House of Commons
Thursday 5 November 2009
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)
Third Reading opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order. No. 20).
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
Third Reading opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order. No. 20).
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
City of Westminster Bill [Lords] (By Order)
That so much of the Lords message [12 October] as relates to the City of Westminster Bill [Lords] be now considered.— (The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
That the promoters of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in the Session 2006-07 on 22 January 2007, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
That the promoters of the Manchester City Council Bill, which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in the Session 2006-07 on 22 January 2007, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November
Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Canterbury City Council Bill, which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Leeds City Council Bill, which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Nottingham City Council Bill which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Reading Borough Council Bill, which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
Carbon Mitigation (Developing Countries)
The Government are working to ensure an ambitious, fair and effective international agreement at Copenhagen. The recent European Union decision to support €100 billion a year of public and private finance by 2020 is designed to help developing countries both to adapt to climate change and to pursue low-carbon growth. We now want other developed countries to join us in supporting this financial commitment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Front-Bench team on the lead they are taking on Copenhagen, which is very pleasing to see. Does he accept, however, that there is an awful lot to do, particularly with reference to the developing world? From trips to Africa, for example, it is quite clear how far it has to come. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that he talks to the Department for International Development about the way in which it can provide real resources to ensure that we get mitigation in those countries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In a sense, one of the cruellest things about climate change is that the people who have done least to cause the problem, including in Africa and elsewhere, face the worst consequences, while at the same time we have to persuade developing countries to do not as we did, which is to grow in a high-carbon way, but to do as we say, which is to grow in a low-carbon way. That is why it is right that we make a financial contribution to make that possible.
While the EU offer of €100 billion is welcome, it is clearly not yet persuading the developing nations that it is sufficient for mitigation and adaptation. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether our Government are willing to take a lead in suggesting an international levy on airline and maritime fuel as a way of adding to the international fund to deal with the needs of the developing world?
We are looking at the way in which aviation and maritime can, through a trading regime—as a number of airlines have suggested—play a role in providing the necessary finance for a Copenhagen agreement. I think the most important thing—we will be debating the issues again later today—is that countries make clear commitments on finance. Sources of finance are important, but the real prize at Copenhagen is a clear sense that countries are going to put their money where their mouths are. That is what we are striving to achieve.
Given the difficulties in the Barcelona talks this week, particularly in getting the annexe 1 countries to agree to more ambitious targets, does my right hon. Friend sympathise with the Africa group for walking out of those talks?
I am not sure that walking out is a great way of achieving progress, but that shows that the United Nations framework convention on climate change talks have a history, I am afraid, of mistrust, so progress has been too slow. That is why we have to find other forums, such as the Major Economies Forum that we hosted in London, to pursue success. The truth is that the way to overcome that history of mistrust is to do what the EU and, indeed, Britain has done, which is to start to break the deadlock in the negotiations—for example, by saying to developing countries that we are willing to make a financial contribution so that they can make the necessary changes in their economies.
For more than 20 years Britain has had a record of leadership on climate change, and that leadership will be vital at Copenhagen. Everyone at Copenhagen should know that there is complete unity of purpose between us on this issue, and that we need to achieve a deal that proves equal to the challenge of climate change. Does the Secretary of State agree that the principles of such a deal are that it must be fair, that it must be ambitious and that it must be binding on all countries?
I do agree. We set out exactly those principles in our “Road to Copenhagen” document, which was published in June, and I entirely endorse them.
I think that ambition is very important. We know that temperature rises of more than 2° will have devastating effects on many parts of our world, including the United Kingdom, and I believe that we need an agreement at Copenhagen that can put us on a path towards preventing them.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer, but we all know that international summits have their final photo calls and their leaders’ handshakes booked well in advance. We all want success at Copenhagen, but the worst kind of failure would be an inadequate deal dressed up as success. Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most important roles that Britain can play at Copenhagen is to cut through the diplomatic language and tell the truth about whether the deal is rigorous enough?
I do, but on this occasion, although the photo calls may have been booked, I have not heard about them.
This is an issue that will go all the way to the wire. The hon. Gentleman is right: the choice at Copenhagen should not simply be between no deal and a deal. We must choose the kind of deal that we want, and we shall be striving for the most ambitious deal that we can get. It will have to involve finance, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to look again at the important question of official development assistance in the form of financial additionality. As I have said, however, we need the most ambitious deal that we can get, and that is what we shall be striving for.
I am glad to say that there seems to be a strong degree of consensus between us. I agree with the Secretary of State that for a deal to be worth having, it must be consistent with what science demands, namely a global warming limit of 2°. I also believe that the deal must help the world’s poorest people to cope with the effects of climate change, that it must be in addition to, not instead of, fighting their current poverty, and that it must involve immediate action to halt the destruction of the rain forest. Does the Secretary of State agree that those are the tests of a rigorous deal?
I do, and I am pleased if the hon. Gentleman is giving a commitment—as he has not done on previous occasions—that climate finance will be additional to official development assistance. That is an important assurance that we need to give to developing countries. If we transfer money out of ODA and into climate finance, the effects will be negative.
I also agree about the rain forests. Rain forest deforestation represents about 20 per cent. of carbon emissions—more than the percentage of emissions from the world’s transport sector—and we need to make progress on that as well as part of a Copenhagen agreement.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend been able to make of this morning’s reports that, according to influential voices in the United States, an agreement may not be reached until after Copenhagen?
I do not think that we should be in plan B territory. I think that we need to be in plan A territory, and plan A territory is about striving for an ambitious deal in December.
The truth is that this is not going to get any easier. We face very difficult issues. Why is it so difficult? It is difficult because the world is trying to do what it has never done before, and cut global emissions. Kyoto and previous agreements never achieved that. It is tough, but I think that we must strive all out for December. In a sense, the deadline is concentrating minds. We have to raise the stakes and make sure that we get an agreement in December.
With 10 GW of new generation under construction and another 10 GW with planning consent, we are on track to replace more than the 18 GW of stations scheduled to close by 2018. We are therefore confident that the risks to security of supply are low. To accelerate the pace of building new generation, we are reforming the planning system to ensure faster and better decision making. We still hope to receive all-party support for those measures.
The chief executive of Ofgem has said that we are way behind the French and Germans in generating additional low-carbon capacity. How has that arisen? Was it due to negligence, stupidity or what?
No; the chief executive has not said that. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about low-carbon generation, he should tell his Front Benchers to support our planning reforms. What has been holding up low-carbon generation such as renewables, in this country, is precisely the planning system. That is why we are reforming the planning system, why we will publish national policy statements, and why we have the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Unfortunately, the Conservative party wants to abolish that commission, and that will do nothing to obtain the low-carbon generation that the hon. Gentleman says he wants.
The Secretary of State has said that the Government need to take more of a role in delivering security of supply. Given that he acknowledges that we must replace one third of our generating capacity in the next 10 years, why have the Government left things so late?
I do not agree that we have left things late. Indeed, it was this Government, in the teeth of opposition from the Conservative party, who said that we would end the nuclear moratorium and start building nuclear power stations.
I know that the Conservatives oppose onshore wind, but I was interested to see what the hon. Gentleman says about offshore wind, which is important, on his website:
“It is also a classic Labour state-focused centralised project.”
In other words, he seems to be against it, and that will not achieve the low-carbon generation that we need in this country, will it?
Will my right hon. Friend say how much gas there is in 10 GW? I understand that demand is for something like 22 GW of gas-fired electricity. If that is correct, in the next 20 years we could be over-dependent on gas, so does he intend to take measures to cap gas in the energy mix?
My hon. Friend has asked exactly the right question. The majority is gas, and to obtain the low-carbon revolution that we need, we must press ahead with renewables, for example. The low-carbon transition plan that we published in the summer shows that we can stabilise levels of gas imports, but only if we move ahead with renewables and nuclear. Part of that involves standing up and saying, including to local councils throughout the country, that it is right to go ahead with renewables. Again, the Conservative party singularly fails to do that. Sixty per cent. of wind turbine applications to Conservative councils are turned down. That will not achieve the low-carbon revolution that we need, will it?
Does the Secretary of State agree that the negligence suffered by Britain’s energy supplies was during the ’80s and ’90s, when the Tories blasted a hole and closed 150 pits? We are now importing 54 million tonnes of coal a year from countries that we do not even trust because of that action. May we have a guarantee that now that the world price of coal is going up, we will use coal technology to ensure that those pits that are reopening and the miners who work in them are given a chance?
My hon. Friend is right in his historical analysis and his analysis of the future. The truth is that we know that carbon capture and storage can make coal a fuel of the future and not of the past. That is why we propose a levy to fund carbon capture and storage in this country. Again, I hope that we can have all-party support, because that is what will make coal a fuel of the future and create thousands of jobs in this country.
It is good to know that dinosaurs are still with us.
If the Secretary of State does not want to listen to us, he should at least listen to his own advisers. In the past few weeks, Ofgem’s excellent Project Discovery has said that the Government’s estimates of energy supply are optimistic. Their own energy adviser, the excellent Professor MacKay, has said that power cuts are likely by 2016. Even the Government’s low-carbon transition plan refers to power cuts in 2017, but in Government-speak it calls that energy demand unserved.
It is on the Government’s watch that the mistakes have happened—
Order. I am awaiting the question mark.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the errors occurred on his watch? We have not seen investment in nuclear because of the Government’s moratorium. Does he accept that his complacency has put our security at risk?
No, I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman is normally a sensible fellow, but on this occasion he does not seem to be. On the crucial issues that will guarantee security of supply and make the low-carbon transition happen, the Conservative party is on the wrong side of the argument. It is on the wrong side of the planning argument, and it is on the wrong side of the carbon capture and storage levy argument. Also, the shadow Business Secretary has said that we should have “no onshore wind” in this country. That will do nothing for security of supply or low carbon. Therefore, the truth is that the Conservative party would be a risk to the low-carbon transition and to security of supply.
The latest analysis indicates a short-term fall in global emissions as a result of the global economic downturn, but long-term projections show a rising trend. Securing a global agreement at Copenhagen is essential to making the transition to a low-carbon economy.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Does she agree that the Government should use tackling climate change as an opportunity to develop green manufacturing jobs in the UK, which would be good for the economy, good for climate change and good for working people—our people?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is exactly what the Government are doing. In this year’s Budget, we added an extra £1.4 billion of targeted support to help the transition to the low-carbon economy; that was building on previous commitments, so that £10.4 billion is now being enabled. The low-carbon economy currently supports about 880,000 people in work, and it is a fast-growing sector. This Government will continue to invest. We think that the 15 per cent. renewables target could create as many as 500,000 new jobs. Therefore, this Government will continue to make the investment that is necessary to create jobs, which is more than we can say of the Opposition.
Is the Minister aware that the Committee on Climate Change reported that the reductions in carbon emissions in the United Kingdom over the last four years amounted to a very modest 0.5 per cent. per annum? Does she agree that if she is to have credibility at any international summit on this issue, she will need a better track record than that?
No, I do not agree at all. The fact is that we have more than doubled our Kyoto commitment in respect of the basket of greenhouse gases, which has already been reduced by 21 per cent. on 1990 levels. Therefore, we have got a track record that is recognised in the international forum. Yes, we have had small reductions, but that was during a period of 34 per cent. growth in the economy, so that is still an achievement, and a step change is under way: levels are going down faster, and we have a transition plan that will make them go down faster still.
My hon. Friend knows that there is a double whammy for developing countries in the current economic crisis: not only are the poorest being hit by the state of the economy, but climate change affects them first. We hear that €100 billion is being made available for mitigation and working with developing countries, but can the Minister give an assurance that that sum will actually be achieved? Those of us who have worked on international debt relief for many years know that promises at conferences very rarely turn into cash on the ground, so can she give an assurance that that will happen?
What I can tell my hon. Friend is that we have learned the lessons from the donor conferences of the past where many countries made promises but did not deliver. We believe there needs to be a new architecture and a new framework, within which the money will be collected according to a formula possibly based, we think, on greenhouse gases and emissions combined, and with every country except the least developed of them having to contribute to the pot. That is the way in which we can make a difference, and that is what we are hoping to achieve in the Copenhagen agreement.
Vestas and Siemens, which manufacture wind turbines, calculate that for every gigawatt installed, 3,000 new jobs are created. Given the amount of offshore wind that is planned around our shores—and, indeed, off the coast of my constituency—what can we do to ensure that these jobs are created in this country, rather than exported?
We are incentivising the generation of offshore wind. We have already made a commitment of £120 million, and we have seen that by increasing the renewables obligation certificates and agreeing to review them, we are encouraging that industry to come to Britain. I recently visited Aberdeen. The industry there, which has so much expertise in oil and gas, is standing ready to make that transfer into renewables, for which it is very well suited.
I am in intensive dialogue with my international counterparts, as I was last weekend in Barcelona at the United Nations talks and last month at the Major Economies Forum in London. Along with the Prime Minister and others, I expect to engage in further discussions in the run-up to Copenhagen. We are determined to do all that we can to secure the best possible outcome in December.
In recognising the excellent lobbying of this Government by environmental campaigners in this country, will he use his offices to urge those campaigners to contact their sister groups around Europe and the rest of the world in order to put pressure on their leaders, so that they take climate change seriously at the Copenhagen summit and, like our Prime Minister, promise to step up to the mark, if needed?
My hon. Friend is right. The role of campaigners, not only in Britain, but around the world, in securing the agreement we need is very important. There is still a long way to go to get the kind of agreement that we need, despite the summit being only a month away. The ambition has to come not only from Governments and from leadership, but from popular pressure, so I completely agree with him.
Can the Secretary of State tell us what talks he has had about including forestry in the discussions at Copenhagen to try to prevent the indiscriminate destruction of forests by fuel-hungry nations looking for biomass fuel, which is obviously causing global warming and often rides roughshod over indigenous peoples and their needs?
My hon. Friend is right to say that deforestation is a very big part of the climate change problem. The issue also involves how we help people in forest nations to carry out the environmental service that we want them to provide to the world, which is not cutting down the forests. Any agreement at Copenhagen needs to include a way to provide the necessary finance for those countries, so that they are incentivised to do the right thing—to manage forests sustainably, rather than cutting them down, as often happens at the moment.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Copenhagen on securing this conference, which is a measure of Denmark’s record on this issue? Why should any other country take any lectures from his Government on climate change policy, given that they have failed, on adaptation policy, to implement the Pitt recommendations following the floods two years ago?
We do not tend to lecture other countries, and if the Conservative party were ever in government, it would find that that is not necessarily the strategy that works. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is implementing the recommendations of the Pitt report. I must say to the hon. Lady that when one talks to people around the world, one finds, as my ministerial colleague has said, that people see that Britain has achieved a huge amount on tackling climate change—it is one of the few countries to exceed its Kyoto targets. Of course there is more to do, but the question is: who is going to make that low-carbon transition happen? As I have tried to explain, it is this Government, not the Conservative party.
Following up the excellent question put by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), may I ask how much discussion there is in these international forums about the use and development of clean-coal technology in ensuring future energy supplies to this country, which are so crucial?
There is discussion about this matter, and the hon. Gentleman has asked a pertinent question. The International Energy Agency has estimated that without finding a carbon capture and storage solution, the cost of the world’s tackling climate change will be 70 per cent. higher. In my view, there is no solution to the problem of climate change without a solution to the problem of coal. It is part of the discussions that we are having, and I very much hope that the finance that might be made available will ensure that we have demonstrations in not only developed countries, but developing countries. The good news is that a country such as China, which was more sceptical about CCS a couple of years ago, is now enthusiastic about taking it forward. That is a sign of the way the mood is changing on these issues.
I wish to remind my right hon. Friend of his very good visit to Ensus on Teesside, which related to some very complex scientific analysis. During that visit, he stated that his chief scientist would visit Ensus. When will that visit take place, because we seriously look forward to it?
I unfortunately did not bring with me the diary of the chief scientist, but on returning to my Department I will make sure that he is reminded of my suggestion that he visits my hon. Friend. It was a good visit, and it related to one particular point about the biofuels debate in this country. We all know the dangers of biofuels in relation to issues of food security and other things, but we also know that we have to have a nuanced debate about these questions. Biofuels can play a role—and a very important one—if they are managed in the right way and if we ensure that they have the right land use effects. I think that that example was demonstrated in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
We attach great importance to ensuring vulnerable countries are engaged in discussions on climate change. At the London-hosted Major Economies Forum on 18 and 19 October, participation was widened for the first time to bring vulnerable countries to the table. The Maldives was among those in attendance and Minister Aslam participated in the finance session. Last week, I also met Vice-President Waheed at climate change negotiations in Barcelona.
