Thursday 18 November 2010
[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
Climate Change Conference
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Stephen Crabb.)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead a debate on the 2010 climate change conference at Cancun. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for its excellent judgment in allocating time for this debate.
I thank Green Alliance and Christian Aid for answering questions as I researched for the debate. I also thank the many constituents who impressed upon me their concerns and priorities for the Cancun conference, especially the climate activists I met as part of the Big Climate Connection. Their representations were a great encouragement. I do not have to choose between being an advocate for some of the most climate-vulnerable people in the poorest countries and representing my constituents, because the former is exactly what my constituents want me to do.
When applying to the Backbench Business Committee, I said that a third of Members are new and have not yet had an opportunity to debate climate change policy. Some of them are keen to take part in this debate; I particularly look forward to the contribution of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who speaks for the Opposition; like me, she joined the House of Commons this year.
I start by acknowledging the leadership of the last Government and the former Prime Minister, and the role played by the current Leader of the Opposition, in achieving a world first with the Climate Change Act 2008. I also acknowledge the contribution made by Members of Parliament from both sides of the House, many of whom are no longer Members, to strengthening that legislation. It is a record of leadership of which they can all be proud, and one that the new Government must build upon, not only with ambition and commitment but, crucially, in terms of delivery.
The Foreign Secretary has described climate change as perhaps the 21st century’s biggest foreign policy challenge. The Cancun conference is critical to the international response to that challenge. Not only has action become increasingly urgent, but disappointment about Copenhagen has led many to question the ability of the international frameworks of the United Nations to address that challenge. Prior to the Copenhagen conference, public expectations had reached fever pitch despite the opaque nature of those negotiations and the difficulty that many had in foreseeing the obstacles—and, for that matter, exactly who was putting those obstacles in the way.
The Foreign Secretary acknowledged in a recent speech in New York that Copenhagen had not delivered on these high expectations because of a “lack of political will”. Sadly, it seems that the easiest lesson to be learned from Copenhagen was how to manage expectations for Cancun. At Cancun, the world needs to make progress in making binding undertakings for mitigation and in funding commitments for adaptation. The best approach to undertakings for mitigation is to bring on board everyone that you can, and to make as much progress as possible, even if some parties are unwilling to come to the table. I hope that continuing progress in engaging the Chinese Government, as exemplified by Ministers in recent weeks, will allow substantial progress in that regard, even if some in the United States Congress continue to set their faces against the country’s global responsibilities.
I am sure that others will want to speak about mitigation and to suggest ways forward. However, in the time available to me I shall focus on climate finance. A report earlier this month by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing—the AGF—sets out a number of innovative ways to deliver the substantial Copenhagen target of $100 billion of climate finance a year by 2020. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on his role on the AGF and his contribution to the report.
The advisory group report called the $100 billion commitment “challenging but feasible”. We must take on that challenge in Cancun, however gloomy the sky that heralds the conference. After all, feasible means achievable: we must not live down to expectations. That finance must be truly additional to aid. Global aid transfers amount to about $120 billion a year. Redirecting the bulk of that money would have disastrous effects on humanitarian provision across the globe.
We cannot fund climate adaptation by diverting and repackaging aid, or by cutting vital funds for urgent programmes such as the fight against malaria. Similarly, initiatives to harness private-sector expertise and finance in tackling climate change are welcome; they are critical to the solution and should be welcomed, but they should not be credited to the developed countries’ accounts. Their task, and their responsibility, is greater than that. What is more, many small-scale climate adaptation projects show no financial return, and remain stubbornly unattractive for private investment. I hope that the Minister will agree that although leveraging private finance is indeed important, public finance remains irreplaceable in meeting the climate needs of the poorest people.
I have already mentioned eye-watering sums. The accountant in me might stray into the sometimes dry subject of financial commitments; instead, I shall illustrate what this climate finance is for, and the difference it can make.
