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Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), whose comments about developing countries I listened
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to with interest, although I got a bit depressed when he discussed longevity and 2050. This House’s duty is to ensure that those who follow us can live happy and full lives, as we are able to do in this country. My intervention aimed to demonstrate that developing countries are not just sitting back waiting for us to lead the way; in many cases, they are leading the way and setting an example to us. China is, in many respects, a good example, because of its lead on eco-cities and on carbon capture.

I very much welcome the opportunity to debate the Bill, which is supported by organisations whose combined membership of millions across the country dwarfs that of any political party, and their members will be watching this debate closely. I commend the Minister for the Environment and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who cannot be present today—I, too, wish him well—on introducing the Bill. I commend the patience and wisdom shown in their approach of discussing the Bill with various parties, not just Members of Parliament, and I thank them for that. I also thank the Minister for the Environment for his contribution to my private Member’s Bill, which has sadly fallen. I very much valued his advice, and I shall return to the matter later.

The Stern review made it clear that both the causes and consequences of climate change are global, requiring collective, international political leadership. I am pleased that our Government are taking a global lead on climate change with this Bill, which will set legally binding targets, putting us head and shoulders above the international community in our commitment to the issue.

My constituents welcome the Bill and tell me that the Government have to take a lead. In the past two months, I arranged for the Secretary of State to meet members of the Swindon Climate Action Network—SCAN—at a fantastic pub in my constituency called the Royal Oak in Bishopstone. It was specially chosen, because it is the home of Helen Browning’s organic range which is nationally known and internationally recognised. It cuts food miles—I believe that the organic food travels just yards from the farm to the pub—thus setting a good example. The meeting gave my constituents a chance to put their arguments and ideas about climate change to the Secretary of State. SCAN is an impressive advocate and it made strong arguments to him, which I am sure he took back to Westminster.

Mrs. Moon: Does my hon. Friend agree that although we are debating this serious issue and Governments around the world are debating it and taking steps, this is not just about Governments? It is about individuals, whose role she just mentioned, also accepting that they must make major changes to their comfortable everyday lives in this country, because that will also be crucial to the success of anything that comes out of this House or any other House around the world.

Anne Snelgrove: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I believe that this is about not only Governments but how we get local people involved. I am not necessarily talking about those people who are approaching this subject zealously, but about those who are perhaps only dimly aware of climate change’s effect on their lives. SCAN is one organisation working with
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local groups to ensure that everybody in Swindon understands climate change and why we all need to play a part in tackling it.

Gina Adams from SCAN has said that although it welcomes the Government’s Climate Change Bill, targets are just the start. It wants real progress to be made in reducing CO2 emissions and tackling climate change by both central and local government. Like me—it is not just Conservatives who want this—SCAN wants the target to rise from 60 to 80 per cent. However, I agree with some Members of the other House that it may be better not to prescribe a figure in the Bill; if we leave the figure at 60 per cent. and the Climate Change Committee subsequently changes it to another figure, that would bring into question the Government’s commitment and our commitment in this House. We need to be clear about what we mean by our attempts to reduce carbon emissions in this country, and I hope that the Minister will be clearer about what he means on climate change targets. I was not clear what he was saying in his speech about 60 or 80 per cent., or the possibility of opting for a higher figure. He needs to give us more of an indication of what he means, and I, too, hope that I will be able to follow that up in Committee.

One argument that SCAN made was that people outside the Westminster bubble were unlikely to be inspired to cut carbon if those inside the bubble—us—are not able to do so. My private Member’s Bill was all about that. The Government need to take a lead in showing how those targets will be achieved. If we want a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon, we will have to take radical steps to improve the efficiency of the way we live, particularly how we build our buildings. If we want an 80 per cent. reduction in carbon—that is supported by many in this House and many of my constituents—we will have to take even more radical steps. The aim of my private Member’s Bill, which failed to reach Committee last week because of the objections of one particular Conservative Back Bencher—

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Name him.

Anne Snelgrove: I will name no names, because the Member concerned is not in his place.

My Bill aimed to ensure that all new Government buildings were in the highest quartile of energy performance. I was very pleased to have had the support of not only the Government but Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers, so it is a shame that the actions of one maverick stopped the Bill going into Committee.

It is a modest request to make of the Government as it simply gives legal force to a commitment that has already been made in their own energy efficiency action plan. This is where I have to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, because he went the extra mile to ensure that both he and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), were able to acquiesce to some of the demands in my Bill. I am very grateful for the patient work by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and his officials.