I think we were all moved by, and not a little admiring of, the recent cabinet meeting held by His Excellency President Mohamed Nasheed underwater to highlight the plight of his country and show what climate change will mean to them. Following an initiative this year, when he said that his country would go carbon neutral by 2019, the President said that that in itself would not decarbonise the world and save them from annihilation but
“at least we could die knowing we’ve done the right thing.”
Does the Minister believe that following Copenhagen every world leader will be able to say exactly the same, no matter how dramatic it was?
I hope very much that that will be the case. We are working tirelessly to that end. Of course, our Prime Minister has said that he will be there, if necessary, to get a deal. There is no question about the Government’s commitment. We support the Maldives and encourage it to keep its voice very strong in these negotiations to make the facts available to the world. Its argument is, of course, the most powerful one. If a whole country is to be lost, there can be no more powerful argument than that. We need to keep hearing those messages.
We announced in the low-carbon transition plan last July our proposals to strengthen the enforcement powers of the regulator Ofgem in order to improve consumer protection. Ofgem itself has also made major changes to industry rules to prevent unfair pricing as a result of its retail markets probe.
Reports show that last year npower changed its tariff year for gas customers three times in 12 months, ensuring that customers were kept on the higher rate for charging longer than advertised and overcharging customers by £100 million. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that a tariff year is a firm 12-month commitment and cannot be changed at the whim of energy companies?
I fear that the hon. Gentleman prepared that question before he listened. The Government intend to strengthen the powers of Ofgem in order to ensure that the consumer’s interest comes first and that Ofgem has the powers to act immediately when abuse is affecting consumers.
Does the Minister agree that one of the best things for consumers in the business sector and the domestic sector is to have the best knowledge of what they are using and the prices that they are paying? In that respect, can he give some indication of the progress in the roll-out of smart meters, which contribute towards that? I have heard that there is some delay and wonder whether he can comment on that.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding us all that consumers include business customers as well as domestic customers. This country has a very ambitious smart metering programme to complete an entire change in all businesses and domestic properties, with more than 40 million meters by the end of 2020. There is no delay to that programme, and I assure my right hon. Friend that we are very excited about it and that we intend it to go ahead.
Given that Energy Ministers in the past, and Ofgem up to now, have been so feeble in dealing with abuses by the big energy companies, will the Minister commit to giving us the opportunity to have an energy Bill in the next session whereby we can give real tough powers to Ofgem? Secondly, will he consider referring the energy industry to the Competition Commission?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the power to announce the Government’s next legislative programme. As I said in my first answer, subject to the proper procedure of this House we do intend that there will be legislation. The regulator, Ofgem, has the principal responsibility for referrals to the Competition Commission, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will have regard to the new quarterly publication of the relationship between wholesale and retail prices. I think that is starting to turn consumers’ heat onto their energy suppliers.
Some licence changes have taken place, and some are about to, but three things taken together—the results of the probe, the licence changes and our legislative proposals—will ensure that the heat continues to be kept on suppliers.
Some of the worst forms of overcharging have typically involved the exploitation of pre-payment meter users. Ofgem has started to tackle that, but will the Minister be taking up one of its present campaigns, which is for a more formalised social tariff system that would help the oldest and poorest consumers to meet their bills over the coming winter?
One licence change that has been implemented is on pre-payment meters, and I answered a parliamentary question last month in which I showed that the difference between standard credit and pre-payment charges has already been all but eliminated as a result. I am very pleased about that because some of the poorest consumers were affected by overcharging on pre-payment meters. As for social price support, in our legislative proposals we hope to expand on the voluntary scheme that is already helping more than 1 million households.
Despite the huge drop in wholesale prices in recent months, the Department’s own statistics show that more than 4.5 million people will be in fuel poverty this winter, which is a massive increase on last year. When we called last year for an investigation by the Competition Commission, the Minister dithered and said he would talk to Ofgem, because he thought that that would offer a quicker solution. Will the Government now commit to taking real action and holding a quick, forensic investigation into why the consumer is getting such a raw deal from the energy companies under this Government?
The hon. Gentleman must surely agree that we would still be waiting for the result if we had taken his course of action a year ago. Instead, in that time we have had the changes to the licence conditions that are making a difference, and we have also committed to legislative changes. In the meantime, the Government’s programmes and spending have saved between 400,000 and 800,000 other households from falling into fuel poverty. That is an achievement in itself.
The decisions made at Copenhagen will affect everybody in the UK and around the world for generations to come. So that everyone in the UK can see what we are arguing for in the negotiations, the Government have published the “Road to Copenhagen” which, for the first time, explains our position to the wider public. We also keep people informed through our website and through advertising.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In the run-up to Copenhagen, will she confirm her Department’s support for low-carbon transport initiatives such as the Parry People Mover, which is a light rail car that runs on the Stourbridge line? It makes an important contribution to the local economy in terms of jobs and green technology. Will she, or the Secretary of State, accept my invitation to come and ride on it?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her final offer. I fear that the Secretary of State and I are so preoccupied with the international discussions that we are frequently out of the country, but we will of course try very hard to make a new year resolution to accept her invitation.
I should tell my hon. Friend that we are keeping people informed through the Act on Copenhagen website, to which there have been 80,000 unique visitors. In addition, 60,000 copies of the document have been distributed, including to schools, GP surgeries, libraries and so on. It makes a real difference when people can see local examples of how to move to low carbon, such as the transit system to which she referred—which has, of course, been supported by the Department for Transport. It is through seeing what happens on the ground that people will learn what it is possible to do to meet our low-carbon aims.
Was it wise of the Government to spend £6 million of taxpayers’ money on a propaganda film showing a father telling fairy stories to his daughter, particularly when the stories turn out to be alarmist tales of British cities drowned under water? Might not one result of that be that it has put the idea into people’s minds that this is all a fairy story, with fewer people in this country giving credence—
Order. I think that we have got the drift of the question. [Interruption.] Order. Let me make it clear to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) that when I rise, he sits down. His question was too long and it is at an end.
The right hon. Gentleman is someone who does not accept the science and the consensus around it—[Interruption.] That is what he appears to be saying. The people who have expressed concerns about the advertisement tend to be in that category. We are trying to make it clear to adults that the science has a great worldwide consensus, that climate change is under way, and that if the Government and everyone else do not act, their children will suffer owing to catastrophic climate change. This is not an exaggeration; we have already had terrific floods in this country as a consequence of climate change. It is important to let people understand the truth, and it is the Government’s responsibility to allow that to happen.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I have only a figure for the overall spending over three years by my Department and its predecessor: £6.3 million on marine projects ranging from the Severn tidal project to infrastructure support and environmental research. There has been other spending by the research council, the Technology Strategy Board, the Carbon Trust and the Energy Technologies Institute. Additionally, the Government announced an extra £60 million for measures to accelerate the development and deployment of wave and tidal energy in July’s renewable energy strategy.
Will tidal barrages and new nuclear both be treated as major projects under the Infrastructure Planning Commission’s procedures?
I am intrigued by the way in which my hon. Friend has managed to get nuclear into a question about marine energy. As far as marine projects are concerned, it will depend on the final announcements that are about to be made and, of course, the size of the project proposed. At the beginning, I think it would be unlikely that marine projects would be of the size relevant to the new commission.
Ministers meet Ofgem frequently to discuss a range of current issues, including consumer issues in the energy markets. Ofgem has recently established new standards for energy suppliers, including requirements that suppliers must not sell a customer a product or service that he or she does not fully understand or that is inappropriate for their needs and circumstances, and that they must not offer products that are unnecessarily complex or confusing.
Competition is inherently good, but when one has so many tariffs, they simply obfuscate rather than clarify, and it is difficult in such circumstances for the consumer to compare like with like. Does the Minister think that there should be greater simplification of energy tariffs?
The hon. Gentleman clearly articulates the conundrum that while we want open markets, competition and innovation, we do not want people to be bamboozled by enormous changes to the offers made, meaning that they are not comprehensible. One of the licence conditions put in place by Ofgem in September—I referred to it earlier—was the new requirement for information on every bill and for an annual statement to consumers. It is hoped that that will enable consumers to be better informed about the decisions that they make and therefore more empowered.
It must clearly be absurd that consumers are faced with dozens—and sometimes hundreds—of alternative tariffs, which must only add to confusion rather than to choice, so will the Minister use an energy Bill to provide greater clarity? Does he accept that social tariffs should always be the lowest tariffs available? Does he accept that consumers should be able to see how much less they would be spending if they were on the cheapest tariff on offer from their provider? Does he accept that consumers should also be able to see how much electricity—
Order. Let me say, I hope for the last time, that Front-Bench Members must ask a question, not a series of three questions. I want to facilitate Back Benchers in this place.
Ofgem has already ruled that if any energy company is to say that it is offering a social tariff, that must be the lowest tariff that it offers. When we have the opportunity, we intend to legislate for mandatory social price support. If such a measure is in an energy Bill in the near future, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I will be able to debate its precise terms.
Under the Energy Act 2004, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s public civil nuclear sites. The cost of disposal is influenced by many different factors, including the inventory of waste, the timing of waste arisings, the geology at the site in question and the design of the geological disposal facility. The NDA’s estimate, as given in its 2007-08 annual report, for the undiscounted total lifetime costs of a geological disposal facility for higher activity wastes is £12.2 billion.
Does the Minister accept that when the full costs of disposing of nuclear waste are taken into consideration, electricity generation by nuclear power proves to be a very expensive option?
The hon. Gentleman must make a distinction between the historical cost, which we as a nation are picking up and our taxpayers are paying, and the future cost, which we will require the energy companies to cover in their propositions. They will make the decision whether it is economic to go forward on that basis, and so far some of those companies have made decisions totalling £13 billion of investment in new nuclear in this country.
Low Carbon Transition Plan
I and my ministerial colleagues have received a large number of comments and representations since the publication of the transition plan and its associated documents on 15 July, including from key international partners involved in negotiations at Copenhagen and the organisations and bodies that will help us to deliver the required emissions reductions in the UK.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but most of my constituents probably do not know what a low carbon transition plan is, so will she explain to the House and to a typical resident of north Cleethorpes, living in small, terraced accommodation, what the Government will do to make their homes more energy efficient?
First, I can tell my hon. Friend that a small leaflet is available, and we would be very pleased to give one to her with a simple explanation for her constituents. On the point about homes, we are channelling about £3.2 billion to help households to become more energy efficient; we are piloting a pay-as-you-save programme to help people to invest in more expensive means of insulation; next year we are introducing the clean energy cashback scheme so that people can generate their own energy and be paid to do so; and we will be rolling out smart meters. There is thus a huge programme of activity to help householders such as my hon. Friend’s constituents.
In the summer, my Department set out the UK low carbon transition plan. Central to that is planning reform, and we will shortly publish the energy national policy statement, which, alongside the Infrastructure Planning Commission, is designed to speed up the planning process for the benefit of all citizens of Britain.
Further to the meeting of 100 legislators from large economies in Copenhagen two weeks ago, will the Secretary of State agree to meet the cross-party delegation and ensure that the principles agreed are shared with not only UK negotiators but European Union negotiators?
It will be my pleasure to do so. I was actually due to attend the conference, but family responsibilities took precedence, and that was right for a range of reasons. However, I will definitely meet the legislators to which the hon. Gentleman refers. GLOBE International plays a very important role and will be very important in the next month, too.
I had my most recent meeting with the Legal Complaints Service and the Solicitors Regulation Authority yesterday, and I was saddened and disappointed to hear of so many lawyers who have taken money from vulnerable mineworkers and their bereaved widows when the state has paid them for their services, too. The Legal Complaints Service tells me that it has pursued so many solicitors for overcharging and poor services that it has made them repay about £3 million to their clients. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has prosecuted a number of firms, and they have had to make repayments of more than £3 million to their customers. For such an ethical profession as law, and as a lawyer myself, I am very disappointed.
The Secretary of State earlier highlighted the importance of new investment to secure our electricity supplies. Will he ensure that people are not driven into fuel poverty just paying to keep the lights on?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and we need to be candid about the issue because it is a very big challenge. The pressures on energy prices will be upwards in the coming decade, and we need to do all we can to protect the fuel poor. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary rightly talked about compulsory price support. I know that the hon. Gentleman campaigns, in particular, on behalf of people who are off the gas grid and who face particular issues. We must ensure that they too receive proper protection as we make the low-carbon transition.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is a balance to be struck between shocking people and enabling them to think about an issue and resolve to act on it. We have carefully researched how to advertise in a responsible way. We will continue to do that, because it is essential that the British people understand what we are trying to achieve, why we need to move to a low-carbon economy, and why they can be part of it, given that 42 per cent. of all emissions in this country are the result of our own individual actions.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the town of Kettering was recently chosen by the United Nations to be the United Kingdom’s representative on a pre-Copenhagen international consultation on climate change in which 93 per cent. of participants said that the Government should attach a high priority to signing up to any climate change deal at Copenhagen?
We are very keen for local people to be involved in any discussions. That is why we published the document entitled the “Road to Copenhagen”, why we have a website, and why we encourage people to be in contact with us. It is important that people understand these issues and that they have a sense of ownership, because this is a global problem where we can all feel that we can contribute and have our voices represented by our Governments in getting the most ambitious, effective and fair deal possible.
Population is definitely an issue in relation to climate change; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many people make that point to me at meetings that I attend. As she implies, the answers to this are the traditional answers that we know work, particularly in developing countries, in terms of women’s education and ensuring that development aid goes to women. The economic growth that the world will see over the next 50 years far outweighs, in terms of its impact on carbon emissions if we do nothing, the impact of population issues. The real challenge is to break the link between economic growth and carbon emissions.
In January, the UK was down to only a few days’ gas storage, while Germany typically has 99 days and France has 120 days. Current Government plans extend this only by a few hours. Does the Minister agree that it is time to secure our gas storage facilities?
We do need more gas storage in this country, and there are 18 projects under way. A new gas storage project at Aldburgh is coming on-stream this winter. This is not only about gas storage but about our import capacity, which is up by 25 per cent. since last winter; indeed, our import capacity now represents 125 per cent. of total demand. We need more gas storage—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but we also need to have import capacity as North sea capacity declines, and to make the transition to other low-carbon fuels.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. CESP, a new programme that began in September, is designed to apply to areas that have the very lowest decile income groups. His constituency certainly meets that criterion. A total of £350 million will be invested in energy-saving measures over the next three years, coming from suppliers and generators in 100 low-income communities. I can tell him that British Gas has already announced agreement in principle to work with local authorities in 10 areas: Dundee, Glasgow, Swansea, Preston, Knowsley, Birmingham, Walsall, Blacon in Cheshire, Southwark and Haringey. We hope that they will undertake measures such as solid wall, which we have long pressed for as a means of helping those with the most difficult homes to insulate.
With the introduction of climate change measures, what is the average additional levy that gas and electricity users pay on their bills each quarter?
We said in the low carbon transition plan, which is getting a lot of airtime today, that the impact of the climate change measures that we announced in it would be about 6 per cent. on bills by 2020, or about 8 per cent. including previous measures.
It is important to say that we do not believe there is a low-cost, high-carbon future out there, even if we wanted to pursue it. As we import more gas and as demand from China, India and other countries goes up, if we do not transition to other fuels we will be subject to more volatile prices as a result of growing demand from those countries.
I will draw on the compliment paid to us by my hon. Friend that we are advancing with the speed of a striking cobra as far as the nuclear industry is concerned. I am sure that Opposition Front Benchers agree with that point.
On the sloth issue, in the marine industry part of the challenge has been proving the marine technology. I think there was some recent good news on that from a company called Marine Current Turbines. We set up the marine renewables deployment fund of £50 million, and the condition agreed with the industry was that the technology had to work for three months. The problem has been that it has not been able to work so far, which is why we have set up an intermediate fund to help companies over that barrier.
Order. The House needs to proceed with the speed of a striking cobra if we are to maximise the number of colleagues who get in.
The Secretary of State wants to speed up the planning process for public planning inquiries. Will he therefore go out and educate the public on energy from waste plants? If he truly believes that they are not harmful, why is he not explaining that to the Great British public?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. I am not promising adverts, but we will take up her suggestion.
My right hon. Friend, who has a proud history of work in the co-operative movement, makes an important point. I was not aware of the debate of 12 July 2006, but I can look forward to it as bedtime reading.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The experience of Sizewell B in the 1980s is a very good reason for changing the planning system. The Opposition Front Benchers are nodding, and I hope that their nods will be translated into support for our Infrastructure Planning Commission.
We are in the midst of a consultation on this question, but I say to my hon. Friend—this goes back to the question that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) asked—that we always have to remember not just the people who want to have wind turbines and solar panels, important though that is, but those who pay the bills, who are the consumers. There is a balance to be struck, but we are in the middle of a consultation and will of course listen, as we always do.
