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28 Oct 2008 : Column 765
5.45 pm

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): My hon. Friends and I accept that climate change is a serious environmental threat that requires action. We have to tackle carbon emissions, and it is therefore important that there is an appropriate Bill to do that. Although I have a very sceptical colleague sitting beside me, our party’s policy is that the Bill is necessary. However, I do not accept that we can say with authority that man is the sole contributor to the situation. There are those who have over-egged the case and in many ways destroyed the argument, and that has made many people in the community cynical. There are also those who have underestimated the case, and they have not helped the debate either. I believe that global warming is a reality. Scientists have a certain view of the issue; in this House we need to take a balanced view.

I should like to draw to the Minister’s attention some consequences of these proposals, particularly in the region of the United Kingdom that I come from, Northern Ireland. It is essential to deal with this issue internationally and even-handedly, in conjunction with our European Union partners. It is accepted in Northern Ireland that those who call themselves great Europeans have a wonderful way of taking European legislation and, if it suits them, driving a coach and horses through it and not carrying out what was intended. In the UK—although many see us as bad Europeans in many ways—the Government gold-plate legislation with great zeal and force it on the people.

There needs to be equity in the provisions made across Europe. There is a case for commercial justice in relation to aviation—in my constituency, for example. I have in my constituency an international airport, Belfast International, which is in direct competition with another international airport that is not many miles away, but happens to be in another EU country. Unlike many other EU countries, we have a land border. I ask the Minister to consider carefully the danger that if we take action unilaterally, rather than right across Europe, we could be on the verge of driving local industry over that border. That would penalise my constituents and my local airport. It is not the business of this United Kingdom Government to penalise their British citizens in Northern Ireland or to direct business to our competitors. There is a genuine fear that there will be discrimination against a region of the UK as regards the aviation industry. I do not believe that the Government intend that to be the outcome of their actions, but it could be, if they do not ensure that there is a balanced and equitable approach across Europe.

I know that an easy, throwaway statement can be made about transport alternatives and so on. In Northern Ireland, over many years, the trains were removed—most of Northern Ireland is not served by train—and the timing, frequency and availability of buses is not as in other regions of the United Kingdom. If we take people out of cars to deal with the issue, what will they use? A horse and trap? Bicycles? We have to deal with reality, rather than go back into history.

We have to have a balanced view. I appeal to the Minister concerning aviation and how it relates to the competition faced by the international airport in my constituency, lest we destroy a vital part of our industry,
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and direct industry away from a region of the United Kingdom. That would not be good for the future of the UK or its industrial prosperity.

Mr. Hurd: I rise to give a cautious welcome to the movement by the Government on this important issue, but we must recognise the scale of the journey. We have moved from a situation, in summer 2007, when those of us on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill were listening to a Government who were saying, “We are filing the inclusion of aviation in the ‘too difficult’ box. We don’t need to do it because we aren’t required to by our international agreements.” The message from the Government in the Bill is now, “We’ll tell you if we’re going to include aviation and shipping in our international targets by the end of 2012, and if we do it, we’ll tell you then how we’re going to do it. On the way we’ll get some advice from the Committee on Climate Change and publish some projections.” The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) was right: there is no absolute obligation on the Government to include aviation and shipping in the carbon budgets or the targets, and we should be quite clear about that.

It has been a modest journey, but a welcome one. That is why the Bill needs toughening, and I extend a cautious welcome to amendment No. 72, tabled by the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who, sadly, is no longer in his place. It adds value by requiring the Government and the Committee on Climate Change to take into account aviation and shipping in their public deliberations. I am concerned that the phrase “take into account” is too vague, because it can mean anything to any Government—but there has been an improvement.

We recognise that there are tremendous difficulties in calculation—we have to respect that, and we must not get too far ahead of ourselves in the international process. But this Climate Change Bill is very important. It is a landmark Bill, which sets an international lead as a framework Bill. That is its value. It is a new method of setting targets and monitoring progress against targets. The key innovation in the Bill is not the long-term targets, but the carbon budgets. The rolling carbon budgets will allow us to get a grip on the problem of cumulative carbon emissions—a point forcefully made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). It is the cumulative carbon emissions that count, not the absolute carbon emissions at the distant date of 2050.

The carbon budgets are the key innovation, and we simply cannot undermine them by leaving completely to one side the fastest growing source of emissions, however difficult it is to calculate them. We should take the opportunity to place on record the fact that aviation emissions in the UK grew by 90 per cent. between 1990 and 2004. The Under-Secretary was unable to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness about the proportion of future emissions in the carbon budget that the Government think will come from aviation, but she will be aware that there are various estimates from serious people such as the Tyndall Centre and WWF, and the range of projections is between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent. of our carbon budget in 2050. We have to address a serious engine of growth in carbon emissions, and we cannot afford the “out of sight, out of mind” message that we received from the Government 18 months ago.

