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19 Nov 2008 : Column 85WH—continued

Moving away from hydrocarbons will give us greater price stability and security as well as greener energy. It is by relying continually on hydrocarbons that we end up with the problems of price instability and less security. We are on the verge of an incredible new age of innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention. The car companies are working to reinvent motor cars and to meet the challenges of powering them differently. Other work is being done on small things such as eliminating standby buttons because of the energy that they use. Typically, standby buttons, which were a matter of great debate a couple of years ago, now use less power for a period of weeks than it takes to boil a kettle once. Enormous work is being done to transform our world and how we live. This is an exciting opportunity. We should not be
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worried about going down the route that we are on, because business itself sees it as an amazing opportunity, and at the end of the day, we should be aware that the consequences for most of us of doing nothing are much greater than the consequences of taking action now.

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) on obtaining this debate, which has been absolutely fascinating. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), with whose speech I agree entirely.

We as a Government stand by the Stern review, which estimates that the costs and risks of not acting to tackle climate change will be equivalent to losing 5 to 20 per cent. of global GDP each year, now and for ever. In contrast, the costs of taking global action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change are expected to be only about 1 per cent. of global GDP by 2050. In response to the question that I was asked, the UK Government have undertaken subsequent analysis that confirms Stern’s estimates. The modelling shows that the cost of action will vary between 1 per cent. for a 550 parts per million stabilisation goal and 3 per cent. for a 450 parts per million stabilisation goal. The costs are significant—nobody disputes that—but we believe that they are manageable against the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Mr. Tyrie: Will the Minister give way?

Joan Ruddock: I will not give way. I have so little time, and everyone else has spoken.

It is important to understand that Stern was producing an analysis not for the UK but for the world, and his arguments need to be understood from a global perspective. The Stern review sets out a framework for reducing emissions, and UK policy is fully in line with it, as highlighted in the Government’s response to the review published last year. First, we have put a price on carbon not only through emissions trading and taxation but implicitly through regulation. Secondly, we are implementing the right technology policy, including investing £400 million to support the commercialisation of low-carbon technologies between now and 2011. Thirdly, we are removing the barriers to behavioural change through measures such as the carbon emissions reduction target and the “Act on CO2”campaign.

However—this is an important point—the case for action does not rest on the Stern review alone. Indeed, the Government have been committed to the climate change agenda and emissions mitigation since 1997, well before the report was produced. The case for action has been demonstrated by overwhelming scientific evidence, notably that brought together by the intergovernmental panel on climate change and representing the consensus of thousands of scientists worldwide based on peer-reviewed research. That process, despite what has been said today, has been widely acclaimed as an example of comprehensive, thorough and fair assessment of a complex scientific problem.

We believe that the Stern review’s analysis and policy conclusions have stood up well to scrutiny. In particular, sensitivity analysis shows that Stern’s main conclusion that the costs of strong action are less than the costs of
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damage avoided and its policy implications about the need for rapid action are robust to a range of assumptions suggested by critics. The sensitivity work has been published and is available to download from the review’s website. I hope that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in this debate will take the trouble to work through the responses to the various critics whom they have quoted.

I was asked about the different discount rates. There are two main reasons why Stern used a different discount rate to estimate the costs of climate change from that used, for example, by the Treasury in the Green Book. First, because the choice on whether to undertake global action on climate change involves large and irreversible intergenerational impacts, Stern concluded that it would not be ethically defensible to discount—that is, to attach less importance to—the impacts on future generations simply because they will have been born at a later point. Secondly, Stern did not apply a single fixed discount rate, as has been suggested, but varied it according to the prosperity of future generations in the different models used. That is because we should attach a greater value to the welfare of future generations who are relatively poor than to the welfare of those who are relatively rich.

Alternative approaches advocated by critics place very low values on future impacts, which means that they do not care about passing on far greater costs to future generations. The Government believe that the approach taken by Stern is appropriate and reflects how most people feel about the sort of world that we should leave to our children and grandchildren. Put simply, those who do not care about the future do not care about climate change. We care about the future, so we believe firmly that it is imperative to act on climate change, and to act now.

