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Commons Chamber

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

House of Commons

Thursday 22 November 2007

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

The Secretary of State was asked—

Social Tariffs

1. What recent assessment he has made of the potential contribution of social tariffs to the reduction of fuel poverty in North-West Leicestershire. (166782)

We have made no assessment of the individual contribution that social tariffs have made in specific locations. However, following publication of the energy White Paper, we continue to work closely with Ofgem and energy suppliers to analyse the range of social programmes—including tariffs—that suppliers currently offer, in order to draw out best practice and highlight where improvements are needed. Across Great Britain, about 700,000 households are on social tariffs, rebates or trust funds.

The numbers in fuel poverty have doubled since 2003, but can be dramatically reduced if suppliers implement in a meaningful way the energy White Paper challenge to offer social tariffs to their fuel-poor customers. Does the Minister agree that the upcoming energy Bill should give Ofgem reserve powers to require a minimum standard for social tariffs, to avoid the situation in which some Scrooge suppliers backtrack on voluntary commitments and dilute their initiatives to the meagre penny-pinching level of those who offer the least?

We recognise that after years of progress in reducing the number of households affected by fuel poverty, the numbers are now increasing because of rising energy costs, which are, of course, a global phenomenon. I have met all the chief executives of the major supply companies to talk about the importance of social tariffs. Some companies are doing well and others are now moving in the right direction. We are keen that social tariffs—alongside social policies such as energy efficiency programmes and the winter fuel payment—should play a full part in tackling fuel poverty.

Post Offices

On 17 May my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the Government’s response to the public consultation on the post office network. Post Office Ltd is now carrying that forward through local implementation plans, and there will be six such plans for Scotland. The first area plan for Scotland, for the Greater Glasgow, central Argyll and Bute area, is out for local consultation. The plan covering the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is scheduled for consultation in August next year.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but given that the Government have announced 2,500 closures across the country, can he assure the people of Edinburgh that that will be a genuine consultation? Or has he already decided on the number of offices to close, so that all he is prepared to discuss is the method of execution?

The announcement on 17 May did indicate the number of offices that would close, so the consultation, in the hon. Gentleman’s area and in others, is about how that is to be implemented. Postwatch and the local authorities will be involved, and the hon. Gentleman and his constituents can be involved, but the direction of travel was set by the announcement. The reasons are clear: as a society, we are using the post office less than before. Some 4 million fewer customers a week are going through the doors of post offices, which are losing, collectively, some £3.5 million a week.

My hon. Friend knows only too well that it is usage of, and footfall in, sub-post offices that will ensure that they continue to operate. Is he in a position to speculate as to how many Members of Parliament will, on reaching retirement age, open a Post Office card account to receive their state pension?

I would not like to speculate on that. At the moment, eight out of 10 pensioners choose to have their pension paid into their bank account—and among new retirees, that figure is nine out of 10. My hon. Friend is right to point to the trends in lifestyle that are driving many of the changes. However, we should give credit to the management of the Post Office for innovating and developing new products, such as broadband services, selling foreign currency and—of relevance at this time of year—the recent launch of the Christmas pre-payment scheme, which will offer a secure outlet for people who want to save for Christmas in that way.

Despite what the Minister says, the Post Office has made it clear to campaigners in Scotland that if a post office is saved from closure after a local campaign, another post office in the same area will simply be closed instead. Will that not pit community against community? Does it not demonstrate that the whole consultation process is a sham, and that the Post Office is simply engaged in an exercise to cut the network—an exercise that is being pursued in Scotland, despite reports that it has been put back in many areas of England because of the local elections in May?

The announcement on 17 May made it clear that the size of the network would have to reduce. There is no secrecy about it. The local consultations are about how that is to be done. It is true that the network must reduce in size, and that is accepted by the Federation of SubPostmasters, and by most witnesses to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry when it examined the issue.

Carbon Capture

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

On Monday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the competition for a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration project. My Department will support up to 100 per cent. of the additional capital and operating costs of the project, which will be selected through a competitive process. In addition we have a £35 million programme for carbon abatement technologies, including CCS.

I am grateful for that reply, and for this important initiative. Does the Secretary of State accept that the electricity generators feel that there have been long delays in bringing the programme forward? Secondly, there are concerns about the kind of technology being evaluated—post-combustion rather than pre-combustion. Can he say whether there will be only one winner of the demonstration project, or is there scope for more applicants?

My hon. Friend is right to raise those points. I have great respect for him, and I know that he is a strong supporter of what we are trying to do. Given the technical complexity of the technology it was right and proper for the Government to select one type of competition to run. When we have done that, clearly we have to make a choice. It is worth reminding ourselves that only two other countries in the world are seeking to develop projects like this. Post-combustion technology will give the United Kingdom a potential leading role in developing this important technology, which could play a significant role in meeting our carbon reduction targets by 2050. I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. We are trying to move forward as quickly as possible on this project, but given the scale of the technology and the issue of public finance, it is right that we make these decisions appropriately.

Given that the first proposed UK carbon capture and storage demonstration plant seems at least seven years away, as the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) implied, how will the Secretary of State ensure that new fossil fuel generating capacity will necessarily include the CCS capability to meet the emissions goals? What carbon price does he estimate will persuade UK energy producers to include CCS in their fossil fuel-based generation designs as a matter of course?

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is a supporter of what we are trying to do and carbon capture generally, as I hope all hon. Members will be. In relation to his two points, we will be publishing some proposals in the very near future on aspects of capture readiness which should be included in the consenting process, and how this might work in practice. On the economics of carbon sequestration, we want to see a much more robust and strengthened trading scheme. Clearly that must involve a much higher price for carbon. We need to see how phase 2 beds in and then we have important decisions to make for phase 3, which will be the moment when we have to address the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised.

May I tell my right hon. Friend that when the Trade and Industry Committee met staff of the EU Commissioner for Energy we were told by an energy economist that what was required in the United Kingdom were four demonstration plants and 15 in Europe. To judge from what my right hon. Friend has just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), we are not going to see that kind of investment in clean coal technology. If we do not see it, we will not be able to have that technology on stream, and as a result we will meet the energy crisis much earlier than we will be able to have nuclear power stations on stream. Therefore it is important to concentrate our efforts on getting clean coal technology up and running. Has my right hon. Friend had meetings with the Energy Commissioner, and if so, what has been the outcome?

I am tempted to say that the European Commission would say that, wouldn’t it? The United Kingdom is willing to play its full role, but other countries in the European Union should, too. I am not aware of any EU country other than the UK that has made a commitment to funding a CCS project. My hon. Friend asks whether we can support up to four projects. I do not think that that is possible. We believe that we can fund one significant-scale demonstration project. I still believe that, having chosen this particular path of post-combustion coal and of running a competitive process which, if we had taken the advice of the Conservative party, we could not have run, the United Kingdom has the opportunity of being a world leader in this important technology. It can bring significant growth to UK manufacturing companies and engineering consultancies. We are being responsible. We are committing public money, so there will always be a limit—the Conservatives may have forgotten that—to the amount the public can afford to put into such technologies.

Economic Partnership Agreements

4. What progress is being made in negotiations on economic partnership agreements; and if he will make a statement. (166785)

There has been progress in discussions between all African, Caribbean and Pacific regions and the European Union, and further negotiations will take place next week. We continue to work to maximise the development benefit from economic partnership agreements.

As my hon. Friend knows, there is a great deal of criticism of the speed with which some of the deals are being done, especially in countries that feel under pressure to achieve a preferential deal by the end of the year. What measures is he taking to ensure that the deals are good for the countries involved, and that they are not being forced into taking something they do not want? What exactly are the development benefits that he foresees from such deals? There is a great deal of scepticism about what they are.

As my hon. Friend rightly says, concerns have been expressed, in particular by some civil society groups, about the pace of the negotiations. However, I remind the House that we have known for a considerable time that we would be in this situation, and that we continue to hear from all developing countries in the ACP regions that they want to negotiate an economic partnership agreement. The specific development benefits that we have fought for, and secured, are that all ACP regions should have duty and quota-free access to the EU market. We have achieved that, albeit with transitional periods for two products. Furthermore, we want much simpler rules of origin to maximise the benefits of that duty and quota-free access offer, and there has been significant movement in that direction, although we would have liked a little more.

As the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) has just said, the agreements have to be concluded by 31 December, so time is short. As the Minister knows, the EU Commission is using its full might to negotiate with some very small countries in the ACP regions. Over recent weeks I have visited a number of those countries, where I met senior Ministers—and there is concern because they feel that the British Government have not stood up enough to make sure that proper impact assessments have been carried out so that the severe downturn in jobs and employment, and the damage to some of their economies, can be properly cushioned by a realistic package of international development assistance. Before signing the agreements, what will the British Government do to ensure that the transitional assistance is in place?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I, and other Ministers, have been in discussion with a series of developing countries in each ACP region. As I have pointed out, all developing countries indicated that they continue to want to sign economic partnership agreements. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there will be some adjustment costs and he will, I am sure, have noted the significant increase in funding for development through the EU development fund and in the bilateral budgets of a range of EU member states to help with the costs of adjustment. In addition, we have secured commitments from the commissioner that the pace of market opening from the ACP regions will be at the pace that the ACP countries want. Indeed, markets for some goods from the ACP regions will not have to be opened at all.

Nuclear Power

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

We have consulted on the basis of a preliminary view that it is in the public interest to give private sector energy companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations. The consultation ended in October, and I shall announce a final decision early in the new year.

But does the Secretary of State not accept that unless he moves quickly to announce the decision to go ahead with the new generation of nuclear power stations, energy companies will have no alternative but to invest in new conventional power if they are to fill the coming energy gap? Does he accept that there is growing public support for investment in new nuclear power, not least in communities such as Bradwell-on-Sea in my constituency, which have had long experience of living next door to a nuclear power station?

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments, and I agree with him about the need to make the decision as quickly as possible. The consultation shows that his view of where public opinion is moving is also mine. There is little doubt that people are concerned about both the challenge of climate change and the importance of future energy security for the UK. I hope that he will exert his best endeavours to persuade his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that nuclear power should not be a last resort.

Instead of building nuclear power stations, there is the possibility of using generating barrages—particularly in the Severn, but there are many other strongly tidal estuaries around Britain’s coast that could equally well provide power generation. Will my right hon. Friend look at those first, before he considers nuclear power?

I agree with my hon. Friend in many respects, and my view is that we must look at all these things simultaneously. The clock is ticking. Time is running out. We do not have the luxury of sitting back, luxuriating, to consider the various options. We have now got to make decisions. On renewable energy, I agree strongly with my hon. Friend that we should explore, as aggressively as we can, sources of tidal power. We have committed ourselves to undertake a series of feasibility studies that will extend not just to the Severn barrage, but to other projects across the UK that have potential, and I hope that he will support us in getting on with that as quickly as possible.

When the Secretary of State gave his very persuasive evidence to the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee on Tuesday, he indicated that planning permission exists for some 30 GW of generating capacity—I think that he was indicating section 36 consent—a very large proportion of which will not be constructed in practice. Is his Department’s view that there is a very large generating gap for which new nuclear, renewable or even conventional generating capacity must be built, and for which consent does not exist currently?

The National Grid produces an annual statement of its assessments of the gap, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, and of what is in the pipeline. Our information is that steps are being taken to ensure that the necessary margin of energy supply will be available to the UK when we need it. I hope that I have made the position clear to him and his Committee, and I thank him for the very nice words that he said at the beginning of his question.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to get the long-term investment that we need in both low-carbon and no-carbon energy is to set a high price on carbon? Is it his judgment that the next stage of the European emissions trading scheme will, in fact, enable that price on carbon to be set effectively?

