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5 Nov 2009 : Column 1039

Mr. Weir: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I agree with much of it. However, does he not agree that there is a bigger danger in not coming to an agreement in Copenhagen-not for those engaged with the climate change debate, but for the vast majority of people who have simply been told that we need to do this? If we come away from Copenhagen without an agreement, what will the impact be on them?

Mark Lazarowicz: The impact on everyone in the entire world community will be serious, regardless of whether they are personally involved. That emphasises the need for an agreement to be reached at Copenhagen.

Mr. Lilley: The hon. Gentleman seems extraordinarily complacent, like everyone else who has spoken so far, about the fact that the proportion of people concerned about climate change in this country is now lower than in any other country in the world and has fallen by one third over the past year. Why does he suppose that this is so, and why does he ignore it?

Dr. Whitehead: It's because of people like you.

Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend, from a sedentary position, suggests that people such as the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) might have a role to play in that situation. The right hon. Gentleman's observation is not my experience. I see in my constituency growing interest in such issues. Interestingly, even during an economic recession, when traditionally people are more interested in bread-and-butter issues of the economy than in saving the planet and climate change, I find that people are still as interested as they were a year or two ago. I believe that public concern is greater than ever before. That is the basis on which I proceed in Parliament and my constituency.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Although I might take a different view on the broader issue from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), I, too, think that the hon. Gentleman is being complacent about the level of public engagement. It is a very major issue for a minority of people, but it has impinged very little on the vast majority of people. Does he have any thoughts on why we have not been more successful as a society-I do not want to make a partisan point about the Government-in increasing understanding of the risks threatening us? I say risks without wanting to play down the uncertainties.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am in danger of being diverted from the main thrust of my argument down a road that, although dealing with an important point, perhaps does not deal with the essential point that I want to make. In so far as what the hon. Gentleman said is the case, it is up to political leaders-Members of Parliament and Governments-to try to get the message across. However, my experience is that the public concern is still there and I do not think that it will go away. Indeed, the realities of what is happening in the outside world as a result of climate change will always bring the issue back into political debate as a central part of demands for action.

Given our importance in Parliament as politicians representing the wider community, it is also important that we are not, to coin a phrase, too complacent. It is
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good to have the degree of consensus that exists in the Chamber today, but we should always be wary of allowing political consensus not so much to mask genuine divisions, but to lead us into failing to recognise that we need to make difficult choices as political parties, or that we cannot always find an easy solution on climate change that will please everybody.

I do not want to reopen the discussion that took place in the Chamber on Tuesday, but there were times in the debate on the private Member's Bill dealing with wind turbines when some hon. Members seemed to be trying to have it both ways, by jumping on the bandwagon of opposing wind turbines, but at the same time professing their commitment to tackling climate change. We cannot continue indefinitely in a world where we are in favour of tackling climate change, but at the same time are against wind turbines or in favour of airport expansion or whatever policy we regard from our position as more important than tackling climate change. Politicians also have a role to play in being honest with the electorate, which might answer the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) about how we re-engage the public on the issue.

However, my intention was not to introduce too much discord into this debate, even though I appear to have provoked some. I want to accentuate the positive in our discussions in the Chamber so far and the opportunities of reaching an agreement internationally. In many respects great progress has been made internationally. Mention has been made of the change in the positions of the Japanese and Australian Governments. Although the US Administration's position is problematic, to put it mildly, last year's change in the US Administration nevertheless had effected a dramatic change to the background to the international negotiations on tackling climate change.

As the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in one of his interventions, if we can start turning the world round towards a low-carbon economy, we may be able to move much more quickly in that direction than some people appreciate. If we find that we can do that more easily than some people thought, we will be able to accelerate progress towards the change in our economic system and our lifestyles that is required.

Equally, as the hon. Member for East Surrey emphasised, there will be serious issues if we do not get progress at Copenhagen. We are running out of time. If the world does not come to a serious agreement within the next few months, we will undoubtedly reach the point not where we are talking about a 2° C rise in temperatures, but where even a 4° C rise might seem on the low side. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, if we are in that situation, we are talking about irreversible damage and destruction to civilisation, the planet and our very species. That must always be a reminder to us all of the urgency of reaching a decision and a comprehensive and substantial agreement at Copenhagen and in the months thereafter.

2.24 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Let me first declare an interest. I represent a constituency with 74 miles of coastline. Therefore, I sometimes feel that I am talking about a local concern. Like the right hon.
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Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I also need to make an apology, in that I may not be here for the wind-ups. I have apologised to the Minister for that.

We have to start by accepting that climate change is a symptom of an unsupportable way of living that we, as the human race, have developed. It has become unsupportable because we have democratised it. It is possible for a few people to live totally selfishly, but that is increasingly impossible if we all operate as if we have a planet and a quarter-or three planets, if we continue in this way because it is a fact of life that democracy and the spreading of wealth demands more from our planet than it can support.

