I should say in all fairness that, in the run-up to Copenhagen and following the recent tragic events in Cumbria, it is right in a sense that we have concentrated on flooding and flood prevention. However, the debate has been interesting in other respects. In my view, the best contribution so far-I say this in a non-partisan way-has come from a former Minister, the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks). He
talked of energy security, which is or should be of real concern to us all. I wonder whether the Secretary of State could let us know when the right hon. Gentleman's report to the Prime Minister will be available to us, whether there will be a copy in the Library, and indeed, whether there will be an opportunity to debate what I believe to be an extremely serious issue.
The Government have had 12 years-it is difficult to believe some times-to deal with energy security. We have heard that France, by law, must have 125 days' worth of gas holdings. We have less than 15 days. Germany has 99 days; last year we were down to as little as four days. That is irresponsible and clearly unacceptable.
We have heard about the energy deficit. Even if we pressed the start button tomorrow, no nuclear power station could be built until 2017. Yet I believe that the Government are not doing enough to explore the finite resources-they are still there but are more difficult to get at now-in the North sea. I would welcome the Secretary of State's comments about whether the encouragement given to drilling companies to explore in the North sea is going as it should be.
We heard about alternative energy and tidal wave power. There is a very good project in Plymouth financed by the South West of England Regional Development Agency to have a tidal wave power machine put off Hayle in Cornwall. It has not happened yet and it is a wonderful and exciting piece of technology, but we should not be relying on a piece of technology that remains unproven.
We have heard about offshore wind farms. I am very keen on offshore wind farms but I remind the Secretary of State that we have just had the Marine Bill. In Committee I asked how we brought onshore the energy generated by tidal wave power. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) mentioned judicial review in terms of the new generation of nuclear power stations. I think there will be judicial review every single time we try to extend the national grid and bring in these wires to highly sensitive areas.
It is clear that the UK is still lagging behind in the use of alternative technologies. We do not have enough electric charging points, particularly in the capital city. We are lagging well behind Japan and the US in investing in new green technologies. We should be doing more to deal with battery disposal.
I urge the Secretary of State to go the United Arab Emirates, if he has not done so; I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group. In Masdar, they are seeking to create the first carbon-neutral city and to attract other high technology industries there. They are doing some incredibly good work from which we could learn.
I do not want to detain the House as others want to get in, but I want to talk about fuel poverty and flooding. On the Energy Bill, the Government have said that they will give a greater amount of help to the poorest and most vulnerable. But they had said already that they would end fuel poverty by 2016. How will they reach that target given that nearly one in four households-16,000 households-in East Devon is currently in fuel poverty? The Government's current schemes give very little help to rural areas. The community energy saving programme
has very few designated areas that are in rural England because fuel poverty is so dispersed in rural areas. It is dispersed and disguised and we need to do more about that.
On flooding, it is heart-wrenching to hear the reports from Cumbria. I can empathise somewhat; we have had similar problems in my part of the world. Indeed, on the River Dart we had the tragic death recently of the canoeist Chris Wheeler, to whose family I send my condolences. I welcome the Flood and Water Management Bill. The draft Bill needs some attention and there are some things in it that we need to debate and change but it is timely; indeed it is overdue. I was with the Environment Agency a few days ago in Devon where we were looking at maintaining banks. Its representatives were telling me how it was encouraging farmers and landowners to undertake deeper ploughing-another practice that has gone by the wayside in recent years-in order to try to hold deeper water. Whatever happens, there will be a trade-off between the farmers, the landowners and the EA, because we cannot just flood huge areas without compensation and discussion; that needs to take place if things are to work at all.
"More people have lost their lives from flooding than have from terrorism in England."
The emergency services have done excellent work in the last few days, and I pay tribute to them; they do a magnificent job time and again. I am, however, concerned about preventive aspects in relation to flooding, the co-ordination of different Departments, and the amount of money that is spent in different areas. We have heard today, in a completely non-political way from Members on both sides of the House, of the continuing concern about England being concreted over. In my part of the world, there is concern about the proposed new development of Cranbrook near Rockbeare, as that will arguably be built near, or adjacent to, a floodplain. It may not have flooded for many years, but given the way the climate is changing and its unpredictability, is it wise, as part of a regional spatial strategy-something we are committed to getting rid of-to build a brand-new town if there is any question of it being subjected to flooding at any time?
We are miles behind other countries in terms of the housing we build. In the low countries, such as the Netherlands, houses on stilts and houses that can float are being built. It is difficult to believe that we might need to look at what other countries are doing, but we clearly do. I would welcome hearing the Secretary of State's views on how far we will need to go down that road to address not the problems of today, but the unpredictable problems of tomorrow.
