Previous Section Index Home Page

As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is not just individuals and families who have homes. Businesses
8 May 2007 : Column 67
throughout the United Kingdom have several hundred thousand homes of their own. It is welcome that, on the whole, United Kingdom business is accepting that it must take responsibility for the changes that are taking place, and adjust its own role to accommodate that. Although EU carbon emissions trading is merely in its infancy, it is testimony to the commitment of our Government that the UK is—again—at the forefront of the scheme and continues to set an example of best practice to the rest of the EU.

No matter how much we recycle, for the time being at least, no home can be without the common dustbin. I never knew that dustbins could be a hot topic of conversation, but refuse collection was one of the biggest issues on the nation’s doorsteps during the last few weeks and months. Dealing properly with our rubbish is causing increasing logistical problems, and I can certainly sympathise with those who think that a fortnightly rubbish collection is not sufficient to remove the refuse produced during that period by, for instance, a family of five. Both my local Labour-led councils are evaluating ways in which they can maximise recycling across their two metropolitan boroughs. They will find that task much easier thanks to the draft Climate Change Bill, which locks into statute changes that will enable Britain to adapt with sufficient flexibility to the challenges that lie ahead.

I agree strongly with one aspect of the Liberal Democrat motion. We have already established that the challenge of combating climate change begins at home, and it is imperative that we as elected representatives make sure that our own house is in order. We must take steps to ensure that Parliament is as energy-efficient as possible. Ideally, it will—like all new homes—be carbon-neutral within the next decade. A raft of possible changes could be made. I am told that last Christmas, after I had tabled parliamentary questions, the House authorities used low-energy bulbs to light the Christmas trees. From memory, I think that that saved about £4,000. Although that is laudable, I am sure that we all agree that combating climate change is for life and not just for Christmas. Targets are in place to cut Government emissions by more than 30 per cent. before 2020, but I believe that we need to act with greater urgency. This issue can transcend party boundaries, and I am in no doubt that it would do the world of good for the Houses of Parliament to lead by example. By doing so, we can avoid having a “Do as we say, not as we do” attitude.

Of course I will not support the motion, despite the fact that much of it appears to support Government positions. However, I hope that our debate on what is undeniably one of the supremely important issues of our time will inspire us all to go home to our constituencies and prepare to save power, and that that in turn will combat climate change.

6.12 pm

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) for picking this subject for debate on behalf of his party. I was a little disappointed by some of his comments at the start of his speech about the Conservatives in the European Parliament. Having
8 May 2007 : Column 68
been a colleague of his for five years, I recall working closely with the Liberal Democrats and their group in the European Parliament putting together a number of compromises, which would have been undermined by some of the luddite policies that the Green parties tended to promote there. However, I shall forgive him and put his remarks down to him still smarting at the “vote blue, go green” phenomenon that was seen to such a great extent around the country on Thursday.

Any action plan to curb our carbon emissions must take account of how green some new technologies being touted as panaceas really are. Solar panels are often touted as the answer. Although water-heating panels can make some contribution, photovoltaic cells are less difficult to justify from an environmental point of view. Toward the end of last year, I was talking to one of the founders of Greenpeace and he said that although his house is in New Mexico the photovoltaics on the roof did not manage to produce all the energy needed for that house. Although Scarborough is renowned for its sunny climate—especially during the holiday season—its sunshine levels are nowhere near as high as those of New Mexico.

The Minister mentioned that he will be flying to New York and that he will offset the carbon, but we need to look carefully at some carbon offsetting schemes. Tree planting would only really count if those trees were allowed to become fossils. If they merely rotted down and in due course the CO2 was liberated again, that would not be genuine carbon offsetting. Simple measures such as installing insulation, turning off the standby function on one’s video recorder, and turning down the thermostat in one’s house are likely to have a greater effect.

Yorkshire has a number of power stations that burn renewable fuels. Despite a hesitant start, we also have farmers in Yorkshire planting willow coppice, as well as elephant grass or miscanthus. That can be easily justified as making a contribution. However, I am less convinced of the environmental or even the economic advantages of importing olive pressings from north Africa to burn in power stations in Yorkshire, which is happening at present.

