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Mr. Simon Thomas: If the hon. Gentleman repeated the experience of trying to find LPG in rural mid-Wales, he would run out of fuel long before finding the right filling station. LPG is an important option, but does he agree that the potential offered by biodieselbecause the vegetable oil could be produced in this country and the vast majority of diesel cars on the road could easily be adapted to biodiesel without retro-fittingputs an onus on the Government to enhance the tax incentive for it?
Without discussing in detail the Home Energy Conservation Bill, we could make a regulatory change that would allow the public to act virtuously if we signed up to the commitments that require the licensing of houses in multiple occupation and the raising or setting of minimum housing standards. Those are not tax issues, but requirement issues, in much the same way as the Clean Air Act 1956.
My final point is the one with which I suspect very few hon. Members will agree. Like a number of my colleagues, I have been in the habit of roundly denouncing President Bush as a right-wing, reactionary, belligerent old warmonger, but in the past couple of days I have been forced to consider whether I need to rethink that view. There may be a case for suggesting that the decision of the President of the United States to impose a levy on steel imports is environmentally right. In most major sectors of the global economy, there are huge product surpluses. We must ask what the point is of destroying jobs and production processes so that we can offload products made in the most polluting way in parts of the world where people, as well as the environment, are exploited and where the need for infrastructure programmes must come second because the only purchasing capacity is in the north. I wonder whether President Bush has now appointed himself as honorary leader of the globalised resistance movement. If he has, many of us would welcome it and say that in areas of product surpluses, the issue is not about taxation, but about whether we should hypothecate the tariffs that are imposed and whether they should be automatically transferred to ensure that the developing world can use resources for itself in ways that reduce their part of the pollution equation. I realise that that may be some steps ahead of the Environmental Audit Committee report, but I am sure that we are moving in the same direction.
I should declare an interest, as I help a number of companies in doing their environmental good on certain issues. On many of those issues, one can hardly mention the environment without referring to those companies. I am also chairman of the not-for-profit organisation, Valpak, which deals with the obligations of companies in the packaging world.
I am very pleased that we are having this debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) on the way in which he introduced it. I also congratulate the Environmental Audit Committee on the way in which it considered the issues. Positive signals are very important. I put it to the Minister as delicately as I can that it would be very good if, on occasion, the
Before we turn to taxation, there is a serious issue in respect of how we encourage people to act in an environmentally friendly way. The first part of that is to make it easier to be good than bad. Man cannot be made good by an Act of Parliament, but one can make it easier to be good. For example, all of us have stayed in hotels where it has taken us some time to find all the switches to turn on the lights. Some are high up and some are low down; they can be anywhere. By the time we have turned them all on and it is time to leave the room, we say to ourselves, "Well, I'm damned if I'm going to turn them off againafter all, I'm paying so much a night that the hotel should be able to pay for the extra electricity." Of course, that is an improper reaction. It would be better if there were a system in which one switch would turn all the lights off, or better still, in which the room card turned the lights on and one had to turn them off as one left the room. Such a system would make it possible to save and do the right thing without causing people any inconvenience.
I know that some hair-shirted people would prefer us to be inconvenienced. I am not a person of that kind; I am not a puritan either politically or religiously, and I much prefer it to be easier to do good. That means that the Government themselves have a role to play. I think that that role is fourfold and might be called "CERT". "C" stands for counsel. The Government must say what is best in their opinion. Very often, they are good at doing that. The hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) made that point in respect of HFCs, on which the Government have made a perfectly proper statement.
However, counsel must be followed by example. The hon. Lady rightly said that the Government did not follow their own example. There are far too many examples at this moment of Departments that are directly procuring the very HFC equipment that the Government say is not the answer. If one cannot set an example, one does not have much right to deal either with regulation or taxation. One must say what one believes and then carry it out. Much could be done by public authorities to set the sort of example that we would like to see.
Regulation is another very important part of what happens. Whether it is based on a voluntary agreement such as that of the car industry to make motor cars more efficient, or whether it requires people to meet standards, depends on the circumstances. However, I believe that the Government could do a great deal more. For example, if we were to hasten the phasing out of that little red eye in the corner that can mean that every sort of electronic equipment is using almost half the electricity that it would
If we were prepared to look more closely at the planning regulations, we could achieve a great deal. In that regard, I must tell the Minister that one of the scandals of the recent past is the almost total lack of input from DEFRA into the Government's Green Paper on planning. That is the first casualty of a reorganisation of government that I believe to be wrong. There was no proper environmental concern and a number of the proposals in the Green Paper will make it more and not less difficult to ensure that we plan for a more sustainable future. Frankly, I have yet to discern a single occasion on which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration has spoken about his proposals in a way that suggests that they will advance sustainable development or improve our opportunity to live in an environmentally friendly way.
I turn now to taxation, on which I think that the Government have not been willing to do as much as the public would be prepared to follow. Unusually, I agree with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, although I find it difficult to take from him any uplifting views on environmental taxation. With the benefit of hindsight we are rewriting our attitude to VAT on fuel, but I remember what actually happened. There was a by-election in which the Liberals wanted to get a vote or two, and suddenly their policy turned around. We should not be surprised about that, for if there is hypocrisy around we know on which Benches it is bound to alight. There is nothing more ready to move than a Liberal faced with a floating vote. As Liberals speak of high-mindedness, the other parties remember where the kick is landed at election time. The dirtiest fighters with the cleanest languagethat sums them up. Although I agree with them on this matter, let no one think that I have much time for their normal activities.
The Liberals are right to say that environmental taxation cannot work unless people can see that the money that it raises does not increase total taxation and is used directly for environmental purposes. Thus hypothecationthe horrid word that I hope that the Minister is brave enough to use in the Treasurybecomes central to the success of environmental taxation.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) introduced the landfill taxI was part and parcel of that battlehis biggest argument was with the Treasury, which saw it as that dangerous thing: using taxation specifically. We should increase the tax on landfill and recycle all that is raised through Entrust, not pinch the whole lot for the Treasury, as happened last timea disgraceful example of non-environmental taxation that was never explained by Treasury Ministers.
We must change the wholly unacceptable way in which taxation works in relation to car commuters and public transport commuters. That cannot generally be left to local authorities, because where city centres are in competitionfor example, in Nottingham, Derby and
The climate change levy was, from the beginning, seen for what it was. For many months, we were given only the figure for how much the Chancellor would raise from it, not the figure for how many tonnes of carbon it would cut. That is because it was a taxation move that emanated from the Treasury, not from the Department responsible for the environment.