The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden referred to the impact assessment and made various criticisms, to which I shall respond. He correctly mentioned the benefits, which were calculated to be in the range of £82 billion to £110 billion, but there is significant uncertainty about costs in looking forward to 2050. He referred to costs of £205 billion, but did not mention that the range of costs was from £30 billion to £205 billion. The cost of £205 billion would arise only if there were no technological innovation beyond 2010. I believe that that is a conservative estimate based on an unrealistic
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scenario. There will be huge innovation and technological change, so arguably that estimate is far too conservative. The estimated costs also did not take account of the potential for international trading, which could significantly lower the costs of action, benefiting the UK as well as developing countries. Even for the most pessimistic cost scenario, which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, estimates are consistent with the Stern review findings that costs will be 1 per cent. of GDP, plus or minus 3 per cent., by 2050.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we would update our impact assessment. We plan to do so; the updated assessment will be done next month. It will draw on the new evidence from the Committee on Climate Change and new Government research and will be updated to incorporate the 80 per cent. reduction target and the move to include all greenhouse gases. The shadow Committee has already produced new evidence, which will be incorporated in the impact assessment, and its interim advice suggests that costs will be between 1 and 2 per cent. of GDP in 2050, in line with the Stern range.

We have also developed new evidence on the air quality impacts of action on climate change. Improvements in air quality resulting from meeting the 80 per cent. target will benefit us to the tune of £3 billion a year in 2050. Clearly, that needs to be taken into account, as does the method for valuing carbon, which is also under review. That is likely to increase significantly the valuation of the benefits of reductions delivered by the Climate Change Bill. A great deal of change will be taken into account, as will the advice of the shadow Committee.

Much was made of criticisms of the science. I think that they have been answered by the two previous speakers. We are absolutely convinced. I am a scientist myself, and if I had to weigh up the huge numbers of scientists and the IPPC’s peer review process against a few critics, I know where I would put my scientific trust. Temperature rises over the decade have indeed been small, but we must look at a much longer period. When we do so, we see that temperature rise is well under way, as are sea level rises. Climate change poses a real and terrible danger, so we need action to tackle it. We are demonstrating that resolve through the Climate Change Bill. It is in our interests to obtain a global agreement. That is the way to address the threats to this country and to the poorest people on the planet.

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RAF Operations

11 am

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mr. Atkinson, to have this debate under your chairmanship. It is also a pleasure to have the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) in his place. He is an experienced Minister, having served on the Select Committee on Defence. During his service on that Select Committee, he earned the reputation of being a forensic investigator. If nothing else, I simply ask today that he goes away from this debate and asks a series of detailed questions.

I start by paying tribute to Colour Sergeant Dura from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who unfortunately was killed in Afghanistan last weekend. I had the honour to serve with the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles in Bosnia in 2001. Colour Sergeant Dura was a fearsome soldier and he will be sadly missed by the battalion.

It is absolutely right that I should pay tribute to the Royal Air Force and the service that it has provided in both Afghanistan and Iraq in supporting our troops. I intend to focus on the Harrier force in this debate—I have given the Minister advance warning that I intend to focus solely on the Joint Force Harrier—and it has been doing a sterling job, rightly earning a reputation as being very much the soldier’s friend in Afghanistan.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): As someone who is serving on the RAF parliamentary scheme this year and who is due to be in theatre with the RAF shortly, I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute and saying thank you to the RAF for all that it is doing on behalf of our country overseas.

Mr. Lancaster: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the RAF is doing a sterling job, as I have just said. In many ways, it is for that reason that I have called this debate today.