More than half of rural households in India still lack electricity. Fast-start finance funds off-grid, locally managed renewable energy schemes that deliver electricity to rural villages. Kasai village in Madhya Pradesh is not connected to the national grid. Since 2005, a small 10 kW biomass plant has generated electricity for Kasai. The plant provides lighting for houses, streets and the school, power for entertainment, and the electricity to run a flour mill, a milk-chilling unit and a water-pumping system. Kasai has biomass in abundance—wood, crop residues, oil seeds and cattle dung—and it is gathered by villagers. There is a maintenance fee and a user charge, and the scheme is overseen by a village committee of six men and five women.
The benefits of that scheme are manifold. Every house has piped water; far fewer residents migrate; agricultural production has trebled with the availability of water for irrigation; villagers can sell milk that previously went bad in the heat; and the new mill allows people to process wheat and rice and to sell the flour. The urgent need for a reliable energy supply is met, and the use of renewable energy means that growth in carbon emissions is limited. Those double wins are just one example of a fast-start-finance climate project allowing a village to thrive that once was dying.
At Copenhagen, developed countries pledged $30 billion in short-term finance for projects like that between 2010 and 2012. Of that $30 billion, $10 billion was pledged by the European Union, which has so far delivered about $7.8 billion through existing channels such as the World Bank and the EU’s global climate change alliance. When will the Government set out the timing and the delivery mechanisms for allocating the remaining fast-start finance that the Government have pledged? Is the £1.5 billion pledged for fast-start finance in the comprehensive spending review additional to the Government’s overseas development assistance commitments? If not, will the Minister at least assure the House that that is not a reflection of the Government’s attitude to long-term climate finance?
Developed countries can now respond to the progress of the advisory group, and to the menu of recommendations that it has made; they have clear practical choices on how to meet their obligations. This is a key opportunity for the Government to show leadership at Cancun, plotting the road map for mobilising finance and turning these innovative sources into a reality. The advisory group identifies a menu of options—the auctioning of emissions allowances, carbon taxes, levies on international aviation and maritime transport, multilateral development banks, and even a financial transactions tax. Those are realistic options that can generate serious revenue. I invite the Minister to give some indication as to which of the innovative sources of finance, identified by the UN advisory group, are priorities for his Department ahead of Cancun. Will he support a levy on international aviation and shipping? Will the British Government show leadership through the EU in co-ordinating a critical mass of developed countries to make possible a financial transactions tax?
Developing countries suffer more than 90% of the effects of climate change despite having done the least to contribute to its causes. Some 250 million people are directly affected by desertification and 1 billion are at risk. Another 135 million people are at risk of displacement due to the effects of environmental deterioration. Many of those people are the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Countries such as Malawi, Bangladesh and Sudan are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change despite having done the least to contribute to rising carbon emissions.
This is all our doing, but it is the most vulnerable people in the world who face the consequences. We have a responsibility to them. That much was acknowledged at Copenhagen. Action on climate finance now is not some kind of vague add-on, something that would be nice to achieve, or even an apology for failing to reaching binding agreements on mitigation. It is an essential component in reaching an internationally just settlement as part of the response to this global challenge.
Our Secretary of State has clearly made good progress with his colleagues on the advisory group in pointing to how climate finance can be delivered. Now the world needs to move forward. We need concrete proposals and the Government to show leadership at these negotiations. We must seek to build international consensus; to co-operate and to get the negotiations back on track. It is too late to stop now.
Before calling the next speaker, may I say that it is the wish of the Backbench Business Committee that this debate continues only until 4.30? Therefore, I hope to call the Front Benchers at about 4 o’clock, so that we can give sufficient time to the second debate on our agenda.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on submitting to the Backbench Business Committee the idea of debating this afternoon one of the most important events that is to take place in the very near future. Many people discounted what happened after Copenhagen as being of marginal significance. Although a number of hon. Members have turned up to discuss this topic, they are, to some extent, people I would have expected to be present. Although I offer compliments all round, it is a matter of some regret that there is not a wider attendance this afternoon.