The European Union has set a target of 5.75 per cent. for biofuels in transportation by 2010. Germany and France are confident that they will reach that target early, and bioethanol and biodiesel are being promoted there. There is tremendous potential within the EU to produce those fuels, given that 10 per cent. of our arable land is currently in set-aside, but we must look at the environmental impact of taking land out of set-aside. I and many other farmers have entered into the entry level scheme. That will be fairly easy to reverse, but the environmental improvements from it are, perhaps, less tangible than those of higher level schemes. However, it will be much more difficult to take land out of those environmental schemes, and although we will produce energy from that land there will be an environmental fallout.

We also have a lot of waste oil in the EU, which is used for cooking chips and in catering. Previously, that oil was used as animal feed so it had a positive value. Sadly, since the implementation of an animal by-products directive such oil can no longer be used for animal feed. We need better incentives to stop cooks
8 May 2007 : Column 69
and chefs pouring oil down the drain and to ensure that it can go into making biofuel.

My family is trying to make some impact. I have a green cemetery, which I hope cuts down emissions from crematoria. I have also entered into a biofuel contract. Sadly, however, there is no biodiesel plant in the UK. Somewhat bizarrely, my 45 acres of oilseed rape will not go for biodiesel but will be entered in a complex offset scheme with German crushers. My rape will not actually go to Germany, but rape in Germany will be used for biofuel and be offset against mine. It is likely that my rape will not be processed for fuel in Hull or Erith in Kent, but that rape that is offset against mine will be processed by ADM in Hamburg or Bunge in Mannheim. Germany has taken the lead in this area because it has given capital grants and fuel rebates to kick-start the technology.

In the UK, we have the energy aid scheme—a subsidy to encourage farmers to produce biofuels. Of the €45 per hectare available, €22.5 goes to the crusher. The problem that we in the UK have is that we have signed up to the highest level of modulation. As a result, 17 per cent. of the aid that is meant to promote biofuels is being clawed back by the Government. To detach the energy aid scheme from modulation would be a good way of promoting biofuel in the UK. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that.

Biofuels are being promoted throughout the world. Recently, there were riots in Mexico City, with people complaining that the price of their staple, maize-based diet had increased because of maize being turned into ethanol in the United States of America. In terms of the overall energy balance of producing ethanol from maize, there is merely a 13 per cent. reduction in CO2 after account is taken of factors such as the fuel used in the fertiliser, the cultivation and the transport and processing. That is a fairly minor increase. For biodiesel, various figures have been touted about —50 per cent. energy gain is one figure that I have heard. That does not take into account the non-direct CO2 produced. For example, if my tractor driver takes a holiday abroad and flies to get there, that is not included in the figures on the impact.

Much of the fuel that Europeans use will be imported from places such as Brazil. Rain forests have been cut down to produce sugar and soya beans. In south-east Asia, oil palms are being grown, which is contributing to the destruction of the orang-utans’ habitat. Many of the commodities being used to produce biofuels are commodities that can also be used as food. I recently read that a Range Rover’s tank of ethanol would be equivalent to the amount of food consumed by a person in a year. Whenever there are chaotic famines around the world, we are able to send food aid, but that might not be the case in the future as more of the arable land in the developed and developing world is turned over to biofuel production and we do not have the grain surplus to send to aid third-world countries.

What are the answers? First, we need a good eco-audit of biofuels. We do not want to find that the biodiesel that we use in our cars is deforestation diesel, so we need to consider the energy balance. Secondly, we need to examine more closely technologies that utilise the cellulose and lignin in straw and waste products for which we currently have no use. More emphasis on
8 May 2007 : Column 70
such research is necessary. Thirdly, we need to utilise that tremendous resource in the EU of unproductive set-aside land. If we can bring that into production in a way that does not damage other environmental concerns, that will be good. We should stop grabbing the headlines, and start embracing some of the emerging science that can deliver the type of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that we all want.