Yes, I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend about the importance of the emissions trading scheme, and I thank her for all the work that she did when she was leading my Department. She did an excellent job. Our aim is to make the scheme the principal mechanism in helping us to meet the challenge of climate change and reduce carbon emissions. I agree with her strongly that the proof of the pudding will be in setting an effective market price for carbon—and that would certainly be higher than it is at the moment.

How do the costs of new nuclear power compare with those of other low-carbon or no-carbon technologies, and what kind of taxpayer guarantee or subsidy would be needed at current carbon prices?

We have published all that information in the energy White Paper, and I am very happy to send it to the right hon. Gentleman. All our work indicates that nuclear electricity will be a very cost-effective form of energy supply for the future. One of the significant challenges that we must also address is that we need our energy to be clean and secure, but the price must be affordable for consumers and businesses. The information is in the public domain; I will happily share it with the right hon. Gentleman, and if he wants to discuss the detail, I look forward to having that discussion with him.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but the basic integrity of the industry involves the people who work in it, and there is real concern in the industry about the number of jobs being lost and the increased reliance on contractorisation. Will he meet colleagues in the House who are interested in how we can maintain, and indeed restore, the vitality of the industry, so that we can prevent any future job losses and give the industry a chance in the future?

Yes, I am happy to do that, and to discuss the issues with my hon. Friend. I agree that among the most important assets of the industry are the people, and the skills they represent. If we are going to confirm the preliminary decision, we must make the right decisions to ensure that the industry, going forward, has the right array of skills to do its job properly.

Renewable Energy (Public Buildings)

6. If he will hold discussions with ministerial colleagues on the installation in all new public buildings of low-carbon electricity and heat generators powered from renewable energy sources. (166787)

I regularly meet Ministers in other Departments, in particular the Department for Communities and Local Government, to determine how to improve the overall sustainability of both new and existing non-domestic buildings, including those owned or occupied by the public sector. The hon. Gentleman is right: new public buildings should be exemplars of energy efficiency, renewable technologies and sustainable development.

I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful response. May I encourage him to develop incentives across central Government and, in particular, local government, so that what he has been discussing with ministerial colleagues can be delivered? For example, two major public buildings—a new art gallery and a new football stadium—are currently being constructed in my constituency, neither of which have any energy-producing mechanisms. Had the incentives been there, those would have been included.

At the moment, the picture is mixed, and that is not good enough. There is good news in Croydon: the Ashburton learning village, which includes a new school, has a fantastic array of photovoltaics. It is good example of how—through both the low-carbon buildings programme and the work of the Department for Children, Schools and Families—a lot more money is going into renewable technologies in our schools. That has not only an environmental impact, but an educational one, because when children learn about their relationship to energy and energy’s relationship to global warming, we begin to win the minds, as well as the hearts, of the next generation. I recognise that we need to do more.

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to see the report from the Renewables Advisory Board, which was published yesterday? Apparently, the RAB says that the market for equipping zero-carbon homes with energy from renewables could amount to almost £2 billion a year, but that under current projections, there will not be enough firms supplying biomass boilers or solar panels to meet the increase in zero-carbon housing. What is he doing to help meet the Government’s admirable targets in this area, which were set out by the Prime Minister earlier this week?

The key text is Sir Nicholas Stern’s report. I think that we all recognise that although we have a challenge in terms of global warming, we also have an economic and commercial opportunity. There will be an array of new business opportunities and new businesses as we grapple—it is a challenge—with concepts such as zero-carbon dwellings, renewable technologies and the decommissioning of various plants. These are new opportunities for British business, and the Secretary of State is absolutely determined that our Department will lead the way in greening Britain’s industry to rise to the environmental challenge and the immense commercial opportunity.

The Minister will know that, irrespective of how one accesses the energy, investment in conservation is far more economically effective. Will he therefore give an assurance that for all public buildings—particularly those being refurbished—the Government will look again at how to ensure that conservation is built in at the very heart of the design of new construction and refurbishment?

Yes, that is vital. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in central Government, every Department has targets to reduce its own emissions and to become more sustainable. There are major challenges in relation to new building. However, on housing construction, I am impressed that the Minister for Housing now has a taskforce, of which I am a part, working with the construction industry on these issues. I understand, however, that we are talking about not just house building, but buildings in general.

I welcome the Minister’s comments about the economic potential of new industries in this area. May I bring to his attention the vast potential of geothermal energy, which is often overlooked? Not only does it involve the lowest carbon consumption, but it offers enormous potential to companies, such as Forkers in my constituency, that are pioneering developments in it. Will he undertake to look at building regulations on public buildings to see how geothermal energy can be promoted?

Yes, and work is under way on that. Geothermal energy is an important technology. It is one of an array of renewable technologies that we need to consider. We need to find ways of incentivising some of the newer technologies more than, say, onshore wind farms, and we are looking closely at how that can be done. It is important that those involved with zero-carbon housing and other buildings come together with the energy world, which is concerned with microgeneration and local energy systems, so that we join those two important pieces of the puzzle. I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing just that, together with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

7. What the effects of the comprehensive spending review are for funding of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. (166788)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

The comprehensive spending review provided the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority with funding to deliver a full programme of nuclear decommissioning and clean-up, in line with the NDA’s strategy and business plans.

Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the loss of skilled jobs at Winfrith and other sites commencing in January, and about the deferment of decommissioning, which I believe is at variance with previous plans? At the end of the day, who is accountable and responsible for those actions, particularly if safety were to be compromised?

Ultimately, I am responsible to the House for those matters, and that is how it should be. I am aware of the Winfrith issue. I recently met the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, and she raised those concerns with me. I am looking into the issues that she and the hon. Lady have raised.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s enthusiasm, if I might call it that, for the new nuclear build programme, but he will perhaps be aware that from the public’s perspective, issues surrounding nuclear decommissioning and nuclear waste remain the principal cause for concern about that future new build. Can he offer the House and the public any enlightenment or encouragement that a solution will be found for that difficult issue?

I think that the NDA has made its position clear, and I agree with it that it must prioritise the high safety risks that are part of the legacy of nuclear power in the UK, particularly at Sellafield and Dounreay; that is the right thing to do. I am sure that everyone in the industry, from the head of the NDA right the way through the employment base of nuclear in this country, wants to make sure that we never compromise on safety; so, too, do I.

Regional Economies

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

My Department is investing £2.3 billion this year to strengthen regional economies through the regional development agencies. Since 2002 the less prosperous regions’ growth rates have caught up with those of London and the south-east. We are currently consulting business on the details of a new enterprise strategy, which will further address the issue of regional disparities in economic performance.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that regional economies can be international drivers? I draw his attention to the Scotch whisky industry. In my constituency, I am lucky to have a cooperage, distilleries, coppersmiths and a blending plant. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the industry provides a real opportunity to blend traditional skills with a modern economic industry, and that those traditional skills are vital to the preservation of a modern economic base?

Given your interest, Mr. Speaker, I obviously need to answer the question in the right way. I am a great fan of blends, so I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) about the importance of the Scotch whisky industry. It is a significant employer, and there is much technology and innovation in the industry. I can assure him, and the House, that the UK Government are doing all they can on issues such as ensuring that Scotch whisky can be sold freely and fairly around the world, without unnecessary high tariffs. I have just come back from Korea, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I raised that point directly with that country’s Trade Minister.

Over the last 10 years the Government have talked a great deal about the north-south regional divide, and indeed they have spent some £13 billion through the RDAs, yet the prosperity gap between the regions has widened since 1997, with the north and the midlands falling further behind the national average. Having spent £13 billion in that period, will the Secretary of State explain why the north-south gap in prosperity has actually grown? Is it a deliberate Government policy, or just ministerial incompetence?

The tone of these exchanges has suddenly lowered dramatically. I pointed out—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman wants an answer and I am trying to give it to him. I pointed out to him in my answer the progress that is being made. It is important to remember that the problems that we are discussing did not arise in 1997, and it is worth reminding ourselves—[Interruption.] No, these problems go back 80, 90 or 100 years. If we are to succeed in sustaining the progress that we are making, that will call for investment and support for the work of the regional development agencies, which I have never heard a Conservative Member signal since we established the RDAs. One thing that always emerges from our exchanges is the sniff of hypocrisy and humbug. The hon. Gentleman never showed any interest at all—

As long as the right hon. Gentleman is describing a party and not an individual Member, I am quite happy with that remark.

Of course I am talking about the Conservative party, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for that helpful clarification. If the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) had any record to campaign on that would allow us to believe that he was serious in the concerns that he expressed today, we would take him more seriously. Sadly, there is no evidence to support his view.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently announced that she wishes to set up a cross-departmental group to look at the special needs of some of our coastal towns? Will he actively engage in that group so that the economy of a town like Blackpool can be regenerated and help to strengthen the whole of the regional economy?

Yes. I want to praise the work that my hon. Friend does in representing her constituents in the matter. My Department will do all we can to support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the work that she is doing to rejuvenate our coastal towns.

Postal Services

Post Office Ltd has put out to local public consultation its proposals for post office closures and new outreach locations in 10 area plans, including the plan for east Essex and Suffolk, which covers the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The process will continue over the next year or so. It has ended in four areas, including east Essex and Suffolk, and final decisions on the area covering his constituency are planned to be announced next month.

The Minister will be aware that profitable post offices in Billericay and Wickford in my constituency are set for closure under the Government’s closure programme. Given that the population in that part of the world is expanding, not shrinking, as evidenced by the Boundary Commission creating an extra constituency, and given that the closures will hurt many people, particularly the elderly and the disabled, can the Minister honestly explain to the House why those closures are taking place, in view of the profitability of those post offices and the level of population growth? Will he meet me and other Essex MPs to discuss the matter?

I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman and colleagues, if he wishes. As I explained earlier, the closures are happening because the Post Office is losing several million pounds a week and because several million fewer people are going through the doors of our post offices than was the case a couple of years ago. He mentioned profitable post offices, and there are two factors to remember in that regard. First, there is the amount that will be raised and spent within the post office branch. Secondly, the central support cost from the post office network to post office branches must be taken into account. Calculated in that way, some three out of four sub-post offices around the country are unprofitable to Post Office Ltd. That is why the Government have put forward a subsidy of £150 million a year for the post office network. That is a subsidy that did not exist when the Conservatives were in power.

My hon. Friend mentioned the macro-economic factors behind the closure of post offices. However, will he pressurise Post Office managers over the fact that the two post offices in my constituency—Trafalgar Road in Portslade and Richardson Road in Hove—are the centre of tight-knit, old and established shopping areas? Will he meet the local traders, who are filled with alarm at the closures and are worried that they will have an extremely negative effect on their businesses?

I will happily meet my hon. Friend about those issues. However, as I said to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), the closures are happening because of the declining use of post offices and the losses that post offices are sustaining. The decision was announced some months ago. I understand that it is difficult and unpopular in local communities; it is the kind of difficult decision that parties in government have to take.

Does the Minister not accept that given that sub-post offices are closing, fewer collections are taking place and morale in the postal services is at an all-time low, the only things that are increasing are the salary and bonus of the chief executive? Bearing in mind that the Government are providing a subsidy to the Post Office, does the Minister not think that we should get rid of Mr. Crozier, who is doing such a bloody awful job?

I got a little carried away, Mr. Speaker. I do believe that Mr. Crozier should go, but I withdraw the word “bloody”.

Right hon. and hon. Members can speak freely, as we have just seen. I do not share the opinion expressed by the hon. Gentleman. The Post Office is a service and business facing a significant challenge and it is having to go through difficult change. That process is difficult to manage and requires the commitment of both the senior management and the excellent people who work in our post offices and for Royal Mail.