Of course, there are broader issues concerning the future of the Joint Force Harrier. The Royal Navy is very concerned about where the force is heading, its out-of-service date, the impact that that date may have on future air carriers, and so forth. However, that is very much a debate for another day. As I have already said, today I want to focus on the proposals to withdraw the Joint Force Harrier from Afghanistan from 1 April 2009. I believe that that proposed withdrawal is a very grave mistake and I question the motivation behind it, but I will come to that issue of motivation later.

The first obvious question to ask is: why are we due to withdraw the Joint Force Harrier from Afghanistan from next year? In answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister for the Armed Forces said that

So far, I absolutely agree with that. He goes on:

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It is the second half of that statement that I have concerns about. I now intend to go into some detail about those concerns, which are based on capability, finance, the impact on personnel, particularly in terms of the harmony guidelines, and also the impact that this deployment will have on air frames and the serviceability of the fleet in the long term, to show why I think that this deployment of Tornadoes is a mistake.

First, I want to address the issue of capability. A recurring theme in this debate will be the answers that I have received to parliamentary questions or, perhaps crucially, the answers that I have not received to parliamentary questions, because it is pretty clear that, if my questions had been answered, those answers would be distinctly unhelpful to the Ministry of Defence when it comes to determining the future role of the Harrier. After a series of parliamentary questions in which I asked what were the similar capabilities of the Harrier and the Tornado GR4, which is due to replace the Harrier, I was told that they have similar capabilities. Unfortunately, that is simply not true. I do not intend to go into great detail, but I will shortly be passing a document to the Minister on this subject.

For example, from a weapons point of view—I will not go into detail, as it would not be helpful in a public debate—of the six weapons systems that are carried on the Harrier, four cannot currently be carried on a Tornado. Indeed, one of the biggest impacts that we will see is on the degree of proportionality. The Tornado, which is due to replace the Harrier, seems very much to be an all or nothing option. Also, the Harrier has a series of close air support options fitted to it. In fact, of the eight specialist items on a Harrier for close air support, four will not be available for the Tornado.

To be fair, that gap is due to be filled in part, because about £40 million-worth of urgent operational requirements are due to be fitted to the Tornado to try to close that gap and to enable the Tornado to meet the theatre entry standards. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm exactly how many of the Tornado GR4s will be fitted to theatre entry standard by 1 April and, crucially, whether all of those upgrades will be available from the first day of entry, because my understanding is that it may be some time—some months, in fact—before the gap has been filled completely. That will mean that we will be accepting quite a degree of risk when the Tornado first enters service in Afghanistan. There are other risks over in-flight refuelling, which it would be equally inappropriate to go into detail about. Indeed, there are also problems when it comes to take-off for Tornadoes in the sort of environment that exists in Afghanistan. I want to pass to the Minister the document that I am referring to, so that, when he replies, he can look at the details in it and at least confirm that I am correct in what I am saying.

There is another even more alarming area; indeed, it is deeply disturbing. I have been asking questions about the ground abort rate of Harriers in theatre. In layman’s terms, the ground abort rate is how often we call on an aircraft, whether a Tornado or a Harrier, which is then scrambled but, for some reason or another, simply does not get into the air. When I asked this question about ground abort rate, I was told that the information that I requested was not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. I find that amazing,
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because I have those figures in front of me. They are held centrally and I am more than happy to pass them to the Minister in a second, at no cost whatsoever.

I will not go into the details of ground abort rates, but suffice to say that at the moment the Harrier is operating at a 0.34 per cent. ground abort rate. Therefore, only about four in every 1,000 times that we call on a Harrier to go on a mission in Afghanistan it cannot take off, because of some technical problem. By comparison, the Tornado GR4 is operating at a ground abort rate of 11.6 per cent. Therefore, more than one in 10 times that a Tornado is scrambled on operations, it simply fails to get off the ground. If that is the case, why are we replacing eight Harriers with eight Tornadoes? Why are we accepting that one in 10 times a Tornado will not get off the ground and therefore one in 10 times it will not get to serve our soldiers on the ground on the front line? Is the Minister really happy to take that risk? In fact, the ground abort rate for Tornadoes peaked last month at 12.7 per cent., so this problem is getting worse, not better. I would also like to pass this summary to the Minister, so that he can confirm or deny this information, which apparently is not held centrally.

