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"The worst thing that can happen during the 1980s is not energy depletion, economic collapse, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendents are least likely to forgive us."
He said that about 15 years ago, when rain forest destruction was in its infancy-it is 10-times worse today. However, like other scientists, and his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, he has a solution: to make the forests more alive than dead. We can harness the power of markets and global capitalism to save the world's forests. The Darwin initiative shows that 41,000 hectares of rain forest have been protected in Indonesia using market forces.
The point of my speech is to say to the Government that the one deal that they must do in Copenhagen next month is on concerted action to save the world's rain forests. I believe that a rain forest plan is on the agenda. We need not conventional overseas aid, but a new, verifiable and rapid system of carbon credits, properly and legitimately traded on the world market. Those countries with rain forests have a natural resource that the world needs-we need them, so we should pay for them and save them. Those of us who produce carbon should therefore pay those who have carbon sinks. That is not rocket science: we know that it can work-there
have already been experiments-and we can easily police it with modern technology. What we now need is international action, led by the Prime Minister in Copenhagen, to make it work.
The cost of halving deforestation is estimated at £25 billion over the next five years, but the Government's Eliasch review estimated that the benefits of saving our forests could be as much as £2.5 trillion. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe gave me the incredible privilege of negotiating at the Earth summit in Rio in 1992, with him and the then Prime Minister joining us for the concluding week of the conference, forests were also on the agenda.
In 1992, the concern was that India was burning huge amounts of local timber for domestic fuel consumption and contributing to carbon emissions. I am therefore concerned to read that we are building large wood-fired power stations in the UK and importing the timber to fuel them. If the wood being burned is waste wood, then okay. If thinnings and willow coppice are being burned for power, probably with garbage added too, then I am happy with that. However, if we are stripping our northern hemisphere forests, which are also carbon sinks, I will be concerned, because we could be doing the wrong thing and being hypocritical.
If in the next few months the Government want to show that they are doing things to be on the side of the angels, they should come back from Copenhagen with a deal on saving the rain forests. We should forget about the rest of the measures in the Queen's Speech and concentrate on the climate change agenda and the world's rain forests. Later today or tomorrow, I shall put down an early-day motion on the Prince's Rainforests Project, which I urge colleagues to sign. He says at the end of his booklet:
"If we lose the battle against tropical deforestation, we lose the battle against climate change. Please join me in trying to save the rainforests-for the sake of our children and grandchildren."
"In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy."
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean), who made not only an eloquent speech on Copenhagen and deforestation, but a moving speech. I have always admired the way that he speaks and have always told him that privately, although I have always been a little bashful about following him. I should also say-he did not say this himself-that, so far as I am aware, that was his last speech in the debate on the Loyal Address, and the same is true for the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The points made by the right hon. Gentleman in the early-day motion that he will table will be well received and thoughtful, and contribute enormously to the debate.
I would add in passing that the Leader of the Opposition invited the Prime Minister to introduce a Bill to implement Sir Christopher Kelly's report and his recommendations. Sir Christopher Kelly has made 66 recommendations. I defy any Member to say at this stage that they have read
them all-even I have had some difficulty getting through them all. However, the Leader of the Opposition did not point out that Sir Thomas Legg is carrying out a review of five years of allowances that will be published on about 14 December. He also did not refer to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which the House agreed to almost unanimously in the summer. That new independent parliamentary body will take out of Members' hands the right to have any say whatever on their allowances, with a statutory requirement to consult a series of bodies. All that has been designed to take allowances out of the controversial arena of public opinion, so that we can get to a general election and fight it on the issues in the Gracious Speech.
Mr. MacShane: I wish that the Leader of the Opposition were still here, although I pay tribute to him for staying for some of the speeches. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Dutch auction on parliamentary allowances and expenses between our respective party leaders cannot continue? Each of them has tried to be a bit more sanctimonious and holier-than-thou than the others. The issue had no impact on the Glasgow election last week, or on council by-elections. It is time for us to shut up about the matter and let Sir Christopher's suggestions be considered by IPSA. If we do that, we might begin to make some progress.
Sir Stuart Bell: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. All opinion polls show that, when asked which issues concern them most, only 8 per cent. of people say that they are worried about the allowances of Members of Parliament. When they are asked about their specific Member of Parliament, only 4 per cent. disapprove of what he or she is doing. I concur entirely with my right hon. Friend that a period of silence from all party leaders would be helpful, because they have not helped: in fact, they have weakened the institution of Parliament, which seeks to hold the Executive to account. If I may say so-I do so with some reluctance-I believe that other people in positions of seniority in the House might also feel that we should leave those matters to IPSA.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats talked about electoral reform-another topic that will rise in the political scene as we approach a general election. We live in the modern era, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) also referred to electoral reform, so it is clear that it is a major issue that we will have to face at some time. However, the essence of electoral reform is not only to bring us closer to our constituents and citizens, but to ensure that the House maintains its sovereign authority.