Are Ministers aware of the reception held in the House yesterday by National Energy Action, which among other things drew attention to the health through warmth programme? Will they congratulate npower and all those involved in the programme? How can the Department help that programme to continue and grow?
I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this issue and the health through warmth programme, which also exists in my constituency. I have visited schemes in the past and I offer to draw attention to the successes of the programme soon, because it is one of the ways in which organisations such as local authorities, the health service and energy companies come together to identify people in need of help to insulate their homes, improve their health, save on their budgets and cut carbon emissions at the same time.
What opportunities are presented by the likely signing of the Lisbon treaty for Europe to work together to tackle climate change?
My hon. Friend asks a very important question. It is important that Europe speaks with one voice—we have seen that in relation to the finance proposals—but we should also be careful about the company we keep in relation to Europe and the issue of climate change. We should be in the mainstream, not on the fringes. Frankly, I think hanging around with climate change deniers is a very big mistake.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us next week’s business?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 9 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill.
Tuesday 10 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 11 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 2.30 pm on that day.
Thursday 12 November—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified.
: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Lady said that she would table the motion on Professor Sir Ian Kennedy’s appointment as chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority within the next few days. Will she ensure that the House is given fair warning so that that does not just pop up on the Order Paper by surprise, as the appointment of the Speaker’s Committee on IPSA did last week?
May I repeat the call for a debate on how Sir Christopher Kelly’s report will be implemented? Despite what the right hon. and learned Lady said yesterday, of Kelly’s 60 recommendations, I have counted at least 12 that are decisions that need to be taken by the House, and another 10 recommendations on strengthening IPSA will require primary legislation. That means that more than a third of Sir Christopher’s report requires the attention of the House rather than that of the independent regulator. The right hon. and learned Lady said yesterday that she did not think that we should be addressing the question of legislating to change the IPSA structure, but is it not clear that that is exactly what we shall have to do if, as she said yesterday, we implement Kelly’s proposals in full?
May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on his assertion on 10 June that Government action has saved 500,000 jobs? Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have repeatedly used that figure in the House to justify Government decisions over the past 12 months, but last night the Treasury published documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing that the advice given to Ministers before this year’s Budget was that a figure of
“between 250,000 and 450,000”
could be used, but that any
“public statement should be worded carefully”.
Moreover, the documents make it completely clear that it could be seen as spurious for the Government even to claim that number, because monetary policy, which we have consistently supported, is independent of Government. Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor take an early opportunity to correct the record?
The Committee on Reform of the House of Commons is due to set out its findings by the end of next week. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that when it is published she will make an oral statement to the House on how the Government plan to take forward that Committee’s recommendations? When might we have an opportunity to debate that Committee’s important report?
Next Monday, we were due to debate secondary legislation on the 2011 census. That debate has been unexpectedly postponed. Given that we have expressed real concerns about the intrusive nature of some of those questions, is that an indication, as we hope, that the Government have decided to reconsider the invasive format of the new census?
May I ask the Leader of the House yet again to provide us with the date of the pre-Budget report? The Chancellor had his opportunity at Treasury questions on Tuesday, but did not take it. There are reports that the Prime Minister is clashing with the Chancellor over the former’s plans for a massive new spending spree before the election. Do the Government not owe it to the public to come clean on their spending plans?
Finally, on the economy, may we have a statement on the recent outburst from the Government’s enterprise tsar, Lord Sugar—that the majority of small firms are just “moaners” who need not a bank but an insolvency practitioner? Is that not a rather unusual way to champion a sector that is normally referred to as the lifeblood of the economy? With the Federation of Small Businesses calling for Lord Sugar to go, does the Leader of the House think that he still has the confidence of the companies that he is meant to be representing? Or is it time to say, “You’re fired”?
I have undertaken to the House that we will bring forward the motion as soon as possible to endorse your choice, Mr. Speaker, of Professor Sir Ian Kennedy as the chair of the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Notification to the House will be made in the normal way.
On the issue of decisions that need to be taken by the House and those that would need legislative change, it is helpful to look at the Kelly report proposals for substantive changes in respect of a new allowance system. Effectively, Sir Christopher Kelly has proposed a new allowance framework, and that should be the priority, along with setting up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. As far as the House is concerned, we need to help the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority get on with its work by endorsing the appointment of the chair. It will then be for the authority to take forward the Kelly proposals and implement them. That is the central and important objective. The other issues can be looked at, but they are not germane to the aim of having a new allowance system, based on Kelly’s proposals, in place and ready for the new Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the half a million jobs that would have been lost had the Government not taken action. Perhaps I may identify for him the action that we have taken which, had the Conservatives been in government, would not have been taken, but which has made such a difference in protecting jobs. First, we brought forward capital projects, which not only ensures good capital investment in schools and health centres, but provides jobs. If we had not done that, it would have cost jobs. We also brought forward our time to pay proposals for businesses, so that they are not put out of business because they cannot pay their taxes as a consequence of the global financial crisis and the credit crunch—
This is a party political broadcast.
Order. May I say to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that I require no assistance from him—[Interruption.] Order. I am chairing the proceedings. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to participate, he should sit and listen.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Some 200,000 businesses have been able to defer payment of tax and stay in business through the difficult economic times, and that has saved jobs. If those firms had been put out of business because they had been made insolvent by HMRC, that would have cost jobs. Then there is the temporary 2.5 per cent. VAT cut, which helped the economy, and that has helped jobs.
We have also taken other fiscal stimulus measures, including the increase in child benefit and pensions. All those measures have preserved at least half a million jobs, and we therefore stand by that figure. There will be further discussion in the pre-Budget report about the economy, and our plans will be laid out. If hon. Members want to ask anything else, they can discuss the matter, no doubt, in the economic part of the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for an opportunity to debate the proposals from the Committee Reform of the House of Commons, and I will look for, and discuss with him, when is the best opportunity for the House to discuss those important proposals. He also asked about the census. I do not know the answer to that question. I will have to find out—or perhaps someone will tell me before the end of business questions. If they do, I will interpose it in an answer to somebody else’s question.
I think that is it. [Hon. Members: “Lord Sugar?”] That is certainly it.
First, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and all the Officers of the House, for the conduct of the meeting of the Youth Parliament last Friday. I thought that it was a huge success, and we should mark it as such.
Will the Leader of the House consider the way in which the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill has been timetabled? That constitutional Bill is in Committee of the whole House, and 16 clauses and one schedule have already gone through without any debate, simply because of timetabling by the Government. That is simply unacceptable. Will she ensure that the following days of Committee will not be curtailed in that way and that we have full and proper discussion of the very important matters that should be under scrutiny?
The whole country is debating, almost on a daily basis, the grim news from Afghanistan. The only place where there has not been a recent opportunity to do so is in this Chamber. It is time that we had a full day’s debate on the policy being pursued in Afghanistan, not simply from a military point of view, but from a foreign affairs point of view too. We need to ask some serious questions about the position in which we are putting our very brave and professional troops in Afghanistan. It is time for the House to have that debate.
May we also have a debate on the Government control of IT systems? The computer system for criminal justice managed to waste £41 million through delays and cost overruns, and £161 million cannot be accounted for in the management of that project. Two years ago, it was abandoned. We are used to appalling IT procurement, but that really is a humdinger. It is time that we had a debate on the matter.
Finally, may we also have a debate on consumer protection? I am concerned that many trading standards departments, including mine in Somerset, seem no longer to give consumer advice. That is wrong. It means that consumers are not provided with protection from being ripped off over shoddy goods, false claims or cast-iron guarantees that prove worthless.
The hon. Gentleman stole a march on me and the shadow Leader of the House in thanking you, Mr. Speaker, and everyone else who took part in helping the Youth Parliament. It was a brilliant occasion, and I hope that we will do it again. It was fantastic.
All proceedings of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in Committee are being taken on the Floor of the House, and it was agreed without Division that we should have four days in that Committee of the whole House. Then it came to dividing up the subjects for each day. The day before yesterday—or was it yesterday?—25 of the 27 groups were gone through. The Bill was, of course, subject to detailed pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses, but in reality there is discussion across the parties about how to organise the debates. It is not possible to predict with complete accuracy how many speakers will be attracted to each debate; it is not an exact science. However, we have no interest in anything other than ensuring that the House has as much time as it needs, and that it is apportioned properly across each section of the legislation.
We all remain deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. It is always addressed at Prime Minister’s questions, and I think that we will need to return to it. As I have announced, we have no space for general debates before the Queen’s Speech, because we have all the Lords amendments coming back from the Lords prior to the House proroguing before the Queen’s Speech. There will be the debates after the Queen’s Speech, but I will need to look for an opportunity for us to have a debate on Afghanistan shortly.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned what he described as the humdinging computer issue in the Ministry of Justice. I would simply say that Justice questions are next week.
While the Kelly report is to be welcomed, some aspects of it need clarification. Can my right hon. and learned Friend help us by explaining the transitional arrangements for the communications allowance?
There are a number of transitional issues, including the communications allowance. We have put in place transitional arrangements, following the decisions of the House in April, May and June. We now have the Kelly report, and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will come into place for the next Parliament. Colleagues will want to be sure that they are aware of how they should be doing things in the post-Kelly, pre-Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority transitional period that we are now in, particularly in respect of the property valuation date of 4 November that Sir Christopher Kelly has proposed.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Committee on Members Allowances, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who has undertaken to identify the issues that hon. Members are asking about and to liaise with Sir Christopher and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, as well as the House authorities, to ensure that the House authorities issue clear guidance to Members on the matters of concern to them in the interim period. Members will therefore receive proper guidance right away from the House authorities on the decisions that they will have to take.
On the communications allowance, the issues are the use of communications expenditure and the regulated period for election expenditure under the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, under which new expenditure limits will come into force. There is also the ceasing of the use of the communications allowance in an election period. There have been discussions across the parties, and, having reached an agreement, the Justice Secretary has indicated that he will sign the order bringing into effect the new financial limits for election spending, which will start from 1 January. The proposal is that the use of the communications allowance should end on 31 December, after which the new election expenses limits will come into force.
I know that hon. Members will be concerned about how they advertise their advice surgeries, for example, once the communications allowance has ceased. We will have to have some guidance on that from the Members Estimate Committee. Indeed, it might be possible to deal with that under the office cost allowance.
Order. From now on I want to make much faster progress. Brief questions and brief answers are required.
Will the Leader of the House look into holding a debate on the cuts to accident and emergency services at hospitals such as King George hospital, which serves my constituency?
There are no cuts in the national health service, but there certainly would have been if public spending had been under the control of the Conservative party over the past 10 years.
My right hon. and learned Friend shares my concerns about the position of women in the financial services industry, but does she share my concern that the Government mandate for the Walker review on banking governance does not refer specifically to the position of women in banking? Will she organise a debate on that important subject, so that we can ensure justice for women in the financial services industry?
The important thing is that the financial services industry should work properly and draw on the best talents and abilities of the country as a whole. It clearly is not doing that if it continues to operate as an old boys’ network, as it is now. Although my hon. Friend is a great example, as she is a member of the Treasury Committee, I am afraid that the Committee itself is setting a bad example, because she is the only woman serving on it. Good governance requires a meritocracy, and an old boys’ network is certainly not a meritocracy.
Will the Government find time soon to debate the proposals that I am publishing today on behalf of the all-party group on extraordinary rendition, to try to get a clampdown on extraordinary rendition and give the public confidence that Britain will no longer be used, either directly or indirectly, for that practice?
The Government have made it absolutely clear that we will not allow this country to be party to, participate in or be used for the process of kidnapping and abduction, or illegally transporting detainees across borders. That is not something that we accept or endorse, and all of those are already criminal offences.
May I tempt the Leader of the House to have an early debate on the nature of childhood, and on how we protect children and prescribe certain legislative guarantees that make children and childhood safe in our time?
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, makes an important suggestion. Perhaps we can consider holding a topical debate on that subject, as it involves a number of issues about safeguarding children and the registration of people involved with them. Several of those issues have been raised recently, so perhaps we could do with having a debate on them on the Floor of the House.
As of this week, the footage and clips of what is going on here in Parliament are easily available to search and view on the excellent BBC Democracy Live website, so that the people out there can see the business of the House. The ability to share those clips with their friends or on their own websites is available for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly—in short, everywhere but Westminster. Will the Leader of the House take steps to ensure that the public have equal access to footage of the business of this House?
I will look into that and liaise with the House authorities and my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
My early-day motion 2237 on the question of the referendum on the treaty of Lisbon was approved by the Table Office last night and subsequently gutted by a senior official to remove the names of Members who said two years ago that they wanted a referendum even if the Lisbon treaty were ratified.
[That this House calls on those hon. Members who have previously expressed the view that a referendum should be held on the Lisbon Treaty before or after ratification to clarify their position now that the Treaty has been ratified by all Member States.]
May I ask my friend on the Front Bench whether we can have an early debate on the whole question of the referendum, to allow the 45 Opposition Members who said that they still wanted a referendum even after ratification to debate the issue?
I can give my hon. Friend a cast-iron guarantee that I will look into these issues. It is clear that we have had a cast-iron U-turn from the Opposition, who would put us on the margins of Europe and make it more difficult for us to pursue this country’s objectives on the economy, climate change and security. The content of EDMs is a matter for the House officials; it is a matter for them to ensure that EDMs are expressed in appropriate language.
On the subject of cast-iron guarantees, may I remind the Leader of the House of one that the Government have given on many occasions to hold a debate on the pre-Budget report? May I push her for an early indication on that—it will be a particularly important pre-Budget report—and for a commitment on such a debate, please?
We will look to have a proper opportunity for ensuring that there is a possibility of a debate on economic issues following the statement on the pre-Budget report. I am aware of the points that have been made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and many others about this issue.
May we have a debate on the work and track record of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, and, in particular, on its consistent refusal to recognise khat, a root that is chewed primarily by people in the Somali community and that has a dangerous and damaging effect on mental health in such communities? The committee keeps claiming that there is insufficient evidence from a broad population base that it should be a proscribed drug.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could look into having a debate on that in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. I am sure that other hon. Members would want to join in.
Will the Leader of the House apologise to my constituents for saying a moment ago that there had been no cuts in the NHS under Labour? My acute hospital has been decimated: the accident and emergency unit has been closed, as have the maternity unit, the intensive care unit and the high-dependency unit. All the beds have been closed. The diagnostic unit has stayed open, along with the out-patients and minor injuries units. Is that really what the Leader of the House meant by “no cuts” in the NHS under Labour?
There has been increased funding and improvement in services, resulting in fewer deaths from preventable diseases. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to say that the health service has got worse, he is not engaging with the reality. There has been more funding, more doctors, nurses and staff, and more equipment, and there are better outcomes for people’s health and for saving lives. That is the same in his constituency as anywhere else across the country.
When can we debate our reliance on the corrupt, depraved, drug-addicted, murdering thieves of the Afghan police?
We are all concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and about what happened in relation to the Afghan police, with the terrible loss of our soldiers’ lives. I will look for an opportunity to debate that as soon as we can after the Queen’s Speech has been concluded.
May I assist the Leader of the House by giving her an opportunity now to answer the question about Lord Sugar? Will she tell us whether she will apologise for his outrageous remarks. If not, does that mean that she endorses them?
I am afraid that I have not actually seen the remarks that were made. I do not know whether they were made in the House of Lords or on a TV programme, but I will look into them.
Now that the House looks set to adopt the Kelly review in full, will my right hon. and learned Friend introduce a similar review of all taxpayers’ money, whether it is spent by quangocrats, senior civil servants or retired civil servants, or whether it applies to the recipients of Government money through contracts, so that businesses—including newspapers that take Government advertising—can also be brought into this regime of openness and transparency?
My hon. Friend has made a wide-ranging point about transparency, and he makes a good point about the higher echelons of public sector pay. That subject is currently being looked at by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We can all recognise that the top of public sector pay has got completely out of hand, with many people being paid more than the Prime Minister. We need to get a grip on that and sort it out. I also think that pay transparency is very important in the private sector, and that is one of the things that will be in the Equality Bill.
Given the greater attention that the House is now, rightly, paying to public opinion of this House, may we have a debate on why the British people continue to be denied their say on the relationship between the UK and the European Union? Why does there appear to be a conspiracy across all the main parties to deny the people of the United Kingdom their say? It is what they want; why can they not have their say?
The people of the United Kingdom have general elections in which they elect Members to this House, and we decide things as elected representatives thereafter. We are accountable for our decisions to our electorate.
The centenary year of Girlguiding UK has just commenced. May we have a short debate on the merits of that estimable organisation? It has 100,000 adult volunteer leaders and 20,000 supporters providing a framework that enables 450,000 Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to enjoy a girl-led programme that builds skills, confidence and self-esteem in a phenomenal way.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s tribute to the Girl Guides, and this might be a subject for a debate in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment.
