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Northern Ireland Political Agreement

11.29 am

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the agreement reached this week in the cross-party talks at Stormont, but first I would like to pay tribute to Peter Robinson, who announced this morning that he will soon be standing down as First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist party. Peter has been a central figure in Northern Ireland politics for over four decades. He has a long and distinguished record of public service in both this House and the Assembly, and he has championed the interests of Northern Ireland with unparalleled effectiveness, determination and dedication. He was key to the agreement reached this week and he can be rightly proud of his contribution. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement.

Last December, the Stormont House agreement was reached after 11 weeks of negotiations between the five largest Northern Ireland parties and the UK and Irish Governments. The agreement addressed some of the most difficult challenges facing Northern Ireland, including the finances of the devolved Executive, welfare, flags and parades, the legacy of the past, and reform of the Assembly to make devolution work better. All this was underpinned by a financial package from the UK Government that would give the Executive around £2 billion in extra spending power.

In the Government’s view, the Stormont House agreement was, and remains, a good deal for Northern Ireland. By the summer, however, it was clear that implementation had stalled. There were strong differences of opinion within the Executive over the budget and the implementation of the welfare aspects of the agreement, and these were preventing other elements of the agreement from going ahead. We were facing a deadlock, which, left unresolved, would have made early Assembly elections more and more likely, with an ever-increasing risk that collapse of devolution would follow. After all that has been achieved in Northern Ireland over recent years, a return to direct rule from Westminster would have been a severe setback, and it is an outcome that I have been striving to avoid.

In August, a second issue arose to threaten the stability and survival of devolution. The suspected involvement of members of the Provisional IRA in a murder in Belfast raised the spectre of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and its malign and totally unacceptable impact on society. Faced with those circumstances, we concluded that it was necessary to convene a fresh round of cross-party talks with the five main Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government on matters for which they have responsibility, observing the well-established three-strand approach.

Those talks began on 8 September and have run for 10 weeks. The objectives we set were twofold: first, to secure the implementation of the Stormont House agreement and, secondly, to deal with continued paramilitary activity. I believe that the document published on Tuesday entitled “A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan”, makes real progress towards fulfilling both of those hugely important objectives. Crucially, it tackles the two issues that have posed the greatest threat to the stability and survival of devolution in Northern Ireland.

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Let me turn first to the Stormont House agreement. The new agreement will help to give the Executive a stable and sustainable budget, assisted by further financial support of around £500 million from the UK Government. These funds are to help the Executive to tackle issues that are unique to Northern Ireland. They include support for the Executive’s programme of removing so-called peace walls and £160 million to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland in its crucial work to combat the threat from dissident republican groupings. The package also paves the way for completion of the devolution of corporation tax powers to the Northern Ireland Executive— something that could have a genuinely transformative effect on the Northern Ireland economy and on jobs and prosperity. The measures in the Stormont House agreement designed to address issues around flags and parades will now go ahead, and there is agreement on reforms to the Executive and Assembly to make devolution work better, including on the size of the Assembly, the number of Government Departments, use of the petition of concern and provision for an official opposition.

Secondly, the agreement takes Northern Ireland’s leaders further than ever before on the issue of paramilitary activity. It strongly reaffirms the commitment to upholding the rule of law and makes it absolutely clear that in no circumstances will paramilitary activity ever be tolerated. The agreement places new shared obligations on Executive Ministers to work together towards ridding society of all paramilitary groups and activities, and challenging paramilitarism in all its forms. It commits all participants to a concerted and enhanced effort to combat organised and cross-border crime, which the UK Government will help to fund.

A key element of the Stormont House agreement on which we were unable to agree a way forward was the establishment of new bodies to deal with the legacy of the past. We did establish common ground between the parties on a range of significant questions about how to establish those important new structures, but sadly not enough to enable legislation to go forward as yet. The Government continue to support these provisions because of the pressing need to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors—the people who we must never forget have suffered more than anyone else as a result of the troubles. So it is crucial that we all now reflect on what needs to be done to achieve the wider consensus necessary to get the new legacy bodies set up.

I want to emphasise that, in very large part, the agreement published on Tuesday takes on board a wide range of points made by all five Northern Ireland parties during the 10 weeks of talks just concluded. As the overwhelming majority of issues were in the devolved areas, this agreement has rightly been driven by Northern Ireland’s elected leaders, in particular by the First and Deputy First Ministers. I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks to them and to all the five Northern Ireland parties who worked with determination and commitment in the talks. Thanks also go to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) and of course to Ministers Charlie Flanagan and Sean Sherlock from the Irish Government, who all devoted many long hours to this process and made an invaluable contribution to its successful outcome.

Implementation of this week’s agreement is already under way. On Tuesday, the Executive voted to support it; yesterday, the Assembly passed an legislative consent motion

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on welfare legislation at Westminster; and the Northern Ireland welfare reform Bill will be introduced to Parliament later today. I believe this package as a whole gives us the opportunity for a fresh start for devolution. It is a further stage in delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to implement the Stormont House agreement, and it is another step towards a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland. I commend this statement to the House.

11.37 am

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and her usual courtesy in allowing me early sight of it. I join her in paying tribute to Peter Robinson, who has announced that he is to step down. His contribution to peace and progress in Northern Ireland has been immense. He has taken tough decisions and tried to reach out to all communities. Northern Ireland is a better place in no small part thanks to his immense work. I join the Secretary of State, as I know all Members would, in wishing him well for the future.

I begin by complimenting all those who have contributed to this document, including the UK and the Irish Governments. It is a document that, despite some obvious challenges and indeed omissions, once again offers Northern Ireland a way forward. It is one more stepping stone towards the brighter, better future that the people of Northern Ireland want and deserve.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is the implementation of the agreement that is crucial and that the people of Northern Ireland do not want to be faced in a year or two with another crisis? This really has to be a fresh start. Is she, like me, confident that the measures contained in the agreement really offer a way forward in a number of areas? In particular, we welcome the commitment to bring an end to paramilitarism. Paramilitary activity has to end, and the proposal for a new strategy to bring this about, overseen by a panel, is critical. Is the Secretary of State, like me and many people I meet in Northern Ireland, worried about these groups and their particular attraction to some young people. Apparent easy money, lack of career opportunities, educational under-achievement and indeed a false belief that membership of such groups can provide status are all aspects that need to be tackled so that many of these young people can grow up in relative peace. Will the Secretary of State use her position to ensure that countering the attraction of these groups for young people is one of the strategic priorities, as I believe it should be?

In relation to the establishment of the joint agency task force, will the Secretary of State say more about how cross-border co-operation will work, what resources there will be for the PSNI, and, crucially, whether she expects the number of prosecutions to increase? I welcome her confirmation that work will be undertaken in respect of flags and parades. Does she agree that that work is both urgent and crucial?

Does the Secretary of State share my disappointment that it has not been possible to reach an agreement on legacy issues and the past? Will she say more about what the issues were, and how she believes they can be resolved? How, for example, will the clash between national security considerations and disclosure be resolved? Victims and survivors must clearly be a key part of any agreed process. I understand that dealing with the past is incredibly difficult, given the competing narratives

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and contested versions of events, but a comprehensive approach is critical to continuing progress in Northern Ireland.

The problem with the search for truth and justice is that they often seem to be unattainable possibilities, but is it not the case that the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians have arrived at compromises that were apparently impossible, and have built consensus where none seemed likely?

Will the Secretary of State ensure that further efforts are made to deal with the past? What plans has she to meet victims and victims’ groups, and discuss a way forward? Given that no agreement has been reached on the issue, will funds be provided for the PSNI so that it can continue its legacy work?

The House has been asked to legislate on welfare reform. We will not oppose those measures, but a programme for jobs and growth is also needed in Northern Ireland, as it is in the whole of the UK. What measures in the agreement, over and above the devolution of corporation tax, will provide such a programme, while also improving the infrastructure?

As I said at the beginning, I see this agreement as a stepping stone towards a shared future. Of course there are frustrations and disagreements—of course there is disappointment at the inability to reach agreement on legacy issues—but could not the alternative have been a situation in which the devolution settlement itself was at risk with a return to direct rule—both those outcomes are unthinkable?

Whatever people may consider to be the agreement’s imperfections or disappointments, there is another breathing space: there is another opportunity for Northern Ireland to move forward, combat criminality, banish paramilitarism, tackle sectarianism, and establish a Government that is stable financially and politically. That opportunity must be grasped, outstanding issues must be resolved, and a fresh crisis in a year or two must be avoided.

Mrs Villiers: Experience leads me to agree with the hon. Gentleman that implementation is key, and that reaching an agreement is just the start of a broader process. However, I warmly thank him for his support for this agreement and the Stormont House agreement. I also agree with him that a strategy to end paramilitarism in Northern Ireland must include programmes for young people to ensure that they are not drawn into activity of this kind. We had some constructive discussions about that during the talks, and I am sure that it will form part of the strategy foreseen in the agreement.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the task force, the surge in criminal activity, and the cross-border work. That work will be based on structures that already exist, but it will involve renewed vigour and activity, and there will be £25 million of additional funding to support action against paramilitarism. The UK Government are determined to do all that we can to work with the devolved bodies, the Minister of Justice and, of course, the Irish Government and the relevant agencies there. The PSNI and the Garda are working together, which is crucial. They do tremendously effective work now, and I am sure that the existing levels of co-operation will rise still further in the future. I agree with the

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hon. Gentleman that progress on matters relating to flags and parades is urgently needed. One of the aspects of the agreement that I welcome most is the fact that it allows that progress to be made.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment that we were unable to reach a conclusion on the legacy issue. However, we did make progress on, for example, the role of the implementation and reconciliation group and its relationship with the other legacy bodies, and on a number of aspects relating to how the Historical Investigations Unit will work and the devolution of responsibility between the HIU and its director. I think that we made significant improvements to how proposed draft clauses might work by clarifying the role of the Department of Justice. We had many discussions on national security. We did not manage to find a solution to that to which everyone could sign up, but I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State will agree it is crucial that we ensure that we do nothing to jeopardise national security.

I agree that an important way forward from now on is to meet victims groups, and I will be doing that soon. I also hope that I will be able to meet the victims commissioner soon to discuss the best way forward because we need to find a way to get these bodies set up.

I welcome the shadow Secretary of State’s indication that he will not be opposing welfare reform. He is right to state that it is crucial that we do all we can to promote jobs and prosperity in Northern Ireland. A crucial way to do that is to ensure that the Executive have sound public finances. There have been many illustrations in recent years of the hugely negative effects Governments face if they cannot make their budgets add up, so getting the Executive’s budget on a sustainable basis and ensuring that it is delivering effective government for Northern Ireland is a crucial way to deliver the prosperity agenda, which is so important for Northern Ireland’s successful future.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on her achievement in bringing the parties to an agreement. I know that she has put an enormous amount of time, effort and indeed patience into the negotiations. In her statement, she referred to the importance of ensuring that young people do not get drawn into paramilitary activity. Does she agree that one way in which we can try to help with that is through improving and increasing integrated education? I understand that some funds were made available in the Stormont House agreement for those purposes and that there are projects waiting to start. Does she think that, with this agreement, that funding will now be available for those projects?