I welcome the fact that as a result of this Bill the Government will have new powers to require public bodies to produce action plans on adaptation at the
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discretion of the Secretary of State and on many other things. I recognise the importance of the five local areas, but the Government should give a lead and show local councils that when procuring new buildings for the Government estate, they are aiming for the highest possible environmental standards. Without a commitment on the face of the Bill, Departments will continue not to pull their weight in the fight against climate change. Some 17 out of 21 Departments are not on track to meet their energy efficiency targets, and energy efficiency across the central Government estate has actually worsened by 3.3 per cent. since 2000. I proposed a modest change and I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will find some way to include it in the Bill.

The Minister has said that the Bill is about leadership and that it should be about keeping promises. In recognition of their duty to lead by example, the Government committed in the energy efficiency action plan in 2004 to procure only buildings in the top quartile. The commitment covered Departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies. To put that in perspective, there are currently around 100 executive agencies and more than 800 non-departmental public bodies. They include organisations as diverse as the Highways Agency, the Meat and Livestock Commission and the Royal Mint.

The top quartile commitment was subsequently restated in the “Common Minimum Standards for the Procurement of Built Environments in the Public Sector”, published by the Office of Government Commerce in September 2005. The most recent restatement of the commitment was in the 2007 energy White Paper. The promise to carry out this action has been made a number of times. However, the Environmental Industries Commission wrote to me earlier this month stating that in 2006-07 only 46 of 351 Government new build or refurbishment projects were even assessed for their environmental impact. The failure to ensure that major public building projects will be energy efficient and sustainable is a huge wasted opportunity and will undermine the Government’s aim of making the UK one of the EU leaders in sustainable procurement. We can all see failure looming. Only if this Bill is amended to include a requirement that public buildings are procured in a better way can we stop that failure happening.

As I said, the Bill is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the house and NGOs across the UK. Millions of people make up their memberships, and tens of millions make up their supporters. They will be watching this debate closely and I will make sure that its outcome is also reported to those who have written to me from my constituency.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. So as to be as inclusive as possible, I propose to reduce the time limit to seven minutes for hon. Members called after 8 o’clock.

7.34 pm

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I will try to keep my remarks brief.

The hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) mentioned several of her constituents; perhaps I should start by mentioning one of mine. Sir David King is the
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former chief scientific adviser who got into a lot of trouble for describing climate change as the most dangerous challenge facing the world. He said that it was more dangerous than terrorism. This week, above all weeks, it is worth repeating that remark, and never mind the trouble that it got him into. He was right. The scale of the problem that we face is the equivalent of the challenge that was posed by nuclear war. It might be happening more slowly and in a different way, but it is the same sort of thing.

We have discovered that human beings have the capacity to undermine in its entirety the life support system on which we all depend. There are a few sceptics around, but they are increasingly like those who believe in UFOs and aliens. They are relying on smaller and smaller pieces of evidence, with wilder and wilder theories, while all around them shuffle in embarrassment and change the subject. There is a difference between scepticism, which is appropriate to science, and obduracy, which is not. Now is the time to act. A remark was made about the press, especially the tabloid press and the irresponsibility of some of its coverage. For me, that just illustrates why it is important that we should not be ruled by them.

There have been big changes to the Bill since it was presented to the pre-legislative Joint Committee on which I and many others served. In the vast majority of cases, those amendments have been for the good—especially those passed in the House of Lords. I was disappointed by the Government’s attitude to several of them, however.

One of the crucial changes in the House of Lords was to clause 1, which introduces the 2° C target. That is important because it is as near as we can get to what we are talking about. We are trying to stop the harm caused by climate change, and that harm is measured by the change in average temperatures. It is not measured by reductions in emissions. It is measured by the outcomes—the temperature—not the inputs.

The Government’s argument against that way of framing the Bill is that global temperature is not under our control, because it is a matter for international action, but we have to take responsibility for our share and we have to set an example. It is a simple moral principle that we should act in a way that would be acceptable if everybody else acted in that way as well.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman makes a coherent argument, but there are many countries, such as the small island states, in the United Nations forum that do not accept 2° C.

David Howarth: I once had a PhD student who did her thesis on small island states, but I do not have time to go into the full issue that the Minister raises. However, it is a different point about the overall starting point for reductions, not the share. The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) was right to say that if the Government have accepted contraction and convergence, in the 60 per cent. figure, they must also accept it for any other figure that comes along. The Government have already accepted the principle and cannot go back on it.