I have called for a debate on the legacy of the Olympics before, but there are now real concerns that the promise of increased grass-roots participation in sport is not being delivered. There are now 1,000 days until the Olympics. Does the Leader of the House accept that we need time in this House to debate the legacy of that event?
There is going to be a fantastic Olympics and a fantastic legacy in many, many respects. We shall have Culture, Media and Sport questions on Monday, at which time the hon. Gentleman can put his questions to the Minister.
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said about the Lisbon referendum, which proves that some of us have not changed our minds. I also welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House said in reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about a debate on Afghanistan, but will she ensure that that debate is on a substantive motion?
As I have said, I will consider how the House is able to participate in a debate on Afghanistan as soon as we possibly can. It is a matter of great priority for those on both sides of the House.
The all-party save the pub group has received evidence to show that the Office of Fair Trading decision to ignore the super-complaint from the Campaign for Real Ale is deeply flawed and represents a dereliction of duty by this public body. May we have an investigation and an urgent debate in the House about this very serious matter?
There are business questions next week, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to raise the matter with Ministers then.
May I simply endorse the request from a number of Members for a debate on Afghanistan? When we went into that country, one of our objectives was to support the establishment of democracy, but the farce of the recent election has led many Members and members of the public to question our strategy, so that debate should be held as soon as possible.
Although there have been recent statements, I think that, because of situation after the election and because of the continued tragic loss of life, it is right to have a debate on Afghanistan as soon as possible.
My constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Kemp and their eight-year-old daughter went to Egypt. As they went through the airport, they passed through an automatic temperature control. The little girl had a slight temperature: they had their passports confiscated, they were removed to a filthy isolation hospital and they were detained there against their will. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary next week on the Egyptian policy of kidnapping British tourists?
I will ask my ministerial colleague to write to the hon. Gentleman about that particular case.
On the eve of Remembrance Sunday and in a week that has seen a high-profile court case involving a young man who urinated on a war memorial, may we have a statement from the Ministry of Defence about the special and sacred way in which war memorials should be considered by the public and the sanctions available to the police and the law authorities to use against those who seek to ruin the memorials to people who have given their lives in the service of our country.
I will ask the relevant Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman about that issue.
May we have a debate about how to measure accurately the difference in pay between men and women? In one of her other guises, the Leader of the House is always very fond of quoting just one figure, but the Office for National Statistics made it clear yesterday that pay rates are an important but complex matter, and that a range of measurements should be used. According to one of those measures, men who work part time are shown to be paid less than women.
I have had discussions with ONS about this and it has decided on three measurements. The top-line measurement is the average hourly pay difference between all employed men and all employed women. That is the top-line measurement. Below that, another measurement is the average hourly pay difference between men and women working full time, while the third measurement is the average hourly pay difference between men and women working part time. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to be under the misapprehension that somehow men are paid less well than women. That is not the case. If one looks at men and women going out to work, we find that women are paid a fifth less than men across the average. I do not believe that per hour of their work, women are 22 per cent. less intelligent than men, 22 per cent. less hard working than men or 22 per cent. less valuable to their employers than men. That is gender discrimination in pay, but, given the hon. Gentleman’s question, it very much sounds to me as though he is a gender pay discrimination denier. It is certainly not the case that men as a whole are paid less than women, even though the hon. Gentleman might dredge up a few examples.
Does the Leader of the House believe that it may be necessary to amend our sitting hours in view of the impact on this House of some of the proposals in the Kelly report?
We certainly want to make absolutely sure in future that, whatever changes are made by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority following on from the Kelly report, neither men nor women MPs will find it difficult to get home very late at night, so arrangements will have to be made one way or another to ensure that men and women can get on with their work in the House.
May I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has said that she will find time for a debate on Afghanistan, and reinforce its importance? She should ensure that it is a full day’s debate in the middle of the week so that we secure maximum participation by Members who want to raise constituents’ questions. In that debate, will she ensure that Ministers understand and are reminded of why we ended up in Afghanistan in the first place? They should not forget the history of what happened in that country and should perhaps apologise to the people of Afghanistan for when we took our eye off the ball, which damaged the achievement of our goals and the aims that took us there in the first place.
It will be important to have a debate about the objectives of our mission in Afghanistan and how we achieve them, but I think that the central point—it is made by the Prime Minister when he answers questions about this at Prime Minister’s questions—is that the mission is not only important for the people in Afghanistan, but for the security of people in this country. Two thirds of all the terror plots in this country have links with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. It is a question of this country’s security.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I am grateful to hon. Members for their enthusiasm to raise points of order, which, as they will know, come after statements. I myself have a short statement to make before we proceed to the main business.
The House will recall the exchange during questions to the Prime Minister yesterday about serving members of the armed forces and their opportunities to see our proceedings.
I am glad to say now that we will ensure that up to six visiting serving members of the armed forces will always be found places in the Galleries, whatever the other pressures may be—for example, when we have Prime Minister’s questions and other high-profile proceedings. Should there be more than six who cannot immediately be accommodated, we shall arrange a brief tour or seats in the Lords Gallery until space is available here.
We owe a huge debt to those who serve in our armed forces. They will always be welcome in this place, and I am sure that the House will welcome this reflection of the respect that we have for them.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Ah, the points of order are still here.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
During business questions, there appeared to be a planted question to which the Leader of the House made a mini-statement about the communications allowance. Many Back Benchers would have liked to question the Leader of the House about that. Have you, Mr. Speaker, been given any indication that a proper oral statement will be made?
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I have had no such indication, and it is, of course, a matter for the Chair to determine the orderly conduct of business. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will rest content with that situation.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will know of the importance you attach to answering written questions. The Government have issued new guidance to Ministers that the reply saying that it has not been possible to answer a written question ahead of Prorogation should be used only for those questions tabled in the two weeks before Prorogation. As of last Thursday, more than 1,500 written questions still awaited an answer. What advice can you give the House to ensure that those questions are indeed answered before Prorogation and that the form of words I mentioned is not used as a means of avoiding ministerial accountability?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to his question is twofold. First, guidance is a matter for Ministers and it is not for me to interfere with that. Secondly, it is of the essence that there are timely and substantive answers to right hon. and hon. Members’ written parliamentary questions. In that context, the House will be aware—I have previously announced it—that a procedure is to be established for tracking the answering of written questions, and the transparency that that will bring should act as an incentive for Ministers speedily and comprehensively to answer questions. I am confident that that incentive will be effective, but if it is not, I expect the hon. Member and others will soon raise further points of order, when I shall have to reiterate the importance I attach to making progress on this matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We very much appreciate the way in which you have sought to ensure that questions are answered promptly. We, as Members of Parliament, are increasingly under pressure in regard to individual cases dealt with by the Home Office involving people who urgently need an answer, often when items have been very severely delayed, lost in either the post or the Home Office. As we are approaching some gaps during which Parliament will not be sitting, would it be possible for the House to invent a better system for enabling people to receive immediate responses? These are individuals who may be in serious individual difficulties, and we as Members of Parliament ought to represent them more effectively.
What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, whose thoughtful point of order I appreciate, is that it would be very difficult and, arguably, constitutionally hazardous to seek to specify a procedure for one Department that differs from the procedure that would be expected to apply to others.
The key point here is that answers are needed, they are needed in a timely fashion, and they are needed in a comprehensive form. It is, frankly, for Ministers to recognise both the salience and the urgency of the questions, not least when individual cases are being put to them, and they must then respond in an effective fashion. If that requires the devotion of additional human or other resources to achieve the objective, those resources must be provided, because the House must come first.
Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), Mr. Speaker. May I prevail on your good offices to ensure that all right hon. and hon. Members receive, as a matter of urgency, clarification of where matters stand post-Kelly in relation to all the allowances and so on? It appears to many Members that they must trawl through myriad different pieces of information—statements and so forth—to establish the current position, and it is vital that it be clarified for all Members.
I think that the Leader of the House has herself been clear about the need for maximum clarity. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that there are also responsibilities for Departments in the House to communicate to Members what the current and the expected future position shall be. It is difficult for me to give the hon. Gentleman a more comprehensive explanation than the one that I have just offered, but he has put on the record a serious point and a legitimate concern, and the Leader of the House is in her place and has heard it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in regard to your very welcome statement about tickets for service men to attend Prime Minister’s Question Time. Has consideration been given to allowing servicemen to sit in the largely unused upper viewing Galleries for Members?
The short answer is that consideration has not been given, but the hon. Gentleman prompts such consideration, and I am grateful to him for putting his views on the record.
If there are no further points of order, we shall proceed to the main business.
[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2007-08, Reaching an international agreement on climate change, HC 355, and the Government response, HC 1055; Fourth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Reducing CO2 and other emissions from shipping, HC 528, and the Government response, HC 1015; and Fifth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, HC 30, and the Government response, HC 1063. The Road to Copenhagen: The UK Government’s case for an ambitious international agreement on climate change, Cm 7659. The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan: National Strategy for Climate Change, laid on 15 July 2009. Adapting to climate change: UK climate projections June 2009. Letter from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs dated 16 October 2009 to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee enclosing a map showing the implications for the world of four degrees of warming.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of climate change: preparation for the Copenhagen climate change conference.
As Members will know, the United Nations Copenhagen climate change conference will open in a month’s time. At this critical time, the Government believe that it is important for the House to have a chance to discuss our preparations for the conference. In the time available to me, I want to explain why we believe that we need an agreement at Copenhagen, the sort of agreement that we wish to try to secure there, and the steps that we are taking in that respect.
Let me start by addressing the question of why we need an agreement. In the last year, I have had the privilege of meeting people in places from the northern desert of China to the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. I think that in such places we see the reality of climate change, in the sense that we are utterly interdependent. Actions in one country will affect those in another, and it is often the poorest and most vulnerable in our world, who have done the least to cause the problem of climate change, who face the greatest additional vulnerability. None of us, however, can insulate ourselves from the effects of climate change.
The urgency of climate change and, indeed, Copenhagen lies in the science. Atmospheric concentrations are at their highest level for at least 650,000 years. In the United Kingdom, nine of the 10 warmest years on record occurred during the last 15. In 2007, for the first time in recorded history, the north-west passage of the Arctic was ice-free and open to shipping in the summer. All those facts are important, and remaking the case for the science seems to me to be important as well.
We hear siren voices saying that the science is not real and that it is utterly contested and divided, and coming up with a whole range of explanations. I think that all of us in the House have a responsibility in that regard. I am not a scientist, but I am advised by a range of scientists—many of whom do not work for me, but work for organisations from the Royal Society to the Hadley Centre and a range of other institutions—and I think that remaking that case is very important.
What a range of choices! I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen).
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, not least for making that last point. Just lately, a number of those siren voices have been saying that there has been a little bit of cooling in recent years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is entirely explicable within the models and the overall trend of global warming?
My hon. Friend is right. This may be the point at which the fact that I am not a scientist will come out, but I believe I am right in saying that 1998 was a particularly warm year. That was because of the El Niño effect, and that is why I have made the point that if we look at a longer period, we are struck by the fact that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred during the last 15.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that even if we were wrong about human intervention in climate change, the measures that we need to take would have to be taken if we are to live in this world in a sustainable way, given the increase in population and the increase in the expectations and choices that that population has?
I do agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He has made an important point. Let me make another, related point. On the basis of my conversations with scientists, I believe that they are as certain about this as scientists are certain about anything. Even if they were not utterly certain about it, however, would we really want to bet our future on the very slim possibility that they might be wrong?
This is the best analogy that I can think of. If I were told that my children could go on an aeroplane flight in 20 years’ time and there was a 90 per cent. chance that the aeroplane would crash, I would never send them on the aeroplane flight. In this instance, when it is being said that the probability is 95 per cent. or more, I ask: do we really want to bet our future on the very slim possibility that the scientists might be wrong, which I do not believe they are?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his argument. I remember that, when his brother was responsible for these matters, I felt that the introduction to the Bill that became the Climate Change Act 2008 rather overstated the case. We would do better to talk about risk if we are to carry people with us, given that many of them are rightly sceptical. We should not create artificial divides between deniers and alarmists. There is a risk, and only people with peculiar and unfounded levels of certainty can be sure one way or another. That is why we must think in terms of responsible actions in the future.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will, of course, brook no criticism of my brother. He does own up to getting a D in A-level physics, but I do not think that that explains the particular point that the hon. Gentleman has made. However, I know that he agrees with me on the question of risk.
I agree entirely with what the Secretary of State says about the science, but is not one of the difficulties that the science tells us that we must take strong action? Politicians also say that we must take strong action, but in the lead-up to Copenhagen, there seems to be a drift away from that strong action. There is a certain cynicism among the public because we say that strong action is needed, but are apparently unwilling to take it.
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the politics is behind the science. There has been some catching up in various countries in the past year, but his fundamental point that the politics is behind the science is correct.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has nailed the scientific element at the beginning. Does he agree that if the science showed that climate change is not man-made, the problem would be that much more urgent, and our action to remedy it would be that much more urgent, because we would not know what was causing the increases in the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing temperature fluctuation?
My hon. Friend knows much about such matters, and makes an important point.
There is a strong scientific and environmental argument. The truth is that we must act. The 4° map that we have attached to the documents for this debate illustrates some of the impact of dangerous climate change that will arise if we do not act, including melting of glaciers, rises in sea levels, and increasing drought, and that applies not just abroad. There is another issue that we must nail in this debate because I was struck by research showing that only 18 per cent. of people in the UK thought that their children would be affected by climate change. That suggests a responsibility to do a better job of getting across the potential impact.
The Secretary of State is making an exemplary speech, but is it not the case that more than 18 per cent. of children believe that their future may be affected, and are not children one of our best weapons to persuade grown-ups to get off their backsides and do something about it?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important and characteristically smart point. Children really understand the issue. I believe that 50 per cent. of parents pay attention to their children when it comes to climate change, but that only 2 per cent. pay attention to politicians. That is perhaps slightly depressing. [Interruption.] I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) who said from a sedentary position that it is indoctrination. I think it is about information.
Kettering was chosen to be the UK representative in the international consultation on climate change issues ahead of Copenhagen. People were asked:
“To what extent were you familiar with climate change and its consequences”
before taking part in the consultation? In reply, 58 per cent. of those from Kettering said that they knew some, 19 per cent. said that they knew little, and 19 per cent. said that they knew a lot.
Having succeeded in getting Kettering’s role into our discussions twice in the past two hours, the hon. Gentleman deserves local coverage. He speaks proudly for Kettering’s role in climate change, and its people may be better informed than the general population, but the answers depend slightly on how questions are asked.
Does the Secretary of State agree that there is other clear evidence to support the case for following the precautionary principle? Last year, 20 million people around the world were displaced by climate-related disasters, and that figure is predicted to rise to 150 million over the next 40 years. The actions that resulted in them losing their homes and their livelihoods were real, and if that is not evidence that something is happening to our climate, no one will be believed.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the dangers both for those people and, frankly, for people in other countries to which they may be displaced. That point is absolutely right.
Let me move on briefly to make the other half of the argument, which partly relates to a point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer): there is an environmental argument, but there is also the positive argument. If anything, politicians in such debates—this is not a party political point at all—have not done enough to make the positive case for making the transition to low carbon: the case for future jobs and where they come from, for energy security, which is particularly important for Britain, and for quality of life.
All those issues are very important, and an example of what this means in concrete terms is that there is a question for Europe about whether it moves from 20 per cent. reductions in 2020, compared with 1990, as part of the Copenhagen agreement—that is our unilateral commitment—to 30 per cent. reductions. Some people will no doubt say that we cannot afford the cost and that it is very difficult to do that. I hope that we can get an agreement that is ambitious enough, so that Europe can move to the 30 per cent. target, partly for climate change and environmental reasons, but also for economic reasons. If we want a more robust carbon price—I believe that we all do, to achieve the low-carbon investment that we need and to give businesses the confidence to invest—frankly, the single best thing that we can do is to get an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen, including an ambitious move by Europe.
By the way, our data suggest—in no way do I celebrate this, obviously—that the recession has made it easier for Europe to go to 30 per cent., precisely because of the impacts on emissions in 2020, as a result. So it is important to make the environmental argument, but it is also important to make the economic and other arguments.
My right hon. Friend’s attendance at Copenhagen is important, but on the economic agenda and the way in which we need to get through the recession at the moment, will he give the House an undertaking that he will work with the Regional Ministers, including the Minister for the West Midlands, so that areas such as Stoke-on-Trent can take advantage of the new environmental technologies that need to be developed? Innovation is needed if we are to meet our Copenhagen targets.