Therefore, we must recognise that, although climate change may be the thing that is prodding us, we have to find an answer to a series of things that demand a change in our lifestyle, and not only in the rich countries but throughout the world. Now that there are more middle-class people in India than in western Europe, we have to recognise that the issue is not about rich countries and poor countries, but about those who consume huge amounts and those who do not, who may both be in the same poor country.

We also have to recognise that we are under a security pressure. We should not kid ourselves about this: we are dependent for our energy on five of the least stable countries in the world. That is not a very sensible position to be in, and any sane person would try to move away from it. Whatever our views about climate change-one of my right hon. Friends will no doubt put forward his views, with which I deeply disagree-they do not matter. They do not matter because we will have to act anyway, so let us get off that argument and on to how we achieve that end. One way is to recognise the interrelationship of all the issues-what happens in the forest and what happens in the oceans, which are being destroyed by the pollution that we are putting into them. All that has to be faced in a joined-up way.

What are the challenges? First, there is a huge challenge in our view for the rest of the world. We have a historical responsibility for what is happening. Not only is a bigger proportion of current climate change the fault of us here in Britain, because of our leadership in the industrial revolution, but the way in which we operate has changed our relationship with nature, and many of the important decisions were ones that our experts and leaders made. Let us therefore face that responsibility. We have grabbed too great a share of what the planet can carry.

That means that we ought to recognise that we must make it possible not only for us to meet our responsibilities, but for others to meet theirs. That is why I said to the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe that those two things must always be said together if we are to get support from developing countries. However, not only should we think about rich countries and poor countries, or rich people and poor people within the same country; we should also remember that there is an overall concept of social justice, which is crucial if we are to deliver what we need to deliver at Copenhagen.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I know that my right hon. Friend is not always a huge enthusiast for the workings of the Church of England, but will he take this opportunity
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to congratulate the Archbishop of Canterbury on his leadership in bringing together representatives of all the main faiths in the United Kingdom to produce a document that calls for tackling climate change as a moral imperative?

Mr. Gummer: I am certainly happy to do that, and I hope that my hon. Friend will also congratulate His Holiness the Pope on doing precisely the same thing on a world basis.

If I may say so, I was a little unhappy about the mutterings from the Secretary of State, whom I much admire, when he complained that Keynes, Hayek and Thatcher were all quoted together. I will take any support for what is so magnificent a quest, and we should be interested that so many great minds have committed themselves to dealing with the issues before us. So, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), and his point leads me to say that, even in regard to small things, we need to face these facts.

I must declare an interest: I am the chairman of a water company, one of whose subsidiaries is the only water company to be allowed compulsory metering. The reason for that is that we do not have any water. I refused to have compulsory metering until there was a socially fair tariff, because we cannot ask poor people to carry a heavier burden than those who are rich. We therefore have to accept that social justice is an essential part of delivering the climate change solutions that we need, and we need to ensure that that happens in every part of the world- [ Interruption. ] If I may say so, those smug faces on the Labour Back Benches should recognise that social justice is not a private deal among certain kinds of Labour Members. There are many people on both sides of the House who have talked about and worked for social justice all their political lives, so let us have a little less of that. We have to do this together in our various ways. Some of us happen to think that capitalism delivers social justice more effectively than other systems. That is a matter of argument, but let us face the fact that our aim must be the same. It is better not to belittle others when they happen to put their views forward.

That is also important in recognising the problem of population. Those who have read The Economist this week will have seen the interesting articles on the fertility rate. There are now two major parts of India-Tamil Nadu and Kerala-in which the population is not reduplicating itself, and the birth rate is below two children per family. The reason for that is the improvement in the standard of living. The only way to deal with the population issue is to recognise that it is not a question of telling poor people not to have more children; rather, it is about making poor people rich enough not to need them.

Barry Gardiner: I heartily endorse the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. Is he aware that Kerala is also the state with the highest literacy rate in India, and that for every two years that a girl stays on in education, she has one fewer child?

Mr. Gummer: As the hon. Gentleman suggests, as people's economic position improves, they are able to see how to improve their family life in ways other than having enough children to bring in the harvest and to
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look after the older generation because there is no alternative. That is a crucial issue, and women's education is at the heart of it.

It is necessary for us to take the moral high ground, but that should not stop us thinking about the self-interest involved. If Britain wants to be in the same position in the future that the industrial revolution put us into in the past, we really must accept the green revolution. That was the whole burden of the report produced by the Quality of Life group, which I had the honour to chair. The report made it clear that there was an economic imperative to deliver a low-carbon economy.

The thing that worries me is that the United States is now beginning to understand that, and that it can win. Indeed, business in the United States is well ahead of the present Administration in that regard, and light years ahead of ex-Vice President Cheney. If we do not keep up, that latecomer will corner the very markets that ought to be ours. We ought to remember this serious self-interest-as long as we do not forget that the first and foremost issue is our moral responsibility towards the rest of the world, and towards our children and grandchildren.