I shall end by making a plea on behalf of my part of the world. This ties in with climate change, and trying to get people around the place in an environmentally sustainable way, and trying to get the local economy going. If I had sufficient time, I would like to address many of the myriad other issues that plague those of us who live in rural areas, but I shall, for now, make a plea about Devon's roads. We have a lot of them: we in
Devon have 8,000 miles of roads to maintain-3,000 more miles than any other authority. It is a huge road network. We beat the Liberal Democrats to win Devon county council in the local elections in May. In the run-up to the election, the Liberal Democrats pledged £2 million to fill potholes, but nobody will be surprised to learn that when the Tories won and looked at the books, we found that there was absolutely no provision at all for spending money on filling in the potholes. This is a huge issue for Devon's economy. Almost 8,000 miles of roads are enormously vulnerable to environmental change. They are vulnerable to flooding, for example, as they get washed away on a regular basis. I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind Devon's special situation when it comes to the maintenance and repair of our vital infrastructure.
I welcome certain measures in the Queen's Speech, although some of them have been announced before. However, if we take out flooding, there is very little for the rural communities, who have felt abandoned for so long by this Government. That is the case even in respect of the Bill on communications. At first sight, it looks as though it is legislation
"to ensure communications infrastructure that is fit for the digital age".
Some of us thought that might mean that we would finally get broadband access in remote and rural areas, but it transpires that this is in fact a new enthusiasm of Lord Mandelson that is more to do with copyright protection than extending and rolling out the broadband network, which was promised years ago by Tony Blair, but which has not materialised in many areas.
Tonight should be about Copenhagen and about flooding, however. Again, I express my sympathies to the people of Cumbria, but please let us not forget that we in Devon have tremendous problems ahead of us, and we need a Government who are prepared to support us.
Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): I apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did apprise the Speaker of my being unavoidably detained by a Minister of the Crown.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who, unfortunately, is not in his place, talked about the centrality of social justice and sustainability to the debate in Copenhagen. He was right to do so, and I intend to talk a little more about those issues. It has taken a long time for us to recognise that local decisions have a global impact, but it has become impossible to ignore the reality. Humans have always changed and been changed by the natural world, but the prospects for human development now depend on our wisdom in managing that relationship.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said-unfortunately, he is not in his place either-one of the key factors will be population. I think he might have said that that is the elephant in the room-well, I like elephants! The global human population has more than doubled since 1960, with the growth mostly taking place in the poorer countries, but consumption expenditure has more than doubled since 1970, with the increases mostly occurring in the richer countries. During this time, we have created unimaginable wealth, yet half the world still exists on less than $2 a day.
Population and the environment are closely related, but the links between them are complex and varied, and they depend on specific circumstances. The key policy questions must be how to use available resources of land, energy and water to produce food and shelter for all, how to promote economic development and end poverty so that everyone can afford to eat and, in doing so, how to address the human and environmental consequences of industrialisation, energy consumption and the loss of biodiversity.
Understanding the ways in which population and the environment are linked means examining not only how affluence, consumption, technology and population growth interrelate, but previously ignored social concerns such as gender roles and relations, political structures and governance at all levels. The relationship between the environment, population and social development is now much better understood and there is broad agreement on the means and the ends. The Copenhagen summit is our opportunity to implement those means and to achieve the ends. Achieving equal status between men and women, guaranteeing the right to reproductive health, and ensuring that individuals and couples can make their own choices about family size will also help to slow population growth rates and reduce the future size of the world population through choice. When given choice, women tend to have fewer children than their mothers did; they want more for their children, but not necessarily more children.
Among other things, slower population growth in developing countries will contribute measurably towards relieving environmental stress and promote sustainable development. I do not believe that there can be sustainable development unless women are in charge of their own fertility. The programme of action of the 1994 international conference on population and development was agreed by 179 countries and there was a consensus that there should be universal access to reproductive health by 2015. Last year, the United Nations finally agreed that that should be a new millennium development goal target under MDG 5, which relates to maternal health. We are so far adrift on that MDG that the Prime Minister has said that we are not likely to achieve it until 2165 at the present rate.
Changes in the size, rate of growth and distribution of human populations have an enormous impact on the environment and on development prospects. We know that people and human activity are altering the planet on an unprecedented scale. More people are using more resources with more intensity and leaving bigger footprints on the earth than ever before. That is borne out by statistics that 10 years ago were just a matter for conjecture.
We have increasingly seen hurricanes, landslides and floodwaters. I want to add my expressions of sympathy to the people of Cumbria. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) talked about how difficult it is to imagine the devastation that floodwaters bring. Unless one has seen it, it is inconceivable. I know that because we have suffered immense flood trauma over many years in my constituency. I want to thank our Government for investing £40 million in five phases of the flood defence work in the upper Calder valley that has made an immeasurable difference to the people who live there. It is not just about homes, but about jobs. In a semi-rural area such as mine, we cannot afford to lose one job. When companies are constantly flooded, they
think twice about whether they want to remain and to keep investing in the local area. I am very grateful for that investment and I have to say that every time there are flood warnings, we hold our breath. This time, we held our breath and the flood defence system worked. Not one single home has been flooded.