Definitely, and my hon. Friend makes a very important point. Her championing of the work done in Stoke-on-Trent is extremely important, because, in terms of the economic agenda, there is huge potential in different parts of the country.
On the other arguments for sustainability, is the Secretary of State aware of the recent research done by the UK Energy Research Council that identified that it is quite likely that global oil production will peak in the next 10 years, if it already has not peaked?
Yes, there are different views on peak oil. I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal by quoting him again, but whether or not people say that will happen on a certain date, we must make the low-carbon transition. I find that the peak oilers get very exercised about this question, for reasons that I understand, but whether we care about climate change or peak oil, the basic message is in a sense, “Let’s diversify; let’s move to low carbon.”
Let me move to the second part of my remarks. What kind of agreement are we looking for? It is important to say, as I did during questions earlier, that the UN negotiations are moving too slowly and not going well, as anyone reading the newspapers or seeing walk-outs and so on will know. That is partly because there is a history of mistrust in the negotiations between developed and developing countries, as hon. Members on both sides of the House will know, and partly because people are stuck in entrenched positions, and it is very hard to get out of them. In a sense, that feels intrinsic to those negotiations.
The paradox is that if we look around the world at what has happened in the past year—this is not to try to put on rose-tinted spectacles—we see that lots of things have changed and happened that should give us cause for hope. The new American Administration have got a cap-and-trade Bill through Congress if not through the Senate, and I will come to that later. The new Japanese Government have found much greater ambition in their emissions reductions. For the first time, a Chinese President went to the UN—again, this has been underestimated in the debate—and announced a change in his domestic policy by saying that China would make substantial cuts in its carbon intensity by 2020.
As I said to the Chinese Minister on Saturday, we now await the numbers underlying that announcement. India has also been moving on this. Therefore, there is cause for hope, and I do not think we should be too negative.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the biggest blocks to progress at Copenhagen is the fact that the developed countries—the annexe 1 countries—have not met their promises? I know that we will do so, but other annexe 1 countries have not, and that does not give space to Governments of countries such as China that represent hundreds of millions of people who live on less than $1.50 a day. Such countries are already doing quite a lot, but how can they have the political space to take action when the rich, annexe 1 countries fail to do what they formally promised to do?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Whatever agreement is struck at Copenhagen, one issue for the future will be compliance and what we do in cases of non-compliance. There are not, in truth, easy answers to that.
That point leads me on to address the core of the deal that we are looking for, about which I think hon. Members on both sides of the House agree. Ambition is important. We must get on a 2° trajectory. Lord Stern has come up with rather interesting numbers on this, which suggest that the world is currently emitting about 50 gigatonnes, and we should be seeking to get on a pathway leading to about 18 gigatonnes by 2050. To get on that pathway, we need to be at 44 gigatonnes by 2020. That is a good benchmark for thinking about the agreement we are seeking, although we will have to see whether we will get all the way to 44 gigatonnes. Lord Stern says—this is why there is a little cause for optimism—that the pledges already on the table take us down to 48 gigatonnes. That reduction might not sound like very much, but it should be noted that we would expect the numbers to rise to between 55 and 60 gigatonnes if people were carrying on with business as usual. We need to go further, however—we need to have the ambition to do so. That will have to come from actions by countries, finance for developing countries, and succeeding in areas such as reducing deforestation.
I am listening with great interest, and I am enjoying the Secretary of State’s speech. In terms of these negotiations and the need to deal with the entrenched positions and get positive movement, it is vital that world leaders attend as well as people like himself—[Interruption.] That comment came out wrong.
I am therefore very pleased that the Prime Minister has said he will go to Copenhagen and take a lead for the UK. However, what might the country be able to do diplomatically to encourage other countries also to send their Heads of State—their Presidents and Prime Ministers—as well as their Environment Ministers, because when there are such entrenched positions, that is sometimes what is required to get solutions?
Order. May I just gently say to the House that I know there is a lot of interest in speaking in this debate, and we wish to facilitate the full and free flow of debate, but I hope that interventions will become shorter as we proceed, not longer?
I assure the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) that I took her remarks in the spirit in which they were intended. It is, indeed, important that world leaders are at Copenhagen. She made the important point that we will need such leaders in order to seal the deal, and I have repeatedly made that point to our counterparts in the United States and elsewhere. As someone who is helping to negotiate on some of these issues, I was very struck that before the leaders summit in L’Aquila in July we were making very little progress on the question of whether the major economies would sign up to the 2° target for an outcome at Copenhagen, but the intervention of leaders made it happen. That is illustrative of the role leaders can, and must, play.
There is no doubt that world leaders are taking an interest and Governments are taking a much greater interest. Does the Secretary of State accept that given the current state of negotiations, which he will know more about than me, there is a risk that the best we will get is a framework deal, not a deal with commitments? Does he also agree that it is better to have a framework deal, and speedy recall and serious commitments, than a weak deal? Also, will the UK still contemplate being bolder than the EU was a couple of weeks ago in trying to trigger further progress?
That is an important point, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will come to it.
We need to be ambitious, and we also need to be fair in the agreement we reach, which is why finance is so important. It is worth making the point that we are asking developing countries to do not as we did, but as we say we want them to do—that is, to grow in a low-carbon way. Let me give one example: 450 million people in India are not connected to the electricity grid and we are asking the country to leapfrog over the high-carbon way of getting electricity to people and to move to a low-carbon way of doing that. I was encouraged when I was in India. It has very ambitious plans for 20 million people to get solar power and lighting, but 20 million is a long way short of 450 million. Therefore, when people ask what finance in Copenhagen is about, this is my answer: it is in part about enabling countries such as India to move further and faster, to the benefit of the world, as it will not drive up its emissions as it would if it went down the high-carbon route; and it is also, crucially, about adaptation for some of the poorest countries in the world. I know that many hon. Members feel strongly about that.
In this context, the EU offer is very important. The offer is €100 billion in public and private finance by 2020, a global public finance offer of between €22 billion and €50 billion—that is a range, but it is a range that we will take into the negotiations—and global fast-start finance. The big task—let me be completely candid—is to try to get other countries to sign up to this. Europe has taken a lead, but we now need the United States and other countries to move on finance as well. That is not straightforward, but it is crucial.
Let me mention in passing the issue of additionality, because it is very important. Oxfam has done very good research showing the costs if, for instance, $50 billion a year was diverted from aid budgets. That is why we have said we will use no more than 10 per cent. of the existing aid budget in order to make our climate finance contribution. We have further to go to secure such additionality commitments from other countries.
Is it possible to justify taking 10 per cent. out of the aid budget? Why should part of the financing come out of the aid budget? Is that not an entirely separate issue?
We want to limit the amount of money that is spent from the aid budget, but about 10 per cent. of the aid budget is already spent on climate-related activities, because the truth is that in certain cases we cannot separate out climate change-induced issues from issues of poverty, as the two are inextricably linked. That concludes my second point, which was on fairness and finance.
My third point is on the comprehensive nature of the agreement. Many hon. Members have campaigned on forestry and deforestation, and we must make progress on that. As far as I can tell, this is one of the areas where the United Nations negotiations have been going slightly better, such as in respect of the issue of reducing emissions from deforestation and RED-plus.
Deforestation is critical in getting an overall agreement. I was therefore disturbed to read reports in the media a couple of weeks ago that the European negotiating position would be not to support the removal of palm oil in plantations. I understand that is not the case. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend would put the record straight, so that we know what position Europe is taking in the negotiations on forests.
I am glad my hon. Friend makes that point, because it gives me the chance to make it clear that The Independent is not always right in its reporting. It is not the case that we want to do what has been said in respect of the EU. We completely understand her point and the issue of necessary protection.
The agreement needs to be comprehensive. That leads me on to the point made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about the kind of agreement we get. The Danes, who are the hosts of the meeting, have said in the past couple of weeks that, given the pace of the UN negotiations, they think achieving a full legal treaty is unlikely. It has to be said that we would have preferred a full legal treaty.
The important thing about the agreement we seek in December is that although it may be a political agreement, it must lead, on a very clear timetable, to a legally binding treaty. In other words, in December, we must set the terms of the movement to such a treaty, because that is very important. I must make it clear that, in addition, an agreement without numbers would not be a great agreement—it would be a wholly inadequate agreement. Even though the agreement may be a political agreement, it must be as comprehensive as possible and it must contain numbers, because that is what we are talking about. It is all very well getting the architecture right—there are big issues involved in the architecture of an agreement—but the numbers are what really matter.
We must also have reduction commitments from developed countries and actions from developing countries that translate into reduced quantities of emissions—not cuts in emissions from major developing countries before 2020, but real actions that contribute to the kind of peaking of global emissions that is a central task of the agreement. Then—this is where the architecture matters—we need to find a way of transparently recording those commitments from developed countries and actions from developing countries, and have people standing behind them. It is important to say that we have made some progress on the question of developing countries needing to put actions on the table that can be quantified and that they will stand behind.
The Secretary of State is getting very much to the heart of the matter. I wish to raise the issue of numbers with him, because he will know that one of the weaknesses of the Kyoto agreement was that the figures were the result of horse-trading; they were not really the result of any kind of scientific assessment. We must not make the same mistake in Copenhagen.
My right hon. Friend, who knows so much about these questions, is right. We need to agree numbers that are not only scientifically based, but realistic. In retrospect, it is clear that some countries signed up to numbers at Kyoto—I do not know whether they knew that this would be the case at the time—that they have come nowhere close to achieving. The numbers need to be realistic and consistent with the science.
Let me say how we get to that agreement. I think that I have made it clear that the formal negotiations have their role, but will not, on their own, achieve success. That is why in June the Prime Minister made proposals on finance, and it is why it is right that the European Union has not treated this like a conventional negotiation—it has not kept its cards close to its chest until 3 am on the last evening and then revealed its finance numbers. We have got to push and we have to be persuaders, and sometimes unilateral action is important, because it drives people forward.
I also think that the EU’s role in the coming weeks is to use our commitment to go to 30 per cent. as part of a global deal as a way of levering up greater commitments from others. May I briefly say something about the situation in the United States, which is very important? Hon. Members will know that it is, in a sense, key to this deal and the situation is not straightforward at all. I believe that it is still possible that the US will come forward with a clear number at Copenhagen, despite the fact that the Senate Bill may not be through. That is very important, because the risks of failure at Copenhagen and delay are significant; I do not think that this gets any easier the longer we leave it. Thus, I think—we have conversations about this with the United States—that it is important that the US, despite its domestic issues, comes to Copenhagen with a clear set of ambitions and is able to sign up to an agreement. We know that we need the US as part of an agreement and that the biggest flaw in the Kyoto agreement was that the US was not part of it. Just to be clear, we in Europe intend to use our commitments to drive others forward.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who is making the case extremely well as to why the United States, and all the major powers, have a big role to play. Will he argue the case in this Chamber today for the President of the United States to be in Copenhagen, because that is the strongest way of getting the message across and actually doing something about the problem?
I have made it clear that leaders do have a very important role to play. What President Obama does is obviously a matter for him, but we have made it clear that we think that leaders need to be part of a Copenhagen agreement if we are to secure the agreement we want.
Let me conclude by repeating that we need to keep our focus on a good deal, not just any deal. A deal without numbers would be a bad deal; a deal without developed country commitments would not be a good deal; and a deal without action from developing countries would not be a good deal. The central task of any agreement is to show that we can be on, at worst, the 2° pathway, and that we have a credible way of peaking global emissions. The world has never done that before throughout its industrial history and it is a very big prize.
I wish to end on a note of optimism. There are huge difficulties, because of the scale of the task that we face. As I have said in our discussions with other countries, every country faces its compelling constraints in this, be it the US, where the debate is behind that in other countries, or India, because of the number of its people who are in poverty and the fact that it needs to grow. The truth is that we will succeed in tackling this only if we understand each other’s constraints and show ambition. If we can conclude a successful agreement in Copenhagen, I do not think that people will look back and say, “This was a mistake.” I think that people will look back and say, “This was an historic moment. It was actually easier than people thought to make the kind of changes that we need to make.” As the chief scientist in the US said to me, once we start to turn around this inexorable rise in emissions, people will say, “Actually, the quality of life can be better, our economy can be better and it was not so hard after all.” The aim at Copenhagen is not only to avoid environmental disaster, but to build a better life for people here and around the world, and I hope that we can agree something that those in all parts of the House can support.
May I say how much the Conservatives welcome this important debate at this important time? We particularly welcome the tone that the Secretary of State has brought to his remarks today. We entirely concur with it and we appreciate the bipartisanship with which he has approached this issue.
It is just 31 days until the beginning of the talks in Copenhagen and it is vital that from this debate we send out a clear message that there is complete unity of purpose across the House, and between the agenda that the British Government are pursuing and this House, so that there can be no suggestion that that is in any way at risk in the negotiations. Indeed, there has long been agreement on both sides of the House that climate change poses a real and urgent risk, both to the UK and to the world.
Some 20 years ago this week, on 8 November 1989, Mrs. Thatcher addressed the UN General Assembly on the need to tackle climate change. She said:
“The work ahead will be long and exacting. We should embark on it hopeful of success, not fearful of failure… We are not the lords, we are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself—preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder. May we all be equal to that task.”
I believe that her words will be as relevant in Copenhagen and during the weeks ahead as they were in New York 20 years ago.
Let us be under no illusion as to the historic significance of the Copenhagen conference. It may be as pivotal for the 21st century as the Bretton Woods summit was for the arrangements for the second half of the 20th century. Out of that historic gathering came a new internationally agreed order governing the way in which our economies interact with each other. It has, since the second world war, guided the way in which we interact globally and it has left us with institutions that have endured, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The Copenhagen agreement must be no less ambitious in its scope, and I hope that it will be no less influential in all our futures in respect of seeing the global shift that we all desire towards a low-carbon economy over the next 40 years.
That is why the Secretary of State was right to say that Copenhagen is so much more than just an environmental summit, important though that is. This is about our future national and international security. It is about the future of our national and international economic competitiveness. It is about securing a good future for our children and their children, and about our responsibilities to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.
My party leader pointed out in a speech last month that if the Himalayan glaciers melt, more than 750 million people will be without sufficient water. We cannot deny that that would have serious consequences for us all in terms of global conflict, mass movements of people and our own national security. I do not believe that anyone here wants to see our atmosphere polluted, our lands rendered uninhabitable, or vulnerable populations denied sufficient food and water. There is something deeply unsettling about the realisation that many of our everyday acts, which we have taken for granted over the years—how we heat and light our homes and how we travel to work—have actively contributed to this grave situation. I am reminded of something that Hayek wrote:
“We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilisation except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part, and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals have apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected.”
Most of us present today would agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has just said—perhaps up to the point when he mentioned Hayek—but can we get some focus here? Does he agree that the 100 billion euros or dollars of finance that should be achieved by 2020, which the Prime Minister has mooted and which the EU supports, is the right figure? Should it be more? How will that figure easily be delivered if we are living in a post-recessionary age of austerity?
The hon. Gentleman sets out the challenge and I shall go on to address it in detail. It is very difficult to tell whether that figure is the right one, and perhaps during the winding-up speech the Minister will apprise us of its construction. I think that we are all agreed that it needs to be adequate to the task of helping countries that will be affected by the consequences of climate change to defend themselves and to adapt to that inevitability. The question of what that figure should be is pertinent. It is impossible for me to say from the Dispatch Box precisely what it should be—indeed, one of the objectives for Copenhagen is that it should be right.
May I return the hon. Gentleman to the subject of error, as mentioned in his quotation from Hayek? Does it not worry him just a little that the international consensus that we need to establish, not just for Copenhagen but beyond, requires working with partners who understand and accept the reality of climate change? Has not his party, worryingly, put itself in a position in Europe where it is allied with climate changers—[Interruption.]— sorry, climate change deniers? Is there not a genuine problem with how he is going to get the co-operation needed to tackle those problems?
I hope that the hon. Lady is not trying to sow dissent and concern where they do not exist. My party in this country and in its European alliances is completely committed to tackling climate change. In fact, we regard it as one of the essential competences of the EU. There is no difference there. Many of our allies have some of the best records in Europe. Greenpeace in the Netherlands cited our sister party there as one of the greenest parties in Europe. The hon. Lady should set her mind at rest on this point. We are committed to working closely and vigorously with our colleagues in Europe, as we have done in recent years. No one who has studied the debates on these matters in the European Parliament in recent years can have failed to notice the leadership that the British Conservative delegation there has given from our Front Bench.
My hon. Friend knows that I take a clear view on Europe. Does he agree that part of the role of us all is to convince those who are as yet unconvinced, and that we will have additional opportunities to do that in these circumstances? The real fact of the matter is that climate change is too important for cheap party political points.