6.20 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I disagree on a couple of points with Opposition Members who have spoken, although there is a huge amount of agreement across the House, which is good. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) reeled off a series of alleged cuts in science investment. I am sure that he would acknowledge that a substantial increase in all science investment—including on climate change—has taken place under this Government. As for the speech of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), I loved the little twist of the blues going green. I wonder, however, whether he has made the “polluter pays” argument to a gentleman whom I met at the beginning of the fuel protest in my constituency, and who now happens to be a Conservative Welsh Assembly Member. He certainly did not believe in blues going green; perhaps the message has not yet fully got across to the Conservative party.

My first point is on national security, which has not been mentioned in the debate. Fresh water, rising sea levels and uncertainty of food supply raise significant national and international security issues, which will help to drive forward this important debate. It is no coincidence that some of the best scientists and experts in the field are now lecturing at the Royal College of Defence Studies, and that people from 40 nations, including Members of the House who have had the opportunity to participate in its fabulous course, have engaged in discussion there of the effect on security over a number of years. That needs to be promoted more strongly. I have made that point to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I make the same point to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as it is critical that all Government Departments engage with that group of experts in that international forum. Britain undoubtedly has a lead there; otherwise, the 40 nations, including the United States, who send senior personnel to study at the college would not do so.

My second point is about planning, on which the hon. Member for Eastleigh made several important points. Energy efficiency certificates were discussed earlier in relation to the home information packs programme. I believe not only that the principle of HIPs will drive down the buying and selling costs of property—the only siren voices against it are the vested interests represented in different parts of the high street—but that it will ultimately put net downward pressure on house sales. It is important, however, that we drive forward the concept of energy efficiency certificates with some vigour.

The planning cycle also needs to include real vision on how we deal with future sustainable homes. That is not just about sticking a windmill on the top of some bijou residence in Notting Hill; it is about serious strategic planning to change our approach to living.
8 May 2007 : Column 71
With imaginative planning, sustainable energy manufacturing could take place within small rural communities.

David Howarth: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on that subject. Does he therefore agree with the Bill brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), which would allow local authorities to set higher standards with regard to energy efficiency in local planning than central Government are setting?

Andrew Miller: The principle of devolving the responsibility has some merit, but leadership from the top is also needed, because imaginative work will be required in respect of some sacred cows such as the green belt. I do not mean that we will build over the whole green belt in my constituency, but imagination should be applied to the question of how some of those rural communities can become more sustainable through the growing of crops and use of solar and wind energy.

That leads me to my third point, which is on energy. A couple of Members, including the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, appeared to take an anti-nuclear stance. Nuclear power cannot solve all the problems—far from it. Simple arithmetic, however, shows that it is impossible to ignore the nuclear cycle. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will contemplate that carefully. The economic growth of China and India alone will wipe out any potential gains from Kyoto, so our energy policy will—

Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Miller: No. The hon. Gentleman wants 15 minutes to wind up, so he can use some of that time.

Our energy policy will have to reflect the need for a properly balanced energy structure that provides for a base load. To be carbon-free, part of that base load must be nuclear, whether we like it or not.

My final point is on public understanding, which we take for granted. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said, we have tended to consider pound sterling values and not carbon values. I last used my log tables when I needed to calculate the thermal efficiency of the walls in my house in order to assess which radiators to install. That calculation was done on the basis of pounds sterling, not tonnes of carbon. With hindsight, that was the wrong calculation to use. We need to educate people to think in a different way. To a certain extent, we are succeeding in recycling and, in some respects, in the procurement of vehicles. I am told by dealers that people are now asking what the carbon emissions of vehicles are. Education is working, and we need to drive that forward.

To conclude, I agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh that greater co-ordination across Government Departments is needed to cover almost every aspect of the Government’s activities. Her Majesty’s Government should be commended, however, for their bold position and leadership role throughout the world.

8 May 2007 : Column 72
6.30 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Members will be pleased with the overall tone of this debate, which has demonstrated a great deal of agreement on the direction of travel that we should all be going in, even if we cannot all agree on whether we should indulge wealthy urban 4x4 owners in their chosen mode of transport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) opened the debate in a spirit of friendly competition by reminding us that the only Conservative national election manifesto yet produced under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) scored zero out of 10 for green initiatives, according to Friends of the Earth. My hon. Friend also rightly warned us against Government complacency and the drift in Government policy, which Conservative Members also mentioned, toward the toleration of 550 parts per million as an acceptable carbon dioxide concentration target. The Stern report had very cautionary words to say about that, although in a sense, that report has been part of the problem in tolerating that figure.

