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Trading emissions is the Mickey Mouse idea of our time. A study of the effectiveness of CFC and HFC reduction programmes in the developing world found that they cost $5 billion in carbon credits, but it would have cost $100 million just to give the countries the
9 Jun 2008 : Column 117
money to do the clean-up directly. We need to choose the transparent and the simple method, not the complex and speculative.

The issue on reporting is not the competence, integrity or commitment of DEFRA Ministers. It is the commitment of the Government as a whole. In that context, everyone knows that the obstacles will not come from officials in DEFRA. They will come from the Treasury, which is where they have always come from. If anyone is going to throw a spanner in the works, it is the Treasury. If that is the case, the person who has to be accountable is the Prime Minister. This is about leadership from the Government as a whole. If the Prime Minister wants to take hold of the issue and say to the House and to the country, “The buck stops here”, the response that he will get from outside is, “You bet your life it does!”

9.25 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I shall restrict my remarks to three minutes to allow others to get in.

First, I want to place on the record my broad support for the Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) on his leadership on the issue during the past two years. My support comes with two caveats. First, the Bill must be seen in the context of a multilateral necessity. That is crucial. We are legislating today to have a serious impact on our domestic arrangements, and so I want the Government to demonstrate that they will redouble their efforts to ensure that global action is taken around the world by all countries and all Governments. In particular, I want them to seize the opportunity afforded by the US elections in November to have a dialogue with the new Administration to ensure that there is leadership on the issue from the US. We need to ensure, too, that the EU, which interferes unnecessarily in our lives in so many areas where we could do things unilaterally, takes some leadership in the one area in which we want it to. Collectively, it should meet the highest standards in reducing carbon emissions, particularly as we move towards Copenhagen.

My second caveat has been mentioned before. All the Bill does is introduce targets and a committee. That is fine, but we want to see the meat of the action that will be taken to change people’s behaviour in this country. I want to read a letter from some of my constituents, and if it takes the rest of my time it is worth doing. I received it this morning, and I ask the Government to listen, please. Some of the things that they have been doing with vehicle excise duty have not changed behaviour but hurt the poor. The letter reads, “Mr. Streeter, we are against the increased excise duty being applied retrospectively. My husband is disabled and his choice of car is governed by his ability to get in and out of a particular car. He bought his car in May 2003. We use it frugally and average 3,000 miles per annum, so our impact on the environment is minimal. We are pensioners and the proposed hike from £210 this year to £430 in 2010 is absolutely appalling. We cannot afford to change our car and anyway this retrospective taxation would make our current immaculate low-mileage vehicle all but worthless”. So they go on.

We cannot support action dressed up as a green tax when it is only effectively a stealth tax. It has to change behaviour. The fact that the VED changes go back to
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2003 does not provide any opportunity to change behaviour and they clobber the poorest. I support the Bill, but the measures that flow from it must be genuine green taxes and should not give green taxes and green measures a bad name.

9.28 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) has highlighted the most important point this evening. I want to reiterate the sense of my earlier intervention. I welcome the fact that we now have all-party consensus on the objectives and nearly on the targets, but unless we develop all-party consensus on the mechanisms we will not go anywhere. We have a problem when Conservative Back Benchers resist measures that might not be perfectly fine-tuned, but must in principle be part of the solution—that is, affecting the demand for private transport. Whether we are talking about variable vehicle excise duty or road pricing, the decisions are difficult but there is no point in anybody putting their hand on their heart and saying how green they are and then turning away when the difficult decision comes. I am the first to agree that some fine-tuning of the proposed changes to vehicle excise duty might be necessary, but the principle behind the proposals is absolutely right. They are absolutely consistent with the Bill.

I welcome the main provisions of the Bill. I have followed the development of climate change debates in the House over 11 years, from the time when barely two or three Members could be found who wanted to contribute to the debate. Of course, in those days, climate change was seen as a peripheral issue, which was a little bit about the environment and a little bit about the natural world. Gradually, people came to understand that it was also perhaps about social justice in this country and abroad. Gradually, it came to be seen as a matter of economics. Of course, the Stern report was crucial in that. Now, the environment is seen as an issue of security and survival. We should not underestimate the seriousness of the threats that we face. That is why the radical nature of the Bill and the legal framework that it proposes are so important.

