his policy statements that he supports

His website says:

Obama goes further than that: he states in his election platform that he will require 25 per cent. of energy in the United States to be provided from renewable sources by 2025. Indeed, he wishes to set national building efficiency goals and

Well, he is not quite there, as far as the Government are concerned, given their aims for zero-carbon housing, but it is fair to say that one can already see in that plan a number of echoes of what the Government have been doing on climate change and the necessary actions to mitigate it. One can say with reasonable fairness that already what is being done has received echoes in some of the most important parts of the world that will be necessary to ensure that our climate change goals are met.

The most important meat of the Bill is, of course, carbon budgets and driving down the carbon emissions that this country produces year by year, not just ensuring
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that, by 2050, we have a figure that looks right in 2050. As my hon. Friend the Minister has already emphasised, we need to ensure that the quantum of CO2 goes down every year and is not in the atmosphere at the end of the period and that that progress is made year on year. Therefore, the interim targets suggested in the Bill are equally important, as indeed are the trading arrangements that will enable those budgets to be maintained over that period.

Banking and borrowing in the trading system are important in the carbon budget system. We need to listen carefully to what the Committee on Climate Change advises, but it is vital that we make the very clear link between carbon budgets and real reductions in CO2. We cannot get to the 2050 targets just by trading off others; we must make our own binding and long-term reductions in CO2 emissions. Above all, that will help to shape what a real sustainable low-carbon economy will look like. Borrowing our way into claimed low-carbon economic practices will simply not give the shape to the components of that 2050 economy. It is important therefore that that part of the climate change procedure for carbon budgets is right. It was good that the Government moved in the Lords to eliminate the retrospective amendment of a carbon budget when its period is over for that reason.

It is important also that carbon budgets include all emissions. As we have heard this afternoon, that includes aircraft and shipping emissions, and the Committee on Climate Change should consider at an early stage how those are included under the Bill. Of course, it is essential that we understand the issues of measurement and the apportionment of responsibility. It is good that aviation is now included in the next stage of the European emissions trading scheme. However, to gain the real notion of what our emissions are, it is essential that such things are included, along with real reductions in carbon emissions year by year, in the carbon budgets at an early stage.

Trading is important, but it has to be in a system that gives persistent, long-term carbon value. The Bill will greatly assist us in achieving that because of the comprehensive nature of the inclusions through which carbon budgets work. The carbon commitment will underline how important that is. That is the long-term legacy of the Bill; it is not about some distant debate in 2051, when someone will stand at the Dispatch Box to account for where we have got to with emissions—that is, if the House is still above water then, and the targets have not been seriously missed. The Bill is not about that debate as much as about the fact that at all stages we will need real, measurable and accountable mechanisms that keep the UK up to speed and on track. If the debate is about the point in 2050 when we learn whether the targets have been met or not, the House will have missed its one chance to make sure that the targets are met. If in 2050 we realise that we did not get things right, it will not be a matter of being sorry; it will be a matter of the planet’s future taking a very different direction from the one it would have done if we had got things right.

Getting the targets right will inevitably mean enormous changes to how energy is deployed, and to the use of renewables instead of the conventional fossil fuel that we have relied on for so many years. Of course, renewables are one of the greatest forms of insurance against rising fuel prices, because they allow us to secure energy that is
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based on a free source not subject to the price rises that occur as a result of the increasing scarcity of the fossil fuel supplied to developed economies. Getting the targets right will mean many changes, including enormous changes to how we plan our environment and create and dispose of waste. If we decide that we have to create a carbon value for exchange, we will have to do the same for waste and resources. We cannot create a carbon value for many things, but not do so for waste. We cannot continue to think of waste as something that we can throw around our environment, expecting it to be cleared up without taking any account of the consequences.

That future need not be frightening, but it will be very different, and it will require all parties, whatever party is in government, to maintain the commitments in the Bill. In a sense, the Bill is very different from virtually any other Bill that I have been concerned with in my time in the House, as we cannot take it to pieces at a future date if the fancy takes us. It involves the House making a commitment now if we are to ensure that the Bill stays on the statute book until a guaranteed low-carbon economy has been achieved.

