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The Denver Summit

4.6 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the summit of the Eight held at Denver last weekend. I have placed in the Library of the House the communique and the other documents issued following the summit.

The Statement is as follows:

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    "Such targets are tough but achievable--achievable by the sorts of policies that are sensible in their own right: an integrated transport policy that makes public transport more attractive and gets traffic flowing more smoothly; increasing the use of renewable forms of energy; improving energy efficiency in firms and the public sector up to the standards of the best, and increasing the use of combined heat and power; and improving energy efficiency in homes, for example, through promoting self-financing schemes by the energy suppliers.

    "Measures aimed at producing environmental benefits are often seen as burdensome or unachievable when they are first proposed, but experience shows that sensible measures produce sensible results, as we saw with measures to promote the use of unleaded petrol, for example.

    "We also discussed a number of other key environmental issues, including the need to work for an international agreement on forests with suitably high standards. We also discussed how to increase access to clean water and sanitation, and how to improve international co-ordination of efforts to protect oceans and to manage fisheries.

    "This was my first G8 Summit and I was struck by how much better the discussions were when we had time to focus on the key issues common to all our countries. Next year I want to take that further and concentrate on fewer issues in greater depth. In some senses it will mean a return to the original concept of G7 and G8 summits, using the opportunity for informal but substantive discussions.

    "At Birmingham, I want in particular to concentrate on two subjects: the issue of jobs and employability and the challenge posed by organised crime. The first will also be a major theme of our presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year. Both are of central importance in all the G8 countries.

    "I am grateful to the President of the United States for his hospitality at the Denver summit this year and to the authorities there. I am also grateful to the people of Birmingham for agreeing to host next year's summit, which I am confident will be an equal success."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.14 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I and the whole House are grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Statement. Indeed, I am sure the House will agree that there is a great deal to welcome in the Statement. For instance, it is clear that the involvement of Russia in the G7 context--now the G8--is to be welcomed, and it is something for which the previous Government worked as assiduously as their successors.

We welcome the Statement on organised crime, with which we could not disagree in any material respect. We also welcome the firm line on human rights in Hong Kong. We will watch with sympathy the Government's efforts to make sure that those sentiments are translated into fact.

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We also greatly welcome the remarks about improved market access as far as third world products are concerned. Everyone in your Lordships' House will be aware that trade, rather than aid, is a more dignified and effective way of helping third world countries. We will be extremely interested to know to what extent the Prime Minister and the Government are able to make sure that these principles are translated into action as far as our European partners are concerned. I would be grateful for any comment that the Lord Privy Seal could make in that respect.

We also welcome the remarks that the noble Lord has made about UN reform. I am sure it is something which he in particular, with his experience, will welcome.

We welcome, too, the Prime Minister's continued understanding, certainly apparent from his rhetoric, of how to tackle and reduce unemployment, which all of us agree is the principal internal evil affecting the countries of the European Union--other European Union countries at the moment, fortunately, rather than our own. It is striking that the theme of the Denver Summit was the success of what, in shorthand, has come to be known as the Anglo-Saxon economic model of low tax, low regulation and free labour markets, as against the Rhineland model of high taxation and high regulation. It therefore seems to this side of the House all the more extraordinary, in view of the Prime Minister's rhetoric, and in particular the rhetoric he deployed recently to his socialist colleagues in that remarkable speech in Malmo, that he has agreed to the social chapter at the Amsterdam summit.

One thing the Government will need to make clear is whether there is any difference in their approach in government from their approach in opposition. In government we need to see a match between actions and words rather than merely sticking to the rhetoric.

It is all very well to sign the Denver communique and its pious declarations about greater deregulation and responsive labour markets, but is it sensible at the same time to plan restrictions on working time, more regulation in the work place and a minimum wage, if the minimum wage is to be at a level to make a significant difference both to the unemployment rate and to the income of the people who will benefit from it? The time will come when that choice has to be made. I hope that the Government will look to the realities with which business has to grapple in the competitive world in which the Government admit we live. We must not merely be addicted to headlines, however Messianic and attractive the rhetoric may be.