Mrs Villiers: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He is right that integrated education is a crucial means to address sectarian division in Northern Ireland, as is shared education. There are funds available in the £2 billion Stormont House agreement package, which will now be released. We are contributing to a £60 million programme to promote confidence-building measures to see the interface barriers, or so-called peace walls, taken down. That is another way to bring communities together, which is a key part of ensuring that paramilitary groups disband once and for all and are no longer part of Northern Ireland’s present day.

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Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP): May I associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Peter Robinson and his four decades of service?

I congratulate the Secretary of State, the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland parties on coming to this agreement. It should be hailed a success. It would have been easy for any politician to have stumbled during this.

The additional funding in recognition of the particular problems in Northern Ireland, a legacy of the troubles, is welcome and the welfare provisions equally so. The bedroom tax will not be applied, nor will some sanctions. I wonder whether after today’s proceedings the Secretary of State might set out the differences between the two welfare systems, in written form, to allow us a better understanding.

Part of the funding for the welfare package, if I have understood correctly, will come from savings made through tightening up on error and fraud. Given the role that welfare reforms played in creating the recent difficulties, is there an alternative plan if those savings are not realised? I say, in passing, that the inclusion of a sunset clause in the Bill is welcome as a sign that the UK Government do not intend to continue to exercise control over the welfare system.

I note the substantial commitments made by the Irish Government in this agreement and their desire to improve links to, and economic development in, the north. I welcome those commitments and their commitments to assisting in ending paramilitary activity. That commitment on all sides is particularly welcome and interesting. I wonder whether the Government are in a position to explain what they see as being the scale of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and whether it is mainly a criminal undertaking now? The signs, though, from this agreement are good and I offer the support of my party in helping to make it work.

Mrs Villiers: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for the agreement. As the Leader of the House said, it is crucial that we see support in all parts of the House for this agreement, which will signal a way forward for the devolved institutions.

The hon. Lady kindly mentioned the Irish Government. I share her sentiment that Minister Flanagan and the Irish Government have played a very important role. Indeed the process was also strongly supported by the US Government, with Senator Gary Hart playing a constructive role throughout, which was much welcomed.

The hon. Lady asked about the differences in the welfare system. The proposal in this agreement, reflecting the Stormont castle agreement back in December, is that the system applicable in GB will apply, but benefits will be topped up by the Northern Ireland Executive drawing on funds from the block grant. Under this agreement, rather than write that all in advance, a fund has been agreed and a panel will be set up to decide how to allocate those funds, but one of the areas to which those funds will be devoted relates to the social sector size criteria.

The hon. Lady asked about the programme for making savings in error and fraud in welfare. I believe that that could save significant amounts of money and the Northern Ireland Executive believe that it will save very substantial amounts of money. The agreement makes it clear that

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half of any savings resulting from this can be shared by the Northern Ireland Executive and used for whatever purposes they deem appropriate.

The sunset clause is an important part of the legislation that we will consider next week. These are exceptional circumstances; we must urgently take action to enable the Northern Ireland Executive’s finances to be put on a sustainable basis, but there is no justification for the powers to be extended into the future. The key challenge comes in the next year or so, and that is why the sunset clause has been inserted.

In relation to the hon. Lady’s question on the scale of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, I direct her to the assessment we published a month or so ago making it clear that, very unfortunately, members of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland are extensively involved in a range of criminal activities, such as drug dealing, money laundering and in some cases murder as well.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I add my thanks to Peter Robinson? I met him first in 1970, when he was an aspiring politician and I was aspiring to be a halfway decent infantry officer. I liked him then. He is honest, he is straight, he knows how to talk to soldiers, and he is in no small part responsible for the decent situation we now have in Northern Ireland. I thank him, with all my colleagues, for what he has done in his work.

Mrs Villiers: I am delighted to associate myself with those comments. Peter has done a huge amount of work for the good of Northern Ireland. He has achieved many things in his long career in public life, and Northern Ireland is the better place for his input into public life and politics there over four decades.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): May I, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, thank the Secretary of State, the shadow Secretary of State and those other Members who have paid tribute to Peter Robinson today? There is no doubt that, as far as we are concerned, words are not adequate to convey the thank you that we as a party—and everyone who values progress in Northern Ireland—owe to him for the work he has done not just recently, but over a lifetime of dedicated service to Northern Ireland. When one thinks back over the years to the dark days when politics was a dangerous occupation—it remains so for some—one realises that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for the sacrifices he and his family have made to make progress in Northern Ireland. We thank him sincerely for all he has done.

Today’s agreement is, of course, another tribute to the work Peter and others have done to try to move Northern Ireland forward. There will, of course, be snipers—there will be those who will want to downgrade this agreement—but the reality is that without this agreement, devolution would fail. We would be back to direct rule, which is, effectively, as far as Unionists are concerned, joint rule with Dublin. That is a far less appealing vista. What we have instead is an agreement that will provide a fresh start, allow us to move forward and put the budget on a sustainable footing.

Does the Secretary of State agree that we will now have the best welfare system in the United Kingdom? Help will go to the people who will be affected by the working tax credit cuts. That is something that those who voted against or sniped at the welfare changes need to bear in mind.

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On paramilitaries, we are determined that a blind eye will never be turned to violence or to the actions of the paramilitaries.

On the legacy of the past, I share the right hon. Lady’s disappointment that an agreement could not be reached, but it is right that we should never allow a hierarchy of victims to be created and that we should not allow those who were so-called victims of the state to be elevated above the victims of the paramilitaries. She is right to hold the line, along with us, in protecting national security. I want to thank everyone involved for the work that has been done to achieve this milestone agreement.

Mrs Villiers: I should like once again to pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Gentleman and his party on achieving this agreement. He is absolutely right—as was the shadow Secretary of State—to say that if this process had failed, we would have been staring direct rule in the face, and I would have had to head off and write a programme for Government. We would have had to prepare for office. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there are always parts of these agreements in which one would have liked to go further and difficult compromises that have to be made, but the crucial point is that this agreement will secure the continued operation of devolution. Without it, there would have been a real danger of suspension, collapse and a return to direct rule. I believe that this can be a fresh start.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about welfare, he is right to suggest that at the end of this process, Northern Ireland will have the most generous welfare system in the United Kingdom. Indeed, it will be one of the most generous in the world because, for all the reforms that have taken place, this country retains a generous welfare system across the board, and rightly so. It is crucial that we get this agreement implemented and ensure that it sticks, and I will be working with the right hon. Gentleman and with all the five Northern Ireland parties to do my best to ensure that that happens.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Northern Ireland is a long way from Essex, but I am sure that everyone is very pleased that that important part of the UK can have the fresh start that it deserves. Does the Secretary of State agree that this agreement will provide Northern Ireland with a safer, more secure future and put an even greater distance between the past and the present, which will benefit the whole of the UK?

Mrs Villiers: I believe that strongly. This agreement will pave the way for a safer, more secure future. Returning for a moment to the previous question, it is important that we strive to find a way to resolve our differences on the legacy bodies. We must ensure that when the bodies are set up, they are entirely fair, proportionate and balanced and that they do not focus disproportionately on just a handful of cases in which the state was involved. This Government will do all that we need to do to protect our national security; we will not compromise on that in any circumstances.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Will the Secretary of State accept that, while many of us have misgivings over parts of the agreement, including over what is not in it, that does not in any way detract from our support for

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its positive aspects, which we have long advocated, and which we advocated in the negotiations, including the whole-community approach to paramilitaries and the signing up by all parties to a uniform position on eradicating paramilitarism from our society? She said at the talks, as she has said publicly and consistently, that there would be no agreement on the past without an agreement on welfare reform—that that was the hard message for Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour party. However, we have now apparently ended up with an agreement on welfare reform but with no agreement on the past. People want to know how that came about. Would she consider publishing clauses on the past, on a without-prejudice basis, and committing them for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses, so that they could be the subject not of some sort of private abeyance to be sorted out between herself and Sinn Féin but of proper consideration by Members of both Houses here and by the public in Northern Ireland, particularly the victims?

Mrs Villiers: On the way forward on the institutions dealing with the past, we will certainly give consideration to the proposals the hon. Gentleman puts forward. I think we all recognised that it was difficult to reach the conclusions we needed to get to within a structure containing just the parties. We need to reflect on whether we can have a wider, more inclusive process. Of course we will give consideration to whether we can publish a further draft of the Bill in the future, but we have not made a conclusive decision on this.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the linkages between the past and welfare reform. To the end, I was arguing to keep legacy in, and I wish we had been able to do so; even if we could not agree on all the issues relating to legacy, I had hoped that we would be able at least to agree on a fair selection of areas where consensus had been achieved. I could not get everyone to sign up to that, but I will continue to strive to find a way to get these legacy bodies set up, as that is crucial for victims and survivors.

Lastly, I pay tribute to the work that his party did in the talks process, particularly on the legacy matters, but also on paramilitaries. The Social Democratic and Labour party’s call for a whole-community approach to ending paramilitarism will resonate in this House and across Northern Ireland.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): In welcoming this deal, may I ask the Secretary of State to say a little more about what sounds like £500 million of new funding for Northern Ireland outlined in her statement? Will she go a bit further by saying that if there are any further disputes between parties in Northern Ireland, they will not be fixed by more money from Westminster?

Mrs Villiers: In these extremely difficult days for the public finances, we thought very carefully about what additional support we were able to provide on top of the Stormont House agreement package, but we did feel that a case had been made credibly and strongly to us that Northern Ireland does face unique challenges in the United Kingdom and that therefore there was a case for additional support, on top of the favourable conditions in relation to the block grant. That breaks down roughly as: £160 million of additional security funding for the PSNI to help it counter dissident republican terrorists and paramilitary groups; £25 million for tackling

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paramilitary activity and strategy; £3 million for a verification body in relation to paramilitary activity; £60 million for programmes to build confidence and see inter-faith barriers coming down; crucially, as a result of the legislative consent motion passed by the Assembly last night, the savings forgone payments—sometimes referred to as welfare penalties—will stop, and that means that a further £40 million will be added to the block grant for the next two years; and we also have £125 million to support a programme to eliminate fraud and error, which we have already discussed. The Executive believe that that will yield substantial savings, half of which they are allowed to retain, and that that is likely to take the total value of the package to well over half a billion pounds.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I associate myself with what those who have spoken have said about the contribution made by Peter Robinson, who has announced his retirement from active politics? I have engaged in Northern Ireland affairs throughout my time in this House, but particularly between 2001 and 2010, when our service overlapped. We did not always agree when we had matters to deal with, but there was no doubting at any point that Peter Robinson was a man who was staunch in support of his community and his party. On behalf of my colleagues, I send him and Iris our very best wishes for a long retirement.