So, from a capability point of view, I have tried to demonstrate that we are taking a severe risk in replacing the Harrier with the Tornado on the front line in Afghanistan. From a financial point of view, does it make sense financially to replace the Harrier with the Tornado? Let us look at where we are already, and this information comes from parliamentary questions that have been answered. So far, we have spent on the Harrier about £20 million on urgent operational requirements to improve its performance and potentially we have £42 million that we could spend on it. We have already spent £728 million on upgrading the Harrier to capability E, which was effectively to improve its performance specifically for roles in Afghanistan. We have also spent £112 million on the new Mk 107 engine, which is specifically designed to operate in hot climates. Therefore a total of £860 million has been spent on honing the Harrier’s performance for service in Afghanistan, and we have an average running cost of about £30 million.

Having spent all that money to get the Harrier to the level of performance that we desperately need in Afghanistan, why are we now withdrawing it? I have already mentioned that we have to spend at least £40 million on the Tornado under urgent operational requirements, just to get it to a very basic level. There will then be ongoing running costs of £31 million to keep the Tornado in theatre. The Minister will know that a National Audit Office report is being compiled, the results of which should be available in two or three weeks. They entirely undermine, from a financial point of view, the decision to replace the Harrier with the Tornado. It makes no financial sense whatever, but hon. Members need not take my word for that; they can take the NAO’s word for it when the report is published.

On personnel, much of the argument seems to be about the impact on pilots, their families and the joint force of the fact that the aircraft has been on continual operations since September 2004. I think that was the date given in a parliamentary answer. Harmony guidelines for the RAF are that people should be on operations for four months in 20. A simple ratio would be that we require 55 Harrier pilots to sustain having 11 pilots on
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operation at any one time. I have calculated that using a four-in-20 rule, so I have simply multiplied by five the number of Harrier pilots in theatre.

The pilots are the most restricted of the personnel. Engineers will almost never do four months on an operational tour. When the MOD talks about harmony breaches for the Harrier force, it is almost entirely to do with pilots, rather than the whole force, so we are talking about a small number of people. As a rule of thumb, the maximum tour length for a Harrier pilot on a front-line squadron is only three years. Within that three-year period, a pilot might do only two four-month tours.

Front-line squadrons at RAF Cottesmore have a total of 48 pilots, which is seven short of the 55 required to ensure that harmony guidelines are met. However, the extra seven are relatively easy to find, as the number does not include the force commander, the deputy force commander and the stan-eval—standards and evaluation—officer. Those three officers are additional pilots who are available within the Harrier force and all of whom go to theatre to fly. The further shortfall of four pilots is made up from the operational conversion unit at RAF Wittering, which does not deploy on operations as a squadron, and routinely supplies four of its 16 pilots to augment the operational force. Harmony is therefore being achieved, despite claims to the contrary.

I have asked, in a parliamentary question, how many pilots we need to maintain harmony with 11 in theatre, and it is fascinating that my question, again, magically remains unanswered. Even without the current seven-pilot mitigation, pilots would go from a four-month to a 4.8-month tour in 20, which would be an increase of only three to four weeks in their three-year maximum tour length. So, we are talking about a handful of people having an extra three weeks in theatre, but that seems to be the crux of the argument as to why the Harrier is being withdrawn. Is the Minister really basing the reasoning behind withdrawing the Harrier on those considerations?

Interestingly, the whole harmony question would be completely removed if only six aircraft were deployed. There were six initially, until a night capability was identified. Since then, other multinational air assets have entered the theatre, and it is questionable as to whether eight Harriers are required. I have asked a parliamentary question on that and am still due an answer. I realise, of course, that the answers will be unhelpful. Sometimes, we get parliamentary answers that are entirely wrong.

I asked a parliamentary question about how long the Harrier force had been

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