In agreeing to the Bill’s Second Reading today, we are declaring that we will not resile from its provisions. It is not a Bill that can be lost in limbo or watered down at a future date. It has to work, and it has to work now. I trust that that is the commitment that we in the House will all make when we agree to pass the Climate Change Bill, and I trust that we will make sure that it not only reaches the statute book but stays there—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

5.38 pm

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): May I, too, wish the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a speedy recovery from his ill health?

The Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill, but in this debate my worry is about the risk of complacency. There is a danger that we will congratulate ourselves on the first Climate Change Bill—that when we go home tonight having agreed to its Second Reading, as I am sure we will, we will say, “Haven’t we done well?” when all that we have done is set a not very demanding target. Targets are all very well, but we all know that they have a knack of not being met when the target is only a few years away, let alone when it is a generation or more away—for example, the entirely laudable target of halving child poverty in two years. On the statistics, child poverty is going up. The target of abolishing fuel poverty for the vulnerable is due in a couple of years, and fuel poverty is going up. My concern about the Bill is that if it does not have teeth, we can set the most extraordinary targets we wish and we will be deceiving not only ourselves, but the rest of the world.

That is why it was regrettable that in his introduction the Minister said that the Government want to remove the teeth that were added in another place—the requirement to report to the Prime Minister. With due deference and no disrespect, I referred to DEFRA as a piddling Department. I also referred to it, mixing my metaphors, as a minnow among wolves; perhaps a minnow among sharks might have been a better description.


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As DEFRA is not responsible for green taxation, transport emissions, housing, energy or any of the other principal sources of emissions, the worry is that no matter how noble and worthy a person they may be, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is just a small cog in a very big wheel. If we do not make the Head of the Government of the day responsible for the target, it will not get the priority it deserves and, like so many other targets, will be missed.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to apologise to the many civil servants who faithfully give of their lives and their careers in the service of what we are discussing today, who are in DEFRA and who have worked tremendously hard to bring about the Bill? The hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the Department as piddling are beneath him.

Steve Webb: Au contraire. I do not want to put words in the mouths of civil servants, but I suspect that if I worked in DEFRA, I would want people batting for the Department, demanding a bigger, stronger role for it. I think the people who put the Bill together want it enacted and enforced, and if it is enforced by the Prime Minister, they will sleep happily in their beds at night.

Tony Baldry: Is not the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), that the central issue is funding—for example, of the Committee on Climate Change? We saw DEFRA being rolled over on the rural payments scheme. The Treasury did not come to the rescue of DEFRA and say, “Terribly sorry, we have fallen foul of Brussels and here is some extra money.” The Department just made consequential cuts in every other area of its spending.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. As so many Back Benchers want to make a contribution to the debate, we must debate the Second Reading of the Climate Change Bill.

Steve Webb: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

To implement the targets in the Bill will require funding. My worry about the Department responsible being DEFRA, not the Head of the Government, is that the budget of the Department is torn in many different ways. When it is struggling on the farming and rural affairs side, the environment side gets squeezed—as, for example, in the cuts to business recycling projects.

During the debate we have heard about cross-party consensus. The vital thing is that whichever of the three major parties is running the country in future, the Bill’s targets are enforced. My worry is that we have had intimations this afternoon that if the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) were in charge, he would have exactly the same problems as the Secretary of State will have.

The hon. Gentleman’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which has mysteriously fallen into my hands, pre-empts the concerns that we have heard during the debate about the Bill. He is torn. I think he genuinely wants to go further, but his Back Benchers are trying to rein him in. If we had a change of Government, would we see the targets driven forward? The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill goes far enough already. No one out there in the scientific community thinks so.


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I shall give an example. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am not a scientist but I know some people who are. On 21 January four eminent scientists wrote to the Prime Minister. Two of them are former chairs of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, who gave us the 60 per cent. figure in the first place, and the third is the current chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. They wrote an astonishingly brief letter headed, “UK Climate Change Bill targets are based on out-of-date science” and they say—I quote just one sentence:


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