Although the Opposition sceptics feel strongly about the Bill, we must understand that whether or not the precise scientific projections and the precise economic analysis are correct is almost beside the point, because things change so quickly. I generally accept the science put forward by the IPCC, but I do not believe for a minute that today’s scientists can accurately predict what will happen in 2050. I broadly accept the economic arguments in the Stern report, but I do not believe for a minute that it is possible to calculate precisely the economic benefits or disbenefits of specific actions.

We must take it on trust that climate change is happening. We have seen the impact on poor people around the world, in the small island states and China’s agricultural regions, which are now subject to desertification, and we have seen what is happening in Darfur. Therefore, I welcome the principles behind the Bill. I hope that the Government will be sensitive and flexible in dealing with amendments in Committee.

9.31 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I shall take one minute to make one point to the Government. I recently served on Committees that considered two
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major measures: the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the Housing and Regeneration Bill, which were transformed in Committee by the Government’s own amendments. I seek reassurance from the Minister that the Government have thought the Bill through and that, in Committee, we will not dilute the Bill’s core value, which is as a framework Bill that will send a clear signal to the markets about the changes that we are making to the way we set and revise targets and hold the Government accountable for those targets. That is what the markets want to hear; that is what they will base their investments on. Let us not dilute the Bill by applying the kitchen-sink principle to taking it through Committee.

9.32 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): This has been an historic parliamentary occasion. Certainly, the scale and the nature of the planetary crisis that the Bill seeks to address is simply without precedent, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). As the excellent speeches in the debate from hon. Members on both sides of the House have made clear, humankind is walking into uncharted territory as it attempts to avert climate chaos. But the framework of the Bill, which seeks to set clear targets for successive Governments to reach all the way to 2050, is unique, so vigorous, healthy and challenging parliamentary debate, the sharing of wisdom and the robust analysis of both the threat and our response to it are not only welcome but absolutely vital.

Let us be honest: the gargantuan scale of climate change is daunting for us all, and the science already tells us that we can be by no means certain of avoiding the worst effects of man-made global warming. As we were reminded by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), preparation and adaptation must be important elements of this framework Bill. However, as the Bill continues its passage through the Commons, the House can expect a consistent approach from Conservative Front Benchers. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), we will continue to be relentlessly optimistic, persistently ambitious and repeatedly long term. But tackling dangerous climate change effectively will be a real test for all Britain’s political leaders.

Nigel Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gregory Barker: No, I will not give way.

It is incumbent on every political party not only to make the case for action, but to endeavour to bring the public along with us as we go. We must strive to build the broadest coalition and to find a sense of common purpose that has united our nation in the face of great challenges in times past, not because we want to squeeze out dissent or to create a cosy back-slapping consensus but because we must chart a course that will outlive not just this Government but successive Administrations for decades to come, whatever their political colour.

Britain will be fighting this battle long after the last of us has left Westminster, and the current Parliament has just a couple of years to run, at most. The next Administration and those that come after it will need to
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show genuine leadership, demonstrate real vision, and commit to the long-term strategy inherent in the Bill if the United Kingdom is to stand a real chance of playing its full part in the international battle to keep global warming to a rise of less than 2° C on pre-industrial levels.

I hope that the debate has sent a clear message to the sceptics, pessimists and doom-mongers who suggest that we have to choose between economic growth and going green. The notion that in the 21st century we have to choose between the two is outdated and backward-looking. Many of the most urgent steps that we need to take to reduce dependence on fossil fuels are sensible and desirable in themselves, regardless of the climate change imperative. The idea that man’s ingenuity and talent cannot take us past the age of expensive, polluting fossil fuels is profoundly short-term and unambitious. In fact, building a more sustainable economy is an investment that we can ill afford to delay. As many speakers have pointed out, in an age of rapidly depleting and exhausted natural resources, far from diverging, the worried consumer and the campaigning environmentalist should be marching together, arm in arm.

Nigel Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gregory Barker: I will not, I am afraid.

Anyone filling their car at the pumps, anyone with a heating bill to pay, anyone with an electricity demand popping through their letterbox is right to be worried by the relentless rise in the price of fossil fuels. This evening, the spot price for oil stands at a record high of $139 a barrel. Some analysts at Goldman Sachs speculate that a barrel of oil could hit $200 by December. Today, the spot price of coal hit $175, a staggering increase from just $63 two years ago. Gas now stands at $77 per barrel of oil equivalent, up from $29 in 2007—an increase of 166 per cent. in just over a year.