The second point is the connection between the 2° C figure and the 80 per cent. target. There is a logical connection between the two. If the Government accept —as a matter of policy rather than for legislative purposes—the 2° C target, they must also accept a
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target of 80 per cent. reduction or greater, because the probability is that we will not be able to hold world average temperature to a 2° C increase unless the reduction that is attributable to us under contraction and convergence is something like 80 per cent. The two issues are connected. Once the Government have accepted the 2° C figure as a matter of policy, they should accept the 80 per cent. figure, too. As hon. Members have said, the science has moved on. Many hon. Members will have seen the letter from another of my constituents, Sir Tom Blundell, which makes it absolutely clear what we are talking about and what action we should take. It is also true that there have been eight years of rising emissions between the RCEP report in 2000 and now. We have to make up for those eight years, as the emissions will be in the atmosphere for another century.

Let me refer to another part of the Bill that has not been referred to much, although the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) mentioned it in part. There has been a change in the reporting provisions in the Bill, so the question of annual targets is rather different from what it was when we first discussed it. There is a five-year reporting period with an action plan, and a one-yearly indicative target reporting system whereby the committee makes a report and the Government respond to it. That is much better than when the Bill started out, but it still needs to be strengthened. There needs to be some suggestion of an action plan that is possibly produced yearly but not necessarily each year. I would give the power to the committee to suggest to the Government that if they are so far off target for a particular year, they might consider bringing forward the date at which the action plan obligation comes into force.

Another large issue is that of the emissions for international aviation. Some 90 per cent. of the emissions from aviation in this country are caused by international aviation, while a very small proportion are caused by domestic aviation, which is included in the Bill. I point out to the Government that throughout the debate, from the consideration in the Joint Committee until now, the Government have said that it is too difficult to distinguish between the two, and there has been disagreement between the Department for Transport and DEFRA about how to do it. However, that cannot be the case, because the Government are already doing it: they answer parliamentary questions that ask them to distinguish between domestic and international emissions. It seems to me that the best thing for the Government to do would be to put the obligation in place now so that when they are required to go along that path in 2011-12 by the EU ETS, they will have to make a far smaller adjustment to their position than they would if they did nothing now and carried out the whole adjustment then.

I have only one point to make on the international credits debate. A number of points have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the argument, but my view is still that the big advantage that is alleged to flow from international trade is that it means that the cheapest options can be taken first. No one is told what options have to be taken over the whole period, because in the end they all have to be taken. In the end, states such as Britain are allowed to take cheaper options from abroad early on. That does not mean that they will not have to take expensive options later. Usually, it is quite a good
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thing to do it that way, but it is not always. In this particular case, if we take ourselves down the line of being a high-carbon economy and allow ourselves to take cheap options from other countries, we will be stuck in that economy. When the time came to take the expensive options, they would be even more expensive.

The final improvement to the Bill to which I want to refer is clause 80. I think that I am the only Member who took part in both the Standing Committee that considered the Companies Act 2006 and the Joint Committee on this Bill. I will not go through the various struggles about the operating and financial reviews and the attempt to get the Government back to the position from which they started. It seems essential that if we are to create a market for ethical investment and consumption, we should have the strongest possible reporting requirements on companies. That dimension has not yet been mentioned. It is a way in which individuals can take part in the fight against climate change in their own lives, by making choices in the market. In the end, it is for all of us—both politicians and individuals—to play our part, and that is how it can be done.

7.44 pm

Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I welcome the Bill; indeed, its principles have had a unanimous welcome. If they had not, we might as well have given up on combating climate change. Of course, there are issues of detail, and it is perfectly reasonable that they should be debated and tested. Some of the amendments made in the other place have been very helpful in trying to clarify and strengthen the Bill. However, I want to focus on a couple of points. The first is carbon reporting, which has been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). He and I are members of the Aldersgate Group, which has been a driving force behind the idea of carbon reporting.

There has always been resistance in Government to the idea of more regulation. That is understandable, to a certain extent, but sometimes it reaches the point of irrationality. Regulation can sometimes be more efficient and can benefit industry and society. If I understand my hon. Friend the Minister correctly, he is saying that he accepts the principle that there should be some regulation of carbon reporting so that there is a standardised approach. That makes absolute sense. At the moment, although about 45 per cent. of top companies report on carbon, they use different criteria and assessments. That makes it almost impossible to compare and to see who is the better performer.

The CBI climate change taskforce recommended that there should be a standard approach. It looks as though that point, at least, has been accepted. At the CBI conference, delegates were asked whether they supported mandatory reporting, and 82 per cent. were in favour. If 82 per cent. of the CBI is in favour of a new regulation, why are we messing about in this way? I suspect that it is not my hon. Friend the Minister who is messing about. Sometimes, some parts of Government are more sympathetic than others to the idea of environmental regulation. However, the principle is sound and I hope that my hon. Friend will give it a little consideration during the passage of the Bill.

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