In speaking about today's Gracious Speech, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many other world issues, and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border talked about Copenhagen. Those are the major issues of our time, and they can be dealt with in this House by hon. Members holding the Executive to account. As the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe noted, the more we weaken the institution, the more we remove its powers, and the weaker we become, the less able we will be to represent our constituents and look after their interests. If we are to go down the road of electoral reform, it is extremely important that this
institution is strengthened. [ Interruption. ] I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (John McFall) is following my speech with the greatest care, as I followed his. He made a number of statements that of course I fully accept and support. He talked about big government being followed by little government, and that reminded me of a conversation that I had many years ago with Sheikh Yamani-the oil sheikh out of Saudi Arabia-who said that, if a person has one leg in ice water, it does not help him much to put the other one in boiling water. Big government may not be the flavour of the day, but that does not mean that little government will be better. We must be very careful about moving from one extreme to another.
Sir Stuart Bell: Yes, and that reminds me of the statement by Maynard Keynes that in the long term we are all dead. Economic forecasters have lots of ways to explain and describe where we are, but none of it makes much difference in the real world.
I return to the Gracious Speech, which gives the Government of the day an opportunity to set out their stall. What could be better than a stall that will ensure sustained growth and the delivery of a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses? Even though this parliamentary programme may be limited to no more than 70 days, the Government have set out a stall that is based on conviction. The Government can be a force for good, with a programme that seeks to ensure the end of the global economic downturn in our country and rebuild prosperity on the basis of a fair society.
It has been said that Conservative peers in the other place may try to halt the passage of legislation from this House, because the general election will be no later than next June. I note that neither of the Opposition leaders actually followed that line, but the Lords might, if that is their inclination, remind themselves of Harry Truman's presidential campaign in 1948, when he criticised a "do nothing" Congress that held up his Bills. He won the election. If there were opposition to some of the legislative proposals in the Gracious Speech and attempts to block measures such as those to enable wider provision of free personal care to those with the highest care needs, to introduce guarantees for pupils and parents to raise educational standards or to try to protect communities by ensuring that parents take responsibility for their children's antisocial behaviour, the public might reach their own conclusions about which party cared more for the society in which they live and which party had a true sense of natural justice and really believed in a fair society.
The measures outlined in the Gracious Speech will advance our citizens along the paths of natural justice and fairness. There are welcome measures to reinforce, reinvigorate and strengthen regulation of the financial services industry to ensure greater protection for savers and taxpayers. The proposition of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) in today's Times that there should be a 10 per cent. levy on bank profits has not been taken up by the Liberal Democrat Opposition leader, although he did take up other proposals, such as the separation of investment banks from retail banks-the so-called Glass-Steagall proposals that were referred to earlier. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire, the Chairman of the Treasury Committee,
who is following my remarks with great interest, mentioned a number of proposals for necessary banking reforms. He did not mention securitisation and the need for banks to get back on that route, which is being looked at carefully and will help to put the banking system back on to an even keel.
While we are talking about the banking sector and bank bonuses, we should remember that not one depositor in our country lost money when the banks moved into difficulty. That remains the case. Not one bank has gone to the wall-unlike in the 1930s-and however much we may complain that the banks have put constraints on lending to the small and medium-sized business community, we have to recognise that it is only through bank lending that we shall get back to growth and investment in the public and private sectors.
"Where are the snows of yesteryear?" François Villon once said. What happened to all the terrible things that were supposed to befall the British economy since the last Gracious Speech? Where is the depression that was forecast? Where is the inflation? Where is the deflation? Where are the 3 million unemployed? Have we lost the confidence of the markets? Have we lost our triple A ratings? "I have had a great many worries," Dean Inge once said, "but most of them never happened." If all those things have not happened to the British economy it is because of the measures that Her Majesty's Government took in the Gracious Speech last year and in the pre-Budget report that went hand in hand with it.
Incidentally, the Government persuaded the international community to adopt the self-same measures. They have lessened the impact of the global economic downturn, through help for small businesses. There is financial help from enterprise finance guarantees, working capital guarantees and capital for enterprise funds, none of which works with the 24-hour news cycle, yet they ultimately have an impact on reducing the consequences and effects of recession. Low interest rates set by the Bank of England at 0.5 per cent., quantitative easing to the tune of £200 billion, the reduction of VAT from 17.5 per cent. and a fiscal stimulus referred to again today by the Prime Minister have all pulled together to ensure that the downturn is shallower than it might have been and less enduring-one corner being turned leading to another, so that by 2011 economic growth rates will be as they were before the downturn.