Turning to COP 16, we should remind ourselves that Copenhagen was one in a sequence of conferences of the parties. In hindsight, we can see that it was perhaps over-hyped. A huge number of Heads of State were present and the expectation, or the fervent hope—a hope that I shared—was that a binding agreement would be signed at Copenhagen and that the notion of COPs would move to a different level. Sadly, that proved not to be the case, so we move to Cancun with much lower expectations. Indeed, Cancun is the opposite of over-hyped—it is under-hyped, I think. The presence of key negotiators and relevant Ministers, as opposed to Heads of State, produces an entirely different outlook on the conference. I think the general expectation is that Cancun will produce very little.
What is important is that we in the UK do not dilute our ambition as a result of the apparent dilution of the ambition of others. It is essential that a high level of momentum is maintained where Cancun is concerned. I say that not because I expect Cancun to produce any form of breakthrough, despite what a few people say, but because unless it makes substantial progress in bringing negotiation frameworks back into play, the real prospect of COP 17 in South Africa resulting in the signing of a binding international deal will be lost.
The Kyoto agreement runs out in 2012 and even a binding deal in South Africa would give precious little time for the process of ratification, given the various accompanying hurdles and snares. Nevertheless, the goal of securing a binding commitment in South Africa rests securely on the ability of Cancun to move substantially in that direction. Britain has a leading role to play. At the very least, it must ensure that post-Cancun there are the momentum, commitment and structures that will enable the real, breakthrough progress to be made in South Africa.
Because it is considered reasonably unlikely that Cancun will lead to anything conclusive, we should not feel that nothing will come out of Cancun. There are key goals that Britain needs not only to be very clear about, but to take a leading role in securing. They include the commitment on reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation—REDD-plus—which I believe can be concluded at Cancun. That would be a real breakthrough in the way developing and developed countries work together to tackle the consequences of deforestation, and even turn it back.
We must ensure clear examination of the so-called gigatonne gap, which is the difference between what the two-page document at Copenhagen stated and noted about the need to remain beneath a 2° increase in temperature across the globe by 2050 and the actual commitments, as yet ungratified, on carbon reduction by the various countries. How can we ensure better methods to examine the gigatonne gap, in terms of upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and other mechanisms, to get a much clearer picture of the relationship between what Copenhagen committed itself to, at least in outline, and the action that therefore needs to be taken? Hopefully, such action can be ratified consequently.
As the hon. Member for Chippenham mentioned, the question is how we move forward from the outline $100 billion global finance fund that was floated and generally accepted at Copenhagen. Again, precious few details or mechanisms by which it might work were attached to it. The AGF report, which he also mentioned, set out mechanisms, which some people have said are ambitious, but I think that most of them, in the context of the present emergency, are thoroughly realistic about the need to ensure that the fund is properly financed between developed and developing countries, and that the mechanisms by which it is financed are enduring, and are not simply Government commitments that disappear as quickly as they are made and as soon as the spotlight is turned off the issue and its consequences, as we have seen previously.
The reality of financial transaction taxes and how they can be introduced internationally is a key issue that needs to be progressed. Such taxes would be an important mechanism, in conjunction with additional taxes on the aviation and shipping sector, which are greatly overdue. Without those taxes and arrangements, the national commitments to be made on emissions will have little meaning. International capture of emissions from aircraft and shipping is important not only to measuring accurately what the commitments really are, but to making a substantial contribution to the reality and long-term sustainability of the global finance fund.
The UK can play a leading role precisely because it has, in effect, a low-carbon action plan: the Climate Change Act 2008. The consequences of the Act—the five-year carbon budgets, the clear trajectory towards a binding and lasting reduction in UK CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 and the demonstrated mechanisms by which that will be achieved—are being looked at by other countries. South Africa, for example, is likely to adopt similar legislation in the next year or so, and countries in Europe and across the world are looking at how their mechanisms might take our experiences into legislation.