Bolsover is in the bottom 50 in terms of deprivation, mainly because of all the pits that were closed under the Tories. But does the Minister accept that when we heard the news that 10 post offices—10—were going to be closed in Bolsover, that was a real body blow to all the affected communities? Will he therefore speak to people at Bolsover district council, which has launched a campaign against those 10 closures?

Whatever the Minister does about this Crozier fellow, who I think is a waste of space, he should not send him back to the Football Association.

I have said to other hon. Members that I will meet them, and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend about those issues. I understand that the situation is difficult and that a large number of closures are proposed in his constituency. The issue is difficult for local communities; the closures are happening because of the losses being made across the Post Office network. That is why we have committed to providing a subsidy—one that did not exist under the Conservative party—of £150 million a year. In fact, that subsidy is part of a total package of support for the Post Office of £1.7 billion until 2011.

Does the Minister understand why communities feel so betrayed at the consultation exercise, which will make no difference whatever to the number of post offices that will be closed? Why has he ordered the Post Office to stop all closure announcements in the run-up to the local elections in May? Is not the decision to change the date for announcing the closure of one in six of the capital’s post offices from just three weeks before the mayoral election more connected with saving Ken Livingstone than with genuine consultation? Will Londoners not see the elections as their final chance to have their say on the future of the post offices? What is bad news for the postbox will be bad news for Labour at the ballot box.

The suspension of announcements during local elections is part of the normal purdah procedures that have existed for years in this House and have been observed by Governments of both parties. If it is the opinion of the Conservatives that purdah should be suspended, that would be an interesting constitutional innovation. If that is not their opinion, I suggest that they stop criticising us for applying the normal rules that have applied to Governments of both parties for many years.

Royal Mail (Isle of Mull)

10. What assessment he has made of the performance of Royal Mail against national standards for mail delivery, with particular reference to the service on the Isle of Mull; and if he will make a statement. (166791)

The responsibility for ensuring that Royal Mail meets its quality of service standards rests with Postcomm, the postal services regulator. I understand from Postcomm that on the Isle of Mull, which is part of the PA postcode district, Royal Mail is required to meet the standard of 91.5 per cent. of first class mail delivered the next day, and that that standard is being met across that postcode district.

But just last month, Royal Mail stopped sending the mail to Mull on the first ferry of the day. That means that it is being delivered to customers throughout the island two hours later than it has been for many years. The daily newspapers are also affected, meaning that they do not arrive in the shops until about midday. Will the Government, as the owners of Royal Mail, investigate this and demand that Royal Mail give to people on Mull the same service that until last month they had enjoyed for many years?

I am afraid that the issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not so much to do with postal services as with European legislation on transport. The reason why this is happening is that new legislation requires that all vehicles weighing more than 7.5 tonnes, including those operated by Royal Mail, must travel at no more than 56 mph. That is the cause. It is not so much to do with Royal Mail as with the speed limits on the trucks that carry the mail.

Topical Questions

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

The central purpose of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is to help to ensure business success in an increasingly competitive world. We promote the creation and growth of business and a strong enterprise economy, lead the better regulation agenda, and champion free and fair markets. We are the shareholder in a number of Government-owned assets, such as Royal Mail, and we work for secure, clean and competitively priced energy supplies.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s written statement this morning on manufacturing. He will know that in Nottingham we have suffered through the closure of the mines and textile industries and the run-down in people’s employment at Boots, Players and Raleigh. Will he ensure that manufacturing still stays at the heart of the Government’s economic policies? Will he also, linking back to his previous job, ensure that it ties into the welfare-to-work strategies that are now being deployed around the country?

Yes, I will certainly look to do that. It is sometimes worth reminding ourselves about the UK’s record in manufacturing. We are the sixth biggest manufacturer in the world and we have the same proportion of gross domestic product in manufacturing as the United States. We should be looking to develop our manufacturing sectors as aggressively and positively as we can. I do not believe the myth that Britain is now living in a post-industrial world; that is completely wrong. We should be supporting our manufacturers in the most effective and intelligent way that we can. I agree too about the importance of manufacturing as regards employment. It is worth reminding ourselves that hundreds of thousands of people work in industrial sectors that did not exist 20 years ago. We have a responsibility, we intend to discharge it, and I look forward to support from my hon. Friend.

Do the Minister’s responsibilities include ensuring that international trade by British companies meets the highest standards? Is he concerned that yesterday Britain was singled out at the international conference on anti-corruption as the one major country that has been backsliding on its international treaty commitments?

I do not know what that conference was, and I reject absolutely any suggestion that the United Kingdom does not take seriously its obligations to tackle corruption. We have an excellent record and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to start undermining it.

T2. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with Ofcom about the growing, very unethical practice of “slamming”—changing a subscriber’s account from one service provider to another? (167705)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a serious problem. I understand that Ofcom has taken action against that practice in the fixed telephony market and complaints have started to come down as a result, which is welcome. I will be meeting the head of Ofcom next week and I will relay to him my hon. Friend’s concerns, and mine, about that practice.

There is growing concern that this rather, I have to say, embarrassingly named Department is beginning to lose its grip. It was we who had to tell people that the Secretary of State’s Department had published its mission statement when its own press office did not know anything about it.

As part of that mission, the Secretary of State is responsible for enterprise. Will he confirm to the House that he was consulted in advance on the Chancellor’s new tax on enterprise, and explain what subsequent changes he would now like to make to those proposals?

It is very nice to have the hon. Gentleman’s support for what we are trying to do on enterprise, and I welcome that. I hope that he will support the measures we set out in the new year to ensure that we sustain the progress we are making on that. We are closing the gap between ourselves and the United States, and doing better than any other country in the European Union on enterprise, which I know is his particular concern.

Yes, I was consulted by the Chancellor in advance, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into the detail of the correspondence and exchange of views that I had with the Chancellor. I support absolutely what he is doing in relation to the simplification of our tax regime and in making sure that Britain’s international competitiveness in relation to capital gains tax remains obvious.

The right hon. Gentleman should talk to some of his ministerial colleagues, who clearly do not agree with him, including the one who resigned—perhaps the only time he said anything constructive about enterprise was when he joined the Conservatives at Oxford. Business start-ups are falling and business support schemes are in disarray. There are continued complaints about UK Trade and Investment, a rising regulatory burden and, I would argue, a sidelined Secretary of State. To which Department should business now turn if it wants to have its interests effectively represented in Whitehall?

The business community welcomed the creation of the Department, and continues to give it strong support. I am grateful to the business community for that. If that really is the best the hon. Gentleman can do after having a whole hour to prepare for his question, he needs to go back and do his homework again.

T3. The future of manufacturing industry in my constituency is in the high-tech, high-skilled industries. Would my right hon. Friend assure me that he will continue to work with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to do all we can to support such industries? Does he agree that any proposals to cut the research and development tax credit, as proposed by the Conservatives, would only damage those industries? (167706)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

We will certainly be doing that, and we have a programme of support for innovation and high technology that is among the best in the world. We certainly will not be taking any advice on tax from the Conservatives.

T4. Having paid my car tax from the luxury of my own home on the internet, should I be pleased that I am embracing the new digital era, or worried that I am undermining local post offices? (167707)

I think that my hon. Friend is making his own choice, which is an increasingly popular one. Since the service was established, the capacity for people to renew car tax online has become very popular. Last year, it was used by about half a million people every month. The figures for the first half of this year show that that use has increased to about 1 million people per month. Interestingly, almost half of those who use the service do so outside the normal office hours of 9 to 5, which shows the demand for public services outside traditional office hours, and it lays down a challenge for the Government as to how we respond. It is right that the Government offer people the chance to carry out such transactions at a time of their own choosing, and this—

T5. Does the Minister agree that as the UK becomes steadily more reliant on imported natural gas, we will need substantially more gas storage facilities to provide a buffer against the risk of supply interruption? If he agrees, how does he think that that strategic storage will be provided? Will it be through the marketplace, through price signals, or will the UK have a stocking obligation imposed on it by the EU? (167708)

It was a good question. As we move at a relatively rapid rate from being a net exporter of gas to being a major importer—by 2020, we could be importing 80 per cent. of our gas—we will need more storage capacity. We recognised that in our White Paper. The new planning Bill will help us realise that aim before too many years have passed. That kind of infrastructure needs speedy implementation. That was an important question, and I believe that we have the answer to it.

T6. The Secretary of State claims to be the champion of wealth creation and initiative, but does he agree that any reward must reflect the risk? Does he feel that it is right that the QinetiQ chairman, the former civil servant Sir John Chisholm, should have netted £22 million from an investment of £129,000? Surely it is less to do with the ratio between risk and reward and more to do with incompetence and sleaze. (167709)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

If the hon. Gentleman has allegations of sleaze or criminality, he needs to bring them to the appropriate authorities and action will be taken.

Although the recent rise in the minimum wage is welcome, is the Minister aware that 24,000 workers in the Yorkshire and Humber region are not paid the minimum wage? Does he agree that we should have an active policy of finding and fining employers who break the law? Can he tell me how many enforcement officers are allocated to the Yorkshire and Humberside region to do that work?

Earlier this year, the Budget announcements contained an increase in the funds available for enforcement of the minimum wage. That will enable HMRC to hire some 20 extra enforcement officers. Over the past year, some £3 million has been recovered for people who should have been paid the minimum wage but were not. That has helped some 14,000 workers. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. The minimum wage was legislated for by Parliament for a reason and we want to see it properly enforced.

T7. Given that small sub-post offices in rural areas operate effectively as small businesses and were operating at a profit until the Government removed many services from them, such as the ability to renew TV licences, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give that there will be a profitable, effective rural post office network that does not require people to travel more than three miles from any village? (167710)

The hon. Lady referred to the TV licence. That was not the Government’s decision, and reflects the competitive environment in which the Post Office now operates. Does she believe that the Government should—

If the hon. Lady believes that the Government should withdraw the means to deal with car tax online, I would have to disagree. We are working closely with Post Office management to develop new services, such as those that they offer on car insurance, foreign currency and broadband. That will ensure that, in future, post offices remain an attractive place where people will go to access services.

T8. Is the Minister aware of the extraordinary situation whereby workers who are here perfectly legally are seeking to persuade employers that they are here illegally so that they can compete on what they regard as the relatively advantageous terms of being able to offer their services at less than the minimum wage? (167711)

All workers who are here legally are entitled to the minimum wage. That should be properly enforced, whether the workers come from the UK or not. If people are working here illegally, the hon. Gentleman should report that to the proper authorities.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a growing consensus, especially judging by the recent successful north-east economic forum, that, to encourage further enterprise in the north-east, we must ensure that the region is not isolated from the major north-south and east-west road links, as I am afraid that it currently is?

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

Obviously, we will work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that the right economic infrastructure is in place in the north-east to support enterprise and a growing wealth creation economy in the region.

Earlier, the Minister for Energy talked about the problems of fuel poverty. He mentioned social tariffs, which obviously apply to people on the gas and electricity networks. What assessment has he made of the impact of the dramatic increase in oil prices on those in rural areas who cannot get on to the gas network? What is his strategy for tackling fuel poverty in rural areas that are off the gas main?

Our strategy, wherever possible—it is not always possible economically —is to try to connect more people to the gas grid system. I acknowledge the problem; I think we need renewable technologies in particular to aid some of those often quite poor people. We are keeping the matter under review and I would welcome an opportunity of drawing on the hon. Gentleman’s experience.

