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Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

I met representatives of Greenpeace on 7 January to discuss climate change, energy and the Marine Bill, and on 28 February and 2 June together with colleagues to discuss international climate change. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), also met Greenpeace representatives on 12 May to discuss the forthcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

In any of those meetings since May, did Greenpeace raise with Ministers the fact that Sizewell B’s nuclear reactor was closed down—“unplanned” was the word used by the official spokesperson for the industry—and that when the spokesperson was asked why and what the circumstances were, no statement was forthcoming? Is it not time that Greenpeace and the House were told what the circumstances relating to the closedown of the Sizewell B reactor in May—unplanned?

To the best of my recollection, that issue was not raised in the meetings to which I referred. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will take note of the point made by my hon. Friend.

In the meetings that the right hon. Gentleman had with the director of Greenpeace, did he hear the director of Greenpeace say, with regard to vehicle excise duty, that that

“is the kind of measure that gives green taxes a bad name because it does not change behaviour”?

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Treasury projections for the income from VED increasing exponentially over the years demonstrates that it is nothing to do with changing people’s behaviour, and that it is in fact to do with raising more taxes? If it was to do with changing behaviour, presumably the income from it would decline over the years to some kind of vanishing point. Is there not a fundamental disagreement between his Department and the Treasury on the subject?

The director of Greenpeace has not raised that issue with me in the meetings I have had with him, but the purpose of the changes put into the Budget was to make us all more aware of the CO2 emissions of our vehicles—both newly purchased and existing ones. Is it unreasonable in the world in which we live that that factor should be taken into account?

Does not Greenpeace support the idea that we have to rethink the way in which we use our cars and that taxation must play a part? I have argued for a counter-cyclical rebalancing of the fiscal state expenditure ratio to put more through taxes in the pockets of lower and middle-income earners, but on cars we have to wean ourselves gently off these Tory gas guzzlers and stop warming up the environment just because it suits the car lobby represented on the Conservative Benches.

The high price of petrol and diesel, because of the high price of oil, is bringing us face to face with the resource crunch. I think that every Member of the House acknowledges that. We wish to have the mobility that having a car gives us, but what will really be incentivised is more research and investment into non-polluting forms of car use, particularly electric car technology—and the sooner that comes, the better.

The Conservatives strongly agree with Greenpeace that an ambitious roll-out of microgeneration should be a key part of the UK’s climate change strategy, but to make that happen, we must have a comprehensive system of feed-in tariffs. On 20 February, before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Secretary of State himself, like many on the Labour Back Benches, strongly supported the role of feed-in tariffs, so why did he roll over and allow DBERR to squash feed-in tariff amendment to the Energy Bill?

I do think that we should look into feed-in tariffs, which is why I welcomed the statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy earlier this year and why I welcome the fact that this matter will figure in the renewable energy strategy consultation that is shortly to be published. The evidence from other countries shows clearly that we should be looking at ways of encouraging microgeneration. The renewables obligation works very well for big renewables, but we need to find a way of getting more to happen at the domestic and community level. I look forward to that consultation, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, too.

When the Secretary of State meets Greenpeace on the next occasion, will he put on the agenda the question of peak oil? Is that not really the elephant in the room? If it is true, as BP says this week, that given the growing demand from China, India and other newly industrialising countries, there may be only four decades of oil left in the world and we are about to reach the peak, is it not necessary that everybody understands that? We need to generate a much deeper public debate about the finite nature of oil reserves.

In the light of the questions asked this morning, the director of Greenpeace is going to have a very long list of issues to be raised when we next meet. I agree completely with my hon. Friend that we are coming face to face with the consequences of rising demand and finite resources. As we plan for the future, it will be very difficult for lots of people as they try to cope with the consequences. That reinforces the case for taking action to prepare for a low-carbon economy; it is not an argument for putting it off.