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Climate Change

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 3 June 2008

We need to move from a fuel-intensive economy to one that is low carbon. That is why climate change is now one of the five overarching goals of transport policy. It is also why we take account of the cost of carbon when making policy decisions, and why we are looking at many further options for reducing transport emissions.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has to say, but is that commitment not somewhat undermined by the Government’s commitment to airport expansion? Given that their own Sustainable Development Commission has recently called for a fundamental review of the air transport White Paper and for decisions on Stansted and Heathrow to be put on hold until that happens, would it not make sense for them to rethink their position? After all, the current trend in fuel prices may well do more to restrain air travel than anything that we do in our legislation. Should we not have a rethink along the lines called for by the commission?

I know how committed my hon. Friend is to the idea that the UK should play a full role in combating climate change, and I agree. The question for the House is: is combating climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions overall, across all sectors of the economy, compatible with the growing aviation sector? I and the Government believe that it is, and we are championing in Europe a European emissions trading scheme whereby any increase in aviation emissions above the 2004-06 base level would have to be matched one for one by a reduction in carbon emissions elsewhere in the European economy, paid for by the aviation sector. In that way, not only do we help to push forward with our climate change objectives; we do so in a way that is compatible with future economic growth.

When the Secretary of State formulates transport policy, will she also take into account the report by Professor David Newbury of Cambridge university, which said that if motorists were obliged to pay the true cost of the effect that vehicles have on the environment, they would be paying taxes at less than half the rate they are currently paying? In the light of this information, will the Secretary of State therefore now abandon her unpopular and misguided plan to introduce local charging schemes in the interest not only of fairness, but—because we care about her—of saving her own seat?

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman cares so much about my electoral prospects in Bolton, West. I have to think about how we combat climate change in a way that, yes, is compatible with economic growth but that also helps us to cut congestion. He points to the rate of fuel tax and puts that in the context of the carbon cost, but we also have to think about the impact of traffic on the roads, which undermines economic growth, too. All our growing cities across the country have grown very strongly in the past 10 years, and they have to ask themselves how they can continue to support that economic growth over the next 10. To do that, they will have to think of innovative ways of dealing with congestion. We have said to cities and towns across the country that if they come forward with innovative plans, we are prepared to back that with hard cash.

We should certainly take our share of the credit for the Kyoto treaty, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that we must address the fact that greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation remain unregulated? I note what she said about a European carbon emissions trading scheme. Can she indicate what other steps the Government are taking to change this state of affairs?

Yes, it is right that not only do we push ahead with the European trading scheme—it will set an absolute cap on aviation emissions across Europe, counting not only emissions created within the eurozone, but all planes leaving from Europe and arriving in Europe, and will make a substantive contribution to climate change—but, importantly, that, within that, we think about how to create efficiency in aviation. That means encouraging future investment in technology and creating incentives to use airspace better, which is why we are working towards a single European sky and working with traffic control services to ensure the most efficient air traffic control in each country.

Some 70 per cent. of the Scottish Government’s transport budget is spent on sustainable public transport, and the Welsh Assembly’s Sustainability Committee has urged the adoption of a similar target for Wales. How well is the Secretary of State’s Department doing on the breakdown of expenditure between public transport and roads?

Rail usage has increased by almost 50 per cent. since 1997, whereas traffic has increased by 12 per cent, and those figures speak for themselves. We are making unprecedented levels of investment in rail, and we intend to continue that with up to £15 billion of investment over the next five-year period. As a result, we have the fastest growing railway in Europe. Looking beyond that, we can see very exciting opportunities for reopening or making more use of lines and for encouraging more people to abandon their cars and think about alternative ways of moving around.

The Secretary of State will know that rail freight accounts for only 2 per cent. of all freight transport emissions and that every tonne of freight carried by rail is estimated to produce at least 80 per cent. less carbon dioxide emissions than if road were used. Why then was there no high-level output specification—HLOS—for rail freight? Why have the Government failed to announce any funding for their strategic freight network?

The hon. Gentleman has simply not read the rail White Paper, which allocated £200 million towards a strategic rail freight network across this country. He has also not noticed that I announced plans this morning to reject larger, so-called super-lorries on British roads. I did that—I know that his party has supported that policy in the past—not only because of the impact on the environment, but because such lorries might attract traffic from railways on to roads. We need to examine these things in the round and make sensible investment decisions, judging the impact on safety, but also considering the impact on carbon emissions and congestion.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the contribution that traffic congestion makes to emissions and climate change. May I draw her attention to the fact that we face a problem in south-east London at the Blackwall tunnel every day, and that a three-bridge scheme proposes to deal with it? I understand that the Mayor of London is not going to build the Thames Gateway bridge. Some of us have been saying that the Silvertown link should be prioritised, and this situation gives the opportunity for that to take place. Will she examine the matter and discuss it with the Mayor of London? Will she also take the opportunity to bring the Docklands Light Railway to North Greenwich, as it could then be moved on to Eltham, thus reducing the traffic congestion on this major arterial route?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point; we need to think about how we can encourage mobility from the south of the river to the north of the river and vice versa. We need to make it easier for people to be able to work on one side of the river and live on the other. I know that the Mayor of London has suggested innovative proposals, such as swinging cable cars across the river, and it is right that we examine all proposals on their merits. I shall take up my hon. Friend’s suggestion to discuss this matter in greater detail with the Mayor of London in due course.