The Minister knows that millions have benefited through the national minimum wage regulations. However, many who work on Britain’s ferries are currently exempt. Is my hon. Friend willing to meet me and other interested Members of Parliament to discuss that anomaly and whether it is possible to give that sector, too, the benefit of the regulations?

Climate Change

We now come to the main business, which is the second of the topical debates. May I share with the House the difficulty of determining the appropriate time limit for Back Benchers in an oversubscribed debate? Under the rules, the Front Benchers could, between them, take 26 minutes or, if intervened on to the full extent, 52 of the 90 minutes available. I do not want to inhibit the debate in any sense, but the more interventions that are made, the less time there is for us to try to ensure the fullest possible participation in the debate. I call Mr. Phil Woolas.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will try as best I can to accommodate a good debate. There is always a balance between taking interventions and eating into Back Benchers’ time, so I will get on with it.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of climate change.

It is appropriate that climate change has been chosen for one of the first topical debates, because in the Government’s view it is the greatest challenge of our time. It threatens not only our environment, but our security, prosperity and future development. Last weekend, right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change; its conference is taking place in Valencia. The report has given the world the loudest possible wake-up call. The warming of the climate system is now unequivocal. I am not aware of any country in the world that doubts the existence of man-made climate change. It is incumbent on us all to provide the leadership and take the decisive action that the scientists have called for.

The report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change report comes two weeks ahead of the meeting of the world’s Environment and Finance Ministers in Bali as part of the United Nations framework convention on climate change. At that meeting, along with our EU colleagues, we want to see the launch of comprehensive negotiations to deliver a post-2012 agreement to tackle climate change, 2012 being the end of the first period of the Kyoto agreement.

Not off the top of my head, but I can send that information to the right hon. Gentleman. We in the Department take very seriously our role as an exemplar of reducing carbon emissions. Clearly, if we are trying to influence public opinion, we must set a good example. Parliament, and not least the right hon. Gentleman, will make sure that we do. I thank him for that intervention.

It is important to avoid a gap between the first and second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol. For that reason, we need to secure agreement by the end of 2009. Apart from the need to avoid such a gap, it is important that Parliaments and legislatures have time to scrutinise agreements, and perhaps even more important that businesses and organisations, particularly the energy industry, have time to put their policies into place.

I draw the attention of the House to the statement that we published on Monday setting out the approach that the Government believe should underpin a post-2012 framework for international action. There are four key principles. First, the post-2012 regime must fit the scale of the challenge. To avoid the dangerous impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 10 to 15 years and fall by at least 50 per cent. by 2050.

Secondly, the agreement must be fully effective, involving all countries with significant emissions. For that to be real, the Government believe that a truly global carbon market needs to develop, because putting a price on carbon is essential to incentivise new investment in energy efficiency and clean energy sources, not just for the developed world but for the developing world as well.

The third principle is that of fairness. Developed countries such as ours have the greatest responsibility and the greatest capacity to reduce emissions. The larger emerging economies, however, also need to adopt new commitments that reflect their growth and pace of progress, ensuring that their future prosperity goes hand in hand with environmentally and economically sustainable development. Fairness also demands that richer countries play their part to support developing countries as they make the transition to clean energy technologies.

The fourth principle is that a post-2012 agreement must be comprehensive, addressing emissions from energy at the same time as controlling emissions from land use and, as I said to the Forestry Commission yesterday, deforestation.

With reference to fairness between the developed world and the developing world, will my hon. Friend say a little about the Government’s attitude towards the transfer of know-how, technology and funding from the developed to the developing world without opening up a loophole in a future binding agreement, so that we do not all buy credits in other parts of the world for schemes that should have been undertaken by another route anyway, as part of meeting our own obligation?

My hon. Friend identifies a crucial point. Our responsibility to the developing world requires a binding commitment on ourselves and other developed countries in agreement to contribute—I was about to say more than our fair share, but it is not more than our fair share because, historically, we have that responsibility. Carbon markets and offsetting can help the technological transfer that my hon. Friend calls for, but it is crucial that we avoid the outcome that he is concerned about.

I agree 100 per cent. on the case for a carbon market, but does the Minister agree that it is important that we get the pricing right? Does he accept that there will be an impact on the nuclear debate, because nuclear energy is not zero carbon? It has a carbon footprint. In the consultation that is scheduled to report soon, will there be a statement on the carbon consequences of the nuclear industry, taking the mining of uranium into account?

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that is central to the debate. Underlying his question are the crucial debates and decisions about the starting point, as different countries are on different trajectories. That makes his first point even more important. A carbon market must be based on robust science.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s assurance that he will visit my constituency to speak to the Bury climate change coalition in the near future, and I look forward to agreeing a date for that visit with his office. Before we leave the topic of the carbon market, will he look again at the question of the cap on the number of credits that the Government could buy through the carbon market as a means of securing their CO2 emission targets? The response to the pre-legislative scrutiny is not strong enough on that point—the Government suggested that there should be no limit to the number of credits that could be purchased.

I look forward to visiting Bury and engaging the public in these debates. That is important and I commend my hon. Friend’s leadership in his constituency. The Climate Change Bill will soon be debated in the other place and I look forward to the advice of the other place on the point that my hon. Friend makes. The priority is to achieve a global carbon market, but within that we can take account of his point.

The fourth principle is that the agreement must be comprehensive. It must address emissions from energy at the same time as controlling emissions from land use and deforestation. Following the preparatory committee meeting in Indonesia, I am much more optimistic that forestry and deforestation can be included within the framework conversations. There has been positive movement on that issue, although one must be cautious. All significant sources and gases must be included, not just CO2. Aviation and shipping are crucial international industries, which must be covered by a long-term framework.

As all our constituents tell us, the UK cannot tackle climate change alone, but we believe that we are showing strong leadership by taking action domestically to reduce our emissions. We are on course to meet our Kyoto targets. That target matters above all the others and we are making good progress. There is an important message that the United Kingdom and other countries are taking around the world. We have been able to show that economic growth and increased prosperity for our peoples are possible while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The fear of the developing world and of many individuals is that that decoupling is not possible. The United Kingdom is in a strong position. The Climate Change Bill, introduced to Parliament last week, is the first of its kind in the world. Through domestic and international action, it will enact our target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2050. In his speech earlier this week, the Prime Minister outlined detailed measures for moving forward on that policy.

We will continue to take significant steps to reduce major emissions and improve the lowest hanging fruit, which is energy efficiency—in our homes, businesses and public sector organisations. We will promote better information and make it easy for the public to act. All the evidence from the Act on CO2 campaign shows that the public are willing to take action, and our job is to put the structures and processes in place so that that can happen. That is why we have announced that homes will have access to a one-stop green homes service, which will provide high-quality, independent advice on energy efficiency, microgeneration, transport, water, waste and related issues.

Businesses are also playing their part. As the Chancellor remarked, a “green industrial revolution” is taking place worldwide. It

“presents the opportunity for new goods, new services, new capital markets and new jobs.”

The UK environmental industry has massive potential to take those chances. This country has a dynamic and growing sector, with a turnover of £25 billion in 2004; that is predicted to grow to £46 billion by 2015. As I said, while our economy is growing, our greenhouse gas emissions are reducing. That is the crucial part of the policy.

I look forward to the debate and to continuing to make progress with our overseas colleagues. A truly global effort is required. We have our part to play, and this country has a proud tradition of leading opinion.

The Conservative party welcomes this topical debate on climate change. It is timely, coming between the Second Reading of the Climate Change Bill in another place next week and the Prime Minister’s first substantive foray into the climate change agenda last Monday.

We welcomed several elements of the Prime Minister’s speech, but it is unfortunate that he waited five months after taking office—indeed, until after he had called off a general election—before making a significant speech on the greatest threat facing humankind. However, it must be a positive step forward that he is now beginning to engage in the debate.

The big question for us all, certainly for all of us concerned about stopping global warming, is this: does this new Prime Minister really get it? The rhetoric of his speech on Monday was positive, but we all know that rhetoric is not enough; if it were, the problem of climate change would have been solved long ago. We need urgent action and we want to work constructively with the Government to achieve it.

The new politics of climate change puts an onus on politicians of all parties to try to forge a consensus when possible. However, that does not mean failing to hold the Government to account for inaction, contradiction or lack of ambition. Taking the Prime Minister at face value on climate change is a big ask, and his performance so far this year is not encouraging.

Before the hon. Gentleman gets to the confrontational part of his speech, I should like to catch him in his consensual mood. Do he and his party agree with the Liberal Democrat view that smart meters are essential to reduce energy needs? Does he agree that one of the things that we need to persuade the Government to do—it should not be a partisan effort—is to make sure that they set a benchmark and a standardised environment within which all the smart meter and energy companies can compete? Such companies are not against competition, but they need guidance from the Government to achieve their goals.

That is a good point, with which I am happy to agree. There has been some good work on smart meters, which we have already pledged to roll out: the report chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) focused on the role of smart meters.

Will my hon. Friend remind the Liberal Democrats that it is no good just getting the conformity right? We have to commit ourselves to rolling out smart meters in eight years. That can be done; the industry can meet that target. That will make a bigger difference than anything else. Why on earth have the Government held up the legislation in place to do that?

The hon. Gentleman talked about a lack of Government ambition. Can he name any Government in the world who have shown more commitment or exercised more influence than ours in putting the case for an international agreement on CO2 emissions?

On the international stage, where rhetoric is at a premium, the Government have done well, and I certainly pay tribute to the work of Tony Blair. However, we have a real problem in respect of our domestic performance: we are simply not matching the international rhetoric with delivery at home.

I have a few examples of the failure of Government rhetoric. This year, they dropped their own commitment, made in three consecutive manifestos, to cut British carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, and replaced it with a target of 15 per cent. The Guardian reports today that the Government have ordered a U-turn on the Merton rule, having caved in to the House Builders Federation. The Government have chronically underfunded, and are now scrapping, the farce that is the low-carbon buildings programme, causing huge problems for the microgeneration industry. They have underspent, cut and then redirected budget commitments for energy efficiency and failed to support plans to build the world’s first carbon capture and storage power station in Peterhead, Scotland, opting instead for yet another iterative round of consultation and a competition, instead of just getting on with it. They were caught red-handed trying to water down Britain’s commitment to the EU renewable energy target of 20 per cent. by 2020.

Although the Prime Minister acknowledged the scale of the challenge that we face, his speech was remarkably short on solutions proportionate to the task. We had already heard much of what was announced. The Government had already committed to end fuel poverty, take action on low-energy light bulbs, build zero-carbon homes from 2016 and launch a competition to build a commercial carbon capture and storage project in Britain. The most groundbreaking proposal on Monday may have been the Prime Minister’s move to eliminate plastic shopping bags, but even that is to go to a forum for discussion before anything is done. Reluctance, reannouncements, rehashing and repetition are, sadly, all too familiar.

People are asking where the real vision and action are. If we judge the Government’s performance this year by deeds and not words, a decidedly mixed and unambitious picture emerges. I ask the House to keep in mind the following facts: despite all the talk, UK carbon emissions are still higher today than when the Labour Government took office 10 years ago; the downward trajectory is barely noticeable. This morning, perhaps mindful of the irony of the fact that we were to have this debate, the Government snuck out a written statement announcing that they intend to expand massively Heathrow airport, without so much as a mention of climate change or carbon emissions in the consultation process. The Bali conference is only weeks away, and Britain will no longer be visiting in a position of global leadership on climate change.

On the subject of leadership, will the hon. Gentleman take this perfect opportunity to say that, in respect of the targets in the Climate Change Bill, the Conservative party will stand shoulder to shoulder with Friends of the Earth and the Liberal Democrats in arguing for reductions of at least 80 per cent. by 2050?