The moral leadership presented by what we have done in this country is an important part of our approach to Cancun. If we resile from the efforts to increase the EU commitment to 30% reductions in CO2 within interim target periods, we will undermine the commitment recently made in the Act. There is a great deal for the UK to do at Cancun, even if the expectations for the conference are not high. The key to Cancun being as successful as it can be is countries such as the UK going into it with their ambition held high. If we succumb to a collective lack of ambition, there will not only be nothing at Cancun, but nothing in South Africa and a dribbling away of targets and their achievability.
We have a task ahead of us. I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the UK Government intend to be as ambitious as I hope they will be, and that they will go to Cancun and fly the flag for the achievability of agreements—not necessarily made at Cancun, but based on what happens there—and the achievability of real gains, which will lead to success in the near future.
I shall touch on three specific areas where the UK can have a particular and significant impact. The first is global fossil fuel subsidy reform. Hon. Members are probably aware of the joint International Energy Agency, Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and World Bank report, which was provided to leaders at the G20 summit in June. It stated that fossil fuel-related subsidies amount to almost $700 billion a year, roughly equivalent to 1% of world GDP, and if we phase out those subsidies, we could see a 10% reduction in world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared with the business-as-usual scenario. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recognition that
“removing fossil fuel subsidies will reduce wasteful consumption and inefficient production, and will improve economic efficiency and energy security and decrease carbon emissions”.
Ahead of the Copenhagen summit, he echoed the words of the Secretary of State for International Development when he said that fossil fuel subsidy reforms should be
“at the top of the diplomatic agenda”.
The trouble with those aspirations is that very few people believe that the emerging economies will implement the national commitments, which were flagged up, to reduce fossil fuel subsidies domestically. The non-OECD countries of the G20 account for the significant bulk of the subsidies—for example, Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. It is apparent from written answers that I received from the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change that there was no discussion of fossil fuel subsidy reform with those countries between the G20 summits. Will the Minister use his influence to ensure that there is a diplomatic offensive across Departments to raise that issue up the international political agenda? Will he also press for a clear statement from the Government that they would like World Bank lending for fossil fuel projects to end? According to the Department for International Development, the World Bank supported fossil fuel extraction and transportation projects to the value of $3.6 billion between 2005 and 2009.
The second area relates to rainforest finance. I am sure that all hon. Members appreciate the importance of halting global deforestation, so I will not repeat the arguments. I warmly welcome the Government’s confirmation of £300 million-worth of fast-start finance to help rainforest nations to safeguard their forests. Unfortunately, as most people would accept, we are a long way from any meaningful agreement on the inclusion of rainforest in the carbon markets. However, we have seen the emergence of agreements between countries to protect standing forests—for example, the widely reported deals between Norway and Guyana and Norway and Indonesia. Does the Minister agree that, in the absence of a REDD agreement, the UK should find innovative ways to use some of the agreed £2.9 billion of international climate finance, which was put aside in the spending review, to pursue bilateral deals with rainforest nations?
Finally, global aviation emissions account for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but the sector is widely predicted to grow significantly. In addition to the other sources of potential finance already identified by speakers today, will the Minister press for a deal at Cancun that includes aviation?
I acknowledge the increased levels of public scepticism towards the climate agenda. To the climate sceptics I say that, for all our sakes, I hope they are right, but, though I doubt that any scientific thesis has ever generated as much attention or attracted more scrutiny, the vast bulk of scientific opinion still holds that man-made climate change is a real threat. I accept that few things are truly certain in science, but even the most committed climate sceptic would have to accept that there is a possibility that the majority scientific position is correct.
I am told that Vice-President Dick Cheney declared that if there was a 1% chance of a nuclear scientist helping al-Qaeda to build a nuclear weapon, we should treat it as a certainty in responding. Climate change seems far more likely, and the risks are certainly far greater. In addition, whereas the costs of inaction are incalculable, most of the steps necessary to deal with climate are steps that we must take irrespective of climate change. Surely it makes sense for us to apply the same logic. Thank you, Mr Chope, for the opportunity to speak.
