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That, too, is very important. We in the United Kingdom cannot afford to wait two more years for the climate change committee to reconsider the target. There is a global consensus emerging on a far higher figure. The 60 per cent. figure looks dated. All the other Democrat candidates for the presidency agree with Hilary Clinton.

Why must we delay, when Germany is forging ahead under Chancellor Angela Merkel? She called a Cabinet Konklave meeting in August to discuss a new integrated climate and energy programme. A target of 40 per cent. less CO2 by 2020 was set—rather more ambitious than our own target, which is capped at 32 per cent. I fear that when we set a lower target, that is the de facto target on which we will set our sights.

Germany’s existing climate and energy policies are already delivering economic growth—250,000 new jobs are one sign of that. Yet we have renewable energy resources that are generally reckoned to be 50 per cent. better than Germany’s. Our ambitions, our energy resources, our technological capacity could be brought to bear to make us the world’s leading green economy. Despite some successes, we are in the main too indecisive, and industry sources point out that by 2011 Germany will have 32,000 MW of wind capacity, whereas we will have just one third of that. That is not good enough.

The Climate Change Bill must be an urgent catalyst for change, and for that to happen it needs to be amended. That is not to say that a precise figure can today be inserted to replace 60 per cent. Rather, as the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and the Environmental Audit Committee recommended, the Government should publish their rationale for settling on any figure. As the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the present Foreign Secretary, told the Environmental Audit Committee,

The irony is that the Government have not plucked a figure out of thin air, but are nevertheless refusing to acknowledge the rationale for their choice. They refuse to acknowledge that the original Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report published in 2000, which first came up with 60 per cent., did so on the basis of the contraction and convergence framework devised by the Global Commons Institute. I sometimes tire of pointing that out to people. I am beginning to sound like a cracked record, but for some reason the Government are embarrassed by that piece of history and have answered my queries and parliamentary questions with unnecessarily evasive answers, almost as if contraction and convergence was some kind of shameful state secret and if it ever got out, the ravens in the Tower of London would fly off and never return.

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What appears to be the case, and why the two-year delay has come into play is that our potential support for contraction and convergence—I recognise that there is potential support for that framework or any other—must be camouflaged until we get to the United Nations COP talks in Copenhagen in 2009. That fits in with the Tyndall centre’s characterisation of the previous COP talks in Nairobi as being like a race to be second, owing to the fear felt by delegations that being bold about anything might leave them up the negotiating creek without a paddle. We must build a consensus and ensure that others come with us. Many nations now support contraction and convergence; indeed, some are looking to us to lead on that.

How does our reluctance to talk about that square with our boast of being the first country with a Climate Change Bill, which seems a bit of a contradiction when we know that any such Bill has to be global? We cannot just rely on a scientist to tell us what the target has to be; we must discuss how the political responsibility for achieving it should be distributed. The fact that we will have had a Climate Change Act on the statute book for nearly two years come 2009 will be important. We will no doubt urge others to follow in our footsteps. If we do, however, we will have to share with them our wisdom, and I am afraid that that means laying our cards on the table. I strongly urge the Government to take the next obvious step, one year on from Stern, and bring together a national climate change framework convention here in the UK, which will help to formulate our position in the international arena. If the independent climate change committee is to work out the new target, it needs not only to consider the science, but to figure out how to distribute the responsibility that I have mentioned. That task should not be left to a handful of people, no matter how qualified they may be to do it.

In considering the significance of the committee and its duty to report to Parliament, I firmly believe that Parliament should play a role in its appointment. That would best be achieved by submitting nominees’ names to a Select Committee for scrutiny. I suggest that the Environmental Audit Committee is best suited for that purpose, given its cross-departmental brief and intense focus on climate change. Incorporating that step into the procedure would give the new independent committee a real boost to its credibility and mean that nobody, including the Opposition, could say later that it was stuffed full of Government poodles.