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when we get to the international negotiations, Governments from around the world will resist any binding agreements on carbon reduction, because they fear that it will harm their economies? Does he give credit to this Government for proving in the past 10 years that we have successfully expanded our economy but decoupled the production of carbon emissions that used to go with that?

We have expanded our economy but barely reduced our CO2 emissions, and we will meet our Kyoto commitments only because of the big leap forward that was made under the last Conservative Government. Nevertheless, I give credit to the Government for arguing the case.

Will the hon. Gentleman remind us of his party’s view of the climate change levy and what contribution that has made towards reducing CO2 emissions?

The climate change levy is a very inefficient tool: like a lot of things that come from new Labour, it is a great brand but poor in its effects. We should replace it with a carbon levy that does not focus on the amount of energy a business uses and clobber its competitiveness across the board, but focuses specifically on carbon output. That would be a much more business-friendly tool.

Is not the climate change levy a typical example of this Government’s actions? They call something the right name, it does not work, and then they accuse people who complain about it of attacking the whole principle. They must put their words and actions together if we are to achieve anything.

It is new Labour all over—great brand, shame about the product.

To be fair, the Government are coming forward with some new measures that we can support, but they are small beer compared with the enormity of the task that we face. Nor can we leave it all to individuals or the consumer to help to deliver Britain’s CO2 reductions. What Britain needs is dynamic industrial change—change that is urgent, ambitious, clear and focused on the long term. The Prime Minister is right to join us in talking about the advent of a new industrial revolution and the opportunities that that could present, but the current pedestrian pace of change is not commensurate with the urgency of the challenge. Conservatives understand the changes that we need to make and the path that we need to take to meet this enormous challenge, but we also recognise the huge economic opportunity for Britain that this could offer. Over the next decade, UK plc has a real opportunity to lead the world. Conservative Members are not pessimists. Mankind will reach for solutions; our most progressive companies and successful entrepreneurs are already doing so. I have no doubt that we can embrace the low-carbon economy, because with or without us the world economy will change—

Does my hon. Friend agree that if one wishes to influence people’s behaviour it is often better to offer them tax incentives and encouragement instead of higher taxes and over-prescriptive regulation that they can get around?

My right hon. Friend has hit on the head the difference between the Labour way and the Conservative way. We stand for incentives, encouragement and supporting business, not just clobbering it.

In Britain, we have a clear choice. We can be players on the field of the global economy, looking for solutions, forging new markets and grabbing first mover advantage, or we can be spectators watching from the sidelines while the action takes place without us. We have the research excellence and the entrepreneurs, and in the City we have an abundance of green capital. Let us not repeat the mistakes that we made after world war two, when in the face of change we clung to the old industrial certainties. We failed to modernise and let our competitors invest in change and innovation, and by being so cautious we locked a whole generation into economic decline.

As we enter the new low-carbon era, let us not make that mistake again. We need to embrace change and seize the opportunities that it will create. That is why we are drawing on the work of the quality of life review undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and Zac Goldsmith. That is why we are using this great toolbox of ideas. That is why we propose bold policies such as the introduction of feed-in tariffs for microgeneration, which are working well in Europe, the replacement of the ineffective climate change levy with a focused carbon levy, and the introduction of a waste heat levy to incentivise combined heat and power and drive innovation in the energy sector—and let us not forget the reform of air passenger duty, which would move tax from the individual passenger to the efficiency of the aircraft. There is much more to come from the Conservatives, all of which will be aimed at ensuring that British business is sent clear, long-term market signals from the earliest possible date and that the long-term cost of carbon becomes embedded in economic decision making.

The Climate Change Bill will play a vital role in helping to create the long-term direction that business needs. As the House knows, Conservatives welcome the Bill, and it is to the Government’s credit that they introduced it in the Queen’s Speech. We look forward to working constructively on a cross-party basis to enhance and strengthen it when it begins its passage through the House of Lords next week. However, we must all acknowledge that it is only a framework; it cannot deliver a low-carbon economy on its own. Without coherent, joined-up and ambitious policy to underpin it, it will be little more than an effective way to keep track of the Government’s failure. As it stands, it needs to be strengthened and improved.

I do not want to pre-empt the Second Reading debate on the Bill, but there is one crucial point that the Government need to act on urgently. On Monday, the Prime Minister finally acknowledged that all the latest science says that an emissions reduction target of up to 80 per cent. is necessary to keep warming within the 2° target. Conservatives strongly believe that scientists, not politicians, should drive those targets. He also seemed to acknowledge his awareness that there is a flaw in how the Bill proposes to deal with raising its current reduction target of a minimum of 60 per cent. The Government are to ask the independent committee on climate change to revisit the 60 per cent. minimum target and report back with its recommendations in 2009. However, the committee will set the first 15 years of carbon budgets in 2008—a year before we know what the new reduction target will be. That is nonsensical. It is vital for British business to know the targets now, before we map out how we achieve them.

On Monday, the Prime Minister acknowledged that there is a problem but fudged the response. More clarity is needed. We need the committee to be announced to Parliament now, to sit provisionally before Royal Assent is given to the Bill, and to inform the targets that are proposed in it. Any other route would not provide the clear, credible and long-term signal that business so badly wants from the Bill. Moreover, we firmly believe that the committee is insufficiently independent. Its remit is too broad and vulnerable to political influence. Its recommendations must be driven and informed by the science.

I agree about the need for independence and for a shadow committee to be established soon. Returning to targets, the hon. Gentleman seems to have accepted the figure of 60 per cent. that is in the Bill. What is his objection to setting a higher figure now and letting the scientists reduce it if we do unexpectedly well?

We want to get away from politicians fiddling with the targets and having a know-all attitude. We want science to drive the long-term targets. It is clear to everybody that 60 per cent. is not enough, but rather than me—a graduate with a history and economics degree—suggesting a target for the Bill, far better that it should be the scientific committee that is going to sit and consider it. We will support a far more ambitious target, but for the sake of its credibility it needs to be set by scientists, not politicians.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the conclusion of the report by the Select Committee that examined the draft Climate Change Bill, which said that the status of the Committee should be equivalent to that of the Monetary Policy Committee, whereby the Secretary of State would have to accept its advice and not merely regard it as guidance?

Those are wise words. We will draw on the work of my right hon. Friend’s Committee in the House of Lords and, in the new year, in the Commons.

We firmly believe that the committee must be independent and that independent science must drive its recommendations. It is not there to second-guess any of the Government’s political priorities, whatever colour the Government of the day may be. There is much work to do on the Bill, but we look forward, in a constructive spirit, to enhancing and strengthening it in the coming weeks to turn it into the framework for dynamic industrial change that it has the potential to be.

The world stands on the cusp of a new low-carbon age. Britain has too much potential to do anything other than help to lead the way forward. However, that requires a Government with ambition, vision, ideas and the people to come together to provide that leadership.

I have sat in this Chamber on many occasions thinking that time was going backwards, and today that belief was confirmed. The clock has gone backwards several times already; I am sure that can be reviewed.

I welcome the debate because it is very timely, given that the week-long conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will take place next week, here in Westminster. Parliamentarians from all over the Commonwealth will attend, and I very much look forward to it. I also look forward to being in Bali for at least the first week of the conference. I hope to try to influence things, but I probably have no great chance of success. It will be a very difficult conference—perhaps somewhat more difficult than a win for an English side against Croatia. At least the England team will get another chance; we will not have a second chance after Bali. There may well be a penalty shoot-out later on, but we will have to wait and see.

I very much welcome the Government’s statement on their principles for approaching Bali, and the credence we can give to the principles is based on the Government’s leadership. There might be some domestic problems—we all know about those—but in the international arena the UK has led the debate on climate change. The first principle states that the post-2012 regime must meet the scale of the challenge. That is absolutely correct. There cannot be any deviation from that principle at all. It is good to remind ourselves how big the challenge is. We often say that we have 10 or 15 years before global emissions peak and then drop. I would argue that we have already exceeded that peak.

Over the past 650,000 years, the highest level of carbon alone in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million, and now that figure stands at 384 parts per million. Carbon equivalent gases are perhaps over 430 parts per million now. It is obvious to me that we are well into uncharted territory already. We do not have a window of opportunity to see how much further we can test the system. I would not accept anyone saying that we have another 10 or 15 years to sort the problem out. We do not.

I wish the hon. Gentleman well on his visit to Bali. I was in India not so long ago. It has huge poverty, and it is a developing country. We cannot tell countries such as India, or the poorest parts of China, that they cannot develop. We want to ensure that they are able to grow in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. Developed countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America can help by sharing our technology with those countries. We should not see that as a barrier to competition, or the giving away of a valuable resource. We would be playing our part in helping them to grow in an environmentally friendly way.

I absolutely agree with that. There are two further points. We should also bear it in mind that if we want them to grow, we will have to allow them a degree of increase in their carbon emissions. We allowed ourselves that luxury. I hope that it would not be on the same scale as ours, but the only way to ensure that is to make our cuts even deeper. We also need technology transfer mechanisms. One of the possibilities that we ought to consider is the way in which the World Bank is funding fossil fuel developments. Oil companies, with oil priced at nearly $100 a barrel, are making unprecedented profits. That does not make sense.

To return to the target, and the stabilisation greenhouse gases, a new element now has to be factored in. In the past, we largely concentrated on anthropogenic emissions, which reflects the science since about 1994. Recently, and this idea is now included in the Hadley Centre’s future work programme, we have had to consider the coupling of greenhouse emissions from man-made sources and those coming from positive feedbacks into the system, which are now emerging as a major contributor. We have multiplied the impact of positive feedbacks, and if we get beyond a tipping point, there might be nothing we can do to rein in those feedbacks. That modelling is now being used more widely, including by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, even though it was buried deeply within its report. If we consider that factor, I hope that we will note that our targets have to be much higher—probably beyond the 80 per cent. that has already been mentioned this afternoon. That is a worrying development, but we have to take it into account if we are to achieve the first principle set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has considered what our accepted share of global emissions might mean for us. It has shown that to have a 30 per cent. chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, the UK’s 50-year budget between 2000 and 2050 has to be fixed at about 4.8 gigatonnes of CO2. It also has shown that between 2000 and 2006, the UK emitted 1.2 gigatonnes of CO2, so we have already used one quarter of the budget available to us, based on our current understanding of what must be done. That shows the severity of the situation. Based on those figures, to have a 30 per cent. chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, the cuts in our emissions we need to insist on after 2012 could be as much as 9 per cent. per annum. That goes well beyond anything anyone has asked for before.

I want to examine one of the other principles to which the Government have alluded in their statement, which is the role of markets. Markets are seen as the greatest mechanism to deliver cost-effective reductions in carbon emissions, and we have to focus hard on how successful they will be, and on whether we should not put too much faith in them. It is quite right that low-cost options should be explored first—they are the low-hanging fruit, and the biggest reductions can come that way—but the history of the markets to date shows a great deal of volatility in prices for carbon. It is now back at over €20 in the emissions trading scheme, having gone down to zero at one point.

There is not a great deal of long-term investment opportunity for the investment community if it cannot see how the future will pan out for the price of carbon. If we are always going to focus on the cheapest price of carbon, we will price out some of the long-term, perhaps more expensive, things that we need to do—alternative energy systems that are quite expensive to get up and running. We need to recognise what Stern said about carbon pricing: we cannot rely on markets alone to set the price. We have to do a range of other things to ensure that we do the right thing. To a great extent, we will need renewable technologies.