Stern pointed out that according to the Hadley Centre’s assessment, a worldwide figure of 550 ppm gives rise to a 69 per cent. probability of exceeding 3C of global warming. Elsewhere in the report, Sir Nicholas pointed out the possible consequences of such an increase, such as the onset of collapse of part or all of the Amazonian rain forest, many species facing extinction, rising intensity of storms, and forest fires, droughts, flooding and heatwaves. Those dramatic and apocalyptic consequences will begin to kick in quite fast. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said, given the feedback mechanisms that are liable to accelerate global warming, we might be in an uncontrollable situation much earlier than we thought. I caution the Government to move away from the idea that 550 ppm is an acceptable target; it is in fact an extremely high-risk one.

What we need is ambition. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said, we need to give the UK first-mover advantage and to bring real urgency to all Government Departments. We need an annual action plan and a dedicated Cabinet Committee to bring together the worthy ambitions often heard from DEFRA Ministers—I count the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) as a past distinguished example—but which often do not seem to translate to other Departments. The Treasury certainly failed to introduce anything particularly convincing in the recent Budget.

The Department for Communities and Local Government, moreover, has failed to promote energy efficiency to anything like the time scale necessary. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) pointed out, it talked out a Bill that would have guaranteed the ability of local councils to set energy efficiency and microgeneration standards higher than the national standard. That was a shameful performance; the DCLG allowed its control-freak tendencies to get the better of its green instincts. We have seen nothing from it as imaginative as the warm homes package that we Liberal Democrats suggested —[Interruption.] Members may laugh, but I should like to see something equally imaginative from the DCLG; however, nothing has been forthcoming. Ours is a
8 May 2007 : Column 73
really radical proposal that would release funds over a long period, guarantee householders lower bills and release the funds required to tackle the energy efficiency of existing housing stock, as well as new homes. That policy area badly needs to be addressed.

Nor have we seen anything from the Department for Transport that really addresses the problems associated with vehicle excise duty and the expansion of aviation. We still perhaps face the toleration of extra runways at Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow airports, even though—in addition to the taxation measures that we have debated today—the constraint of supply of aviation spaces is another way to limit aviation’s growth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh also emphasised the important role of the public sector. We Liberal Democrats suggest using the decent homes standard as a vehicle to offer a green revolution to the least well-off in our society—as well as to the homeowners whom we often talk about in these debates—by, for instance, promoting community renewable energy on a much larger scale.

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment replied to my hon. Friend by claiming that there was great cross-party consensus on the urgency of this issue. Some of the initiatives that he described we have supported and would indeed welcome. I would certainly welcome the free household smart meter displays that the Minister appeared to commit to in his speech, but it is therefore a mystery as to why he will not commit to a more ambitious target in the Climate Change Bill. Why is he still talking about including a target of only a 60 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2050, given that he said in his own speech that the Government were ready for 70 per cent? We Liberal Democrats consider 80 per cent. or even higher to be the realistic and necessary target.

Barry Gardiner indicated dissent.

Martin Horwood: The Minister shakes his head. I will happily give way if he wants to explain why the target in the Bill is so low.

Barry Gardiner: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is unfortunate and puerile to keep on making that sort of attack. He knows full well that the Bill stipulates that the target is at least 60 per cent.; that it is for CO2, not greenhouse gases; and that when it translates into parts per million of greenhouse gas emissions, it is substantially higher than 60 per cent. He is also aware that according to part 1 of the Bill, it is open to the Secretary of State to amend the target in the light of science, as scientific knowledge progresses. I hope that that will put an end to this—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The Minister must not anticipate his own winding-up speech.

Martin Horwood: I am very grateful for the Minister’s lengthy intervention. When I was in business, a target was a high point that one aimed for, not the lowest that one thought achievable. If what he says is right, I see no reason why he would not accept an amendment in Committee to increase the figure to at least 80 per cent.

Next Section Index Home Page