My right hon. Friend always speaks with clarity, and he certainly did then. That is an important point. My experience is that the best way to persuade people who take a different view, when there is a minority, is to entice them through reason to one’s point of view, rather than to seek to denounce and create dividing lines. The latter is the wrong approach, especially on this sort of issue. We should resist creating division in an area where we should be rallying people to a cause that we all support.
My hon. Friend might want to point out to the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who raised that rather silly and trite point, the difficulties that our colleagues in the European Parliament had in dealing with our former allies in the CDU who were intent on and assiduous in looking after their vested industrial interests in Germany.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The exercise of persuasion needs to happen in all parties and all groups. I dare say that the allies of the Labour party might contain one or two people whose position could be strengthened.
Let me be clear: I see Copenhagen as a massive opportunity for Britain and I share the Secretary of State’s optimism. The world is about to undergo a transformation in energy just as far-reaching as the revolution in IT over the past 20 years. A vast new global market is opening up in which Britain is extraordinarily well placed to prosper. The skills that are needed to lead the low-carbon revolution are skills that we have in abundance in such industries as marine engineering and the process industries. We have some of the best universities and research institutes in the world dedicated to those disciplines. We have on our east coast the North sea, which is literally and figuratively a sea of energy, abundant in wind, wave and tidal resources and with depleted gas wells and saline aquifers that are perfect for storing CO2, all surrounded by enormous energy markets on two coasts, with some of the heaviest concentrations of industrial users anywhere in the world.
In the past 10 years in Britain, the only two major sectors to have increased net employment are financial services and the public sector. It is obvious to everyone in this House that we cannot go on like that. I believe that the low-carbon industries should be at the centre of a clear and deliberate British industrial policy in the years ahead. That is another reason why Britain needs a strong climate deal to be struck at Copenhagen. Like the Secretary of State, I am confident that a deal is possible.
It is usual, and probably prudent, in advance of major negotiations for people to be concerned and to worry about the prospects for an agreement. We certainly should not take one for granted, but I believe that recent signs have been positive. One by one, the major players are coming on board: the US Administration, Australia, Japan and even China, as the Secretary of State mentioned. China is arguably the pivotal nation in these talks, and when President Hu told the United Nations in September that China would agree to substantial cuts in emissions intensity and would ensure that 20 per cent. of its power came from renewables by 2020, I thought that that was a highly significant development and one that gives us cause for optimism.
That development happened not just because China has suddenly gone green, although I think it fair to point out that its experience of current climate change has instilled in it an awareness of the consequences of climate change. The Chinese Government clearly recognise the significant opportunities for their economy—like the opportunities for ours—in making it less dependent on fossil fuels and more energy efficient.
My hon. Friend is right to pay greater attention to the actions that have been taken by China, which does not often get fair publicity for what it does. Does he agree that, when the Government said in 2003 how important carbon capture and storage was, our country was perfectly positioned to lead the world? It is not shameful that a country such as China, which is still developing, is now ahead of Britain, whereas we are still dithering about demonstration projects?
It is regrettable and it is an important issue of leadership that we should lead not just in negotiations, but by example—
Now you are being partisan.
The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that this is a partisan point, but it is not. No one would be more delighted than I or more thrilled than the Conservative party if we were to establish leadership in CCS technology now. Communities with which I am familiar would benefit instantly from investment in it. It should be a matter of cross-party consensus that we should be in the vanguard of the technology, rather than lagging behind.
For his CCS policy, the hon. Gentleman has been relying on the auction revenues from the EU emissions trading scheme. Over the past six months I have been telling him that those revenues have already been accounted for in the Government accounts. We hope that the forthcoming energy Bill will include a proposal for a levy to fund CCS. Will he support that example of leadership?
The Secretary of State says that the ETS revenues are accounted for, but he has not been able to point out in the Red Book what they are being spent on, or how much he has spent. He might want to give us the answer now: how much has been allocated? I should be happy to give way to him if he can tell us how much has been allocated and spent.
Answer came there none. We will of course look at the Bill when it is published. It would be foolish to endorse the levy uncritically and sight unseen. We will give our reaction to the proposal when the Secretary of State publishes the Bill. That is the time for us to do that, but if he would like to share the details in advance, we will give him an earlier assessment of whether it passes muster. It is in the interests of China, just as it is in our own, to move to a genuinely low-carbon economy.
As I said in Question Time, with so much at stake and yet so much still to be agreed on, it is easy to be pessimistic about our chances of reaching a successful deal. We must not seek a deal for a deal’s sake—to be fair, the Secretary of State has shown himself to be cognisant of that risk and determined to avoid it. We agree that the worst kind of failure would be to trumpet a deal that was inadequate as in some way satisfying what is needed. However, even though that might be what we want now, we know that summits have a momentum. The pressures for an agreement—for the handshake that I mentioned earlier—will be intense. The Heads of State and of Government who fly in will not want to fly out again without achieving some sort of concordat. It is more important to get an agreement than it is to have a photograph at the end of the summit. I hope that the Secretary of State will be true to what he has said today and blow the whistle on any deal that is not adequate.
I support the comments of my hon. Friend, but does he agree that the Secretary of State did not mention an extremely important constituency to which a real deal at Copenhagen is vital? I am talking about the business community, which has to take now the decisions on long-term infrastructure assets that are likely to determine whether we meet our interim targets. The members of that community see muddle where they want clarity and the framework for investment that Copenhagen must deliver.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The investments that we need will come mostly from private investors and companies. They can make those investments only if they have a stable policy environment in which they can be confident. One cause of the delay in some investments is that public policy in this country and, to an extent, around the world has added to the risk, rather than reduced it. Copenhagen is an important way for us to take some of the risk away.
Any agreement that can be considered rigorous must pass a number of tests, including but not limited to the following list. First, an agreement has to be sufficiently rigorous to bind the world in a common commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2° C. That has to be explicit if any deal is to carry credibility. Secondly, the deal must establish a new international financial mechanism that will provide our brothers and sisters in the world’s poorest countries with the means to protect themselves against future floods, famine and drought. To that end, we must use funds additional to and not instead of, the resources currently deployed to fight poverty. It would be bizarre if, having agreed to help alleviate the poverty of various countries, we were then to find that an additional problem came along and made us forget about that agreement. There needs to be a recognition that climate change is an additional challenge that requires additional help.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said about additionality, but does he agree that additional money to make the Copenhagen agreement work should not be taken from existing UK aid budgets? Does he agree that the new money must be separate and clearly distinct, and that it should not put those aid budgets at risk?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, and I agree with his analysis. If we regard climate change as a new and additional problem, we need new and additional resources to tackle it. In that regard, I do not understand fully how the figure of 10 per cent. has been arrived at. I know that the Secretary of State wants to be rigorous, but it seems a suspiciously round number. How can we know that 10 per cent. will be the proportion of the aid budget that is relevant for ever and a day? I would like a more rigorous basis for that number.
I believe that that must be part of the Copenhagen agreement. Unilateral commitments by individual countries will not lead to the necessary certainty of funding. Various mechanisms are already on the table at Copenhagen that might result in a flow of funds, and it is very important that we establish a deal in that regard. That will be one of the central tests of whether any agreement can stand up to the ambitions that we have for it.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about 10 per cent., but what we really need is a commitment from all parties in this House that any help given to developing countries coping with climate change must be over and above the aid that goes to them for poverty relief.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the exact point that I have made in my remarks.
The final essential element of any outcome at Copenhagen is an urgent agreement on deforestation. Some 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest are lost every year to deforestation. To put that into context, that is an area larger than England. We must secure a deal at Copenhagen to protect the global rainforests, without which it will be impossible to keep warming under a dangerous threshold.
From the beginning of his leadership, the leader of my party has made it clear that Britain must take a position of leadership on our global as well as our domestic environment. We have talked about that already in our exchanges, and it is nothing new. British Governments throughout the ages have seen it as Britain’s role in the world to be a force for progressive change. In a remarkable speech this summer that I commend to all hon. Members, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said:
“The citizens of Britain have always been restless in trying to improve the wider world and global in our outlook.”
That must characterise our ambition in Copenhagen.
As we get close to Copenhagen, we know that significant outstanding issues remain. The Secretary of State alluded to the question whether the deal would trigger higher contributions from other EU member states. If the deal is to be genuinely global, it is essential that it triggers that pan-European 30 per cent. emissions reduction target and ensures that it is brought into effect. Moreover, we have talked about the temperature requirement, but it is also important that we encourage—as the Secretary of State has said he will—our European partners to rise to the challenge as we have and respect the scientific view of what is required.
When it comes to the flow of funds for adaptation, it is important that we understand that the numbers used in the agreement must be rigorous. I agree with the Secretary of State that those numbers must not be made up and used just because they sound round and can be easily communicated. The numbers used in the agreement must have some substance to them.
It is clear that much work remains to be done on important aspects of the problem before Copenhagen begins. With a little more than a month to go, it is right for people to be apprehensive about the task ahead. It is not in anyone’s interest to be over-confident, but I began my speech by saying that a number of people are making a parallel with the Bretton Woods conference of 1944. On the eve of that conference, John Maynard Keynes, one of the architects of that historic agreement, said that it was
“better that our projects should begin in disillusion than…end in it”.
I think that we start off from a stronger position than he did, in terms of our optimism about what might come out of the negotiations. I wish the Secretary of State much success in the weeks ahead.
Order. May I remind right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions?
I welcome the debate and the tone and tenor of contributions from Members on both sides of the House. This is a crucial issue, and the conference in Copenhagen will probably be one of the most important international negotiations that has ever taken place. There are great implications for the future of our country and the international situation. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the Front-Bench spokesmen for the fact that I might not be able to be in the Chamber for the wind-ups, because I have an engagement in my constituency.
I wanted to speak in the debate because the conference is so important and its outcome will be vital to us all—and, indeed, to future generations. I welcome the lead that the Government have taken. The fact that the Prime Minister made it clear that he was willing to attend sent an important signal, because I agree that getting an outcome will probably require the involvement of the leaders of countries, given its importance. I agree that the progress that has been made so far has been the result of international leaders engaging through the UN.
I also welcome the fact that the EU has reached an agreement on funding for adaptation and for help for some of the world’s poorest countries that are suffering the most. That must be part of the deal, and it gives a useful lead. It is important that other developed countries add their contributions to that to form part of the overall outcome.
I accept that the numbers are crucial. They must be based on the science. There must not be a a repeat of Kyoto when several countries chose figures because they were slightly higher than those of some of their rivals. Some countries did a better job of that, and the UK negotiations identified a more realistic number than Canada’s, for example. However, although I accept what the Secretary of State says about being realistic, some annexe 1 countries have not made a lot of effort over the years, and that must change.
In an otherwise excellent speech, the Secretary of State did not say a great deal about compliance mechanisms, and did not include compliance in the list of key points at the end of his speech. Does the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) agree that without compliance to ensure that people face a sanction if they fail to keep their promises, even if we end up with an agreement that we can celebrate, because it looks strong, that agreement might not lead to the actions that people promise?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There will clearly be an issue regarding compliance. There must be a binding international agreement. I do not underestimate how difficult it will be to apply and enforce compliance measures, but I do not dispute that there must be such a mechanism.
Developing countries, especially the major emerging economies, must show some commitment. That commitment might be different from that which we would accept, as an annexe 1 country, but nevertheless they must demonstrate that they are willing to make a major contribution towards reducing emissions.
I agree with what has been said about China. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) has joined me in many meetings with Chinese representatives, as have my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) and for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen). Countries such as China have made an enormous move, and engagement among legislators has been important. There have also been signs of movement from the United States, although not as great as I would like, and smaller signs of movement from India—again, not as great as I would like. It is important to get legislators on side, especially US legislators, because any agreement will have to go through Congress and be ratified. Unless we have the support of legislators, we will find ourselves back in the position at the time of Kyoto when the US was willing to sign up to the agreement, but there was no chance of it getting through Congress.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that before we can expect developing countries to make the major promises that they need to make, they must have confidence that we have accepted responsibility for causing the problem and profiting from the pollution that we are now suffering?
I absolutely accept that point. To be fair to the UK, we have always been clear that we went through a dirty phase of industrialisation and gained the economic benefits of that. We cannot deny the benefits of economic growth to others when that forms part of their policies of poverty alleviation. However, other countries do not necessarily have to go down the path of dirty industrialisation. They could go straight to cleaner technologies, and we can play a role in developing and transferring such technology to other countries.
I want to focus on the benefits of a low-carbon economy. Two themes come out of discussions with legislators from other countries, especially countries such as America: first, they say that unless there is action from emerging economies, there will be unfair economic competition that will undermine their economies; and, secondly, they talk about the cost that will fall on their individual countries due to moving to a low-carbon economy. However, we always make the point in those discussions that there is no cost-free option, because there will be costs arising from not moving to a low-carbon economy. In addition, they must consider the important factors of security of energy supply and economic sustainability, which can bring benefits in themselves, as well as the absolutely overwhelming environmental arguments.
Our country could benefit greatly from moving to a low-carbon economy. My region could receive those benefits. The steel plate for wind farm towers is already made in Scunthorpe, and a local company in my constituency maintains and overhauls gearboxes for land-based and offshore wind turbines. The Humber area could be a centre for the low-carbon economy by supporting the growing offshore wind sector, including from the ports of Hull, Grimsby and Immingham. South Yorkshire can offer engineering and design, and we have steel facilities, science and universities, and expertise in the area, including from the oil and gas industry. We also have expertise on carbon capture and storage, and I am really pleased that the EU has committed money to a carbon capture power station at Hatfield, which could form just one part of a big centre for the low-carbon economy involving many thousands of jobs in the Humber. Such a thing could happen in other parts of the country.
Following the Prime Minister’s statement on the European Council, I pointed out in my question to him that if we are to encourage developing countries, in particular, to take the required steps, they will need to see the benefits that they could get from a low-carbon economy. We need to offer encouragement, and the European Union, as a major trading bloc, is in a good position to do that. For example, we could argue for a tariff-free, low-carbon trading zone, whereby products that would benefit energy efficiency or low-carbon energy could enter a country on a tariff-free basis. That would benefit manufacturing in the UK, which is important, and encourage international trade. We already have the important developing carbon market, which brings benefits, and we need measures in the European Union, such as a zero or reduced VAT rate for insulating or low-carbon materials, to provide such encouragement. Other possible measures have recently been discussed, such as a scrappage scheme for boilers, which would generate jobs and trade.
A great deal can be done, and the European Union is in an excellent position to bring that about. It is also a way of engaging legislators in how they might see the benefits for their own areas. I met some senators from Texas, which, without being unfair, is not the most progressive part of America in the low-carbon economy. However, although they were not hugely enthusiastic about the environmental arguments, they certainly saw the economic arguments and the benefits for their local economy and for people from carbon capture and storage, solar power and smart grids. Indeed, smart grid development in Texas is very advanced. We need to emphasise those points when we hear negative responses from some countries.
I should like to flag up some issues that, although important, may get lost in the negotiations, given the main focus of the talks. They include deforestation, which has already been mentioned. There has been some welcome progress on tackling deforestation, but what I have heard and read concerns me. We need to get the details right of how we deal with deforestation through the reduced emissions from deforestation—or RED-process; we need the money to go to forest management and restoration; and the most important people to get onside, those who live in and rely on forests, need to receive some share of the investment. Any deal that puts a lot of money into the hands of Governments and never reaches forestry management or local communities could do more harm than good. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to be aware of that, because a deal is important, but a deal at any price could make things worse rather than better.
The forests issue is linked to ecosystem protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North has been very active on the latter, but it could also get lost in the argument. Internationally, the role of forests and deforestation has been recognised, but wetlands, peat bogs and mangrove swamps also have roles—and not only in mitigation. Some of the effects of rising sea levels, storms and typhoons have been made worse by the removal of mangroves, taking away not only potential mitigation for poor communities, but nurseries for fish, which are very important for commercial fisheries. The ecosystem issue is part of the consideration of how we manage our environment to mitigate the effects of carbon, and it has not had the attention that it deserves. The work that has been done in valuating forests has also been done for ecosystems, but we should not separate the two. They have to be seen together, and that will be one of the challenges for my right hon. Friends.
My final point is perhaps the most difficult one. Population is an issue, but it is not for us to lecture other countries. This is about improving the economics of developing countries and improving access to education, for women in particular. We have a role to play through our aid programmes, and I agree that the additional funding for adaptation must not be removed from the Overseas Development Administration budget, because we have a role to play in that, too. Part of that role is to recognise that it is in no one’s interest for the population to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion. That may not happen, but we should take into account the effects of population increase, because it has many negative effects, not least on the environment, on emissions and on sustainability.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has said and done the right things. The negotiations will be very difficult, but for all of us the long-term consequences of failure are almost unthinkable, and I wish him all the best.