I have already mentioned the role of the World Bank. It needs to stop funding fossil fuels immediately, and we should invest more heavily in renewables. We should follow the example of Germany and examine successful schemes, such as the feed-in tariff. There are arguments about the level at which it can be applied, but we ought to be open to such ideas, and not over- defensive about measures we have in place already. Those are working to a certain extent, but if we compare the way in which the German feed-in tariff works with the way in which the renewables obligation works, we find that the feed-in tariff delivers renewable electricity about 2 euro cents cheaper per kilowatt-hour than our own system. We should be open to new ideas. It would be an example of leadership in Bali to say that we are not going to hunker down and be protective about what we have done. We have to be open and co-operative if the Bali process is going to work.

Finally, I would like to reiterate my proposal that in the two-year period before the COP 15 in Copenhagen, when I hope the deal will be ready to sign, the UK should have some sort of national, Government-sponsored convention on the climate change framework, so that we can involve civil society, non-governmental organisations, business and everyone else with an open mind, just as we did at the Exeter science conference, to include far more people in the debate.

It is the first Bill introduced into any national legislature with binding targets designed to limit and then slash national carbon emissions. Although its target of a 60 per cent. cut by 2050 is not nearly high enough for my liking, it is certainly ambitious, and its sponsors deserve praise for their political courage, their foresight and their willingness to tackle one of the most important challenges facing the world today. So, perhaps the Government will take the earliest opportunity to congratulate Senators Richard Warner of Virginia and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on the American Climate Security Bill, which they introduced into Congress on 18 October. Yes folks, we have faffed around for so long with our Climate Change Bill that despite the fact that Friends of the Earth launched its “big ask” campaign in May 2005 we risk being overtaken by George Bush’s America, of all places.

As the USA is responsible for 20 per cent. of global greenhouse gas emissions, its Bill is of such global importance that I want to ask the Minister what discussions he has had with fellow Ministers at the Foreign Office to ensure that pressure is put on the US Administration not to veto it.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I do not think that it is fair to say that we faffed around. We used pre-legislative scrutiny, for which the Liberal Democrats have always asked. Of course, it is the period of the enactment of our Bill that counts. It is important to recognise the efforts of those in the US Senate who have made similar proposals. The Foreign Office has been involved in debates with the White House, the Senate and the Congress on those points. I acknowledge the importance of the hon. Gentleman’s point.

I am pleased by the Minister’s response. Al Gore and other climate change campaigners have achieved a remarkable turnaround in American public opinion, but the oil man in the White House still has his head in the sand and his boots in the air. The British Government and the EU need to apply whatever pressure they can to ensure that the Lieberman-Warner Bill is passed.

The Lieberman-Warner Bill tackles an question that I have asked several times in this House and that also appears in the Stern report. I have never heard an adequate reply from Ministers. What can be done about those countries that do not or will not put a cost on carbon in their economies and seek a short-term competitive advantage in mobile industries, such as the aluminium industry? We might see a flight from stricter carbon regimes, thereby making the situation worse in such industries rather than better.

The Lieberman-Warner Bill suggests that imports from countries without an emissions cap should be subject to compulsory purchase of admissions permits. Stern considered a similar approach. What is the Government’s preferred option? That would clearly form a part of the discussions on the international regime that we need after 2012, which must involve the World Trade Organisation, but we need a clear position.

I suspect that that might be another example of the Government not thinking things through. If it is, it pales into insignificance beside the worst example of the Government’s left hand not knowing what their right hand is doing—aviation. Transport is the only sector of the economy in which emissions seem set to keep rising, and aviation is by far the worst offender per mile. It has more than doubled its emissions since 1990. Richard Branson is earnestly and sincerely seeking a sustainable biofuel for use in aeroplanes, but even he is not holding his breath. In the absence of some miracle “get out of jail free” card, we have to contain the growth in aviation. The fact that the Government support a third runway at Heathrow and are set to allow 60,000 more flights a year on the existing runways undermines their credibility on climate change. Serge Lourie, leader of Richmond upon Thames council and spokesman for the 2M group, which represents some 2 million London residents, has said:

“The Government is claiming that this will be a public consultation but it has already made up its mind that Heathrow capacity will almost double.”

He went on to say that that would be “devastating”. In terms of carbon emissions, he is quite right.

Excuses are already being made for the expansion of Heathrow. I was sad to read the editorial in The Times today that said that opponents of the third runway were

“wildly exaggerating the likely impact.”

It went on to say:

“Nor can the argument about climate change be harnessed to any anti-Heathrow campaign without also being applied to all airports across Europe.”

Let me make it clear: I oppose extra runways at Heathrow, Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. This has to be a global and European campaign.

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on his party’s policy? He has no say over Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol and Frankfurt, which have all expanded and compete with Heathrow. If he is going to contain the number of flights, at what yearly level will he do so? How many people would be able to fly in any given year? Who will he tell that they can no longer fly?

Restricting carbon emissions from aviation is not the same as restricting the number of people who fly. If we were to have an efficient regime whereby more people flew in full flights, and if we were to shift taxation on to flights rather than people, we could achieve both those things. Of course, we need to work at a European level. I want the Minister to confirm that he is working with colleagues across the EU to consider restricting aviation’s growth rather than its massive expansion.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is great potential for switching from planes to trains for domestic and European journeys? We should encourage movement in that direction.

I absolutely agree. The example of Eurostar, which has reduced the number of cross-channel flights, is relevant. It is important that we have a joined-up transport strategy. For example, if we supported the high-speed rail link to Scotland, we could cut domestic flights. We could then encourage an international rail network, which would cut the use of aviation.

The Government have done well to champion the cause of climate change internationally and to introduce a Climate Change Bill at last. However, DEFRA needs to stop congratulating itself so much and to start working with other Ministers to ensure that all of Government works just as hard to tackle climate change.

In my brief speech, I want to focus on a single point: the skills needs demanded of our society by policies such as those that we are debating. My starting point is the Prime Minister’s speech to WWF on Monday. He gave resounding answers to some of the important questions. First, he does get it. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, the whispering campaign that suggested that the Prime Minister does not understand the urgency of climate change was completely and emphatically denied by that speech on Monday.

That is a poor point. The Prime Minister runs the country and determines every aspect of our life. He made many decisions on climate change before he made his speech last Monday.

Let me get on with the serious issues under consideration. The Prime Minister’s second answer was that our global leadership on the matter will continue. His third answer, which followed another whispering campaign, was that we will play our full part in meeting the targets set by the EU spring Council. We should remember the ambition of the three targets of 20 per cent. by the spring Council—20 per cent. increased energy efficiency, 20 per cent. of total energy from renewable energy sources and a 20 per cent. cut in carbon emissions, all of which are to be achieved by 2020. If we link those targets to our Climate Change Bill and the legally binding target to cut carbon emissions, we can see what a huge challenge we face.

The Prime Minister has talked about “a fourth technological revolution.” What kind of technologies are we talking about? What will change in our lives because of those changes? We will demand greater efficiencies in existing processes. We will need technologies that allow different processes, particularly ones that do away with carbon, so we can expect a great expansion in renewable energy industries. We will need to manage raw materials more efficiently and to make meaningful use of the imperative “reduce, reuse and recycle” at every turn. We will need to manage finite natural resources, including water, more efficiently.

In order to reach the low-carbon global economy that we need, we will all have to embrace sustainable development in every aspect of our lives—in our home lives, our working lives and our travel arrangements. That massive change allows us to predict a massive expansion of new sustainable development technologies that will start immediately. However, if we do nothing about it the constraint will be that the skills will not be available.

Schott UK in my constituency, a company that sells solar technologies, finds that the greatest restriction on its ability to improve its sales is to get people who can install solar panels at businesses and homes.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, with which I agree. He makes an important point—I have tried to get renewable energy training courses set up in my local college, but there is a marked reluctance and lack of money, which must be overcome. Is it not time that we examined the matter in the context of further and higher education?

My hon. Friend anticipates the direction in which I am heading and I hope to give him some solutions shortly.

Let us consider some of the skills that will be needed for invention, design, manufacture, installation, financing and sales, and repairs and maintenance. In a few years, a much larger proportion of our work force will need such skills. Let us remember the drivers for putting those technologies in place. In the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday, he referred to the Climate Change Bill setting five-year budgets for three Budget periods at a time—a 15-year period of assurance for those who make the decisions to invest in the right technologies. The energy Bill will reform the renewables obligation to introduce new technologies, including—in the jargon of the consultation on the renewables obligation—the emerging technologies. The Planning Bill will speed up infrastructure projects and the Housing and Regeneration Bill will pave the way for 3 million new homes. Let us not forget the Olympics. The drivers for the big surge in skills demand are already in place, and the Prime Minister understands that.

Why has the renewables obligation, which has existed for nearly eight years, failed to bring forward the new technologies, despite the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been taken from consumers? Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the system of feed-in tariffs in Germany has been more successful? I believe that it evidently has.

The hon. Gentleman invites me down a side route. I shall try to reply to his question briefly. Much of the answer lies in our country’s history compared with that of Germany. We have taken the renewables obligation route rather than that of the feed-in tariff ever since the non-fossil fuel obligation. We should reconsider feed-in tariffs, especially with smart meters and microgeneration, to ensure that we get much more decentralised power in this country. I believe that the renewables obligation is a reasonable mechanism. The hon. Gentleman asked why it has failed. I believe that the reason is an inefficient planning system—200 or so wind farms are currently stuck in the planning system. There are other obstacles such as connecting systems to the national grid. We must remove them as soon as possible.

In the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday, he recognised the need for skills and spoke about the “train to gain” programme and the need to expand the number of apprenticeship places in this country. He also called for a national skills academy for environmental industries. He reminded us that, even today, the environmental industries in this country are worth £25 billion to our economy and employ 400,000 people. The Prime Minister and I perceive the export opportunities for British technologies in that.

The solution to fulfilling the skills need—my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) will pay especial attention now—is a network throughout the country of sustainable development technologies centres. We need places where we can see the technologies that we are discussing. Members of the public and business representatives could visit them to see what the future holds, and students and children would go there as part of the sustainable development component of their education. Members of the work force would visit those places to acquire the skills that they need—that is crucial.

I am not making some hypothetical suggestion to the Minister; realising such a proposal is in our grasp. I am one of the promoters of the first such centre, which is at the Rodbaston college of further education near Penkridge in my constituency. We have money from the Learning and Skills Council and the regional development agency to conduct a feasibility study to show that the crucial demand for skills means that the proposal stacks up financially.

I anticipate colleges, universities, manufacturers, RDAs and local councils throughout the country wanting centres that provide such a range of services. I would like people to have the bricks and mortar and the technologies before their eyes to see that the technologies work and can be implemented now in this country, and to have hands-on opportunities to train for skills that are needed to operate those technologies. That should happen as soon as possible.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, does he agree that we must get the economics right? We are inviting the citizen to invest between £4,000 and £10,000 in the technologies that he describes. Unless we get the economics right, the services that he advocates will not follow.

Yes. When I answered the question by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle about the renewables obligation, I said that there was a range of obstacles. I emphasise that there is no silver bullet to solve the problem, but I am considering a specific bottleneck that will occur. We do not have the skills in place to make the expansion happen. That is important, but only one of many aspects that the Government must tackle immediately.

I want to name the centres that I described SEE-change centres. “SEE” represents the three limbs of sustainability—social, environmental and economic. It also suggests visibility. People could visit the centres and “see” the change that is necessary. The name also sounds like “sea change”—the massive change in pace and the direction that we need in this country. I hope that the Minister will wind up by saying, “Kidney’s got the right answer. I shall back his centre at Rodbaston with every ounce of my ability. I hope that he is successful in his constituency and that we achieve success throughout the country in developing the skills training facilities that we desperately need right now.”