May I also add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on an agreement for which there must be a broad welcome, given the context of it? I should, however, say that it is regrettable that significant areas remain outstanding, and I agree with her in respect of the legacy issues she listed. Will she assure us that the budget for dealing with these legacy issues will not be taken from the current operational budget of the Department of Justice? What discussions has she had with the Minister of Justice on that so far?

Mrs Villiers: I keep in regular touch with the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice on all these matters. Of course it is crucial that we all work together to try to ensure that the policing and criminal justice system is as properly resourced as possible. That is one reason why additional security funding was provided in the last spending review. We have now announced further additional security funding for this forthcoming spending review period.

I should also point out that the legacy funding provided in the £2 billion package of the Stormont House agreement amounts to £150 million. It was a priority to try to relieve the pressure on the PSNI so that it could devote its resources to policing the present rather than the past. Naturally, that £150 million package is delayed for the moment pending the establishment of those legacy bodies. The money is still there on the table, and it is another reason why we should get on and try to find an agreement to set up those bodies, so that that funding can be used. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is a matter of regret that we have not yet been able to reach consensus on how we establish those bodies, but we will continue to work on that with his party and others to try to find a way forward.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her patience and diligence in delivering this much needed package. I also wish to pass

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on my appreciation to Peter Robinson as he takes a well-deserved retirement. I met him at university many years ago, and he has been in public life ever since. What a remarkable job he has done.

In her statement, my right hon. Friend referred to the devolution of corporation tax. Will she clarify when that will happen and whether it is contingent on any other measures that will need to be implemented?

Mrs Villiers: The Government’s position is that we will give the final go ahead for the devolution of corporation tax once the conditions on financial sustainability in the Stormont House agreement are met. We have already passed the legislation to enable us to do that. We just need commencement of that legislation to enable the transfer of power to take place. The agreement published this week sets out the aim of the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver a reduced rate of corporation tax operating from April 2018. I know that we are all working on that and hoping that that target date will be met.

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): I thank the Secretary of State for bringing forward her statement today. May I, too, pass on some words to Peter Robinson to wish him well in his retirement and in future years?

In her statement, the Secretary of State suggested that the involvement of members of the Provisional IRA in a murder in Belfast led to the conclusion that it was necessary to convene a fresh round of cross-party talks. How concerned is she now that all those involved in the discussions, including Her Majesty’s Government, the Irish Government, the Democratic Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Alliance party and others, all accept that the IRA is still in place, but Sinn Féin does not?

Mrs Villiers: The crucial issue is that all participants in the talks process are absolutely clear that there is no justification whatever for paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, that they must all disband, and that for that to happen we need not just a surge in criminal justice activity, but a broad approach that embraces the whole community in working for the day when those organisations are consigned to Northern Ireland’s past rather than its present.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): May I associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to Peter Robinson and with the remarks that have been made about the hard work of the Secretary of State, her Department and her officials in securing this agreement? One positive aspect of that agreement are the reforms of the Assembly, particularly the creation of, and provision for, an official opposition. Does she agree that that is a very important part of the normalisation of Northern Ireland politics?

Mrs Villiers: Indeed. It is something for which the Conservatives have been campaigning for many years, particularly during the tenure of my predecessor as Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). It is a big step forward that there will be more formal provision for an Opposition. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments about the officials of the Northern Ireland Office, all of whom have worked tremendously hard during this talks process and the previous one.

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Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I echo the comments that have been made from all parts of the House in relation to the retirement of my party leader, Peter Robinson. I add my personal tribute to the contribution he has made over many years to the politics and the people of Northern Ireland. I thank the Secretary of State for the hard work that she and her team put in during these talks, and commend her for the progress that has been made. I welcome the constructive tone of the comments from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). We now need to build on the progress that has been made and work towards delivering for the innocent victims and those who have suffered so much. Let us look at ways in which we can find an agreement to implement the legacy elements. What we cannot do, especially at this time, with our national security threatened by terrorism, is compromise the work of the security services who are here to protect every single citizen of this country.

Mrs Villiers: These national security questions are very difficult. We reflected hard on whether we could stretch ourselves to find a way through on this, but we have not been able to so far. The right hon. Gentleman is right: we cannot take risks with our national security. There is documentation that could be disclosed in Northern Ireland which would give support, knowledge and expertise to terrorists, not just in Northern Ireland but around the world, so I am always aware of that being a hugely important part of my role. The role of a Government—our first duty—is to safeguard the security of our citizens; sadly, events over the past fortnight or so have demonstrated how important that duty is.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the hard work that she has put in over many weeks and months this year, and I thank the team that work with her, advising her so diligently. I welcome the investment in policing, but can she say a little more about what steps the Executive will be taking to reform the public sector and ensure a more sustainable financial approach into the future?

Mrs Villiers: The Executive have already embarked on a very significant reform, funded by a voluntary exit scheme, which will see the Northern Ireland civil service contract considerably. These are difficult decisions, but I believe that with reform in the coming months and years, the Executive will be able to release more funds for crucial front-line services, and I very much welcome the announcement of significant additional funding for healthcare that the Executive announced today.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I begin by congratulating Peter Robinson on his retirement and on the hard work that he has put in since the agreement. I congratulate the Secretary of State, too, on her hard work, and my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State on his sensible comments. All parties involved in the agreement have shown how important the Northern Ireland situation and this deal in particular are to the House and to the security of the wider UK. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no alternative to the deal? In order to avoid direct rule, the deal was crucial for the peace process in Northern Ireland to continue. Does she agree that by avoiding direct rule, she has provided the largest and most significant step in controlling, monitoring and dealing with any potential future paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland?

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Mrs Villiers: I think I can agree with all that. Devolved power-sharing government requires two crucial things, the first of which is the ability of parties to work together. The paramilitary question was having a toxic impact on working relationships. Another crucial thing for any Government, devolved or not, is a workable budget. They must be able to live within their means. This agreement today sets a path to addressing both of those. As has been said, there are parts that we would all have liked to see added to the agreement and there are compromises in it. These stages in Northern Ireland’s process forward are never without their imperfections, but this is a good step forward for Northern Ireland. Without it, I am convinced that we would be headed steadily and surely towards suspension and direct rule, which would be bad for Northern Ireland. We have worked hard to try to avoid that and will continue to do so.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for the Stormont House agreement that all parties have worked so diligently to effect. I am particularly pleased to note that the issue of flags will be progressed. Is there a timetable for this in Northern Ireland?

Mrs Villiers: There is a timetable for the commission to report on flags. I believe the plan is for it to report within 18 months but, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I cannot remember the exact date. It is another reminder that with the Stormont House agreement and the fresh start agreement in place, we need to get on with implementing them. That is why I welcome the fact that the legislative consent motion was passed yesterday and the Bill will be introduced to Parliament within minutes and debated. The debate on the welfare legislation will take place early next week.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for her statement and for the very kind tribute that she paid to our party leader. I echo the thanks and gratitude to the Secretary of State and her team, for I know the very long hours that she personally has put into dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland. There will, of course, be some nay-sayers in Northern Ireland about this deal, but will the Secretary of State go as far as to say that this is by far the very best welfare deal that anyone in the United Kingdom could have? We know that there will be some people who hate the deal so much that they will be on their knees tonight in Northern Ireland praying that Scotland comes up with a slightly better deal so that they do not have to welcome it, but over 105,000 low-paid families in Northern Ireland will today be grateful that their tax credits will not be cut in the way that they would have been under another deal or under direct rule.

On national security, will the Secretary of State confirm that there is no change whatever to the national security portfolio and arrangements? Although there is £160 million available to assist the police in dealing with the dissident and Irish terror threat, if ISIS uses our border as a soft way into the United Kingdom, can the right hon. Lady confirm that additional resources will come from the national budget to assist with that?

Mrs Villiers: I can confirm that if the welfare legislation goes ahead and the Executive proceed with the top-ups proposed under the agreement, Northern Ireland will have the most generous welfare system in the UK. I can

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also confirm that we are not proposing changes on national security. It continues to be a tier 1 priority for us. We recognise the lethal threat posed by dissident republican terrorists. Thankfully, they seldom succeed in their aims to harm, but there is no doubt that that activity is regular and that these groups have both lethal intent and lethal capacity, and it is only by the efforts of the police and their security partners that we do not see dissident republicans succeeding in more of their evil plans.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the concerns about ISIL being a factor in Northern Ireland, just as it is everywhere else in this country and beyond. Of course, we as a Government are absolutely focused on our efforts to keep people safe both from the DR threat and from the ISIL threat, and that includes work on cross-border crime and doing all we can to ensure that neither ISIL nor anybody else is able to exploit our border with the Republic of Ireland for criminal or terrorist purposes.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I associate myself with the good wishes to Mr Peter Robinson on his retirement. I thank the Secretary of State for her statement today and for all her hard work that led up to it. I find that in general there is widespread support in my constituency for the welfare changes we have introduced since 2010, based on the principles of helping those who are trying to find work and making work pay, while still controlling the cost of welfare. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these welfare reforms will be just as welcome in Northern Ireland?

Mrs Villiers: I warmly agree with my hon. Friend. The reforms we have introduced into the welfare system in Great Britain give us a better system that has the rewarding of work at its heart and becomes more affordable for the taxpayers who fund it. That is another reason why I welcome the fact that that system will, I hope, apply in Northern Ireland as it does elsewhere.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all hon. Members who have kindly offered me their thanks and congratulations in relation to my role in the process that was recently completed.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and join others in wishing Peter Robinson well in his retirement. We have differed politically on many occasions, but notwithstanding that, wish him well.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that she has ensured that next week’s comprehensive spending review supports and sustains the financial provisions of the mark 2 Stormont House agreement? Does she acknowledge that any modest financial gains contained in that agreement could be wiped out next week with one stroke of the Chancellor’s pen? Will she confirm the nature of the sunset clause in relation to the decision-making power in the Bill?

Mrs Villiers: The sunset clause brings to an end the decision-making power by the end of next year. I can confirm that the £500 million package on offer is confirmed; it will not be withdrawn by the spending review. As for

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the rest of the spending review, I am afraid that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that at this time, and that the hon. Lady, like the rest of us, will need to wait for the Chancellor’s autumn statement.

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State and to all those involved in achieving a satisfactory outcome to these difficult talks. Will she give additional details on what efforts will be made to tackle organised crime and cross-border criminality?

Mrs Villiers: We have already heard about the proposed cross-border taskforce. A key aspect is to build on the work of the organised crime taskforce in Northern Ireland and the cross-border work that is going on—for example, in relation to fuel smuggling—in order to bring fresh impetus and capacity to that in providing support for things such as forensic accounting to pursue the proceeds of crime. A crucial step forward is for the PSNI and the Garda Siochana to be able to share more equipment and facilities. That will enhance their effectiveness and their ability to co-operate, and policing resources can go further when they are shared, in part, between the two police services.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con) rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Finally, with thanks for his patience in waiting to the end, I call Tom Pursglove.

Tom Pursglove: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I, too, pay tribute to the Secretary of State for all her efforts in securing this agreement, and for keeping this House updated as matters have progressed. Cross-border policing is a challenge, and that has been alluded to. What more work can be done to make sure that forces across England, Wales and Scotland work with forces in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland to help solve this problem and to help feed intelligence up the chain to try to tackle these crimes where they happen?

