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Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that we are discussing how those barriers can be overcome, and that we have said several times that we have every intention of overcoming them. We anticipate publishing the new combined heat and power strategy in the near future. As for the commitment to renewables, a substantial programme of investment is planned, as there is in a range of energy efficiency and other programmes. While none of us would argue that enough is being done, a substantial amount is being done, and rather more than was being done when the party that the hon. Gentleman supports was last in power.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): In congratulating my right hon. Friend, may I urge her to pay more attention to a neglected form of power that is almost eternally renewable, is British and can offer a huge source of power—the tidal range in the Severn estuary, where there is the highest rise and fall of tide in the world, very near to centres of population? Should we not regard that as a clean, environmentally friendly source of power that can eliminate altogether more development in the unpopular and expensive nuclear industry?

Margaret Beckett: Indeed, I share, as I believe do many in the House, my hon. Friend's concern that we do more to exploit the natural advantages of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend knows that there is a substantial programme of investment in research into such subjects and the Government will continue to support and advance it.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): In congratulating the Front-Bench team on getting us to this marvellous announcement today, and especially congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister on almost singlehandedly saving the Kyoto process a few years ago, may I ask my right hon. Friend to pay special regard to the potential cost to this nation of now ratifying the treaty? Sometimes treaties of this nature can have a competitive cost to a country, placing it at a disadvantage to those countries that are not prepared to sign up to these proposals. In that regard, will we robustly argue with the United States that it must sign up, and that if it does not, we will robustly defend our competitive position?

Margaret Beckett: First, I rather suspect that one of the things that will ultimately have an effect in the United States is that it will realise that it is missing out on employment and trading opportunities as a result of not being engaged in the process. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are obviously costs and implications, as well as those opportunities, but I am confident that the overall balance is to the United Kingdom's advantage and will continue to be so. I simply remind him of the simple, but evocative phrase that companies saving carbon are companies saving money.

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Personal Statements

2.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a personal statement. During the heat of debate, strong feelings are expressed on both sides of the House. I hope that, in my time here, I have always shown proper respect for the occupant of the Chair and observed his or her rulings. As you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, I was not asked by the Deputy Speaker in Westminster Hall yesterday to withdraw my remarks when they were made. However, on reflection, I accept that it would have been better if I had not used the phrase that I applied to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), and I am sorry for the offence that was caused.

2.21 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a personal statement. In the debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, exchanges became frank to the point of being unacceptable, and I should like to apologise to the Deputy Speaker in Westminster Hall, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for my part in that. The issues under discussion were of grave urgency and importance, and they mean a very great deal to me. Exchanges on both sides of the argument were decidedly robust. None the less, I should like to say that I am sorry for stepping out of parliamentary order and for my failure to withdraw my remarks when asked to do so by the Deputy Speaker and now to withdraw them.

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[2nd Allotted Day]


Environmental Audit

Considered pursuant to Resolution [5 February] and Standing Order No.145 (Liaison Committee) [Relevant documents: Second Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2001-02, on Pre-Budget Report 2001: A New Agenda? HC 363-I; and The Chancellor of the Exchequer's Departments: Annual Report 2001, Cm 5116.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

2.22 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): I should like to thank all my colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee and the staff and advisers to the Committee for the work that they have done. As evidence of the Committee's hard work, I refer to the fact that, this week alone, we have taken evidence from the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for International Development and the chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathon Porritt, as well as participating in this debate—several of my colleagues are here today. Last week, we spent three days in Germany investigating renewable energy. As one of my colleagues remarked, I am sure that we would qualify for a charter mark for activity if they were awarded to Select Committees.

The debate today is billed as being about environmental taxation policy. That is a rather narrow and, in many ways, unhelpful overall title. It is narrow because, as our report on the Chancellor's pre-Budget report makes clear, we considered the whole gamut of ways in which Treasury policy can affect the environment: taxation, subsidies, investment, incentives, negotiated self- regulation, trading systems and so on. So the issue is not just about taxation. It is unhelpful because talk of environmental taxation inevitably invites the suspicion that this is another Treasury stealth tax by a different name.

I believe that concern for the environment is part of the natural evolution of a civilised, modern society that has come to understand that the quality of life is not just a matter of the standard of living It is about time that the Treasury wholeheartedly and intelligently joined in that debate; it is essential that it does so if we are to make progress. That is why I rather like the concept of sustainable development, which is occasionally rather well defined as treating the world as though we intended to stay. That concept contains the idea of a balance between all three important elements: economic, social and environmental issues.

The fact is that we can benefit economically from good environmental ideas. There is the possibility of a win-win situation. Indeed, given how other countries—Germany

7 Mar 2002 : Column 452

and Denmark, for example—handle waste treatment, renewable energy, fuel cell technology and so on, I am becoming concerned that the United Kingdom may fall behind economically because it does not give enough priority to environmental technology. I am afraid that the opposite of win-win is lose-lose, and we must not get ourselves into that situation.

I received for Christmas from a well-meaning friend a now famous book, by Bjorn Lomberg, called "The Sceptical Environmentalist". It is a fairly heavy academic tome, and I would not recommend it as bedtime reading. It certainly provides a healthy corrective to the more apocalyptic notions that sometimes hold sway in environmental quarters, but nothing in it denies the need for a sensible and precautionary approach to sustainable development.

When I visit local schools—as I did last Friday, to talk about globalisation and development—I am struck by the fact that many young people understand the relevance of concern for the environment, based on their knowledge of science and geography as taught in school. In Westminster Hall, only yesterday, we debated the participation of young people in politics. If politicians seriously want to capture the enthusiasms of the young, we would do well to talk more about the environment and the problems and challenges of globalisation than we do at the moment. That is particularly true in a year when the world summit on sustainable development will take place in Johannesburg.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the students of Rooks Heath high school in my constituency on today being awarded a certificate for their successful activities in increasing the school's use of renewable energy and energy-saving materials? Will he also join me in congratulating the continued, excellent judgment of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in taking the time, while preparing for today's debate, to visit that school this morning to present that certificate?

Mr. Horam: That is an example of thinking locally and acting globally.

The Johannesburg meeting on world sustainable development will take place, by design, 10 years after the Rio summit and, by accident, nearly a year after the terrible events that took place in New York last September. Although we have, rightly, had to tackle terrorism by military means, a proper commitment to sustainable development is part of the answer to tackling the causes of terrorism.

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