Finally, I would like to suggest another small amendment to the Bill, concerning its title. It occurred to me only last night that “Climate Change Bill” sounds rather neutral. Let us call it the “Climate Change Survival Bill”. Let us clarify what we intend to do with the Bill. That would also help us to focus on the reality of climate change, which might even help us to close the gap between that reality and the political quagmire in which we all too often find ourselves.

In my remaining three minutes I would like briefly to discuss the energy Bill—I will finish in time to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) his 10 minutes. I have referred to the EU renewables target. The Bill will be discussed at a time when the price of oil is likely to exceed $100 a barrel.
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That is well beyond any of the assumptions made by the Government when considering transport infrastructure, for example. When the chair of Shell spoke about the reasons for the price level yesterday, he said that it was nothing to do with the level of reserves and more to do with the reduced buffers between supply and demand. They have fallen sharply and look set to remain low. Demand is shooting up, leaving world economies at the mercy of the markets. We will face a severe test at a time when developed economies are already feeling the strain from other developments, such as the great credit crunch.

Sweden has already declared its ambition to minimise its use of oil. We should follow suit, although for us that might be rather more difficult, albeit not impossible. As the Centre for Alternative Technology has proposed, there are technologies which could help to make the UK carbon-free by 2027. If we followed that route, our susceptibility to problems with both high energy costs and supply would come to an end. There are many good reasons why we should embrace the new alternative technologies and leave fossil fuels, many having nothing at all to do with climate change.

The Government have acknowledged that building new nuclear power stations will contribute nothing to meeting our energy needs until 2020 at the earliest. That means that new nuclear will contribute nothing to our share of the EU carbon reduction target by 2020. Carbon capture and storage will not be able to do much either. We are still at an early stage in research and development and many imponderables remain to be resolved. Thus, although the Bill paves the way for those things, they cannot do anything for us in the short to medium term. As we have seen, we cannot afford to rely on fossil fuels, which will become too expensive. We are therefore bound to boost our reliance on renewables.

To conclude, I am not despondent, but despairing of the news that the Government seek to make the minimum contribution to the 20 per cent. average renewables target. It could even be less than 10 per cent. if the proposal for trading in renewable allowances of some description were to be permitted. I understand that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is arguing for that in Brussels, and I hope that we can scotch the idea straight away, because it would also damage German feed-in tariff payments and skew the market. That might make our renewables obligation certificate system look rather better, and if I had had more time, I should have liked to speak about how we should pursue the feed-in tariff system. However, I shall now hand over to my estimable colleague from Brighton.

5.20 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I make no apology for continuing to bang on about climate change. It is, after all, probably the most important topic to be debated in the Chamber since the war. It is just as great and palpable a threat to the entire human race as would be a catastrophic global war. The potential for casualties is just as great. I hope that we shall be able to build cross-party consensus on the Climate Change Bill. I hope that even those on the Conservative Front Bench are going in this direction, although I was a little worried when the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), during his
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music hall turn, managed to reduce the contents of the Climate Change Bill to a bin tax. I do hope that that is not representative of the Conservative approach.

I have participated in the scrutiny of the Bill, through the Joint Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee and the public consultation. The scrutiny has revealed four main areas. The target is 60 per cent., but evidence is emerging from all sides that that is not adequate. In fairness, the Government have implicitly recognised that fact in their response to the consultation and to the Select Committee’s recommendations, and they are setting out proposals to reconsider the target through the climate change committee.

The time scale is too long, however. We need to have made the reconsideration and have the new target in place well before 2009, especially because, at the same time as we consider the 2050 target, we must consider the 2020 targets, which are just as important. They will determine the trajectory that we will take towards achieving the 2050 target and, as they are much closer, we shall need to revisit them much earlier. I doubt that anyone in the Chamber would be able to defend the figures that are at present in the draft Bill. They are far too modest, and far less than what could be achieved. By 2008, we should have much more ambitious targets in the Bill. I would suggest a minimum of 40 per cent. for 2020 and 80 per cent. for 2050.