Mrs Villiers: There are extensive co-operation agreements that ensure that police services in Great Britain can share information with the PSNI, and I am sure there is always scope to build on those.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. It has certainly been a long 10 weeks with very many meetings—a pretty gruelling process—but I am very conscious that while I have been engaged in cross-party talks for only a couple of years, there are many fine men and women in Northern Ireland who have been engaged in this kind of process for about 25 years. We need to pay tribute to their determination and all that they have achieved in transforming life in Northern Ireland. They are rightly an example held up throughout the world of how bitter division can be overcome, and how people who were once bitter enemies can find a way to work together for the good of the whole community.

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Bill Presented

Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Theresa Villiers, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel and Mr Ben Wallace, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with social security and child support maintenance in Northern Ireland; to make provision in connection with arrangements under section 1 of the Employment and Training Act (Northern Ireland) 1950; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 99) with explanatory notes (Bill 99-EN).

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Paris Climate Change Conference

12.24 pm

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes the Pope’s Encyclical, entitled Laudato Si’, Our Common Home, on climate change and international justice which is an important contribution to discussions on this vital subject; further notes that the 2015 climate change conference will be held in Paris between 30 November and 11 December 2015; and calls on the Government to recognise the significant support for a successful outcome to the conference which should commit to take further steps to tackle climate change effectively in the UK and around the world before 2020.

I should like to begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us the opportunity to debate this important issue in the main Chamber today.

Pope Francis published his encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home”, six months ago. In it, he says that he wishes

“to address every person living on this planet”

about the “urgent challenge” of “global environmental deterioration”. Following his namesake, St Francis, he writes that

“concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace”

are “inseparable”. It is an astonishing and exceptionally rich document drawing on the experience of the Church around the world, scientists, philosophers, and civic groups. He calls for

“a new and universal solidarity”

in which

“All of us can co-operate”.

His main theme is the

“relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet”.

He makes a particular appeal to politicians, saying that many of us

“seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems”

when there is

“an urgent need to develop”

new “policies”. He calls on us to show “courage” and change

“established structures of power which today govern societies”.

This is why I and other hon. Members applied for the debate.

In looking at what is happening to the planet, the Pope contrasts the acceleration of change with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. He is particularly critical of the “throwaway” society, saying that instead we need

“to adopt a circular model of production”.

He makes this important observation:

“The climate is a common good”.

For those who have not been keeping up with papal politics, things have moved on since Urban VIII put Galileo under arrest. Pope Francis embraces the work of independent scientific research and the benefits of technology to medicine, engineering, and communications. He points to the “very solid scientific consensus” on global warming and to our role in it through

“the intensive use of fossil fuels”

and “deforestation”.

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In considering the

“biodiverse lungs of our planet…the Amazon and the Congo”,

the Pope is not afraid to challenge proposals that he says

“only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations”.

One of the worst things is that the cost of this violent “destruction”, as he calls it, is borne mainly by the poor. He draws attention to the increase in the number of migrants. We know that one reason for the huge increase in the number of people coming across the Mediterranean is the desertification of sub-Saharan Africa. We would be misleading our constituents if we pretended that we could tackle this without tackling the underlying causes.

The encyclical warns of the dangers of the developing situation whereby knowledge, resources and power are in the hands of a small number of people. As Oxfam says, the richest 85 families own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion. The Pope writes,

“a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized”.

He says:

“Inequity…compels us to consider an ethics of international relations.”

So he calls for:

“The establishment of a legal framework which can…ensure the protection of ecosystems…otherwise…power structures based on”

technical fixes “may overwhelm our politics”, our freedom and our justice. Put simply, the world system is unsustainable.

The Pope is very clear that we need a change of heart, and naturally enough he draws on the creation story, asserting that nature is not solely a source of profit and gain, and:

“Whether believers or not, we are agreed…that the earth is…a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.”

An important consequence of that is that we must have equal concern for future generations, and another is that private property is always subject to a social mortgage. The Pope says:

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”

What is the Pope’s positive agenda for change? First, he wants us to understand the world as a whole and to see that strategies to tackle the environment need to incorporate economic and social change. Individuals can and do change their behaviour in worthwhile ways, from turning down the heating to sorting the rubbish, but they can also press for change through consumer boycotts, involvement in campaign groups and pressurising politicians. This morning I was particularly glad to meet people from the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, who have come to support us in this debate.

The Pope is very keen to encourage ecological education that goes beyond facts, to challenge our culture. Action can be taken at local and national level. He points to the co-operatives established to provide renewable energy projects and to help small-scale farmers. In his description of the changes in cities, we see clearly his Latin American perspective, with calls to improve housing, public transport

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and neighbourhood planning. All those things happen in some places some of the time, but for the planet to survive they need to happen everywhere all of the time. In an interdependent world, none of that will be enough without international action, which is why holding this debate before Ministers go to Paris is so important. Global consensus is essential and technologies based on fossil fuels need to be replaced, but the international community has not reached adequate agreement about responsibility for paying for that transition.

Looking at recent history, the Pope points out that, although the 1992 Rio summit set out goals and actions, it was

“poorly implemented, due to the lack of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and penalties in cases of non-compliance…Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility”

from those who are most

“powerful and pollute the most.”

International negotiations will not make significant progress while positions taken by countries place national interest above the global common good. It is important that internationalisation of environment costs do not penalise the poor. As the Bolivian bishops have said, the countries that have benefited most have a greater responsibility.

What is needed is global regulatory norms and enforceable international agreements, and that means institutional reform at the international level—

“an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called ‘global commons’.”

The Paris conference is a real opportunity to move things on.

In her letter to the Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, the Secretary of State wrote that

“UK priorities include seeking to agree a five yearly cycle of review that would provide the opportunity to reflect on progress and increase ambition…capitalising on the falling cost of low carbon technology. This will be important as we do not expect the cumulative commitments contained in countries’ INDCs to be enough to put us on track to meet the…2 °C goal. We are also building support for legally binding rules to help ensure transparency and accountability so that there can be confidence that the action committed to is being taken.”

That has been the British Government’s position for some time, but I honestly do not think it is strong enough. First, instead of saying what we must do to keep the global temperature rise to 2 °C and then sharing out the burden, it allows a bottom-up approach that is inadequate and necessitates more difficult and costly action later—or, of course, the possibility of failure.

Secondly, I am not clear what “legally binding” means when there seem to be no penalties. It is time we got tough with those who flout the rules. In other arenas, international bodies levy fines, penalties and sanctions. Why does that not happen in this area? Let me give just one example. We issued sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine, but Canada left the Kyoto protocol to avoid penalties and we have taken no action against it for that.

Let us be clear: people in the deserts of Africa and those affected by the floods of Bangladesh are already dying as a result of climate change. If we are to be serious, we should make other international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, subordinate to what is agreed in the United Nations framework convention on climate change and co-operate substantively with it.

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When I was preparing for this debate, I asked my researcher to find the Government’s latest published position. Imagine my surprise when she produced a White Paper on which there was a picture of the happy, smiling face of the former Lib Dem Secretary of State, Ed Davey. The document includes a quote from the current Secretary of State:

“The move to a green economy offers a great opportunity but to be fully realised it requires world leaders to provide certainty, clarity and confidence. The UK is a global leader in developing cost effective policies and innovative technologies”.

I cannot square that with the Government’s actions since May. They have removed the climate change levy exemption; removed the subsidy for onshore wind; restructured vehicle excise duty; ended the zero-carbon homes commitment; cut the support for solar; and yesterday they committed to a further dash for gas. None of that looks like a Government doing their best to decarbonise. The Pope is asking us to be prepared to make sacrifices in the interests of the common good, but the Government’s changes are so drastic that they will damage our own economic interests.

Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The hon. Lady is making an interesting speech. She has listed a number of points and I share some of her concerns, but on dash for gas, yesterday’s announcement was about getting rid of coal-fired power stations and all their pollutants and replacing them with gas. No journey to 2050, however ambitious, will not involve interim measures, such as replacing coal with gas. If she wants to give a balanced speech that takes everyone with her, she should acknowledge that.

Helen Goodman: Of course, it is true that coal-fired power stations will eventually cease to be effective and that they would have to be closed anyway, and it is good that the Secretary of State has formalised that commitment. However, by investing in new gas-fired power stations, we are committing, not just for now, but for 30 years, to a reliance on imported gas. That is problematic, partly because it does not improve energy security and partly because it will not result in decarbonisation.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that, of the 10 coal-fired power stations that are still in operation, three were due to close next year in any event and that all but two of the others were likely to close by 2023? Therefore, by saying that there will be no unabated coal by 2025, the Secretary of State has spun an extension of coal-fired power stations into an ending of unabated coal. That is a neat political trick, but it is not exactly where we want to be.

Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is extremely well informed. I was not aware of those points.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): Had Opposition Members invested in energy infrastructure when they were in power, going for gas right now would not be urgent. Indeed, had they even thought about investing in renewables, we would not be in the situation we are today. This Government are taking all that on board and trying to sort it out for the taxpayer by providing energy from a mix of energies.

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Helen Goodman: I admire the hon. Lady for the energy she shows in this debate, but we have heard people in the sector say there is a problem—I will give a couple more examples—because 30,000 jobs are now being lost in small-scale solar and wind, which is very significant.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I want to go back to the point about gas and coal because it really is not good enough to leave it where we have. If the world did what we have done and removed coal from the system, it would be equivalent to increasing the current amount of renewables in the world by a factor of five. To pretend that that does not matter is to mislead us all.

Helen Goodman: It is good to remove coal—there is no contention about that—but it would be better to replace it with more solar and more wind. That is the simple proposition I am making.

Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for taking this frenzy of interventions. One thing she has not so far said—she must forgive me if I am not completely au fait with His Holiness’s utterances on this subject—is whether he mentions investment in technology. Surely the lesson of the history of humanity is that science has broadly solved pretty much all our problems when they have presented themselves to us.

Some significant technologies are a little starved of Government investment across the world. I have a particular enthusiasm for the fuel cell and the hydrogen economy that will, I hope, replace the carbon economy in my lifetime as one that is less damaging to the planet. Does she agree that perhaps one thing we should do at the Paris summit is to agree—much as we have on dementia, for instance—that global action on investment in technology and science can solve these problems as much as behavioural change can, not least with the hydrogen economy at the forefront of global considerations, as many countries are now realising?

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. Of course we need new technologies. One of the problems at the moment is that people trying to invest in new technologies—for example, big battery storage technologies—cannot get funding. They cannot even get them funded by the UK Green Investment Bank. I do not think it is very helpful to privatise the Green Investment Bank when that is the case, or to change the policy framework, which means that we will lose the clarity, simplicity and confidence that industry needs in order to plan its investment over the medium term. We cannot just switch this on and off like the lights; we need to think about it decades ahead.