I hope that the Minister acknowledges that I am the first to congratulate the Government when they are doing the right thing and that I press them because we have a common desire to win the battles that we are considering. When I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I would have benefited from a similar approach from Labour Members. If they had been tougher and had a more advanced programme, I could have got more out of my Cabinet colleagues because they would have pressed me hard. I do not, therefore, want to let the Minister down when I press him.

Although I welcome the Prime Minister’s apparent acceptance of a target higher than 60 per cent. by 2050, it is pretty easy for politicians to set targets for dates long after they are active. We need targets for now and we need to be kept to them. That is as important for Oppositions as it is for Governments. Annual targets are important because they keep us under control. If we have annual targets, we cannot complain that the Government are doing something unpopular without presenting a sensible alternative. Annual targets are good for keeping Oppositions up to the mark. However, they are crucial for Governments.

That is why the organisation of the committee that will consider climate change is also crucial. It should begin its work immediately, be independent and have the majority of its members appointed by the Royal Society, not the Government. The chairman should be appointed according to the clear proposition that we presented in the all-party early-day motion about the qualities that are necessary for that post if the Committee is not to be perceived as the Government’s patsy. Genuine steps can be taken now.

The Government must take practical and direct steps. It does not help when some of their supporters talk about whispering campaigns. Going back on our commitments in the European Union was not a whispering campaign, but a campaign by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, led by Sir Digby Jones. He should never have been taken into Government, because his record on environmental matters is appalling. To choose him as an example of business was a peculiar step.

It is worrying that the Government do not take seriously the problems as they arise. I have genuine sympathy with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). Of course, the Liberal Democrats need to adopt our view of getting an independent organisation to consider the figure. That would enable them to settle their problems. Some say that we should have a zero carbon figure and others say that it should be 80 per cent.

I have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman’s recent work for the Conservative party and his work when he was in government.

Let me clarify the Liberal Democrat position. If we were in government, we would aim for 100 per cent. net reductions by 2050. However, we accept that that is not widely supported in this place and we therefore campaign with Friends of the Earth for a reduction of at least 80 per cent.

So as usual, when it comes to the crunch, the Liberal Democrats do not stick by their beliefs. That is a typical Liberal situation—“If you don’t like these policies, we’ve got some more.” If God had been a Liberal, we would have had the 10 suggestions. That is the nature of the Liberal Democrats, so I shall not take from their campaign.

No; I have got another thing to say that will annoy the hon. Gentleman even more. I remember what the Liberal Democrats did on taxation on domestic fuel. They were in favour of it until there was a by-election, when they stopped being in favour of it in order to win the by-election. [Interruption.] I shall not give way, and I had better continue, as you were clear about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me deal with aviation. Someone who flies at the back of the plane from London to Sydney and back again uses as much carbon as someone who uses 700,000 plastic bags. But tackling plastic bags is an easy thing to do; dealing with aviation is difficult. So I bothered to get hold of the Government’s document on aviation, which the Secretary of State for Transport quite unaccountably and unacceptably did not come to present in the House. Let us look at this document. It has a covering note, which does not talk about climate change until right at the end, even though the document is about aviation. However, the covering note just says that there will be another document about climate change called “UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts”. All that is given is a list of details about the figures, with no comments about what we are going to do about them. Indeed, interestingly, there is a comment about National Air Traffic Services, but no discussion of the fact that we could reduce our emissions from air transport by 11 per cent. if we simply had a single version of NATS across the European Union, instead of being divided up as we are now. That is a simple measure that the Government do not even propose in their document.

The introduction of the document, which one would have thought would refer to the real issue of climate change, does not refer to it at all. The Minister talks about the loudest possible wake-up call, but it has not woken up the Secretary of State for Transport or anyone in her Department. Then we open the pages and we read the Government’s words:

“Our approach is entirely consistent with the Stern Review…and the Eddington Transport Study”,

which dealt with aviation and was by the man who ran British Airways. However, the one word that is not in the document is urgency; indeed, there is no urgency in it at all. It talks about the European trading system without mentioning any of the problems that everybody else recognises must be solved before the system can deal with aviation. One would think from the document that the problems had all been solved so easily.

Then one reads, on page after page, every kind of argument, but no promise from the Government that they will pioneer, at the European level, the stopping of new runway building throughout the European Union. The document does not mention that; it just says, “There’re more elsewhere, so we’ve got to have one.” The document does not mention that nearly one quarter of the flights out of London’s airports go to places that are easily reached in the same time by train. For example, what are we going to do about the 30-odd flights a day to Manchester? There is no reason to have those. There is nothing about those in the document, nor is there anything about reversing the slot pricing, so that people pay more for short-haul flights and less for long-haul flights. There are none of those creative systems that one might put forward.

My right hon. Friend will know that half the people on the flights from Manchester to London are in transit, travelling to other destinations. Asking them to catch trains from Manchester to London and then to work their way through London to get to Heathrow or Gatwick is unreasonable.

It is more unreasonable for their children and grandchildren to be under water. My hon. Friend does believe in the urgency of the situation, but I am afraid that we must face it much more toughly than that. Anyway, if that issue really matters, what about a transport policy that would enable people to go by train from Manchester to Heathrow? What about a transport policy that was properly tied up? What about a transport policy that recognised that we want to get people from Scotland to London fast enough for them not to want to fly in an aeroplane? What we have got is a transport policy that accepts the nonsense of Eddington that we do not need high-speed rail. That in itself makes the Eddington report totally unbelievable in the international context.

The truth is that the Government’s document is an outrage, because in effect it says, “We don’t really feel we need to do the big things”. Of course my hon. Friend is right: it is very difficult to do them. Indeed, we might have to do all kinds of things that are uncomfortable, but we should at least face up to the situation. At least let us say, “We’ve decided in this area we’re not going to do it, because we’re going to do it somewhere else.” I say this to the Government: do not slide out a document but then not come here so that we can ask these questions directly of the Transport Minister. Do not produce a document that is 10 years out of date in its approach, that ignores Stern and that does not back up what the Prime Minister has already said to us. That is the problem with everything else that the Government are doing. That is why I want to press the Minister who is here today, because I am a great supporter of his. I believe that he is tough enough to fight for these issues.

Can we have feed-in tariffs without any more nonsense? That is what we need. Can they be tied up by the immediate introduction of the Bill already in Parliament—the Liberal Democrats’ Bill, with all-party support—that would enable smart metering? If we did that over the next eight years, we could make a huge difference. Those policies can be delivered only through the European Union, so can we also show that we have a positive policy in the EU? That is the only area big enough to make the world different. However, we will not be able to do that if the Government do not even say in their document on aviation that they are seeking to ensure that there is no increase in runways throughout Europe. Unless they promise to do that, everything else that they say is hollow. That is why I say to the Minister: this is too urgent an issue to allow anybody to do anything without thinking about the climate change results. Why did the Government say that they would close 2,500 post offices without telling us what the climate—

I welcome this timely debate, particularly as I had the honour of serving on the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill, which is further proof of the Government’s unswerving commitment to the global challenge.

Britain continues to lead the way, with innovative policies and proposals, which will lead to a measurable change in our lifestyles. The green homes service outlined in the Prime Minister’s speech to the WWF will be the first nationwide, dedicated service advising people on a wide range of green issues. There is undoubtedly a desire on the part of the consumer to act more responsibly with regard to their individual carbon footprint. People wish to reduce their carbon footprint, but all too often they are not given the tools with which to measure their energy output accurately.

My exact carbon footprint for this year is being calculated. However, I bought a hybrid car recently, which has not only reduced my carbon footprint but changed my driving behaviour, because I am constantly aware of how much energy it takes when, for example, driving up a hill.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken about the need for people to monitor their energy output easily—indeed, I have just spoken of a way in which it was made easier for me to monitor my energy output. Given the technology that we now possess, it seems archaic that the vast majority of energy consumers still operate through a metering system, which merely estimates a household’s energy consumption. It is impossible through that method of billing for the individual consumer or household accurately to measure their energy output on a month-by-month basis, let alone do so day by day or hour by hour.

I should like to mention my constituent Derek Lickorish. Formerly the chief operations officer for EDF Energy in Hove, he has also been an advocate of smart metering systems for an amazing 25 years. Mr. Lickorish has seen both the benefits and the obstacles that need to be overcome before such a system for household energy management could be installed in every home. Currently, some energy companies offer consumers the choice of installing smart meters in their homes. Although some companies have agreed to sign up to such a scheme, others have not, which means that should a household change energy supplier, the smart meter would be removed. Smart meters are also currently quite expensive.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the proposal that in the meantime, before smart metering is introduced, it would be right to insist that electricity supply companies provide their customers with electricity display devices? They have already demonstrated that energy consumption is reduced if consumers can simply see how much it costs them.

I shall get on to a related point about smart boxes in a moment.

In order for a smart metering system to be truly effective, it would require the co-operation of all the energy suppliers in the UK. One way to circumvent that problem would be to introduce smart boxes into our homes. They would enable an individual to trace every single light that was switched on in their house, and to measure the resulting carbon cost. For the first time, the consumer would be able to make a real, measured assessment of their household energy consumption. This is one possible alternative to smart meters.

Many of our leading media and internet providers have already considered introducing smart boxes that could be linked to the internet to provide solid data on our energy consumption. That would make the measuring of such data much easier. If, however, we were to opt for smart metering, the organisation required would present one of the industry’s biggest challenges. The energy suppliers’ trade association has prepared a smart metering operational framework. However, it represents only the suppliers view. A new organisation consisting of suppliers, distribution network operators, the national grid, Ofgem and, of course, the Government would have to be set up. The involvement of communications experts and providers would also be important.

Legal competition issues are judged by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and by Ofgem to be preventing the creation of an understanding of a reliable and cost-effective two-way communication system from authorised parties to the metering device and from the metering device to other components of the system.

Another measure that would transform the domestic energy sector that we fully support is feed-in tariffs. Does the hon. Lady support them?

It is a good idea.

If the issues to which I have just referred can be resolved, we could, for the first time, open the way for householders to have good information on which to make decisions and potentially reduce their consumption, thereby helping to meet the Government’s aspirations for carbon reduction.

I agreed wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who said in his recent speech on climate change that aspiration presents a wonderful opportunity for our nation and, more importantly, for our economy. Too often, the debate on climate change revolves around what we will need to give up in order to meet our targets. This has often led the discussion down a very negative route—not least today—and that is counter-productive to achieving our goals. I am greatly encouraged by the Prime Minister’s commitment to look again at the 60 per cent. target with a view to raising it to 80 per cent, which I would support.

For many, the arguments surrounding climate change are nothing more than an abstract concept with little or no bearing on their day-to-day lives. Others, however, have a genuine awareness and a willingness to modify their energy output, but the tools to enable them to do so are not always there. That is why I believe that the introduction of smart meters or smart boxes would be a major step forward in reducing our individual carbon footprints. By empowering the individual, we also create a sense of collective responsibility.

It is in our nature constantly to strive to move forward and to innovate in order to reach the next level of our technological evolution. Now is the time for the Government to highlight what we as a nation, and as a planet, can gain from meeting the challenge of carbon reduction. A recent poll carried out by the BBC of 22,000 people in 21 countries found that 70 per cent. of them were prepared to change their lifestyle because of climate change. The Government need to do everything within their power to enable them to do so. We are the first country to devise a scheme for quantifying our carbon footprint. Let us now continue to lead the way by introducing a scheme that, in conjunction with the proposals already set out in the Queen’s Speech and by the Prime Minister on Monday, will enable us all to measure our household energy consumption on a minute-by-minute basis. Only by measuring where we are will we know how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

As this debate reveals, there is no shortage of technology and ideas for dealing with climate change. Stern and the United Nations have recently counselled us, and we are aware of the scope and scale of the project, but as a number of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee reports have shown, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in his powerful speech, there is a dearth of urgency to get on and achieve this result.

Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore condemn the Conservative-controlled councils around the country that are holding up the establishment of wind farms?

I do not think that is what I had in mind. I applaud the fact that the Government are trying to make it easier for some of the new technologies to be adopted. Obviously we have to look at individual issues and individual circumstances, but we must remain committed to the widespread application of renewable energy.

One of the issues that has come to the attention of the Select Committee as it has examined this question is the complexity and the number of Government Departments involved. I suggest to the Minister that, if the United Kingdom wants further to strengthen its leading position on climate change in international forums, the time has now come to have one Minister responsible for climate change who should have Cabinet status. I have made a list of the Departments involved in this issue: the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Foreign Office. We shall shortly also have the office for climate change and the climate change committee. All of those, and other Departments as well, will have a finger in the pie. However, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, we often find the Government going off in different directions on issues such as transport. There is therefore a real need for a single person reporting to Cabinet with that responsibility.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions different directions, but does he acknowledge that some interesting different directions have been taken by the Conservatives today on aviation policy? Does he agree with the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and me that we need to try to constrain the growth of aviation across Europe?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to tackle the issue of aviation emissions, although we might have differences of opinion on the way in which it should be done. The Select Committee’s reports have advocated the development of an aviation biofuel. I am also aware of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s initiative known as Green by Design, which contains some very interesting ideas on other ways in which aviation emissions could be dealt with.

Does my right hon. Friend understand why my constituents in the borough of Hillingdon should feel utterly perplexed, having first heard from the Government that climate change is the greatest challenge of all time, and now having seen the green light being given to the fastest growing source of emissions through the expansion of Heathrow airport, which will undermine their quality of life?

Speaking as a Member who represents the north-west of England, I am aware that Manchester airport has offered a lifeline by pointing out that more services could go from there to utilise the additional capacity of its second runway, thus helping to address the issue, while not ducking the question of aviation emissions.

Aviation gets the panning, but what about emissions from the maritime sector? I wish people would spend as much time focusing on what comes out of the funnels of all the dirty ships in the world as they spend examining what comes out of the tailpipes of aircraft. Ships are, if anything, greater emitters, yet they sneak around and do not get the whip from those who wish to see transport play a greater part in reducing our emissions.

Having advocated the appointment of a single Cabinet Minister to be in charge of climate change, I wish that DEFRA would be more candid about the multiplicity of targets that we have to hit in the United Kingdom. The Select Committee strongly supported the Climate Change Bill, but we must recognise that we are already running behind time in regard to meeting the target of a 60 per cent. reduction in emissions, never mind the stronger 80 per cent. target that the Committee has advocated. The Minister should think about communicating to the country the reason why we are behind time in that way, and what our citizens, our companies and our Government need to do to play catch-up and get us back on track.

I was disappointed by the Government’s reply to our report. They would not agree to provide some form of trajectory to enable people to measure progress towards the intermediate and final targets. That might involve a move away from absolute targeting on an annual basis, but we need to be able to track progress. The arguments put forward in the Government’s reply were, to say the least, very thin indeed.

Today’s debate has been occasioned by the Bali conference and the latest findings of the United Nations, but the one thing that the Minister did not tell us was what is being done internationally to try to ensure that the United States comes on board once and for all and publicly. It is all very well for us in the House of Commons to come up with comforting ideas on what we can do domestically and in Europe, where there is commitment to dealing with climate change, but there is no point in our doing so if the world’s biggest polluter is not publicly on board. I applaud the efforts of various Senators and the state of California, and the market for emissions in the north-east of the United States, but unless the United States Government are convinced and committed, now and in the future, no amount of good international discussion will move the world forward and enable it to deal with this global phenomenon.

The United Nations and Stern have spelled out the international consequences of inactivity, and against such a powerful scientific background I find it profoundly worrying that we have no consensus. I cannot believe that there are not individuals in China, India and the other countries that have not signed up to Kyoto who are worried, as we are, about the international consequences of inactivity. That is why having a single powerful individual in our Government to deal with the matter might increase our ability to influence the international stage if Bali is to be a success.

In our report “Climate change: ‘the citizen’s agenda’”, the Select Committee set considerable store by local action. One of the things that worries me even about the Prime Minister’s latest initiative on access to information, which I welcome, is the fact that we are still in top-down mode. We put information up and hope that it will flutter down and that the citizen will pick it up and do something. In my constituency, I am working hard with many partners—the regional development agency, the Environment Agency, local authorities, local businesses and schools—to make ours the most energy-efficient borough in the country. However our initiative, known as FLoWE—Fylde Low Waste and Energy—is finding it hard work. The local authority does not have the budget or the resources to implement homespun but none the less committed action on climate change.

Our Committee went down to Woking to see the market leader in locally based activity. Its combined heat and power scheme makes one wonder why it is so difficult for the Wokings of the world to have their way. I ask the Minister please to consider carefully what could be done to stimulate more bottom-up activity in this country—to make it more possible for local authorities to become involved in the commerce of climate change, and to let the citizen play an informed part in meeting the challenge of putting the country back on track in terms of its targets.

I thank Members for their contributions, which demonstrated that we made the right decision in providing opportunities for topical debates. Let me begin with the last of those contributions. I think it important that the Chairman of our Select Committee—especially as he is a Conservative—said what he did about the policy of the United States of America. I thank him for and congratulate him on those remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow) made an important speech about smart metering, which was mentioned by others as well. It is important for us to roll out smart metering. The Government are currently analysing responses to consultation, and we will make announcements soon; but clearly, as has been pointed out, the ability to measure in itself affects behaviour, and may be relevant to some of the other steps that we have discussed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) welcomed the principles espoused by the United Kingdom as we move towards the Bali process. He commented on the importance of the World Bank mechanism, correctly identifying that as our policy, and warned us not to rely exclusively on the role of markets. He is right to acknowledge the importance of other mechanisms.

I remind the House that our international action is not just the “rhetoric” of which the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) accused us. I do not think that $1.5 billion is rhetoric. We have established our international environment transformation fund, and in many countries around the world we are already engaged in real on-the-ground projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made a powerful call in respect of skills needs. I believe we should replicate across the country the example that he is setting in his constituency, including the mechanisms that operate in various colleges and institutions. We need to talk to colleagues in Whitehall about this, but my hon. Friend is right to say that the policy must become real in terms of increased jobs and opportunities.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) welcomed some of our policies, but said that we had “faffed around”. I do not think the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) has been faffing around; I think it has engaged in good consultation, and we have listened to some of it. The hon. Gentleman praised St. Pancras. The reason why there are fewer flights from Manchester is that there are faster trains to Euston, and I think that the same is true of flights from Paris to London. I do not accept the point about my constituents not being able to fly; they have as much right to fly as everyone else.

The right hon. Member for Fylde knows that I acknowledge his expertise and commitment. The central point is that we must change the way in which we do things. Our message to our people is not that they must stop doing things; it is a question of the type of fuel that we use, the type of vehicle that we use and the mix of transport that we use. We believe that action works only in the context of two things: a carbon market so that emissions can be traded—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 26 November will be—

Monday 26 November—Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Tuesday 27 November—Second Reading of the Housing and Regeneration Bill.

Wednesday 28 November—Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “Prisons Crisis”, followed by a debate on the performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Thursday 29 November—Topical debate—subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to asylum, followed by a general debate on the Government consultation on convicting rapists and protecting victims.

Friday 30 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 3 December will include—

Monday 3 December—Remaining stages of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall in December will be—

Thursday 6 December—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on Department for International Development assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border.

Thursday 13 December—A debate on the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the treatment on asylum seekers.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the future business.

This morning, the Secretary of State for Transport made a written statement about the expansion of Heathrow. She was happy to make a statement to business leaders yesterday and to spin it to the “Today” programme this morning, so why has she not been to the House to make an oral statement? That would enable hon. Members who, like me, have constituency interests, to question her. Every week, the Leader of the House tells us that she puts Parliament first; every week, her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.

On Monday, we discovered that the Government have no idea how much taxpayers’ money might be paid out after the £24 billion bail-out of Northern Rock. The Chancellor told the Treasury Committee:

“we fully expect to be able to get that money back.”

Now he refuses to say for certain that the money will ever be paid back. There are many questions still to be answered. What is the total Government liability? What arrangements are in place if the Government need a supplementary estimate to cover their liabilities? How are they accounting for the liabilities, and are those liabilities on or off balance sheet? What estimate has been made of the effect on the public sector borrowing requirement? Will the Chancellor make another Northern Rock statement, so that he can answer those questions?

On Tuesday we discovered that the Government had lost the personal details of 25 million men, women and children. The Prime Minister says that he “profoundly” regrets what has happened, but that is not much consolation to the millions of families who have been left to follow the Chancellor’s advice to check their bank statements. According to a written answer given just three weeks ago, there were 2,111 security breaches by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs last year alone. Reports today suggest that at least two further CDs are missing. How can the Prime Minister deny that the fiasco is anything but the result of systemic failure? Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on the systemic failure in HMRC—a department set up by the Prime Minister?

In his statement on Tuesday, the Chancellor said that the reason why he had not told the House immediately was that he needed to put appropriate safeguards in place. He said that

“the banks were adamant that they wanted as much time as possible to prepare for this announcement.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1102.]

However, the British Bankers Association has said:

“The BBA did not ask for any more time…None of our members asked for any extra time.”

That directly contradicts what the Chancellor told hon. Members. He must come to the House and set the record straight. The Chancellor also said repeatedly that the decisions were taken by junior officials. However, we know that it was a senior business manager who took the decision to put the information on to the discs and that that was done with the knowledge of the director of HMRC, process owner for tax credits and child benefits. Yet another thing that the Chancellor told the House has been contradicted, so will he come to the House to make an urgent statement and tell us the true version of events?

The Northern Rock fiasco and the HMRC scandal tell us everything that we need to know about the Government: they are incompetent, insincere and in deep trouble. Is it not time that somebody just got a grip?

The right hon. Lady raised the matter of Heathrow. The point is that there is a process of consultation. If she wants to put her views into the consultation on behalf of her constituents, I suggest that she do so. A written ministerial statement has been made to the House on the subject of the consultation. When conclusions are reached as a result of hearing from all those who put in their views to the consultation, including hon. Members, and when there are firm proposals for action, no doubt the Secretary of State for Transport will bring those matters to the House. Hon. Members will know the difference between launching a consultation and having firm proposals. When there are firm proposals, they must be brought to the House for announcement.

The right hon. Lady made a number of points about Northern Rock and about Revenue and Customs. Of course, when sudden problems arise the duty of the Government is clear. First, it is to ensure that individuals are protected from any personal damage or any potential problems. Secondly, our duty is to ensure that there is an investigation to discover what actually happened and why. I do not intend to pre-empt any of those investigations by answering the questions that are subject to them. Thirdly, it is our duty to take steps to ensure that those problems do not happen again. That is the duty of the Government, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing exactly that.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and other Members will agree that, since last week’s business questions, we have had a hectic week. As far as I am aware, however, in the space of that week, no one has lost their home or their savings from Northern Rock, and the banks have guaranteed that anyone who has a bank account will be protected against computer fraud. In the meantime, more than 3 million people have lost their homes—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Ellwood, you should not be shouting. You are usually a very quiet Member, and I do not expect this from you.