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It is right for me to start this Third Reading debate by paying tribute to those who have done the hard work to get the Climate Change Bill to its final lap; I am thinking in particular of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who oversaw the Bill through almost all its stages. It is also right for me to pay tribute to his immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend and brother the Foreign Secretary, who also had a hand in this. I asked him whether he could be here this evening; sadly, he could not. I commend the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for her work today, and, in the other place, Lord Rooker.
Mr. Lilley: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, but there is very little time to waste on these pleasantries. Could he explain why the business was so arranged that we had no opportunity to debate the increase by one third in the emissions reduction target from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent., even though by any calculation that must increase the cost by tens of billions of pounds, and why he refused to produce a revised impact assessment to give us any figures on what the costs and benefits are, which means that this House is voting on something that it has neither debated nor had any cost assessment on to aid its decision?
Edward Miliband: I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is much more experienced in this House than I am, that it was up to Members to ensure that we got through the business. Members spoke at great length; he made a contribution as well. The House has clearly spoken on this issue. With five Members and the overwhelming majority of Members voting as they did, the mood and sentiment of the House is pretty clear.
Let me pay tribute to most Members across the House for their work on the Bill, including Opposition Front Benchers for their support, encouragement and mainly constructive ideas, and to all those who scrutinised the Bill in draft form.
There are three important things about the Bill, the first of which is its ambition, to which the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) referred. It will make us the first country in the world to enshrine in law binding climate change targets that are stretching and ambitious, as they need to be80 per cent. by
2050. They provide a scale of ambition that will enable us to play our part, with authority, in seeking a global agreement in Copenhagen at the end of next year. As Friends of the Earth has said,
the worlds first climate change law will also be a world class climate change law.
The second reason the Bill is unique is the central role played by the independent Committee on Climate Change, which ensures that Britains long-term framework will continue to be guided by the evidence, whatever the short-term pressures facing politicians of the day. We see that in its advice on the 80 per cent. target, as we no doubt will in its advice on carbon budgets, which will be published on 1 December. At a time when we face economic difficulties, it is important that we in this House not only continue to be ambitious about climate change but are guided by the science, and the Committee on Climate Change will ensure that that happens.
The third reason the Bill is a landmark is its recognitionsome Members do not like thisof the scale of the shift that will be required to meet our ambitions. That requires action from every section of our society. For our whole economy, the advent of carbon budgets will help to drive the necessary transition in the way we use resources. For the energy sector, the obligations on companies to meet carbon-reduction targets for households will help the shift towards energy saving. For business as a whole, the measures on corporate reporting recognise, as do many British businesses, that cutting carbon emissions is now a necessary part of doing business. For the public sector, we need to do better, and the proposals on reporting on energy efficiency and being part of a new carbon-reduction commitment represent a recognition of that.
It is very welcome that these key features of the Billthe ambitions, the mechanisms and the need for a shift in all parts of societyhave commanded near-universal consensus in this House. As I said in my statement earlier this monthI think that we should freely acknowledge thiswe know that the hard work to achieve our climate change objectives has, in a way, only just begun. We should be pleased about what we have achieved: a 16 per cent. cut in emissions since 1990 that means that we are one of only a few countries to be on track to meet our Kyoto targets; an increase in offshore wind that means that we have now overtaken Denmark; and a tripling of renewable energy in the past five years.
However, we know that there is a lot more to do. That is why I announced the feed-in tariff last week, why we need to tackle renewable energy being connected to the grid, why we need investment in carbon capture and storage, and why we need diversity in our energy sources. We are determined to make progress not just through this Bill, but during this year, next year and into the next Parliament. We look forward to many years of support from the Opposition as we do so.
I end by paying tribute not to those in the House, but to those outside it: those who saw the dangers of climate change and the actions that needed to be taken long before the politicians did. I pay tribute to the scientists who detected the problem, the campaigners who fought to bring it to public attention, the green movement that mobilised for change, and above all, the members of the public who wrote to us in record
numbers, asking for a Bill that met the scale of the challenge. I believe that we have met that challenge. We owe them a debt of gratitude for making it happen, and I urge all Members to support the Third Reading.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I regret that there is little time to thank individually all the people who have contributed to the Bill during its passage, both inside the House and out of it. I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who first pressed for the Bill to be taken up by the Government, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who previously stood in my place. One of the things that he bequeathed to me was the expertise and enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), my parliamentary neighbour.
This Bill has attracted an unusual spirit of cross-party co-operation in both Houses. That is appropriate, because to succeed the Bill must lay foundations that endure from one Parliament to the other and indeed, eventually, from one generation to another. By 2050, we will all be gone from this Housesome sooner than othersbut those who come after us will remember our names because it is this generation that will be judged on what we did in response to the challenge of climate change. That point was well made by Margaret Thatcher. Speaking of our duty to nature, she said:
That duty is constant...It will weigh on our shoulders for as long as we wish to dwell on a living and thriving planet, and hand it on to our children and theirs.