Kit Malthouse: I am sorry to repeat myself, but that was broadly my point. I was trying to make the point about the Paris conference that, as much as the hon. Lady says the emphasis should be on an agreement about behavioural change by business and industry, there should be a global agreement on investment in exactly the technologies that she says are starved of money. That might mean the Government having to make up for a market failure by investing in them to a certain extent. Nevertheless, as she says, given that we need a decadal view—out to when my grandchildren

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will be born—such investment needs to put in now. It may be that that has to be paid for out of the global public purse.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to have intelligent investment in technology, but I want to draw him back to paying a little attention to the Pope’s encyclical. An over-reliance and an over-optimism about technical fixes when we do not know whether they will actually work has encouraged us to consume too much and to be too destructive. We need to keep such things in the balance as we develop policy.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making a powerful speech. She is talking a lot about the papal encyclical—rightly so, since the motion is about it—but will she also pay tribute to things such as the declaration launched in August by Islamic leaders from 20 countries, which similarly urges Governments to take ambitious action in this area? This is not a monopoly of one faith community or another; all faith communities are coming together to make such a demand.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Lady is of course right.

The White Paper included a section on the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises. I am afraid that it was greeted with a hollow laugh by people such as George Smith from my constituency. He is an electrician—I have had a ride in his solar PV-powered van—who has spent thousands of pounds training people, but is now concerned that he may have to sack those very people.

Many of us were incredulous about the Government achieving their renewables targets. In the Treasury Committee, I asked the Chancellor whether he was a climate change denier. He responded:

“I am not sure I accept that phrase as a general term in British politics”.

Now we know why: the leaked letter from the Secretary of State to her colleagues says that there will be a 50 TWh shortfall in the delivery of renewable energy targets in 2020, which is a shortfall of 25%. She notes:

“Publicly we are clear that the UK continues to make progress”.

She also notes:

“The absence of a credible plan to meet the target carries the risk of successful judicial review, and…on-going fines imposed by the EU Court of Justice”.

Instead of going back to the Chancellor and saying, “We must think again,” she says that

“we need to reflect...on the emerging strategy once the outcome of the Spending Review is known.”

Strategies do not emerge; they are planned. Fulfilling our part in avoiding global warming over 2° C should be the Secretary of State’s absolute priority.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Does that not show that Britain’s climate change policy is being run not by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but by the Treasury?

Helen Goodman: That is also my suspicion.

The Secretary of State now proposes to buy renewables from other countries. That is not a way to support British industry. It will not maximise the EU contribution to the global deal. It is not consistent with the argument

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put to this House by Ministers for abolishing the climate change levy, which was that too much money went abroad.

I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue. The Paris conference is absolutely vital to our making progress. I urge the Secretary of State to reflect seriously on her responsibilities and to work for the best possible deal in Paris.

12.48 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). She asked me to sign her motion, and I was happy to do so. I do not know why she thought I might be interested in the Pope’s encyclical, but here I am. I hope the House will forgive me if I concentrate entirely on the encyclical, on which I have some expertise; I have absolutely no scientific expertise on other climate change subjects about which other hon. Members will want to speak. I will, if they are interested, try in a few minutes to put the encyclical in context.

I have tried to read the whole encyclical. Like all Vatican documents it is very subtle, very profound and very long—the best part of 200 pages—but the part on climate change is relatively short. Since the papacy’s unhappy experience with Galileo, which the hon. Lady mentioned, the modern papacy tends to endorse scientific consensus, but the detailed part on climate change is quite limited. The encyclical is really a very long prose poem that concentrates on and affirms the Pope’s belief in the interdependence of man, nature and God.

It is important that we do not try to weaponise papal encyclicals for one side of the argument or the other. The words that come from the Vatican are seldom very useful in that context. To give an example on another subject, I was in the Vatican last week to meet Cardinal Baldisseri, who has been leading the synod on the family. Journalists always try to pigeonhole such debates inside the Vatican as controversial, saying that there are traditionalists and modernisers. That is the way of politicians. The Vatican moves in a rather more sedate manner. The long document on the family does not take a confrontational viewpoint on all the matters that have worried us in this House over recent years. Again, it is a long prose poem in favour of traditional marriage and the family. We must therefore be careful about how we read the document we are discussing.

The encyclical is primarily saying that mankind is much more than mind or body; there is a deeper soul. As mankind is about the soul and its connection with a universal God and a universal nature, we must recognise that we are part of nature and respect nature. That is where the Pope comes from when discussing climate change.

I do not want to weary people too much and will not read out the whole encyclical, but I will read a couple of paragraphs to give a flavour of it. It is very beautifully written and it informs the debate in a general way. In paragraph 65, the Pope says:

“Without repeating the entire theology of creation, we can ask what the great biblical narratives say about the relationship of human beings with the world. In the first creation account in the Book of Genesis, God’s plan includes creating humanity. After the creation of man and woman, ‘God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good’… The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness”.

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That informs the Pope’s view on climate change and the other debates that we, as politicians, are interested in. Unsurprisingly, he is always much more interested in the God-centric point of view.

In paragraph 67, the Pope states:

“The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world… ‘Tilling’ refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”

I am sure that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) would not disagree with any of those remarks. They are very beautifully put. I hope that the House will forgive me for having referred to those couple of paragraphs.

It is important, whether one is on the right or the left, not to say that the Pope has come down on one side of the argument. When the Pope went to see Congress, all the Republicans stood up and cheered when he proclaimed the right to life and his opposition to abortion. They were still clapping and cheering when, almost in the same breath, he talked about the rights of migrants and his opposition to the death penalty. They were left on their feet, clapping for something they did not agree with.

Caroline Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way, as he has named me?

Sir Edward Leigh: Of course.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. He says that the Pope does not come down on one side or the other. Will he confirm, however, that the Pope is saying very clearly that we need to tackle climate change? We might have an argument about the best way to do it, but he is saying that. He also has a strong economic critique. I can quote him too:

“Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.”

That is pretty strong language.

Sir Edward Leigh: I am happy to accept that. I do not want to weary the House by referring to the paragraph, but the Pope does endorse action on climate change. That is a relatively small part of the encyclical and it must not be seen in the context of the political debate. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland was right to mention conferences and what is going on in Paris, but I do not think that the Pope is concentrating on that. What he is concentrating on, fundamentally, is the theme that we are part of nature. The debate around climate change relates to his profound belief that we are part of nature and connected to nature, and that we are abusing the world. Because we are abusing the world, we are abusing ourselves. I think that that is what he is trying to say, and that is what I am trying to explain to the House in my very inadequate way.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman has obviously thought deeply about these matters and has given more of the theology than I did. However, the Pope does talk about the need for more effective international action and he does decry what we politicians have done up to now.

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Sir Edward Leigh: I am happy to accept that the Pope talks about more international action, but he is careful not to be too specific. In one paragraph, he is quite critical of carbon credits. He gives a general thesis and acknowledges the problem, then he leaves it to us—the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Opposition parties—to come up with solutions.

The most important theme of the encyclical comes out in the very first paragraph. It relates to our common home. This is where I hope I can take Opposition Members with me. The Pope states:

“‘Laudato si’, mi’ Signore’—‘Praise be to you, my Lord’. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs’.”

When one reads through this long encyclical, that sort of language is repeated again and again.

The Pope is repeating the philosophy of the 20th century philosopher, Professor Charles De Koninck, who understood that the person, the individual, could not be neglected. He differed from the personalists because he knew that the person had to be integrated within a vision of the common good. In the encyclical, the Pope constantly concentrates on our common good and our common nature: the good of the individual, the good of the family, the good of the village, town, province and country, and the good of the whole world. People—you and I—have to be understood, De Koninck argued and the Pope now argues, in the context of our place in the universe as a whole. That is one thing that the Pope is trying to do with the encyclical. Like De Koninck, the Pope understands the truth expressed by St Thomas Aquinas that the greatest perfection of the created person is the good of the universe.

The Anglican academic, Professor Jacobs, wrote a moving reflection on the encyclical, in which he pointed out that Francis does not use the word “planet” or even “environment”, but uses the word “home”. He constantly concentrates on our common home. Professor Jacobs writes:

“All the economic questions he explores later in the encyclical are therefore grounded in the etymology of ‘economy’: the governance of the oikos, the household. Such domestic language is a powerful means of fighting the abstracting effects of any attempt to ‘think globally.’ Francis seems to be saying that if you want to act globally, you should think locally: think of the earth as your home, one you share with others to whom you are accountable.”

“Laudato Si’” is distinctly not merely an encyclical about climate change. While the papacy has always been a patron and promoter of modern science and learning, specific scientific matters are outside its teaching authority. Rather, this is an encyclical about the fundamental crisis of humanity that is at the foundations of our modern world. Ecological aspects are a symptom of that crisis, not the root of it, and there are no simple solutions.

Professor Thomas Hibbs, who was formerly of Boston college, an institution of the Pope’s own Jesuit order, has written:

“The most audacious claim in the encyclical is not the affirmation of the reality of climate change, but the insistence that to have a coherent and effective environmental philosophy requires both an anthropology and a cosmology.”

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He writes that “Laudato Si’”

“seeks nothing less than the re-imagining of the place of human persons in the entirety of the created cosmos. Francis discerns beneath the contemporary ecological crisis a crisis of the human person, who is now lost in the cosmos, increasingly alienated from self, others, nature, and God.”

I apologise for trying to explain the encyclical, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have done it as best I could. It is a most beautiful document and I recommend that hon. Members read it in its entirety.

12.59 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). He spoke with huge eloquence, and I do not propose to compete with him on the papal encyclical. I have read it, but he informed the House about it brilliantly. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) on securing this incredibly important debate.

I will not spend time talking about the important encyclical because I want to mention what I believe we need out of the Paris summit, what we are likely to get out of it, and what should happen after it. Before I do so, it might be helpful—particularly for the Secretary of State, who is in her place—if I shared briefly a reflection on the Copenhagen summit of six years ago that I took part in, and I will offer one tip in particular.

I wish to relate an experience that was told by my lead official, the brilliant Pete Betts, who I believe still works with the Secretary of State. In the dying hours of the conference he rang me—I had not slept for 36 hours and was about to go to bed—to say that the deal was about to collapse. That was obviously a global problem, but it was also a particular problem for me because it followed a period when world leaders, including Gordon Brown, had come to town and made a heroic effort to salvage something from the wreckage of Copenhagen. Gordon had departed with the immortal words to me, “Make sure it doesn’t go wrong now”, and I had foolishly said, “I’m sure it’s all going to be fine, Gordon. Don’t worry about it.” When Pete rang me to say that the deal was about to collapse, part of me was obviously thinking about the world and the future of the planet, but I was also thinking, “What will Gordon say when I tell him the whole thing has collapsed?” I suggest to the Secretary of State that lowering prime ministerial expectations when the current Prime Minister leaves the summit—as I think he is due to do—is probably a good idea.