I thank the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) for securing this important debate. According to the Prime Minister’s own words:
“The dangers of climate change are stark and very real. If we don’t act now, and act quickly, we could face disaster.”
I agree absolutely, but that action must be driven by science, not political expedience. Although I welcome the fact, for example, that Britain is leading the way in passing climate change legislation, the targets in that legislation must be commensurate with the scale of the challenge that we face.
The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that if we are to have a good chance of keeping the atmospheric temperature rise to less than 2° C above pre-industrial levels, thereby significantly reducing the likelihood of catastrophic climate change, average global emissions must be reduced by far more than the figures being bandied about in political debates. The institute discusses an average global emissions reduction of about 60% of the 1990 baseline by 2030. That is a global average: the responsibility of developed countries is even greater, because of course we are and have been overwhelmingly responsible for climate change. That responsibility equates to a 90% reduction in emissions by developed countries by 2020.
We face a monumental challenge, but it is important to put the figures on the table in order to remind ourselves of the scale of that challenge, as well as to remind us that equity and social justice must be at the heart of any new climate agreement. Many models have been proposed that encapsulate equity, ensuring that we move towards a situation in which each person has an equal right to a certain amount of emissions per capita. The models involve technical terms such as contraction and convergence, but they are essentially concerned with ensuring that we tackle climate change equitably. There is no way that we will get an agreement at Cancun unless equity is at the heart of it.
One of the biggest obstacles to progress at Cancun will be a potential lack of sufficient finance on the table for developing countries. International climate negotiations have stalled, not least because developing countries have no great faith that the industrialised north will deliver on its financial commitments to help poorer countries tackle their emissions.
At the Copenhagen summit last December, world leaders pledged £100 billion by 2020 to fight climate change. First, that figure, although welcome, is not enough. Secondly, the history of such pledges is not a happy one. Far too often, the pledges are not kept. If the money is forthcoming, it is simply re-badged money that has already been committed, rather than genuinely additional resources. Although I welcome the £2.9 billion committed by the Government to climate finance, I also understand that that money is not additional to the existing aid budget. Will the Minister clarify that? It is crucial, as the hon. Member for Chippenham said, that the money is additional and not a redirection of existing aid.
It is also clear that even with the £2.9 billion, we will need further, innovative financing mechanisms to raise more money urgently. A range of options has been discussed this afternoon, including a tax on aviation, but I want to discuss the so-called Robin Hood tax. It could be a critical instrument in helping to break the deadlock on global climate agreement negotiations. A tiny bank levy on financial transactions, if applied globally, could generate billions of dollars a year and provide poor countries, which have done the least to cause climate change, with the money required to cope with its impacts and to develop in a greener way. Although a Robin Hood tax would certainly be more effective if it were implemented globally, it need not be. It is important not to go away with the idea that it can only be done globally. Plenty of research suggests that it could be done nationally without giving the UK a massive competitive disadvantage, that we could take a lead on that positive initiative and that, even if the tax were only imposed in this country, it would still generate significant amounts of money.
Rich countries and corporations have grown wealthy through a model of development that has pushed the planet to the brink of climate catastrophe. We have overused the planet’s ability to absorb greenhouse gas emissions. As I said, developed countries representing less than one fifth of the world’s population have emitted almost three quarters of historical emissions. In a sense, the rich world has colonised the Earth’s atmosphere, and that process has mirrored and perpetuated the vast economic inequalities that persist in the world today.
Meanwhile, poor communities—those least responsible for climate change—are already facing its worst impacts. It is happening now to people in Bangladesh, for example, and in many other parts of the world. Sometimes I hear people say, “We need some climate disaster to happen to wake the world up to the seriousness of climate change.” Those disasters are happening now, and we need to wake up, make that link and put them on the front pages. Because of the rich world’s historical responsibility for climate change, we have a duty to compensate the world’s poorest people. That means finding climate-friendly ways to meet their energy needs and providing resources to assist them in coping with the effects of climate change.