If I may pass to environmental matters, perhaps I should declare a commercial interest as a shareholder and a former chairman of a company involved in developing emission control technologies. The reality is that, for all the grandiose speeches, the Denver and New York summits clearly failed to produce agreement, notably between the United States and other countries. This is in interesting contrast to the Rio summit five years ago, when my right honourable friend Mr. John Major played such a distinguished, if less public, role. I hope that we will see more concrete results over the coming five years in the wake of this summit.

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Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the United Kingdom is one of only three countries which have met the Rio targets? That, of course, is entirely the responsibility and achievement of the preceding government. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will give some credit not only to the previous government but also to my right honourable friend Mr. John Gummer for his extraordinary efforts in that regard. I am grateful to the Government Deputy Chief Whip for his multi-partisan approach to this matter.

I am particularly concerned by a statement in a Labour Party document that,

    "Labour does not accept that the market mechanism is inherently superior to regulation".
I wonder whether the Lord Privy Seal will accept that there is at least a respectable argument to suggest that in the field of the environment that may be precisely wrong. We can look at the record of the German Government, who were one of the leaders, and much to their credit, in the field of pollution regulation. One of the difficulties of imposing limits is that once the limits have been reached by the people who are concerned with them there is no longer an incentive to spend money on research and development into new technologies in order to make the performance of pollution control more effective still.

Can the Lord Privy Seal give us the Government's view about future regulation regimes both in this country and worldwide? Does he think that there is merit, for instance, in introducing in this country, and encouraging other countries to introduce, such devices as tradeable credits, which introduce flexibility of this kind and which can produce incentives through the regulatory regimes to make sure that there is an incentive to invest in new technologies so that the bare achievement of basic standards can be exceeded rather than merely achieved?

Can the noble Lord also tell the House whether during the course of the Prime Minister's visit to the United States he took the opportunity to have conversations with the World Bank and other institutions providing credit facilities to the third world, where most of the greenhouse gases will be emitted during the course of industrialisation over the coming decades, and whether there might be some possibility of encouraging the World Bank and its allied institutions to make, as part of their loan agreements, conditions for pollution control before money is disbursed?

I have a feeling that the rhetoric coming out of the Government at the moment, not only from the Denver summit but also from the Prime Minister's meetings in New York, is merely softening up this country for an increase in taxes on the back of a desire, above all, to attach that increase in taxes to the motherhood and apple pie of green issues. If that is so, I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to tell us whether he recognises that that really will not do. It is at least possible that higher taxes could have exactly the opposite result of what the Government's rhetoric suggests and that it may well be that the new technologies that are increasingly available to us now can be used as a cheap method of achieving far more effectively what higher taxes can achieve.

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If you are Prime Minister you do not have to make casual remarks about issues of such gravity affecting many millions of people, all private motorists and many branches of industry. I hope the House will recognise that there must be a clearly thought out policy. In that context perhaps I may say that there appears to be a measure of confusion between some reports and the Statement that the Lord Privy Seal has so kindly repeated to us today as to what the Government's targets are. For instance, I note that the Prime Minister backed an EU target of reducing CO 2 emissions to 15 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010. He was also reported elsewhere as setting a higher unilateral target of a 20 per cent. cut by 2010. Are those reports correct? Is this target purely for CO 2 emissions or is it for, as the Statement implies, all greenhouse gases? This, as the House will realise, is important because it is infinitely more difficult to achieve that reduction for CO 2 emissions rather than for all greenhouse gases. I should be grateful if the Lord Privy Seal could explain that for us.

I hope also that he will be able to explain for us how these emission cuts will be achieved. Will this mean an alteration in the Labour Party's traditional support for coal? Will he be looking at road tolling? Will the use of private cars be restricted, or are the public just being softened up yet again for unjustifiable tax increases in the Budget?

Denver also looked to co-operation on solutions for the costs of ageing populations. Is it not true that, thanks to previous governments, Britain has far better funded private pensions than any other European nation? Against the background of the Denver summit, would it not be astonishing to contemplate changing corporate taxation and reforming ACT in such a way as to cut pension fund income? I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to reassure us today that he will be making clear the danger of tinkering with ACT to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in advance of the Budget and that if he fails in that endeavour he will explain to the pensioners of this country the danger to the size of their pensions that tinkering with ACT represents.

There is much to be welcomed in the Statement but, as so often with the Government's record in their short tenure of office so far, their declarations raise infinitely more questions than they answer.

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