Let me return to the process of the Paris summit. We need an agreement that is as close as possible to what the science tells us is necessary. We should all be worried about what the science is telling us, because compared with six years ago it is even clearer. A good assessment produced by the Met Office earlier this month stated that 2015 is set to be the hottest year on record—yet another record. Some of that may be related to El Niño, but all the experts tell us that the underlying warming is a result of human-induced climate change. We are now at 1 °C of warming, which is half way to 2 °C. Importantly, global warming is not some theoretical idea—sometimes we speak as though it is—because it is happening now and the changes are already being witnessed.

Another study produced by the US Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this month found, among other things, that devastating

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floods in Indonesia in 2014, the 2013 Argentine heatwave, and tropical cyclones in Hawaii were all linked to human-induced climate change. The science is clear, dangerous, and should make us deeply concerned: climate change is real and it is happening now.

That takes me to what we are likely to get out of Paris, as opposed to what we need. I believe that we will get a 2° commitment, as at Copenhagen, but I am afraid not a 2° deal—the Secretary of State has acknowledged that. The UN says that on the best case scenario for Paris, current commitments made by countries for 2030 mean that we will be half way between “business as usual” emissions—that means no action—and where we should be to have a fighting chance of a 2° deal. As the UN has made clear, on the basis of submitted plans, we are heading for something like a 3° deal.

If the world ends up in 2100 with 3 °C warming, that would be catastrophic. It would mean temperatures that are higher than at any time in the last 3 million years, with dramatic effects of intense heatwaves, flooding, and millions—or hundreds of millions—of climate refugees. Does that mean that we should dismiss the likely Paris agreement? In my view, we should not. If the Secretary of State, her colleagues, and world leaders pull off an agreement in Paris, new ground will have been broken. It will be the first agreement to get anywhere even in the vague neighbourhood of 2°, the first to oblige all major emitters to take action to reduce emissions, and the first—we hope—comprehensively to stand up $100 billion of climate finance for mitigation and adaptation for the developing world. Those would be signal achievements—behind the science but ahead of where we have been.

However, just as we should not dismiss that progress, we should also be clear about what a dangerous position we will be in. If that is the agreement, the judgment on Paris will be that it has been a success, but that it can only be a staging post. Importantly, just as what happened after Copenhagen perhaps made it seem less of a disaster than it seemed at the time, what happens after Paris will determine whether the summit has turned out to be a decisive moment.

Since the ambition will be insufficient at Paris, our focus should be on raising that ambition afterwards. I think of that in two parts: ambition before 2030, and ambition after. Before 2030—my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland mentioned this—we need a ratchet mechanism to ensure that the Paris agreement is the beginning of what is required. That must mean a tough, five-year review mechanism, so that countries renew and improve their pledges. My colleague in another place, Baroness Worthington, said that the agreement might ultimately come to be seen as a global equivalent of our five-year carbon budgets, and that is the right way to think about it. The hope—I think it is not a forlorn hope—must be that as technology develops and as confidence is built, countries will move further and faster.

Graham Stuart: I agree with most of the speech by the right hon. Gentleman. Providing certainty, and ratcheting and tightening up a deal in Paris over time, send a signal to the investment market. That means that we will get investment in innovation, research and development and the supply chain, which is a prerequisite of driving down costs. Only by that level of commitment will we get the acceleration of a cost curve downwards,

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which is the way that we will deliver for the planet while also protecting the consumer. That is why we need certainty and those kinds of framework.

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman’s point is important and well made, and it takes me to what I was about to say. This is not just about hoping that we can make that kind of progress with technology and so on; by setting the right framework we make it more likely that such progress will be made, and that the constructive, imaginative and inventive side of humankind will defeat our destructive side.

Barry Gardiner: My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful and important speech with his immense knowledge in this area. Does he share my concern that the word coming out of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is that the numbers of officials who are engaged on climate diplomacy will be cut around the globe, just as the case is being made that we need to proselytise even more in that area with our fellow nations?

Edward Miliband: I think that the FCO and every Department must be concerned with these matters, and I am sure that the Secretary of State, who is a champion on these issues, will argue for that. I know from my experience that that sometimes feels a bit lonely in government, but in our case we had support across the Government from the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.

In response to the point from the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), ensuring progress means that we must keep on track here at home. Next Thursday there is an important moment when the Energy and Climate Change Committee publishes its recommendations for the fifth carbon budget, and I hope the Government will support that.

Let me move on to the period after 2030. Every excess tonne of carbon that we emit between now and 2030 means that we will have to do more later—we must be clear about that. The easiest way to think about it is that we have a finite carbon budget, which has been helpfully estimated by the UN to be about 1,000 gigatonnes—a round number. Once that is used up, we can emit no more if we are to avoid dangerous warming. Frighteningly, the UN tells us that on current pledges to 2030, 75% of that total carbon budget will be used up by 2030. That suggests the scale of the task facing us, particularly if we do not improve the pledges between now and 2030. The crucial point, whether we do that or not, is that the world will at some point have to reach zero emissions. I commend the Government and the Secretary of State for signing up to the G7 pledge, made recently, that the world will have to get to zero emissions sometime in the second half of this century.

It is striking that increasing numbers of business leaders—this again relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness—are putting their energies and thinking into the so-called net zero commitment. Ratan Tata, Paul Polman of Unilever, Richard Branson of Virgin and many others from the so-called B-team of business leaders, recently sent a letter to all those attending Paris calling for the adoption

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of the long-term goal of zero emissions. They are right: the long-term goal is an essential part of a successful Paris agreement.

What does zero emissions mean? It means a 100% clean energy system. It means the right decisions about infrastructure. It also means—this is where the inventers and engineers will be incredibly important—technological advance on how to capture carbon, reforestation and a whole range of other matters. Increasingly, the question of when and how we get to zero emissions will become our focus and energy after Paris. It will need to become the benchmark for the decisions we make in the years ahead.

Finally, we will also have to continue to work on the all-important question of a fair and equitable approach. The reality that all of us in the House have to face is that industrialised countries have grown in a high carbon way and we are now saying to poorer countries that they have to grow in a low carbon way. That is an unprecedented challenge of equity. It makes it all the more important that rich countries cut their emissions to allow space for poorer countries to develop. It also means, and I commend the Government for this, that it is right to be leading on development aid around climate change. That will enable countries to leapfrog the high carbon path and go to a low carbon path.

Those are the ways in which I think Paris must lay the ground for future ambition, and a future ambition that is fairly shared.

Graham Stuart: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have to ensure there is engagement and understanding on this issue in Parliaments across the world? That is why today’s debate, and others like it, are so important. I refer the House to my declaration of interests. I will be chairing a GLOBE International two-day conference at the Assemblée Nationale on 4 and 5 December. About 250 legislators from around the world will be talking about the role of national Parliaments in setting the law, scrutinising government and making sure that international promises are turned into domestic reality.

Edward Miliband: Let me take the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the role he plays in GLOBE International, which is an incredibly important organisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has also played a very important role in that organisation. By bringing legislators together, it plays a crucial role in building support for tackling climate change.

I want to end by making two observations. My first observation is about the process of what we might call summitry. Many people thought Copenhagen was a failure—I referred to it at the beginning of my speech—and that it did not achieve what we wanted. It certainly did not meet people’s expectations. The reality, however, is that it laid the groundwork for some of what we are seeing in Paris: a 2° commitment, the $100 billion of climate finance and the whole notion of bottom-up pledges.

Trying to get countries to sign up to these issues is such a knotty problem that we will not get all the way the first, second or even third time. We just have to move things forward and make progress. The negotiations in Paris look like an elite-level exercise and people will

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often ask what the point is of all those leaders gathering together. I believe, however, that it is a forcing mechanism. I do not think we would have seen the progress from a lot of countries around the world if there had not been a moment when countries came together. World leaders know they will be judged on whether they are doing something or just ignoring the problem. We will not get everything we want from Paris, but that does not mean we should be discouraged. In fact, we should redouble our efforts at home and around the world.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does my right hon. Friend accept that many people will look to Paris as a first test of whether the very worthy spirit of the sustainable development goals are truly the working ethic of international action? As this is the first generation that can eradicate extreme poverty and possibly the last generation that can address climate change, people want to see that ethic at Paris and to see it proven afterwards.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is an incredibly important year, with the sustainable development goals and the Paris talks. He makes the point very well.

My second and final observation—we have already had a bit of to and fro on policy questions—is on cross-party consensus. It is worth making the point that we came together, as political parties, to pass the Climate Change Act in 2008. It is hard to remember this—I checked back and even I was surprised—but the Act passed by 463 votes to three. That is an extraordinary achievement. The Prime Minister and I have had our differences over the years, but I have to say that, as Leader of the Opposition, he did indeed break new ground by putting this front and centre. The extraordinary consensus that was built sent a message about the commitment of the parties across this House. That was important in Britain. It was also—I do not think this is British arrogance—important around the world, too, as it sent an international message. Since 2008, we have seen the Climate Change Act emulated in many countries. Parties across this House should be proud of what we achieved together.

The point, to which I referred earlier, that I would perhaps mostly direct towards the Secretary of State is that it is hard being the biggest fighter for tackling climate change in government. There are many competing pressures, but I know she is totally a believer on these issues. I think that part of her role, if I may suggest this, is to find ways of maintaining and strengthening that consensus. This is not just in relation to the policies, but for the idea that somehow a good economy and a good environment are not in contradiction, but that the two go together. The CBI has made huge advances on this issue.

There will, of course, be disagreements. There is, however, a basic set of assumptions: the science on climate change is real; we know that, as human beings, we are responsible for it; and we are conscious—this is crucial—that we have in our hands the ingenuity to tackle the problem and deal with it. Whatever party we are from, we care about our responsibilities to hold the planet in trust for future generations. Whatever party we are from, we know we will be held to account for the actions we take or do not take now. Whatever party we are from—this relates to what the hon. Member for

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Foyle (Mark Durkan) said in his intervention—our children will either see us as the last generation not to get climate change or the first generation to get it. That is why I believe we cannot afford to fail. I will be supporting the Secretary of State in getting the best possible agreement out of Paris.

1.17 pm

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who made an excellent speech. I regret to tell the House that I am the first speaker this afternoon who has not read the encyclical, but I shall be speaking specifically about the Paris agreement: what the objectives are; whether we appear to be on track to meet them, and, given that we are not, where the problem is; what structural issues in my view we need to address, which are similar to, but not the same as, the ones we have just heard; and what all that means for UK policy.

The objective of the Paris summit is the 2° limit. In objective terms, that means either 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon, or something like 550 parts per million of carbon. In truth, there are a lot of probabilities around that: we could meet the targets and still have more than a 2° increase; we could fail to meet them and get less. Nevertheless, those are the numbers we are dealing with. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North made the point that on current progress we will have reached 75% by 2030. A figure I prefer to use is that by 2036 it will have all gone: by 2036, our business-as-usual scenario will be finished.

Are we on track or not? A couple of Members have mentioned the intended nationally determined contributions. However, about only 80% of all participants in Paris have delivered them. The first problem with the INDCs—this is an indicator of the issues the Secretary of State will have to face—is that we could not even agree a common benchmark or starting point for the INDCs. The Europeans prefer 1990 and the Americans prefer 2005. We both have our own reasons: they make us look better.