That approach demands leadership, and we need to recognise how difficult it is for some people to show such leadership. After all, the United States has a large number of people who do not believe in climate change, and half its population do not believe in evolution. It is very difficult to deal with people with that kind of attitude. Just try talking to members of the Democratic Unionist party on this issue: they do not believe that life goes back more than 80,000 years, so it is impossible to talk to them about 400,000 years of proof that the climate is changing. We clearly have problems in this country, but there are certainly greater problems in the United States.

Business is demanding action, however, and this is why I want to support the point made earlier to the Secretary of State that Copenhagen is crucial for business. Businesses want to know that, when they invest, that investment will be honoured, if I may put it like that. Therefore, in the discussions ahead it is important to have an all-party consensus-there are one or two people who have a different view; that is perfectly all right; there are always a few on the fringes-but achieving that consensus must not stop us from trying to help the Minister of state move further forward.

When I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I was much helped by Greenpeace. At the time, the Labour party was not frightfully keen on the environment-I am sorry to say that there was not much pressure from the Labour party then-so I was pressured by Greenpeace. That helped me to say to my Cabinet colleagues, "Look, we really have got to move"-otherwise, they would not have seen why. Similarly, we have to help the Minister now, so I hope she will not mind my saying that there one or two things that I think the Government could do very soon-I hope in advance of Copenhagen-to show that we are doing at home some of the things that we ought to be doing.

I will not go back to the issue of the third runway for London airport, except to say that I find it incredible that anyone seriously still wants to go ahead with that in the circumstances of climate change. I hope that the Minister will recognise that a bit more joined-up government would help. I received a letter from the Department for
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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explaining why it is in general in favour of doing something about hydrofluorocarbons, but not quite at the moment and not altogether, and perhaps there will be this and that. Industry is stopping using HFCs, so why cannot we follow and simply say that we will not have HFCs after a certain date and we will be leaders in Europe on that issue? The answer is no because there are many people low down in all sorts of ministries finding what I have always called "better not Ministers' answers" to all these things. That is why I ask the Minister to do all she can to try to make us more joined-up about these matters.

I thought it a pity not to accept the 10:10. I felt that that gave out the wrong signal. It was the wrong signal when talking about biodiversity and the marine world to say that we would not protect ecosystems. The Government must be more careful to try to give the right signals on every issue. I say that as someone who has been a staunch supporter of the big things that the Government have done and as someone who will not attack Ministers for the work they have done, as recognised throughout the world. It helps, however, if one is prepared to say some of those things about the wrong signals.

When it comes to the Liberal Democrats, it helps if some of us tell them that it is no longer any good saying that we are prepared to fight climate change on every basis except nuclear power. When they say, "We can have everything else, but not nuclear power", it suggests that nuclear power is somehow worse than climate change. I do not think that nuclear power is enough: I have two nuclear power stations in my constituency and I am looking forward to having two more, and my locality is in favour of it. I do not mind all that. Let us face it, nuclear is an interim measure, but I just think that we have to support all the things that we need to have.

Simon Hughes rose-

Mr. Gummer: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have had this argument with him before. He is wrong, and I am sorry about it, but one day he will find out why he is wrong. The fundamental reason why he is wrong is that we cannot afford to put second-order issues in front of the major issue that lies before us.

That brings me to saying a few words about the Treasury. The Treasury is endemically opposed to any long-term decisions about anything. I remember winning the battle over the landfill tax when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and believed in it. I recall being there when he turned to one of those superior mandarins and said, "I am very sorry, but we are going to do it. I do not care. I am in favour of pushing the market, which is what a tax on landfill would do". I saw the awful look on the face of the mandarin who had finally been caught out and told, "We're going to do this, because it's right; we're going to do it because it is necessary in the long term". That kind of decision making is what we need in the Government today. That is why I am always sorry that a Treasury Minister is not compulsorily placed on the Treasury Bench, which would force him to listen to this debate.

What a pity it is, too, that all those people up in the Press Gallery who chat about the minutiae and bits and pieces of the Westminster village, who write about all the silliness and who make all the jokes, are not here
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today to report the real issue. This is the real issue. We know exactly why the public are not frightened about climate change as they ought to be: it is because the press have ceased to realise that, as Lord Reith rightly recognised, part of their job is to inform people about matters that are important in a form that enables them to understand.

Mr. Lilley: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer: I will not, because I do not have enough time.

Mr. Lilley: My right hon. Friend has mentioned me a number of times.

Mr. Gummer: If I give way now, I will not be given any extra time.

I want to say something very hard to the Government. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been brave in many ways, but the Department for Transport is about as brave as a chicken. It finds it terribly difficult to move on anything. Indeed, Ministers in Departments across the board are not moving at the same speed as the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

I say this to the Minister of State: if we are to lead in Europe-and my goodness, we need to be in Europe and be an active part of the European Union in order to achieve these ends-we really must show people that we are doing more at home than we are at present. Let us try to match our words abroad with the reality of courage back at home. I ask the Minister to pledge a simple word: courage. Courage now, courage tomorrow, courage every day. That means asking what is the brave, right thing to do, rather than what is the electorally easy thing to do, even in the run-up to a general election.

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