The rich world’s climate debt can be described as mitigation debt and adaptation debt. I will give a few more numbers, as they sometimes help to concentrate the mind. They are large numbers, but they remind us of the scale of the challenge that we face. A report published last year by the World Development Movement and the Jubilee Debt Campaign calculated that based on its historical responsibility, the UK’s adaptation debt equates to at least £5.5 billion a year over the next 40 years, provided that it stops increasing that debt immediately: in other words, provided that we start absolutely reducing our emissions now. The same organisations make the case that we owe at least £11 billion a year for the next 40 years in mitigation debt. Those resources must be made available to enable us to share low-carbon technologies freely with the developing world and to fund low-carbon infrastructure. I acknowledge that that is an enormous amount, and we must use every tool available to generate it. Models such as the Robin Hood tax are some of the simplest and most effective that we could develop.
Cancun is just a few weeks away. Industrialised countries desperately need to be able to go to those talks with a new, big commitment on finance if we are to have any hope of reaching agreement. I hope that the Minister will tell us today that some new financial commitment can be made, and that he will say whether he supports the principle of contraction and convergence, or any similar model of dealing with climate change that has equity at its heart and is based on the idea that we must converge to a situation where everybody in the world has an equal per capita emissions right. That will not happen in the next years—it will take several decades—but we must get to the point where equity is at the heart of climate change negotiations, because right now it is not.
I will end by reflecting on political will. I am haunted by the words of the actor Pete Postlethwaite in the film “The Age of Stupid”. For those Members who have not seen it, the film is based on the assumption that some kind of climate catastrophe has occurred 50 years hence and that Pete Postlethwaite’s character is the sole survivor. He looks back to today and asks, “Why is it that, knowing what we knew then, we didn’t act while there was still time?” Those words haunt me, because we have the information, technology and, frankly, the money that we need to act. When it came to bailing out banks, we found billions in a few days. If the planet were a bank, it would have been sorted out a long time ago.
The issue comes down to political will. It can be stated simply. Will we generate sufficient public and political will to tackle climate change fairly in the time available, or will we go down in history as the species that spent all its time monitoring its own extinction rather than taking active steps to avoid it? It worries me that only about a dozen hon. Members are here today. This Chamber should be packed—there ought to be a presence on the streets ensuring that it is packed—because this is the most important issue that we face.
Finally, if we were to take climate change seriously and introduce the measures that we urgently need, those measures would create hundreds of thousands of green jobs and improve our quality of life. For example, we would have fuel-efficient homes—people would not die from the cold in the 21st century—because we would have a proper programme of home insulation. We would have affordable, efficient public transport—they seem to manage it on the continent, but it somehow still evades us in Britain—and we would have kids playing in the streets again because our roads would not be packed with cars. We would also have a quality of life that, in many respects, would be more fulfilling and, crucially, there would be more jobs. At a time of economic austerity, people need jobs and there is no quicker means of job creation than to have a programme based on green jobs, insulation, environmental efficiency and renewable energy. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to tell us that he has got some good news on all of those issues when he sums up.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on securing the debate and making it happen. This is a critical issue. Like other hon. Members, I would have preferred to see more people in the Chamber, but it is up to us to promote the problem of climate change and to excite people’s interest in the subject. It is also up to us to come up with ideas and solutions that bring about the scale of interest that we undoubtedly need. The truth is that, even if we did just a little better than we have done thus far, we would still be facing a worsening situation in terms of CO2 output. That is the reality. We need to embark upon a huge set of policy initiatives if we are to see a significant degree of improvement.
We have been talking about Cancun, but let us talk briefly about Copenhagen and why nothing happened there. The real reason nothing happened was that the United States and China got together and decided that nothing much should happen. The first and most important lesson for all of us in this room and beyond to learn is that Europe has huge responsibilities and a range of opportunities to influence the debate. Europe must play its part in a significant and resolute way if we are to start to secure the kind of agreements that are necessary. I hope that Britain plays a powerful role at Cancun, but we must also engineer a strong European voice; otherwise the same sort of thing will happen.