Whatever the short-term price fluctuations, it is absolutely clear that the era of cheap fossil fuels is over—a sentiment echoed this morning by the chief executive of BP. We will not just stumble on replacements for hydrocarbons or easily wean our businesses and consumers off dependence on oil and gas; that will require clear leadership from future Governments. The Bill is an important step in that direction, which is why the CBI strongly supports it and considers it to be a critical tool for making climate change an urgent, shared national priority for companies, consumers and Government.

Nigel Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Gregory Barker: I will not, because I have very little time.

There have been some terrific contributions to the debate. My favourite has to be that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), who has been a parliamentary hero of mine since I first served under him in the Opposition Whips Office. His powerful defence of the rain forest, which he called the lungs of the earth, elevated him yet further in my eyes. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) reminded us that the issue of social justice is inseparable from climate change, and Darfur is an example of state instability as a result of dwindling national resources.

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In a real tour de force, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) reminded us that the situation can be an opportunity, not a threat. He did much when in office to advance the agenda on the issue.

The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) demonstrated real expertise and reminded us of the immediate need for adaptation, particularly in relation to flood defences.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, spoke of the huge competitive advantage that would result from British leadership in changing to a low-carbon economy. As the EAC has made clear, we must not become preoccupied with the 2050 target. The focus should be on the 2020 near-term target.

The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who also has a strong record in this field, spoke of the need for the UK to provide leadership, and said that we should balance the need to drive change with realisation of the futility of action that simply drives energy-intensive industries into the developing world.

It will not surprise my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) that I take issue with some of his comments. I did not recognise much of his analysis, which is not shared by the Front-Bench team, and I fundamentally disagree with his conclusions. The vast majority of the measures that we propose to tackle global warming would make us more energy efficient and less dependent on expensive foreign fossil fuels and are a good thing in themselves.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) is a sceptic, but he, too, reminded us that we need to take into account concern for social justice and the effect of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable.

The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) strongly supported the Bill but argued that we must enhance it further. I was worried but listened carefully when he said that the left hand in DEFRA does not know what the right hand is doing, and if it does, it cannot stop it. Coming from someone who has served in that Department—

Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman has missed out a bit.

Gregory Barker: I have missed out a bit. I apologise and I stand corrected. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton said that the Government must produce a clear and precise strategy for meeting the EU 2020 target of 15 per cent. renewable energy. On that we all agree.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, made a wide-ranging and expert speech ending with a call for a Cabinet Minister for climate change, which was probably noted by both Ministers on the Front Bench.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) made a valuable contribution, as did the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) was spot-on with his observation that stealth taxes disguised as green taxes serve only to give the whole environmental agenda a bad name.

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Progressive, profitable, forward-looking businesses everywhere are grasping the climate change opportunity. However, the Bill on its own will not deliver the changes that they need. Although we support the framework, it should be no surprise that we are far more critical of the Government’s record of real carbon reductions to date, and their lack of ambitious policies to deliver the economic carbon transformation anticipated in the Bill.

Nevertheless, I congratulate Ministers on bringing the Bill thus far. It is a welcome step towards creating a long-term public policy framework that will enable British entrepreneurs and wealth creators to gain some of the certainty and direction that they need to drive dynamic industrial change—dynamic industrial change that will spawn new industries, create thousands of new jobs, utilise the tremendous talents, skills and abilities of the British work force, help arrest the remorseless exhaustion of the planet’s finite natural resources, drive the transformation of our economy and secure the long-term prosperity and well-being of future generations.

I look forward to working constructively with the Government to take the Bill into Committee, to scrutinise it and improve it, mindful of the need to protect the interests of hard-pressed consumers in a tough economic environment, mindful of the need of businesses for long-term clarity and certainty, and mindful of the need to maintain full accountability to Parliament of the present Administration and all future Governments as they strive to meet the demanding, stretching carbon reduction targets set out in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State opened the debate from our Benches by quoting Margaret Thatcher, the first world leader to call for concerted global action against man-made climate change. I close with a less well known quote from her, which was equally prescient. In November 1990, in one of her last speeches before leaving office, Lady Thatcher told the world climate conference:

Indeed, we should have no regrets, just renewed ambition and even greater determination to overcome the challenge of global warming. In that spirit, we welcome the Bill.

9.45 pm

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