Other hon. Members have already pointed out that the Climate Change Bill is just a framework. It does not actually do anything in its own right, even if we address all the other points. The annual targets argument is probably redundant, because as long as we have clear annual reporting—to which the Government are committed—we shall achieve the same effect. We shall have a good, transparent tracking mechanism and we shall be able to see whether everything is going according to plan, and take action accordingly.

I worry about the emphasis in the Bill on achieving results through emissions trading schemes of one kind or another. I have less faith than many in the effectiveness of such schemes. Certainly the initial stages of the European emissions trading scheme have not yet been proven to save any carbon dioxide emissions whatever. I do not think we should put all our faith in such schemes. One thing that became apparent from the business and industrial witnesses who appeared before the Joint Select Committee was that they were just as happy to respond to fiscal and regulatory measures as to emissions trading. The enabling provisions need to be wider to contemplate virtually anything that will contribute towards carbon saving.

The main thing that will deliver the savings is a sensible energy policy, whether it is energy efficiency or energy production. Energy production will be dealt with in the energy Bill. I was a little worried by the terminology in the Queen’s Speech which seemed to indicate that the Bill was bring driven by the same old political drivers that have always driven our energy policy—security of supply and short-term price. That has got us into trouble. Compared with the imperative of climate change, they are both fairly trivial considerations. The energy Bill—indeed, most legislation in that section of the Queen’s Speech—needs to be judged against the climate change imperative and what contribution it can make towards it.

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In the context of the energy Bill, it worries me very much that we have leaks in the press, and I have every reason to believe that they are valid, of an options document from DBERR—I never got used to saying DBERR; it sounds like a character from Jane Austen—to reduce our target of 20 per cent. renewables by 2020. That would be the most abject admission of failure on the part of a country such as ours, which is very much at the technological leading edge of renewable energy and has probably the best renewable energy raw resources of any state in the world. We have a much better wind resource than any other European country, wave resources that are as good as anywhere in the world because of our exposure to the Atlantic, and tidal stream resources that are almost certainly the best in the world. With those three sources, we have the potential to produce twice or three times as much electrical energy as we currently consume. To demur from a 20 per cent. target when it is totally achievable would be lunacy. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will use his voice to head off any attempts to demur from that target.

In addition, because of our situation, we have the most magnificent industrial opportunity—a green industrial opportunity—to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a new marine renewable energy industry, as well as in offshore wind. There are several reasons why we have not deployed renewable energy at the rate at which we should have done, and they are all within the Government’s control; they can influence all of them. They are market considerations and the lack of a sufficiently stimulating fiscal structure. Frankly, the renewables obligation certificate system has been an expensive and inefficient way of promoting renewable energy. The entry price mechanism used by Germany and others has produced far better results at, as far as one can tell, no greater cost. At the same time as we revisit the ROC system, which we have to do anyway, I strongly recommend that we review the fiscal structures for renewable energy and look again at entry price mechanisms. They are transparent, simple to understand and reliable, and they generate investment and produce the goods—and it is the goods that matter.

Then there is the planning system, which has already been mentioned. It takes twice as long in this country to obtain consents for an offshore wind farm as it does in, say, Denmark or Germany. Is the quality of the decision any different at the end of the day? I doubt it very much. That period absolutely must be shortened.

When it comes to marine renewables, I too have a problem with the lack of a marine Bill. Tidal stream developments and the like are being held up because of the time allowed for environmental impact assessments, and consents thereafter. Putting large-scale developments in the hands of the planning commission, as has been proposed, would deal with a major wind farm, but smaller-scale developments that will be crucial in the future will remain in the hands of the present system, which is holding things up appallingly.

Those matters need to be examined very carefully, and that can best be done if a marine Bill is produced expeditiously during the present Session.

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5.31 pm

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): This seems to have been a very long debate—and when I look at the clock I realise that that it has indeed been a very long debate. It seems a long time ago that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government stood up to make what I thought a sadly partisan speech; it was as though she was still addressing the Labour party conference, and had not yet found her way into her new role and learnt what it takes to be a Secretary of State.