As robustly as we support the Bill, I know that a few people in this House and in the country have concerns about it. Since we have not had much time to debate them tonight, let me make some mention of them. Some are suspicious that a purported scientific consensus reflects more group think than rigour. Others worry that the costs of action to our businesses and our economy may be too great. Others fear that the Bill indicates a unilateral, rather than a multilateral approach. Let me take those points briefly in turn. Churchill says that scientists should be on top [L aughter. ] Scientists should be on tap, not on top. I agree with that, the way he said itcorrectly. That is why advice to Ministers should be given in public through the committee, not behind closed doors, and it should be subject to the scrutiny and ultimate approval of this House.
On the question of affordability, the Bill provides the Secretary of State not just with the opportunity, but the obligation to set carbon budgets in the light of the science and the crucial economic and business issues of the day. In any case, what is affordable? Is it clinging to a high-carbon economy and everything that that implies for our energy security, price volatility and the costs of doing business, or is it switching to secure, stable and efficient energy systems that put British business, particularly British process industries, which have long been world-beating, into the forefront of world innovation?
I am a multilateralist. I do not believe that Britain should act alone, but this Bill provides for the Secretary of State to give leadership in our international negotiations and, at all times, to have the flexibility to ensure that other countries come with us. That is the crucial approach to our climate change policy. We cannot stand alone; we have to take the rest of the world with us.
During the past 10 years, the Government have often operated without a long-term energy policy; they have dithered and delayed over nuclear power, and emissions have risen in the most recent years. We are not even certain we can keep the lights on for the next 15 years. If we have learned anything from that experience, it is that we need serious long-term policies, not the short-termism of the past 10 years. This Bill helps to secure that.
Steve Webb: The Bill is welcome and important, and the process of scrutiny has improved it. We welcome the fact that the new Secretary of State has made several concessions, or improvements, in the final stages of the measures passage most notably his acceptance of our 80 per cent. amendment. It is the first time that I have seen a Secretary of States name added to an amendment that I tabled, but I hope that it sets a precedent, which will be followed many times.
My worry about Third Reading was that it would become an occasion for slightly too much self-congratulation when, as the Secretary of State said, we are at the beginning of a difficult process. Many people asked whether the target of 80 per cent. was too tough and whether it was achievable. I believe that history will judge that it errs on the low sidenew evidence and information suggests further, faster, deeper. I fear that we may have to revisit the targets to strengthen them to avoid the dangerous climate change that we are united in fearing.
Although the 2050 targets have rightly been strengthened, the 2020 target has been left untouched. We have not been able to put that right this evening. I know that the Secretary of State accepts that the end point is all very well but that how we get there, and especially how fast, is important. I hope that the Government will revisit that.
The other big concern that remains is the lack of clarity on the domestic effort required to achieve the goals. Although we have ambitious targets, many of them could be brought in without any decarbonisation of the British economy. Clearly, we should not follow that path and we would have welcomed some guarantees about that. I know that Ministers would have offered them, if we had had the opportunity, but it was not to be.
Influences on the Bill have come from inside and outside the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and I have benefited hugely from the expertise of Friends of the Earth and many other campaigning organisations. They may even have helped us draft the odd amendment.
Colin Challen: I would like to add my welcome to the Bill. It will have an enormous impact on the way in which we order our economy and how the Government work. I am not sure that many people have assimilated that yet. In this place, we are often accused of short-termism; perhaps we are considering the first Bill about long-termism, and that is a good thing.
However, if our constituents experience floods and water lapping around their living rooms and we say that perhaps a wind farm is the solution, we will be hit by the sort of short-term requirements that all politicians face when their constituents suffer a crisis. The battle has therefore only just begun, because our long-term vision has yet to be sold to the public, who currently face other difficulties. In that sense, it is the worst time to talk about a long-term vision.
I hope that we will vigorously insist that the Bill is given the means to reach fruition and that we do not hold back on budgets. Nick Stern has doubled his assessment of how much we need to spend to tackle climate change to 2 per cent. We need to examine the figures and ask all Departments to reconsider the way in which they order their budgets when tackling climate change.
Mr. Gummer: The crucial aspect of the Bill is that it sets up a Committee that has a genuine effect on not only the Government but the Opposition. It will no longer be possible for anyone to give a short-term answer to climate change issues. We should all recognise that, if we dislike what the Government propose, we must have an alternative that will deliver the same end. We have never previously had that in British politics because we have not been in a situation that binds our successors. The technique of creating the independent committee is crucial to the good governance of Britain in circumstances in which the traditional mechanisms do not fit the time scale of climate change. The Bill is therefore crucial and utterly different. I believe that the vote tonight will show that our system is capable of adapting even to the biggest threat to mankind that we have faced, in a knowledgeable sense, at any time. I therefore believe that we should be proud to be present and voting.
Mr. Lilley: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that we are passing the Climate Change Bill, which is based on the supposition that the climate is getting warmer, let me point out that it is now snowing outside, in October.
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