I also want to congratulate the Government on making it possible for the Environment Agency to do riparian work on the banks of rivers where it was unable to do so in the past. Of course, absentee or unknown owners meant that riverbanks were not reconstructed, and that just added to the dilemma. That was certainly the case in my constituency, where there is a confluence of two rivers and a canal to boot, as well as some very steep-sided hills. Now that the Environment Agency can search out those landlords and retro-charge them, that is making a big and important difference in my area.
We know that wet areas are becoming much wetter and dry areas are becoming dryer. El Niño and the Asian monsoon are becoming more extreme and unpredictable. Inevitably, areas that are already affected by famine will be growing less food while many of the richer lands will grow more. Many continental coastlines are also at risk and contain much larger populations. These regions are already home to half of the world's population and they have population growth rates that are double the global average.
It is very clear that the activities of the 20th century have set us on a collision course with the environment. We now have to decide what we can and what we must do about it. The British are well known for our ingenuity, which has got us a long way in the past. I welcome the Government's thinking out of the box on climate change, especially with the low-carbon transition plan. We need to concentrate on how we can apply that ingenuity in the future so as to ensure the well-being of human populations while still protecting the natural world. How can we protect and promote fundamental values such as the right to health and human dignity while providing for sustainable development at the same time? We know that sustainable development is based on a balance between the three pillars of economic development, social development and environmental protection. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said earlier, development cannot be sustainable without social justice.
While the rich 20 per cent. of the world's population consume 80 per cent. of the world's resources at a completely unsustainable rate, some 3 billion people struggle to survive on less than $2 dollars a day without adequate access to education, health care, food, water, sanitation, shelter, decent employment or, as we heard earlier, clean energy sources-or, ultimately, to a liveable environment. Poverty must be acknowledged as a serious threat to humanity and our planet and the fact that many children and their children will be condemned to a life of abject poverty, starvation, illiteracy and ill health is inhuman, unjust and unacceptable in the 21st century.
Finally, it is widely acknowledged that this country is a world leader in family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights. Population is definitely an issue in relation to climate change, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acknowledged in his reply
to my question on 5 November. Therefore, I ask the Government to take a lead at the Copenhagen conference, as international agreements and national policies on climate change are much more likely to succeed in the long run if they take into account population dynamics, the relationships between the sexes and women's well-being and access to reproductive health services and opportunities. I hope that the Government will take advantage of their lead position in the world on these issues to do just that.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I want to raise the issue of the strategic balance of our future energy policy, which I feel that we have got wrong, but I shall first pose three questions. First, does our strategy for a low-carbon economy, which places such a heavy burden on the nation, put too much emphasis on alternative energy sources to the detriment of a robust and sensible approach to fossil fuels? Secondly, has politically correct thinking forced both the EU and the Government to create a strategy incapable of achieving its built-in targets? Thirdly, will we be able to produce the energy that we need to keep the lights on and the country working?
Those are the questions that we should ask of our future energy mix and the strategy that we are using to achieve it, so let us look at the facts. On 26 June, the Prime Minister unveiled the Government's strategy for building a low-carbon economy. It involves building 7,000 wind turbines, 4,000 on land and 3,000 offshore, by 2020. In addition, there is to be a mix of microgeneration, tidal and wave power and other forms of alternative energy.
The strategy will be expensive. The Climate Change Act 2008 will cost Britain £18 billion a year, or £720 for every household in the country from now until 2050. That is quite a price, and it must produce a viable return. I am delighted to say that nuclear power will figure prominently in Britain's future energy mix. I welcome that, but I am deeply concerned about the role that wind power will play.
We all know that onshore wind power is pretty universally disliked. I do not know whether that is true in the Secretary of State's constituency, but it is pretty true in most of the constituencies that I go to. More importantly, onshore wind power is the section of the strategy that many people think is unworkable. It is certainly massively expensive, and some say that it simply panders to the fashionable end of the green lobby.
The strategy is, at heart, a built-in conflict between renewable and non-renewable energy. The balance between the two is out of kilter and needs to be reassessed quickly. Many experts have stated that we will never be able to build the 7,000 turbines by the target date. Whether we have the available construction capacity is doubtful, as is whether there is the political will to allow the challenge to be met. Even if we did manage to build the turbines-and, given the time frame, offshore turbines will be a particular problem-they will not produce the energy that we will need when we need it and at a cost that we will want to pay. We must face up to that problem.