It is not surprising, given that we could not agree a benchmark or common template, that the INDCs, 80% of which are now in, are all over the place. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North said they implied a 3° outcome. I find this surprising. A report by the secretariat of the United Nations framework convention on climate change mentioned 2.73°. This is an optimistic analysis—that is unusual as these guys are usually over-pessimistic—because it assumes we will continue on broadly the same trajectory after the initial INDC period. That will be hard, however, because there are low-hanging fruit and it will be easier to make progress on the first things. The other key points are that we need five-year reviews and that only the EU and China have put in place policies reflecting their INDCs, suggesting that regulating the process might be harder than we think.

Where is the problem? It is not the UK. The Climate Change Act mandates an 80% reduction in emissions over 60 years: a rate of 1.33% a year, which is significantly higher than the EU INDC in Paris. I would like a Front-Bench spokesperson to contradict me if I am wrong, because it is an important point. The Act commits

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the UK to an emissions target 33% higher than the EU INDC submission, of which we are part. That is an extraordinary statistic. With our policies—the carbon budgets and everything that goes with them—we have imposed on ourselves requirements more stringent than those set by the EU as a whole, let alone individual member states. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that other countries have passed climate change Acts. If only they had! We expected they would—we thought we were taking a worldwide position—but it has not happened to anything like the extent we hoped it would. I note that neither Front-Bench team has intervened, so I think I am right.

The INDC we submitted to Paris requires a 40% emissions reduction by 2030, which is significantly less than we are legally obliged to achieve in the UK. How are some of our European partners getting on? There is a database called the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research—EDGAR—and it is a rattling good yarn. It details carbon emissions by country, capita and unit of GDP for every year up to 2013. Since 1990, Austria, a wealthy European country, has increased its emissions by 20%, while we have reduced ours by 20%, in accordance with the Climate Change Act. That is the same country, by the way, that is suing us for building nuclear power stations. Holland and Belgium are flat. Germany has reduced its emissions, but, in spite of being a leader on renewables, its emissions are 30% higher than ours per capita. That is because it is going heavily for coal, and what makes the difference on emissions is not how many renewables a country has, but how much coal it does not have. We need to examine that. That is a slightly pessimistic analysis of the INDCs—I know we are going to negotiate—but I wanted to make the point that the European submission to Paris is 33% lower than what this Parliament has already mandated for this country. I wonder why that is.

What is causing this apparent possibility of failure? There is actually one piece of good news from the last few years. I am pleasantly surprised that we appear to have broken the link between GDP and energy intensity. The only caveat is the issue that dare not speak its name: embedded carbon. If we have broken the link only by importing carbon in the form of embedded carbon, we will have undermined much of what we are doing.

A bigger issue concerns an error that was made before and at Copenhagen and by the EU, and one that we are still making—I heard it in DECC questions again today: we have tended to over-emphasise renewables targets and under-emphasise decarbonisation, yet for too long we have used those words interchangeably. I am in favour of renewables, but because all the EU targets were for renewables, not decarbonisation, we placed a false emphasis on certain technologies. In particular, we did not develop nuclear power and carbon capture and storage as quickly as we should have. That error is still being made. This morning, I received a document from Friends of the Earth in preparation for this debate. It cannot bring itself to use the words “nuclear power” in this context. I can only conclude that although it cares about climate change, it does not care enough to countenance the dominant technology that is by far the best chance the world has.

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Caroline Lucas: Those of us who are deeply sceptical about nuclear power are not sceptical for ideological reasons. Nuclear is slow and deeply expensive. We need to reduce our emissions quickly, but the next nuclear power stations will not be on grid for at least another 10 years. It is an issue of speed and cost, as well as ideology.

David Mowat: As an advocate of nuclear power, I accept we have not solved the waste issue, but it is one that the human race is capable of solving, whereas I am not certain that climate change is. And I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s point about cost.

Returning to the coal and gas debate, another issue is that we confuse post-2030 emissions pathways with the cumulative impact. The gigatonne target is a cumulative one. The effect of carbon and burning coal is cumulative. It is not just about post-2030 pathways or saying that gas has to be an interim energy source. In an intervention earlier, I made the point that were we able to replace all the coal in the world with gas—just like that—it would have the same effect as a fivefold increase in the level of renewable energy. We all ought to think about that statistic. This is not just about renewables. Of course they are vital, but we have to use other technologies, such as nuclear and CCS. The Copenhagen analysis and the EU’s approach have focused too heavily on renewables and not enough on decarbonisation, so I am pleased we appear to be fixing that now.

In that regard, I would make one final point. I have mentioned Austria and—to an extent—Germany as countries that are doing badly, but one country in Europe is a shining example: France has the lowest emissions, the lowest emissions pathway and the lowest level of emissions per capita and GDP, and that is because it is 80% nuclear. There is an emperor’s new clothes element to this. I wish we could be where France is.

What does all this mean for the UK? We have our Climate Change Act, and next Thursday we will get the next ratchet of that. We have to be careful that we do not act unilaterally—I have bought into all this stuff—and do not take a worldwide leadership position for a world that does not wish to or will not be led. That is why Paris is so important and why, for me, it is so disappointing that the EU submission to Paris is so unambitious vis-à-vis our Climate Change Act. The issues of fuel poverty will not be resolved by having the highest electricity prices in the world. I mentioned earlier in DECC questions that a number of EU leaders had sent the Secretary of State texts congratulating her on her announcement yesterday about removing coal from the system and replacing it with gas. I would just say that texts are no substitute for action by some of those countries. I am sure she will be telling them that in Paris, and I wish her luck.

1.30 pm

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Climate change is the biggest challenge that any of us or any future generations will face. It is absolutely right that the House should be given the opportunity to debate this important issue, particularly with Paris just a couple of weeks away. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us time to debate this subject. I shall confine my remarks almost entirely to the domestic issues and the Government’s policy on renewable energy and its

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impact on Britain’s CO2 reduction targets, but also on jobs more widely and the UK’s reputation going into the Paris conference.

As we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), thanks to the information we received via a leaked letter from the Energy Secretary, we now know that Britain is likely to miss our 2020 target of 15% of energy production from renewables by some margin, in all likelihood reaching just 11%. That compares to Germany, which already produces 31% of its energy from renewables. As we have also heard, the cheapest renewable energy by far is onshore wind. It is so cost-effective that it no longer needs any subsidy, but as we have also heard, it has been virtually stopped in its tracks in England by the Government’s planning changes.

Now the Government are proposing to abandon support for solar almost completely, in spite of the growing scientific and political consensus around the world that it holds the secret to our future carbon-free energy needs. The proposed cut in solar feed-in tariffs by a staggering 87% from 1 January will devastate our fledging solar industry and make meeting the legally binding target of 15% by 2020 far more difficult. At the same time, the Government are announcing huge subsidies for nuclear, gas and highly polluting diesel generators. How can that make sense?

We now face a situation in which in a couple of years’ time, renewables could be the only sector not to receive any subsidy. There is also the impact on jobs, our economy and our science base. Our solar industry alone provides 35,000 jobs, including nearly 4,000 in the south-west of England. We face losing 27,000 of those jobs nationally, including more than 3,000 in the south-west, if the proposal goes ahead unaltered. That figure is similar to—indeed, higher than—the job losses recently announced in the steel industry, but these jobs have a far lower profile because they are at small companies, they are scattered all over the country and they do not have a loud enough political voice. The irony is that by 2020 our solar industry could be operating subsidy-free. Indeed, the sector itself acknowledges the common sense in reducing the feed-in tariff, but it believes it should be done in a tapered way, not with a cliff edge, as is currently proposed. As my hon. Friend said, jobs are already being lost because of the uncertainty. We had the announcement of another 35 job losses in Exeter this week alone.

I would like to say a little about the situation facing hundreds of community renewable energy projects up and down the country in the light of recent announcements of changes to the way in which tax relief is administered. As hon. Members will remember, that was announced without any consultation on Third Reading of the Finance Act 2015 at the end of October and is to take effect at the end of this month—just one month’s notice. This, I am afraid, is a disgrace. Those renewable energy schemes at community level get off the ground as the result of the blood, sweat and tears—often over years—of thousands of ordinary, civic-minded citizens, who have now had the rug pulled from under them.

My community energy project in Exeter has been working tirelessly for more than two years preparing its share offer, but it had to rush it out this week, before it was really ready, in order to beat the loss of tax relief at the end of the month. The project has, heroically,

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managed to raise more than a quarter of the funds it needs, but raising the rest will be much more difficult without the tax reliefs, which have suddenly been taken away. Community Energy England estimates that £127 million of current investment and £242 million of potential future investment is at risk from the decision. When the Secretary of State responds, I would like to know whether she or her fellow Minister were consulted on the change, and if not, why not? If they were, why did they agree to it? I understand that the community energy sector feels so angry and betrayed by the decision that it is considering taking legal action, and I am sure there are many people in this House and outside who would support that.

The Secretary of State asserted earlier in departmental questions that she believed that Britain under the current Government had maintained its leadership role and its international reputation on climate change, but in that case why has Ernst & Young dropped the United Kingdom from the top 10 countries for renewable energy attractiveness? Why did the UN chief environment scientist, Jacquie McGlade, say recently on the BBC that it was

“disappointing…when we see countries such as the United Kingdom that have really been in the lead in terms of getting their renewable energy up and going—we see subsidies being withdrawn and the fossil fuel industry being enhanced”?

She went on to say that she thought Britain was sending a worrying signal in the run-up to Paris by shifting away from clean energy just when the rest of the world was rushing towards it.

David Mowat: I made the point earlier that one of the issues we face is that we confuse decarbonisation with renewables, and I think many of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks are along those lines. He talked earlier about Germany, which has 34% renewables but very high emissions because it is building coal-powered stations. The Government’s position is to reduce carbon, but not just by using renewables.

Mr Bradshaw: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman: it is not an either/or. What he says about Germany is absolutely right and is due in large part to the, in my view, unusually foolish policy decision by the Merkel Government to withdraw from nuclear. Germany is paying a high price for that, and it is a very good lesson to those of us who advocate an anti-nuclear policy.

Caroline Lucas: I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis. Real analysis of what has happened in Germany shows that the reason why coal has come up and taken that space is the lowering of the price, not least because of the dash for gas in the US which has resulted in a low price for coal. That is what has undercut the situation in Germany, not the fact that it has had to get rid of nuclear.

Mr Bradshaw: I am not going to have a ping-pong about it, but I am sure there is a price driver as well. The simple fact is that Germany needed that coal because it had abandoned nuclear energy so suddenly.

When the Secretary of State responds at the end of this debate, I want her to explain to the House and the British public why the Government have adopted the approach they have on renewables since the election. I want an honest assessment from her, given what I have said, of how she feels that has impacted on Britain’s reputation internationally and on our leadership role.

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I would also like a clearer explanation than we have heard so far from the Government of how they intend to close the gap between our legally binding 2020 target and the current trajectory.