I shall start where the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) finished and express our thanks to the Secretary of State. I wish him all the best, and I wish to strengthen his resolve. Indeed, I hope that today encourages him, the Prime Minister and the Government, because those in power today have a responsibility that may not fall to the next Government, and now is the time to make progress.
All of us recognise that throughout the world there has been a significant movement towards a desire to do business at the conference, which starts a month on Monday. For example, China and India have agreed to put on one side disputes about their border so as to try to reach a common view, and that is fantastic progress. The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe speaks with great authority and experience and can testify to the fact that even states such as Texas, where there is an historical reluctance to act and a conservative position, for reasons that we know, have none the less made some movement on the issue.
Looking throughout the world, I note that significant players such as the Japanese, as well as the Chinese and Indians, and the Americans, whose signature was absent from the Kyoto treaty, are all coming to the table with more commitment. However, we are a long way from reaching a deal, and I shall return to what my party and our sister parties in Liberal International and throughout Europe have sought to say. It is a great privilege for our group of politicians that the host in Copenhagen is a Prime Minister who comes from the liberal democratic tradition, and he and his colleagues in other European countries have a pivotal role to play. I wish him all the best; he knows the significance of the meeting that he will host in Denmark in a month’s time.
Unlike Mr. Speaker and other colleagues, I was unable to attend the Chamber last Friday when the Youth Parliament held its first meeting here—something that I supported and argued for. Earlier last week, however, I met for the third time representatives of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. I know that Hansard does not record objects, but I have one here with the slogan that the coalition uses all the time, and it is the question asked of all of us:
“How old will you be in 2050?”
It does so because one emissions-reduction target date that European leaders agreed was 2050. In answer to that question, I will be just short of a three-figure number, if I am given the opportunity to be around at all. I respectfully point out that there are others in this Chamber who, if they are still going, will be the other side of that three-figure number. The coalition’s point is obvious: targets for 2050, 2030 and 2020 are fine and important, but our real job is to agree something now, because only now can we begin to see those climate changes. That is why we have been so keen to ensure that the country signs up to ambitions such as the 10:10 campaign. Doing things now is important.
The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who I also wish all the best at the conference, spoke earlier about the high percentage of changes that individuals can make to this country’s carbon emissions. Individuals’ actions can account for about one third of those emissions, so, while we send our colleagues to negotiate at Copenhagen, we must remind ourselves that we must continue to ensure that we deliver the goods at home.
On the nature of the agreement, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) chose Bretton Woods as a parallel, and the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe said that Copenhagen may be the most important agreement since the war. I had come to the view—not from any reading, but from thinking back over world history since world war two—that the climate agreement, which I hope will be reached in December, but will certainly be reached as a result of the talks, could be a significant global agreement for a generation and more. People have begun to bandy about the idea that the agreement may be our last opportunity to make decisions that turn around the tanker and reverse the pattern of behaviour, so I think that it is like the peace treaty at the end of the second world war, or Bretton Woods, because it will change the way we do our global business.
I absolutely endorse what the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe said. The outcome of an agreement will not be detrimental to the developed or industrialised world: it offers us huge potential because of our geographical position—with the tide, wave and wind that surround us and, sometimes, the sun—and because of the abilities of our science, research and engineering sectors, our academic abilities, and our industrial capacity. We have not only the Humber estuary but the Thames estuary, the Tyne and Tees estuaries in the north-east, the Scottish east coast and the fantastic capability around Scotland. We are hugely well placed to deliver the new investment in jobs and opportunities; that applies to other countries, too. I sincerely hope that we recognise that there are positive outcomes not only for us but equally for the developing world.
I want to make my first substantive point to the Secretary of State by picking up the issue on which I engaged with him in my interventions—the nature of the deal. He was very honest with us, and I am grateful to him for that. It is clear that the deal must lead to two things: a timetable and enforceability. It is no good just having words without the mechanisms for delivering on them. Let me reinforce the view that I have reached, having talked to colleagues in other countries as well as here. It would be better, if it comes to it, to get the outline of a deal in December and then insert the details, the binding agreements and the figures slightly later instead of coming away with something that does not do that.
However, I am conscious of the politics of other countries, and our own. As we know, we face elections next year, because this Parliament has to end. Next autumn, the United States will have its two-yearly elections. From what I have heard—my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who has been in the States, has described the pressure that the Administration are under on the health agenda—my judgment is that if a deal is not done that the American Administration can deliver soon, the chances of that happening recede given the politics of the second half of next year, because people are always bolder in the first half of their terms of office than later on, and America is such a key player. The message that we want to send to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State and his colleagues is that if a final deal is not done in Copenhagen in December, we should—I see that the UN Secretary-General, the Danish Prime Minister and others are hinting that we may have to do this—adjourn and then reconvene to complete the process in the very early part of next year. I hope that the Minister who winds up can endorse that approach.
It is only fair that I should put to the House and to Ministers our considered view as a party. Our job is to support the Government on these things, of course, but also to embolden them. We have looked at the evidence, listened to the arguments, and come to certain views, some of which involve more ambitious targets than the Government have set, and I owe it to the House to put those on the table.
Everybody understands—the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells was careful in his wording—that the worst case scenario that we would want to occur in terms of a temperature rise is a 2° increase. However, that must be the outside margin, as much of the science—it does not just come from people such as Lord Stern, who has been cited—suggests that we should be aiming at something nearer to 1.7° increase. I understand that it is easier to argue for 2° because it is a round figure, but we must realise that that is the outside margin and it would be better to have an ambition for something lower.
In terms of atmospheric concentration, 350 parts per million is now regarded— again by Lord Stern and the scientists who have done the work—as the aim.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the need to keep the temperature rise to 2°. Does he share my concern that even with stretching targets such as an 80 per cent. reduction by 2015, even with the things that currently seem politically difficult to deliver, that only gives us, according to the science, a 50 per cent. chance of keeping it under 2°, which is already a pretty big risk for us to be taking on?
I agree. That is why I take the general approach that the Secretary of State said that he would apply: the precautionary principle. This is not an area where we can risk not taking the action because in the end things might not work out as badly. We have to presume that the accelerating changes will go on accelerating as they have been. My hon. Friend is right: we have to act on the basis of the most dangerous option. That is why it is also important, for example, to try to ensure that we get to 2015 as the date when we stop increasing our emissions and start to bring them back down.
The hon. Gentleman will know that in terms of atmospheric concentration we are already at 387 parts per million. Has he had a chance to consider the Royal Society’s statement of earlier this year, which established that unless we reach 350 parts per million within 40 years, we are likely to see the entire global ecosystem of coral reefs collapse? That will be the first collapse of a global ecosystem in the human period. Of the five mass extinctions that have ever taken place on this planet, each has begun with a global ecosystem collapse.
Absolutely. The general public at home will not register if we talk about percentage reductions in emissions by certain dates in the future—2050 for young people. They understand it when we get that report about coral reefs, see the fantastically effective pictures of the Maldivian Cabinet meeting underwater when they said, “Look, this will soon be our country if we go on as we are”, or hear about the sort of figures that we had this week from the International Union for Conservation of Nature—the most longstanding and well reputed organisation dealing with biodiversity worldwide—about the threat to the species of the world. They are frightening figures that say that 17,291 out of the 47,677 assessed species are threatened with extinction.
However, these things are not only relevant when they are a long way off. In my youth, there was the great World Wildlife Fund campaign for the panda. People understand that these things matter. They have concerns internationally about ecosystems, climate and species, but they are also worried when they hear that we may lose bluebells and butterflies in this country, that the east coast and the west coast may not always be there in their present form, and that villages on the Welsh coast or the East Anglian coast may be slipping into the sea. These are real issues. The more we see the effects of climatic conditions being disruptive, whether it is floods in the United Kingdom or desertification in Africa, or the figures that I put to the Secretary of State earlier about the number of likely refugees displaced—we are talking in millions—and the conflicts that could come from that, as this is as much about conflict prevention as about climate crisis being averted, the more we see that these are things we should be concerned about.
I want to make two more substantive points and then let other Members speak. I am conscious that it is important that the House gathers together to send the strongest message with all the expertise around the Chamber. Let me put bluntly to the Secretary of State the percentages that we think should be put on the table. There should be a commitment to a 40 per cent. reduction over the 1990 levels by 2020: that is where we ought to get to. The European Union has said conditionally that it is willing to go up from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent., but we think that the UK needs to be bolder than that. The Secretary of State indicated that there is opportunity for the EU to make that jump before the Copenhagen discussions. I hope that the EU will move to its stronger position but I hope that the UK may also say that it is willing to go further. We should also set a specific long-term intention to phase out greenhouse gases in this country by 2050.
Let me ask about funding, because the targets are one thing, but the money is the other. I would like to probe for answers to the questions that I asked the Secretary of State. The financial deal suggested was that €100 billion should be committed over the five years following the end of the Kyoto agreement in 2013, and that we would make our contribution to that. [Interruption.] I am sorry—the Secretary of State is saying that the period is 2013 to 2020. However, we do not yet know how, or the source of that money. It would be helpful if Energy Ministers put on record where the money will come from and the fact that more may be needed.
It would be useful if Ministers also indicated three other things. First, the money should not be paid through the World Bank, because it does not have the confidence of the developing world. There needs to be a new United Nations fund. Secondly, there may need to be new sources of revenue, and I put it to the Secretary of State that the most obvious one is a levy on the use of fuel by airlines and shipping, which are often untaxed in traditional taxation. That would be self-evidently international and could produce a new pool of resource. However, the Treasury, which is not represented in the Chamber today, would need to sign up to that. I would be grateful if the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers could say before the Copenhagen talks, “We, the Treasury, agree that the United Kingdom will have to make a contribution.” I am sure that that would help Energy Ministers.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Treasury has to be engaged, but there will need to be international agreement on shipping with the International Maritime Organisation, and aviation matters will also have to be agreed internationally. That must be on the agenda at Copenhagen.
Absolutely, and there is an awareness that those are two huge sectors of international activity that people will need to come to agreement on. I am setting out the context in which they need to deliver.
Thirdly, may I ask Ministers to be absolutely clear whether any commitments made so far by the UK, such as when the Prime Minister shared the announcement in Brussels the other day, have been announcements of new money? I have seen nothing to suggest that any new UK money has been announced as going into the kitty. I believe that they were re-announcements of earlier pledges, but I stand to be corrected, and if they were not they will be important.
The Government should make it absolutely clear to all of us—I have heard this plea elsewhere—that the money provided will be additional to overseas development assistance and does not include double counting. There is great suspicion among well informed commentators and those who follow these things that there is currently some double counting in emissions trading receipts and so on.
Over the next three or four weeks there will be continuing dialogue, and the last formal negotiating session took place the other day in Barcelona. I hope that this country will go further than it has before, and I believe the Secretary of State and his colleagues will gain credit at home and abroad for doing so. Just as we showed our leadership at the time of the industrial revolution by starting a new generation of successful economies, if the UK, as one of the two major historically responsible countries, can be really brave—even if some of the messages that we send might have cost obligations for us—the rewards will be great and the public will recognise that. We can afford to be bolder and braver than we have been, and I look forward to the Government ratcheting up the pressure and working on other countries, particularly the big ones, to deliver a braver outcome in the next few weeks.
Today’s debate is general and wide-ranging, and I will leave it to others to deal with many of the issues involved. It is clear that the climate is changing and that in most parts of the world it is changing for the worse. I wish to concentrate my attention on the one place that is most vulnerable to climate change and has the largest population at risk—Bangladesh, a country a little larger than England and with nearly three times our population.
Most of Bangladesh is formed of the delta of not one but two of the world’s major rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, as they discharge their waters into the bay of Bengal. As a result, most of the people of Bangladesh live on one of the ultimate frontiers of the world—a frontier between land and water and between the works of humankind and the forces of nature.
In recent years, Bangladesh has been successful in developing manufacturing industry, but most of its people are still dependent on the products of the land. The abundant water irrigates their crops and the silt renews the soil. That is in the good times. In the bad times, the self-same waters build up, get out of control and wreak destruction and death over huge areas. To put it in some perspective, the last major flooding extended over an area almost equal to the distance between London and Manchester. The scale is enormous.
Those dangerous and damaging waters come from three different sources, sometimes at different times and sometimes in combination. The monsoon rains over Bangladesh, the meltwaters of the Himalayas and cyclones from the bay of Bengal all cause flooding. All three sources of flooding are beyond the control of the Government and people of Bangladesh. All that can be done is to try to protect against them.
In the face of those natural disasters, over the centuries the people of Bangladesh have shown a resilience unmatched anywhere else on earth with the possible exception of Holland. Land lost to the rivers or the sea has been reclaimed, new crops planted and replacement homes built. More recently, with help from the UK and other donor Governments, limited steps have been taken to provide storm refuges and lift the level of the land.
Until very recently, all that happened in response to occasional, sudden and rather unpredictable crises. Not any more. Climate change threatens to melt the snows and glaciers of the Himalayas more quickly than in the past, and it is likely to affect the monsoons and increase the frequency of the cyclones. Above all, it threatens an inexorable rise in sea level. That is not just a future threat—it is causing problems now in Bangladesh. I am glad to say that our Government, already the principal aid donor to Bangladesh, have recognised the special need for extra help over and above the funds that we contribute to the anti-poverty programme. They are already providing £75 million to support climate change adaptation and have committed to providing more than £100 million over the next few years to help people maintain their livelihoods in the areas most vulnerable to climate change.
Those are immediate measures intended to deal with the problems that are arising now, but the longer-term protection of the people of Bangladesh will require funds and attention on an altogether vaster scale. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recognised that fact when, this summer, he urged the developed countries of the world to commit themselves to providing funds rising to $100 billion a year to help developing countries cope with the problems of climate change and continue to improve the standard of living of their people without disproportionately raising their emission levels. Just as he marshalled the effective worldwide response to the crisis that the bankers created, he has given the lead in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, challenging other world leaders to accept or better his proposals and to join him in personally attending. He recently managed to get the EU Heads of Government to accept a fund of $87 billion—not the $100 billion we were hoping for, but I rather suspect that without the $100 billion target, the eventual total would have been far lower.
There is no doubt that help on that scale is needed. Otherwise, about half the population of Bangladesh—70 million people—could be affected by flooding every year and a tenth of the low-lying land could be lost for ever. Therefore, vast civil engineering works will be required: villages must be raised above flood levels; more flood and cyclone centres need to be built; embankments must be raised; and probably equally importantly, crops capable of coping with the occasional ingress of salt and brackish water must be developed.
Just one glance at the map of Bangladesh shows both the scale and the complexity of the problem and any measures intended to deal with it. Climate change will cause problems in our country, but without wishing to diminish their significance in any way, they will pale into insignificance compared with the problems of Bangladesh. The white cliffs of Dover are not likely to be engulfed, but the chars, sandbanks, mudbanks and riverbanks of Bangladesh will be unless we help the resilient and talented people of that country to build the protection they need against the disastrous and deadly consequences of climate change.
Of course, besides helping Bangladesh to cope with its problems, we need worldwide action to restrict the process of climate change. Only by combining protection and prevention will Bangladesh be saved for humankind. Nothing else will do.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), who is absolutely right to draw attention to the way in which climate change threatens soonest and most severely some of the poorest people in the world.
This has so far been an extremely interesting debate. Incidentally, I am very happy to tell the House that earlier today, the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill, a private Member’s Bill, which I had the honour to introduce some months ago, passed its final stages in the upper House. I should like to record my personal gratitude not only to the Ministers and officials in the Department of Energy and Climate Change who helped and advised on the Bill, but to the noble Lord Whitty, who so skilfully steered the measure through another place.
We have heard already, in particular from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), about the threat to global biodiversity and natural things. When I had the pleasure of hosting an event the other day in this place for the organisation Plantlife, of which I am a trustee—it published a new book called “The Ghost Orchid Declaration” about the plight of wild plants in our country—I was vividly reminded that one in five of our wild plants is currently threatened with extinction. Each county in our country is losing, on average, two of its wild plants every year.
Obviously, the causes of that are complex. It is to do with unsustainable farming practices, a planning system that does not understand the needs of wild things, poor management, and in some cases climate change. Above all, it is to do with neglect. There is always something more important, a more pressing agenda, or someone making a row about something other than the plight of wild plants. I mention that only because I think something rather similar has affected the debate about climate change for very many years. It is 17 years since the Rio conference, and today we are having a discussion in the Chamber almost as if it never happened.