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As the Under-Secretary well knows, transport, and aviation in particular, is the most difficult in policy terms, partly because there is no obvious short-term technology solution. It does not take much for us to imagine that our children or grandchildren will be driving around in cars that are different from the ones that we drive. We can almost feel the technology—it is out there. But in aviation that is not the case. The best-case scenarios for aviation are for technology products leading to improvements of about 1.5 per cent. a year, which is not enough, given the demand. We are left in very difficult political territory when making policy—having to decide whether we want to manage demand through price mechanisms, taxes or the management of airport capacity.

The Government are placing all their bets on the European emissions trading scheme—the cap-and-trade scheme. That make me nervous, because in the Environmental Audit Committee we spend a lot of time looking at the emissions trading scheme. It works as a testing mechanism, but it has comprehensively failed to reduce emissions, because a cap-and-trade scheme is only as good as the cap, which is a function of political will. The great concern is whether there will be the political will in 2011, in the face of the mother of all lobbies from the aviation industry, to set a cap that bites. We know that such a cap will have significant implications for the price that consumers will pay for aviation. There will be significant consequences for the price of carbon credits in the system for other industries. This is an extremely difficult policy area.

Barry Gardiner: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be possible to allow an expansion of the aviation industry, and shipping as well, as long as that was taken into account in the carbon budget, as he rightly stressed, with accommodations and increased cuts in those areas? That would, critically, demand that it be possible to quantify exactly what the amount of the contribution was—the central point made by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) earlier.

Mr. Hurd: Absolutely—we need to know what we are dealing with. The hon. Gentleman has painted a gentle and attractive scenario, but it places a lot of faith in the emissions trading system, which is attractive in theory but has not worked in practice, because too much political risk is tied up in it.

I was making the point that we cannot afford an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude to aviation and shipping, because the policy challenge is too great. It requires the Government of the day to get a grip on it, and the harsh reality is that this Government have been extremely clumsy in the signals that they have sent through their policies on aviation. We had a clumsy increase in air passenger duty, which gave green taxes a bad name because it was closely associated with the concept of stealth taxes. We seem to be slow-marching towards the wrong decision on Heathrow. It was desperately disappointing that one of the first signals from a new Secretary of State in a new Department was simply to confirm that existing position on Heathrow. The Under-Secretary will be aware that it is hard to persuade those
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in this country, let alone any other, that we are serious about controlling emissions from aviation if we give the green light to the expansion of the fastest-growing source of emissions. The negative value of that decision far outweighs the relatively small value of the signals being sent in the Bill.

Mr. Graham Stuart: This is a question not only of aviation but of shipping. We are a major maritime nation, but little effort has been made here, or globally, into finding out what the emissions from shipping are, let alone into the investment and leadership that Ministers like to talk about that is needed to transform the efficiency of shipping in terms of emissions. That is a very challenging process in aviation, but probably a lot less so in shipping. However, precious little effort or political will has been applied to that area so far.

Mr. Hurd: I accept that point completely. It is coming through in all the evidence received by the Environmental Audit Committee at the moment. The value of the debates on the amendments is to ensure that such matters are included in the Bill, so that the Government cannot ignore the issue.

John Hemming: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd: If it is about oil, the answer is no.

John Hemming: It is about shipping.

Mr. Hurd: All right.

John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that shipping is one of the modes of transport that, historically, operated without any carbon emissions?

Mr. Hurd: I congratulate the Government on moving from an unsustainable position on the inclusion of aviation and shipping in our consideration of budgets and targets—but I say to the Under-Secretary that the most powerful signal they could send would be to review and reverse the decision on Heathrow.

6 pm

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I am glad that we are debating the inclusion of aviation and shipping in the Bill; such matters need to be aired and discussed in Parliament. Setting a reduction target of 80 per cent. by 2050 is laudable and ambitious, but probably unachievable. In the next 42 years we will return to this place regularly to recalibrate the target—to reduce it to take into account global recession and the need to create jobs and wealth.

The danger of setting a target of 80 per cent. is that it will become just another missed target. My word, we have had a lot of missed targets in the past 10 years. There is a danger that our constituents will perceive politicians perpetrating another con trick by setting a target that there is little—if any—hope of achieving. Let us be honest with the electorate and say that in an ideal world, we would like a carbon-neutral economy by 2050—zero carbon emissions—but it simply will not happen, because we do not live in an ideal world. What we should say is that in the next 42 years we will rightly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but do it sensibly, and
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that we will progress towards reducing carbon emissions, but not set artificial targets, which we realise—probably secretly—that we have little chance of achieving. We need to be honest with the electorate, and I do not believe that we are doing that.