I remember climate change summits not that long ago when Britain was a world leader. The commitment, hard work and leadership of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) delivered real and vital progress globally and at home. Even the current Prime Minister felt the need for a while at least to pay lip service to this agenda, but I am afraid that since 2010, and particularly since this year’s election, the Conservatives appear to have stopped even pretending to take climate change seriously. They are doing real damage to our renewable energy industry, and I believe they are damaging Britain’s reputation in the process.

I hope we will see more progress and a more positive approach in the run-up to Paris, and I hope that the Secretary of State and her colleagues can persuade the rest of their colleagues in government to take this—the biggest challenge both in Britain and globally—far more seriously than they are.

1.40 pm

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): I too welcome this cross-party debate. It is essential that we work together not just nationally, but internationally, as so many of my colleagues have said. Climate change is bigger than the internal political debate. It was my work over many years as a television environment correspondent that really put climate change on my radar, which is why I wanted to speak in today’s debate. It showed me that tackling this issue is pivotal to the future of the planet.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) on securing this debate, but we should also be praising the Pope for focusing on this issue in his encyclicals. It is the Pope who has raised the issue of climate change and its inextricable links to poverty, as mentioned earlier, and that has put the issue right at the top of the agenda—and amen to that. As a good convent girl, although not a Catholic, I know that when the Pope speaks, we listen.

Speaking as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I am heartened that the Pope has made the direct link between climate change and the sustainability of the planet. If we do not tackle climate change, the biodiversity of our environment will be in jeopardy, and if we do not look after our land, our soil and our water for the long term, not the short term, we will not be able to feed the population. There will be increased famine and floods, our natural world will be decimated, and we will head for environmental disaster. There is no beating about the bush on this.

By setting a new set of sustainable development goals running until 2030, I am pleased to say that the UN has recognised that we must act in this area. I am also pleased that we have a 25-year environment strategy right here in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in which climate change is firmly embodied. I shall press to ensure that we have a firm strategy for putting that into place. Lord Krebs, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, specifically highlighted that recently in a sustainability conference. I am confident that our Government are taking this on board.

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Just yesterday, as mentioned earlier, the Secretary of State said that we are committed to delivering our climate change commitment and that we are the greenest Government ever, so she must stick by it. She echoed the past words of the Prime Minister, who said the same thing not long ago in Prime Minister’s Question Time. He said that climate change was the “greatest danger” we have ever faced. I believe he is a great leader, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) said, and we need him to champion the cause.

The Climate Change Act 2008 gave us the tools to become a low carbon economy. No other country has commitments to match those Climate Change Act commitments, and we also have the independent Committee on Climate Change, which must keep holding our feet to the fire to ensure that we remain committed to cutting by 40% our 1990 levels of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and to have reduced the six greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.

As a new Conservative MP, tackling climate change is a personal priority for me. It may seem strange, but in Taunton Deane, there is a great appetite for this. I was approached by an incredible number of people who raised the issue of climate change during my electoral campaign. They included groups such as Transition Taunton, Transition Athelney, the Quantock Eco group, and wildlife groups such as the Somerset wildlife trust—I declare an interest as a trustee—as well as farmers who had to combat flooding. They all came to me, some travelling to London, to urge me to press our Government to ensure that we keep to our climate change commitments. That is another reason why I am speaking today.

We have heard that Governments have agreed to limit global warming to 2 °C, which means that greenhouse gas emissions will have to fall by 80% to 95% by 2050. The statistics were eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South. We need in Paris a clear global climate deal that sets out how each country is going to achieve that. But it is not all about what goes on internationally. We have to lead by example at home, as there is an indissoluble link between our methods of energy production and emissions. I think everybody is quite clear about that. Cutting emissions relies on transferring to a low carbon economy.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Energy Secretary to phase out all our coal-fired power stations by 2023 means that we are leading the way in this area, and we are one of the very first countries to make that commitment to phase out fossil fuels. It is a great message with which to head to Paris. As the Secretary of State said earlier, many people are talking about it. Coal is the most polluting way to generate power, and it still produces 30% of our energy. Coal plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and this is one of the main reasons why we are facing the challenge of climate change. Running one large coal plant full time as far ahead as 2030 would provide only 3% of our electricity, yet it would use up 50% of the UK’s emissions targets, so it makes absolute sense to get rid of coal-fired energy.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I completely agree with my hon. Friend and with the Secretary of State’s statement yesterday. I understand that Indonesia is planning to build coal-fired power plants equivalent to about two thirds of the entire UK grid capacity. While it is great that we are doing this, we are a very small

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player. That is why Paris is so important. We can lead by example, but we need the rest of the world to follow. Otherwise it is literally fiddling while Indonesia burns.

Rebecca Pow: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am coming on to talk a little more about the international context. He is absolutely right, but that is not a reason for us not acting. We still have to do everything we can to set the example, and then we need to go along and hopefully encourage others to join the team.

Caroline Lucas: I agree with much of what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that it is not just about setting an example, but about recognising historic responsibility? If we are looking at the cumulative emissions of CO2 in the atmosphere, the UK is one hell of a lot more responsible than Indonesia.

Rebecca Pow: I am not going to disagree with that, but it is again no reason for not doing something. That is historic, and we did not have all the science at that time. We do have the science now, which is why we are going to move forward.

David Mowat: The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) is quite right that the UK is more responsible than Indonesia, but that is why it is disappointing that Germany is building brand-new coal-fired power stations, as in Holland. The point about Indonesia is right; it does not apply to Germany. While we are on the subject of coal, we need to understand that the world is still increasing its use of coal in absolute terms at a faster rate than its use of renewables.

Rebecca Pow: I thank my hon. Friend for that valuable intervention. While we are talking about the best kinds of energy that we should use, it is of course important to mention nuclear energy, which is another crucial part of our clean energy strategy. I mention it in particular because Hinkley C is on my doorstep and it will have a massive knock-on effect on Taunton Deane. It is the first new nuclear power station that we have built for 20 years. This is low carbon energy, and it will provide 7% of our energy requirements and keep the lights on for 6 million homes. It is so important as the baseload of non-fossil fuel energy.

The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who is almost a parliamentary neighbour, was talking about jobs lost in the renewables sector, but 25,000 jobs should be created with the development of Hinkley C, and 5,000 of them are going to be in Somerset. Hinkley C will spawn a raft of low carbon technologies, which are already starting up. That is very positive and heartening, and we should raise the flag, because this is the direction in which we should be going. Moreover, this power station is largely fuelled by private investment, which we must encourage, because we cannot keep demanding that the state supply everything. It is a model for the way forward, and I have high hopes that it will be used as a model for other nuclear power stations built in this country.

We have made progress on renewables, although things are changing slightly at the moment. It is welcome that 16% of our energy comes from renewables, and that £42 billion has been invested in renewable energy so far. Yes, the tariffs are changing, but the Secretary of State is considering what to do about solar companies that are in that “in-between” phase. We are continuing to

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encourage the use of offshore wind, which is a valuable addition to our energy supplies. However, in developing what I would describe as a new model for energy production in the UK, we must ensure that it does not damage the environment. As I said earlier, it must be sustainable. It must also be affordable, involving the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. We must meet the Government’s fuel poverty targets, and we must do so at a time when the country is still in debt. The Pope was at pains to point out that energy costs must not penalise the poor and the vulnerable.

Given that we are getting hot under the collar, this is an appropriate moment at which to mention heat. A third of our emissions in the UK result from the inefficient use and waste of heat. I have spoken to the Secretary of State about the issue, and she assures me that the Department will look into it. It is a difficult issue to deal with, and it is expensive, but it is essential that we tackle it at a later stage. Decarbonising heat from buildings will definitely help us to close the carbon gap. Local authorities could work with low carbon roadmaps. The development of zero-carbon homes—which we should encourage when it is possible—and of more localised heating systems, such as district heating systems, will also help us to cut our emissions and secure higher energy efficiency, lower carbon emissions and less climate-warming.

Steve Brine: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way a second time. She is being very generous.

During the last Parliament, I served on the Bill Committee that considered what became the Energy Act 2011, which created the green deal. Like many other Members on both sides of the House, I am disappointed that the green deal is not continuing, although it would have been crazy to continue with something that was not working and was not delivering as we wanted it to. I hope my hon. Friend agrees that the issue of existing housing stock and its emissions is still critical, and that we need to reinvent the green deal in a new form in order to address it.

Rebecca Pow: I too was concerned about the green deal, but it clearly was not working. It was so complicated that there was no take-up. I know that lessons will be learnt, and I think that eventually we will come up with some sort of plan to make houses more efficient. The builders are certainly not averse to that.

As we have just heard, the UK is responsible for only 1.5% of the world’s carbon emissions, whereas China, for example, produces 26%. This is a global issue, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister has announced the provision of £5.8 billion of aid to help developing countries to tackle climate change through the international climate change fund between 2016 and 2021. I am also pleased that we are contributing £720 million to the green climate fund.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rebecca Pow: I will, although I am about to finish.

Mr MacNeil: The lady is very honourable, and very generous; too generous, perhaps. As she says, the UK is responsible for only 1.5% of global emissions while

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China is responsible for 26%, but China’s emissions percentage reflects its percentage of the world’s population. Per head, the UK’s emissions are far higher.

Rebecca Pow: That is a good point, although China’s population is already falling, and we hope that it will continue to fall. We have to advise other countries, which is why Paris is so important. We must set the trend, and explain why it is important for others to buy into this.

David Mowat: It is interesting to note that China’s emissions per capita are the same as ours this year. I know that that does not detract from the point about embedded carbon, but it is interesting none the less.

Rebecca Pow: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Trees have been mentioned only briefly, but I am a great tree person, and I must speak up for them. We must encourage partnerships to reduce deforestation. We need to work with countries such as Brazil to stop the cutting down of rain forests, which is the single largest contributor to the release of carbon. Reducing cutting will have an enormous impact on climate change, and will also maintain our biodiversity—and placing a value on the benefits of biodiversity is part and parcel of the climate change debate. In that context, I am pleased that the Government are now talking about the importance of nature capital. Maintaining tree cover, whether it is done in Brazil or elsewhere in the world—including on the Somerset levels—will reduce flooding and soil erosion, aid soil maintenance, and give us cleaner water.

The Pope has called for increased action. We should bear in mind that not everything can be achieved in a stuffy room in Paris; a lot can be done there, but we in the House can do a lot as well.

Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rebecca Pow: I will not, because I am about to end my speech.

I urge you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to join me and play your part in cutting emissions by running your washing machine on a very low heat. I do that, and the washing is still clean. You can also reduce your wash time, and you can turn down the heating or not put it on at all: my husband hardly ever lets me turn ours on. You can also use public transport, and grow your own food. Look after your soil!

Those are all things that we can do at home, but Paris is important in the long term. It is essential that the Government work to get the very best that they can out of it, and that we continue to lead by example.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I do not want to impose a time limit as such, but if Members speak for no more than 10 minutes, everyone will have an equal amount of time.