It also seems a long time ago that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) made his witty, trenchant and very well-informed contribution. Only under questioning and pressure from Labour Members did he feel it necessary to expose the hypocrisy and incompetence that lie behind the Government’s plans for housing, and the lack of democratic accountability in their proposals to reform the planning system—issues about which my hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) both spoke with a great deal of local knowledge and considerable authority.

We heard a wonderful contribution from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I will check Hansard tomorrow, but I think she said that in future her constituency would be a sparkling and happy place. It is lovely to see her lighting up her place at the end of the Bench with such happy regularity.

In a powerful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) spoke, also from experience, of the problems and pressures faced by his local authorities and police as a result of various factors. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) made a thoughtful and well-informed speech about immigration. I know it is invidious to keep singling people out, but I thought that the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford)—despite having been slapped down in the most brutal way when he intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett)—made a particularly thoughtful speech about the empowerment of local communities, an agenda that the Conservatives strongly support.

No fewer than 12 hon. Members devoted most of their comments to the Climate Change Bill, and we heard some extremely useful contributions. The hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), who is not in the Chamber now, struck a slightly different note in focusing on nuclear power, which raised a number of eyebrows among his hon. Friends. In the process, he also managed to misrepresent the views of Her Majesty’s Opposition on the subject. No doubt we shall have a full and thorough discussion of the issue when we debate the energy Bill.

I assume that we shall have a Second Reading debate on the Climate Change Bill at some point in the not too distant future, but perhaps the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will let us know whether he intends the Bill to be introduced in another place. A rumour is circulating to that effect. As there may be further time for us to debate climate change issues before Second Reading, I do not intend to devote a great deal of time to the content of the Bill, save to say that we strongly welcome it. As we campaigned for it, it would have been rather churlish of us not to welcome it now that the Government have introduced it.

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As Members in all parts of the House have pointed out, there are issues in the Bill which will need to be resolved. There are also areas that will need to be tightened up, and we think we can secure cross-party consensus on that. Above all, all decisions relating to climate change must be based securely on the best science available at the time.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, I must ask the Secretary of State to introduce the marine Bill at the earliest possible opportunity. It is a great disappointment that it is still lurking in the small print as a draft when it should be out in the open, heading towards the statute book. We look forward to that happening, and to debating it and making constructive contributions when we are afforded the opportunity to do so.

This debate gives us a chance both to look forward to the Government’s programme and to look back a bit and review the performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the past year. I have said before that the Secretary of State is a very decent man—he is widely recognised as such—but the Department he took over not so long ago is far from decent; indeed, it is not fit for purpose, to borrow a phrase Labour Members might recognise. It is also a Department where events happen: foot and mouth disease, bluetongue, avian influenza and floods. I gather via a message from the Secretary of State this afternoon that there are currently severe flood risks in the East Anglia region, and the Environment Agency is warning of flood surges. If the Secretary of State has any update on that, I am sure that the House would be delighted to be kept informed.

The problem with the Secretary of State’s position is that DEFRA is a failing Department. It matters when Government Departments fail, because their failure impacts on individuals, communities and businesses. However, when a Department with DEFRA’s responsibilities is failing, that also has profound implications for the environment, biodiversity and the natural world.

The other problem with that failure is that the Department then finds it hard to carry clout in policy areas outside its immediate remit but over which it is notionally meant to have influence or responsibility. I do not want to labour the point about foot and mouth disease, but let us take a quick look at what happened over the past year. If anyone thinks that, just because the media have moved on a bit from the issues around Pirbright and the release of foot and mouth virus from a Government-licensed laboratory, the issue is done and dusted, they are sadly mistaken. The pain and economic hardship and the sense of betrayal are still very much alive, not only in the immediate Surrey and Berkshire areas, but across the country. Although we welcome the fact that this time, unlike what happened in 2001, the Department acted relatively quickly to contain the disease, basic competence after an event of that kind is not commonly a cause for general rejoicing.

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