Mr. Chope: In a sense, it is a pity that today’s business is not subject to any knives, because that means that we are unlikely to reach all the items on our agenda, and there are some important issues to debate later. I shall therefore keep my remarks brief.

The issue that we are discussing needs to be put into context. A paper that PricewaterhouseCoopers produced, entitled “The world in 2050”, projects that the United Kingdom will produce only 1.2 per cent. of global emissions in 2050—without the increased targets in the Bill and without including emissions from shipping and aviation. We must take that into consideration. Even if we eliminated that 1.2 per cent., would it make any difference to the world? I do not think that it would—indeed, the burdens on our economy would be even more enormous than they are already likely to be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) explained so well.

My right hon. Friend was one of five who voted against Second Reading. When the history books are written in 2050, people will ask why only five people voted against Second Reading of a ludicrous measure. However, he failed to say that, as we export more of our manufacturing industry, we will depend all the more on international shipping and aviation for our imports. The new clauses therefore deal with matters that are highly relevant to our viability as a nation.

The TaxPayers Alliance produced an important research note, which shows that, if we achieved an 80 per cent. reduction in emissions, UK gross domestic product in 2050 would have to be 3.8 per cent. lower than it was in 1990. We know of the public dismay and, indeed, even the Prime Minister’s concern, about the fact that we have now entered the first quarter of negative growth since 2007. What would 3.8 per cent. negative growth in 2050 compared with 1990 mean for the people of this country? It would be a disaster on a massive scale and unacceptable to the people. Not enough has been done to spell out the implications of the Bill.

As one examines the measure, one realises that it contains all sorts of loopholes. It would therefore be possible for successor Governments—or even the current Government—to adjust the membership of the committee that is meant to be pushing all of this so that it was then able to use the word “appropriate” to decide that the provisions passed in the Bill were wholly inappropriate as our economy went down the global league table.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point that targets set for a time when most of us will not be in the House—and perhaps not on the planet—are all very well. However, even if the Government reduced or amended the targets, the Bill contains costs now that would hit our constituents hard in fuel, food and travel bills. We should be worrying about that.

Mr. Chope: I agree, but I shall concentrate on aviation, aerospace manufacturing and shipping because they are key industries in our country. One could argue that the
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City of London is the centre of global shipping activity. We have some of the world’s largest hub airports, and also international shipping container terminals, albeit not so many as we had, which is a pity. Aviation is our heritage, but I have not heard a word to show that the promoters of the Bill and the supporters of the amendments support and laud British aviation and shipping.

Colin Challen: Would the hon. Gentleman therefore argue that people such as Richard Branson should not try to reinvest all Virgin Atlantic’s profits in exploring the possibilities of biofuels? If it were a bit more expensive to develop that new technology, would not some sort of statutory framework, which encouraged people, help those who wanted to do that?

Mr. Chope: I could not agree less. Richard Branson’s success is based on being a buccaneer and an entrepreneur and not taking any notice of regulations and Governments. He occasionally may cosy up to the current Government, but when he realises what is involved, he gets away pretty quickly. The hon. Gentleman has deployed an argument that supports my case. Let us have free trade, the market and competition.

Global trade depends, above all, on aviation and shipping. It would not get far without them. I want global trade to grow, but it is not clear whether the Bill’s promoters and the amendments’ supporters share that objective. How do the Government propose to reduce emissions from aviation and shipping without damaging global trade? It is obviously common sense to say that fuel expenditure could be reduced for each unit of aviation and shipping activity, and that each unit could be more fuel efficient, but the market will achieve that objective—we do not need regulation to do it. I am worried that an agenda for imposing volume reductions in aviation and shipping underlies the Bill and the amendments. Imposing such volume reductions would be damaging to global trade. We are a global trading nation and it would therefore be highly damaging to the United Kingdom plc.

Rob Marris: The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) kindly praised me in his interesting remarks. He may have misinterpreted my position slightly because I believe that the United Kingdom and the world need to opt for adaptation, about which I have been banging on in the House for more than two years, initially as a lone voice. However, we also need to lessen emissions because I have no doubt that human activity contributes significantly to adverse climate change. I have been seized of that notion for the past 35 years, since I studied it at university, and I am not a scientist—the science has been around for a long time. Of course, just because it has been around for a long time does not mean that it is right.

Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman says that he has been seized of the idea for the past 35 years, but 35 years ago, some of the people who now talk about man-made global warming were talking about man-made global cooling and an ice age. If the hon. Gentleman was seized of the idea in the 1970s, he was well ahead of those who now advocate the notion of global warming.

Rob Marris: I am slightly saddened that the Minister of Environment in the Northern Ireland Assembly is apparently more than 35 years behind me. That troubles me, but I will go no further into that.

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