Sir Stuart Bell: That is a very interesting question in the context of the global economy. Many countries in Asia were afflicted by the global downturn, as was Brazil in south America. We cannot compare such different economies with our own, which is an industrial economy-an advanced economy-within the European Union. I have heard comparisons made with the German economy, which, we are told, is pulling out of the downturn before our own. In fact, Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to the Bundestag on 10 November, made it plain that the Federal Republic was going through the worst downturn in its history: growth had plummeted five times further than the hitherto harshest downturn in the early '70s and major banks were still dependent on state assistance. In the words of Chancellor Merkel,
"Germany is facing a harder test than at any time since reunification".
Mr. MacShane: Is not the answer to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) very simple? In India, there is far greater state control of the economy, well beyond what any Opposition party in this country would propose; and the Australians had the good sense to reject a Conservative Government and to elect a Labour one.
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Unfortunately, I do not think the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) did answer the question. The reason why Australia and Canada's institutions have fared better is that they did not have the same lending policies as ours: their debt ratios were much lower and they did not have aggressive policies on lending to the housing sector. The hon. Gentleman refers to Germany, but that country is already coming out of recession, as is France. Why is the UK not following suit?
Sir Stuart Bell: I am happy to respond to that intervention. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the debt ratio. We moved into a position-light-touch regulation has been mentioned-where debt became easy and available. The sub-prime mortgage market in the United States, which was the original cause of the economic downturn, enabled house ownership to increase from 55 to 65 per cent., and everyone welcomed that. Everyone welcomed the situation where the debt ratio was going up and up; no one saw that, like a rocket, it would have to come down.
As for comparisons with Germany and France and comparative rates of growth, or lack thereof, even the Bank of England in its inflation report declared that evidence from business surveys and the pattern of past revisions-in this case, of the forecast for the third quarter from the Office for National Statistics-showed that its minus 0.4 per cent. estimate was likely to be revised upward. When that revision takes place, as it will, the hon. Gentleman will see that we are, in fact, in line with the French and the Germans and, essentially, with the eurozone.
Dwelling on the macro-economic steps for a moment, we see that we have achieved a great deal, as the Prime Minister said. Fewer jobs have been lost and there has been more investment in local economies. For the micro-economy-the people on the ground-in last year's Gracious Speech, the Government placed emphasis on workers, families and small businesses to alleviate the effects of the downturn. What steps have we taken to help ordinary people and their families? We have provided extra mortgage protection to help families to stay in their homes; given a £145 tax cut for 22 million basic rate taxpayers; cut VAT; increased child benefit and child tax credit; given an extra £60 payment to pensions on top a rise in the state pension; increased the pension credit to a minimum £130 a week; and given a winter fuel payment of £400 for over-80s households and £250 for the over-60s.
The Government have invested £5 billion to help people back to work and helped 300,000 people to stay in their homes by providing help and advice on paying their mortgages. Mortgage arrears and repossessions
are running at about half the rates at which they peaked in the early '90s. Many headlines have been written about youth unemployment, which is a matter that would, and does, dismay any Government. Although it is overlooked-the Prime Minister sought to rectify that today-the Government have provided extra cash to encourage employers to recruit people without jobs. The Government have stepped up training and support for people who need to get back to work, with guaranteed work or training for 18 to 24-year-olds unemployed for 12 months. In a time of global downturn, 1.7 million more people are in work than if the experience of the 1990s were repeated.
When I was a child attending chapel, rather than the Church of England, I recall a visiting preacher who said, "Where are the men of vision?" In this day and age, it would be, "Where are the men and women of vision", and so it should be. Those men and women of vision are not, I surmise, to be found on the Opposition Benches. I have not heard any great policies in today's responses to the Gracious Speech. They do not regard the glass as half-full, but as half-empty, and they would not accept the John F. Kennedy principle that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. A time of global downturn can be a time of opportunity: of building up the national health service, which a Labour Government created; of laying the foundations for a new national care service, to which reference was made in the Gracious Speech; of raising standards still further in our schools; and of seeking values of fairness and responsibility for all our people; and of never losing sight of these values, even in a downturn.
The Gracious Speech emphasised the steps taken to strengthen the overall economy and to ensure, too, that the budget deficit will be reduced and that national debt is on a sustainable path, with legislation to bring that about. A strong economy means a strong economic basis, and a strong national economy means a strong local economy. The price of freedom, as Winston Churchill told the Italian people towards the end of the war, is eternal vigilance. On Teesside, MPs will continue to be vigilant in following the development of the Corus steel mill, and vigilant about the future of our chemical industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) will no doubt catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He is a great friend of the manufacturing sector, and I am sure that he will add his own remarks. On Teesside, steel and chemicals have been the heartbeat of our industry for many years. As we saw when the North East Regional Grand Committee met at Middlesbrough on 25 September, all the MPs in the region are dedicated to maintaining those industries, and they are dedicated to the work force, to production and to the future of the steel and chemical industries in the global economy. The Government also take a strong interest in those matters, as we saw from the Grand Committee speech by the Minister for the North East.
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