It is also to do with the issue of invasive plants—Plantlife has done some excellent work in that field—which are particularly prevalent in the UK. The Government introduced a horticultural code of practice in 2005 that was intended to get on top of the problem, but this country’s indigenous species, particularly flora, are very severely threatened in many areas by invasive species, which need to be dealt with.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Of course, people in his part of the world suffer from invasive species every summer on a grand scale—they are usually towing caravans! He is absolutely right, and Plantlife has done important work in drawing attention to the problem of invasive species.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the example he uses is another pointer to the fact that we cannot think of climate change on its own? Climate change is merely a symptom of the fact that we, as human beings, are living in a way that is absolutely unsustainable. We have to deal with that, even if it is nothing to do with climate change.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The fundamental point is that we need to learn again to live within the limits that nature has given us. If we continue to pretend that nature is limitless, which it clearly is not, particularly bearing in mind global population growth, which has been mentioned, we will continue to put our future and the future of everything else that lives on this planet at risk.
I drew attention to the plight of wild plants in our country to make a broader point on what has affected the global negotiations on climate change. I must say that I looked with a degree of despair at the consequences and outcome of the tortuous negotiations that took place within the European Union last week, and at the communiqué that came out of them, which did not fill me with enormous hope.
It is commonly said that sorting out climate change is about saving the planet, but as I have said before, it is not about that, because the planet is perfectly capable of looking after itself. What we are really talking about—this has been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members—is saving human lives, civilisation, culture and the values that we human beings have tended to try to hold dear over very many centuries. Watching this slow process grinding towards some sort of fudge at Copenhagen fills me with a certain amount of despair, as I said.
It may well be that today’s generation of politicians is not up to this task, but unfortunately, only today’s generation of politicians is being asked to undertake it. After all, in the end, they are politicians and not saints. In democracies in particular, we know how easy it is for agendas to be tugged away, and for more pressing, immediate issues to dominate. All I can say to that is—we know this from Stern and other commentators—unless we take action at Copenhagen or very soon after this coming December, the difficulties that we will collectively face in dealing with the problem will only get worse and more expensive, and I suspect that they will involve a degree of coercion that many people might find unpalatable. There is a need to take action now.
I was disheartened by the comments on recent negotiations by Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who said:
“Science has been moved aside and the space has been filled up with political myopia with every country…trying to protect its own…short-term interests.”
If that is a correct reflection of the way those negotiations are going, it is a disastrous state of affairs.
Like other hon. Members, I was delighted with the Secretary of State’s speech—he was indeed honest and said that negotiations were not going well. It is not within his power to make them go well, or indeed within the power of anyone in the Chamber, but it is essential that they do so.
Even within the European Union, we have seen divisions, arguments and disputes, and the inability to come up with clear numbers because certain member countries are not really signed up—I name Poland in particular. If countries within the developed European Union cannot come up with robust numbers and instead must come up with a fudgy expression such as “paying our fair share”, how on earth can we expect the developing world to look upon us seriously? How are we going to bridge the gap between €100 billion—a figure that has been put around—for adaptation and mitigation, and €400 billion, which is the rough figure that the developing world came up with earlier this year? We are a very long way from reaching an accommodation on that.
I do not blame the Government for that. Indeed, I commend them on the way in which they have handled the approach to Copenhagen and the international context of climate change. It is the domestic arena that has seen some significant failures, prevarications, contradictions and delays. On the international agenda, the Government have done as good a job as could be expected.
However, the Prime Minister said after last week’s negotiations:
“Europe is leading the way, making these bold proposals”.
“The major decision to come out of this is we’re leading the way on climate change negotiations”.
Those words do not fill me with enormous enthusiasm. “Leading the way” is not a decision in any case, although it may be a fact. Depressingly, it may be true that Europe is leading the way, but—as I have tried to suggest—we are not doing a good job of persuading even our own people that there is a task in hand for the world leaders to consider in just a few weeks.
The US has been mentioned, and it is in danger of getting seriously bogged down in its domestic political agenda. The Bill there has stalled because of problems in the Senate. If the US comes to Copenhagen without a clear agenda, what message will that send to the developing world and, more particularly, to China? China has been making much more positive noises, and that is greatly to be welcomed, but if the Americans do not step up to the plate with some robust proposals, what incentive will China have to go the extra mile? While all this haggling is going on, the developing world is looking on with scepticism, and that is also a matter for concern.
Nobody now expects a robust or proper result from the Copenhagen discussions. Even the delightfully named Yvo de Boer, the head of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, has said:
“It is physically impossible to complete every detail of the treaty at Copenhagen”.
The talk now, as we heard from the Secretary of State, is for political agreement, not legal agreement.
So we are haggling over money—and the numbers do matter—but I come back to the question of priorities. Earlier this week, the taxpayer, courtesy of the Government, wrote a cheque for £35 billion to the Royal Bank of Scotland—in a single day, we wrote a cheque for the same amount as we are likely to spend in 2020 to deal with climate change in the whole year. That illustrates a strange sense of proportion. Important though RBS is, it is not as important in the long run as saving human values, culture and civilisation or all the other opportunities provided by climate change, such as promoting green energy, jobs, energy security and so on. Let us get the situation into perspective. When I heard about the latest RBS bail-out I was reminded of an American commentator who wrote:
“Mother Nature doesn’t do bail outs.”
If I sound a little depressed about the prospects for Copenhagen, it is because it is a depressing outlook. Copenhagen offers the best chance of a binding, clear and just agreement, but it is not quite the last chance. I wholly agree with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, who made the point—I think that the Secretary of State agreed—that it would be much better not to have a deal at Copenhagen if it is a bad deal. Instead, it would be preferable to have an agreement that took us seriously and quickly towards a proper deal at a later date if that is what needs to happen. At least the negotiations in the run-up to Copenhagen, and the summit itself, may remind world leaders of the science—the Secretary of State was right to remind the House of the science—and the urgency of addressing this matter.
In all of the haggling over detail, let us not forget the overarching objective. The one thing that can move the world forward to a better and safer place is the establishment of a robust global price for carbon. The European emissions trading scheme, with all its flaws, weaknesses and failure thus far to deliver, is none the less a model that can be adapted, changed and made to work, not only in Europe but around the world. If we put a price on carbon, every decision we take can be taken within a logical and rational context. We could make choices about whether we wanted expensive options that involve fossil fuels and high-carbon activities, or alternatives—which already exist in many cases, technologically—that are cheaper because they do not involve the carbon pollution of old-fashioned technologies. Such a scheme could raise many billions of pounds, dollars or euros—whichever currency one chooses—and would certainly play a key role in dealing with the problem of the rainforests, which has rightly been touched on today.
A global tax is advocated by some. Tax may well have a role to play within national Governments, but there is no global structure for taxation and that is therefore not an option. In the end, the markets will have to become a power for good. I know that that is a paradox, in that it is unbridled market activity that, over many years, has got us into the mess in the first place. But with the right framework in place—and it is politicians who need to put it there—the markets can deliver. The politicians’ only job in this debate is to get the framework right. If we get the framework right, the market, human choice and rationality will do the rest. Put like that, it all sounds rather simple.
It is appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) in two respects. First, although his speech was rightly pessimistic, it highlighted the challenge that the world faces at Copenhagen and in negotiations to follow. Those negotiations clearly will not reach the outcome that we desired, and therefore it is right to be realistic about where we are, but also right to consider how we can move forward over the next few months.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman highlighted the importance of market mechanisms in, for example, putting a price on carbon and, as he may know, I have been doing some work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Prime Minister on how we move towards a global carbon market. I know no one who suggests that a carbon market would provide the entire solution, but I have come to the view that putting a price on carbon through a system of tight caps on emissions by developed countries is an essential part of the package. It would also help to provide the resources that the hon. Gentleman said need to flow to developing countries.
The hon. Gentleman was right to be if not pessimistic, then realistic about the challenges that face us. I share the recognition across the House of the lead that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues have taken internationally in working towards an agreement at Copenhagen. If one speaks to parliamentary colleagues from other countries, there is no doubt that they recognise that the work that the British Government have done in trying to achieve international agreement has kept up momentum and led to recognition of the need to achieve a strong agreement at Copenhagen or thereafter.
I also welcome the cross-party consensus here today and in the debate running up to Copenhagen. There is no doubt that the position of the Government internationally is strengthened when other countries know that they speak for a broad consensus within the British political system.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have been right to emphasise the importance of trying to seek a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen. That is certainly what we need. The emphasis appears to be moving from a legally binding agreement to what is described as a political agreement with numbers—in other words, a political agreement with specific commitments from developed countries and, more importantly, developing countries to emissions reductions. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that we need to achieve a legally binding agreement or treaty.
In one respect, it could be argued that a comprehensive political agreement to which countries are genuinely signed up would perhaps be better than a legally binding agreement that we do not intend to implement—that was obviously part of the experience of Kyoto. In that sense, a political agreement at Copenhagen with clear commitments would be a major step forward. We should not lose sight of the fact, however, that in my view and that of most in the Chamber, I am sure, it has to be followed up with a legally binding agreement, with a compliance mechanism to ensure that countries fulfil those objectives.
I would be interested to hear from the Minister the Government’s view on the process that they envisage being put in place to ensure that, whatever agreement is reached at Copenhagen—lets us hope that it is a substantial one—negotiation work will continue with haste and determination thereafter. I have heard people talking about a conference reconvening in three or six months, or perhaps not until the next annual conference in Mexico towards the end of 2010. It is important that momentum continues beyond Copenhagen, whatever the outcome of the negotiations.
I am sure that all in the Chamber know that an agreement is vital. There is a number of essential elements to any agreement: a recognition of the science; a commitment to a rise in temperatures of no more than 2° C; a recognition of equity for developing countries; the provision of the finance necessary for developing countries; a clear indication of numbers for the emission reductions expected from developed and major developing countries, as I mentioned; and of course an agreement to establish it on a legal framework at an early date.
It is important, when we have such discussions, to balance the correct appreciation of the seriousness of our position, which the hon. Member for East Surrey rightly emphasised, with the need not to become so pessimistic that people are driven into thinking that action is not worth taking. The Secretary of State, in his opening remarks, was right to emphasise the positive aspects of moving to a low-carbon economy. Mention was made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) of the opportunities, particularly along the coast of east Scotland. I represent a constituency there and I know that hundreds of people are already working there in renewable industries of various sorts. They are already involved in many initiatives showing how moving to a low-carbon economy can be good for the economy and the future.
We need to emphasise to the public that changing to a low-carbon economy undoubtedly means substantial changes in the way we live, but that it does not necessarily mean moving to a hair-shirt existence. It is a question of changing our lifestyles and in some respects, one could argue, improving our lifestyles, if we change our lives to reflect the needs of a low-carbon society.
Having said that it is important to be positive, we must also recognise that public concern about the matter is driven by an understandable fear of what climate change will mean. The public are right to be frightened about what runaway climate change will mean—all of us in the Chamber, I am sure, are frightened about it too. That is another point that needs to be borne in mind when we think about what will happen after Copenhagen if there is not a substantial agreement, and if the leaders leave with no agreement or—this would be worse—a sham agreement.
I am sure that all hon. Members have been contacted over the past few months and years by hundreds, if not thousands, of people in their constituencies concerned about climate change. As we all know, there is a strong movement in society of people concerned about it. They want our leaders, political community and world leaders to ensure that we get the right type of agreement at Copenhagen. If we do not come up with a strong agreement in Copenhagen, and if we do not build the mechanisms to ensure that the agreement is followed through—with detailed agreements thereafter—we run the risk of creating immense disillusion among hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in this country and other countries who are relying on world leaders finally to face up to the challenges that must be faced if we are to tackle climate change.
If we fail to come up with an agreement at Copenhagen, we will be doing a great disservice to the political process. The disillusionment that people have, for other reasons, with the political process will spread to those who expect us to come up with solutions at Copenhagen. It is important for so many reasons that we come up with a strong agreement and that we indicate that a broader political agreement can be followed up with a specific lead agreement thereafter.
The fact that there is a strong civil society, not just in our country but internationally, that is so concerned about the issue is a source of encouragement as well. I have seen develop over the past year or so a genuine world community interested in such matters. There are movements in different countries that listen to, rely upon and work with political and environmental movements in other countries.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
In a second.
That political movement is a force that will have its influence felt at Copenhagen, not just through the thousands of people from non-governmental organisations who will be lobbying leaders at Copenhagen, but because they reflect the concerns of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The leaders of the world community do not—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
In a second. If the leaders of the world community do not reflect those concerns at Copenhagen, they will have to answer to their electorates and constituents. Equally, the pressure from those constituents and communities will be a powerful force to concentrate the minds of world leaders in trying to get something decent out of Copenhagen.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I agree with much of it. However, does he not agree that there is a bigger danger in not coming to an agreement in Copenhagen—not for those engaged with the climate change debate, but for the vast majority of people who have simply been told that we need to do this? If we come away from Copenhagen without an agreement, what will the impact be on them?
The impact on everyone in the entire world community will be serious, regardless of whether they are personally involved. That emphasises the need for an agreement to be reached at Copenhagen.
The hon. Gentleman seems extraordinarily complacent, like everyone else who has spoken so far, about the fact that the proportion of people concerned about climate change in this country is now lower than in any other country in the world and has fallen by one third over the past year. Why does he suppose that this is so, and why does he ignore it?
It’s because of people like you.
My hon. Friend, from a sedentary position, suggests that people such as the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) might have a role to play in that situation. The right hon. Gentleman’s observation is not my experience. I see in my constituency growing interest in such issues. Interestingly, even during an economic recession, when traditionally people are more interested in bread-and-butter issues of the economy than in saving the planet and climate change, I find that people are still as interested as they were a year or two ago. I believe that public concern is greater than ever before. That is the basis on which I proceed in Parliament and my constituency.
Although I might take a different view on the broader issue from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), I, too, think that the hon. Gentleman is being complacent about the level of public engagement. It is a very major issue for a minority of people, but it has impinged very little on the vast majority of people. Does he have any thoughts on why we have not been more successful as a society—I do not want to make a partisan point about the Government—in increasing understanding of the risks threatening us? I say risks without wanting to play down the uncertainties.
I am in danger of being diverted from the main thrust of my argument down a road that, although dealing with an important point, perhaps does not deal with the essential point that I want to make. In so far as what the hon. Gentleman said is the case, it is up to political leaders—Members of Parliament and Governments—to try to get the message across. However, my experience is that the public concern is still there and I do not think that it will go away. Indeed, the realities of what is happening in the outside world as a result of climate change will always bring the issue back into political debate as a central part of demands for action.
Given our importance in Parliament as politicians representing the wider community, it is also important that we are not, to coin a phrase, too complacent. It is good to have the degree of consensus that exists in the Chamber today, but we should always be wary of allowing political consensus not so much to mask genuine divisions, but to lead us into failing to recognise that we need to make difficult choices as political parties, or that we cannot always find an easy solution on climate change that will please everybody.
I do not want to reopen the discussion that took place in the Chamber on Tuesday, but there were times in the debate on the private Member’s Bill dealing with wind turbines when some hon. Members seemed to be trying to have it both ways, by jumping on the bandwagon of opposing wind turbines, but at the same time professing their commitment to tackling climate change. We cannot continue indefinitely in a world where we are in favour of tackling climate change, but at the same time are against wind turbines or in favour of airport expansion or whatever policy we regard from our position as more important than tackling climate change. Politicians also have a role to play in being honest with the electorate, which might answer the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) about how we re-engage the public on the issue.
However, my intention was not to introduce too much discord into this debate, even though I appear to have provoked some. I want to accentuate the positive in our discussions in the Chamber so far and the opportunities of reaching an agreement internationally. In many respects great progress has been made internationally. Mention has been made of the change in the positions of the Japanese and Australian Governments. Although the US Administration’s position is problematic, to put it mildly, last year’s change in the US Administration nevertheless had effected a dramatic change to the background to the international negotiations on tackling climate change.
As the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in one of his interventions, if we can start turning the world round towards a low-carbon economy, we may be able to move much more quickly in that direction than some people appreciate. If we find that we can do that more easily than some people thought, we will be able to accelerate progress towards the change in our economic system and our lifestyles that is required.
Equally, as the hon. Member for East Surrey emphasised, there will be serious issues if we do not get progress at Copenhagen. We are running out of time. If the world does not come to a serious agreement within the next few months, we will undoubtedly reach the point not where we are talking about a 2° C rise in temperatures, but where even a 4° C rise might seem on the low side. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, if we are in that situation, we are talking about irreversible damage and destruction to civilisation, the planet and our very species. That must always be a reminder to us all of the urgency of reaching a decision and a comprehensive and substantial agreement at Copenhagen and in the months thereafter.
Let me first declare an interest. I represent a constituency with 74 miles of coastline. Therefore, I sometimes feel that I am talking about a local concern. Like the right hon.