Related to that, but just as important, is the role of the BRIC—Brazil, Russia, India and China—economies as emerging economies. It is not just a matter of what China and the United States are doing; it is about what those four economies do next. We must encourage them to pursue policies that are CO2-responsible. For example, there is evidence that technology we have in my Stroud constituency is being exported to Brazil and elsewhere. It is critical to encourage such a relationship at national level, as well.
May I address some of the issues raised? My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) talked about fossil fuels and the fact that they are subsidised in countries where we should not be subsidising them at all. Instead, we should be encouraging the right kind of technology. That is an opportunity for us and a necessity for those countries. I urge the Government to think carefully about that. The Government should not simply say that subsidising fossil fuels is bad; they should start to think about what is good for the economy as a whole. We need to promote that strong message.
Given the constituency of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), it was interesting that he talked about shipping and aviation. It is true that both shipping and aviation produce emissions that are damaging. However, we must get the proportion and scale right, because some 90% of trade is actually shipped. We must bear in mind that if we do not ship certain things and decide to produce them here, it could do more damage in terms of CO2. We should not worry too much about shipping. We must get the proportion and our understanding of the questions of transport versus production exactly right. Talking about aviation taxes is not necessarily the right thing to do at this point, because I understand that aviation accounts for just 2% of emissions. It is much better to strike at the very heart of the problem and deal with the big issues that really matter: energy production and domestic transport.
The hon. Gentleman observed that although I represent a port constituency, I said that international bunker taxes ought to be introduced on shipping. That should also be the case for aviation, not necessarily because of the percentage of emissions that shipping and aviation currently represent, but because there is an upwards trajectory in the percentage they will represent in the future. Indeed, we are assuming that our own carbon budgets are included in emissions totals. We would have to make unbelievably high reductions in emissions elsewhere in the economy if that is not the case, bearing in mind the trajectory increase. It is also true that, per kilometre tonne hauled, shipping is not remotely as emission-concentrated as aircraft. Nevertheless, taken in the round, the increase is very apparent, which is why I said what I did.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. I still think it is a question of proportion. That is something we should have a discussion about. I started off by pointing out just how steep the challenge really is and I think all hon. Members in this room would agree with that. I think we all recognise that significant CO2 reductions just have not happened thus far—in fact, there has been an increase.
I shall end by mentioning the point made to me very forcefully earlier this week by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham also heard what was said. The institute rammed home just how big the challenge is and how important technology will be. It talked sensibly about the need for Britain to push ahead with the development of technology. I hope that the Government will continue to reassure us that that is exactly the direction in which they intend to go and that renewable energy and so forth will be promoted. We need to create a secure market for all of those things. It is crucial that we set about producing an infrastructure that is responsive to the new types of energy that will be feeding in, so that we can distribute easily. I am not just talking about a national infrastructure; I am talking about a European infrastructure. Renewable energies have their geographic suitabilities—for example, wind in one area and solar and hydro in others. We need to be flexible enough to benefit in big ways from all of those through a proper infrastructure.
Last but not least, if we are to start taking remedial action, which we need to do because of the scale of the problem, geo-engineering is a way forward. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers also made that point. I understand that we are not yet really in that development area, but we should be, because that is something in which Britain could play a part. We need to start to think carefully about our commitment to geo-engineering as a demonstration of how we will deal with the problem. Involvement would also bring about obvious advantages in terms of jobs and economic growth for ourselves and anybody else who cared to help us.
Those are the points I wanted to make. I can sum them up in this way: first, let us recognise the gravity of the problem. Secondly, let us recognise that solutions will, first and foremost, be international, which is why we must frame our argument along the lines I have described. Thirdly, we must encourage the right technology and implement it where we can.
Setting out a realistic ambition for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Cancun must begin with a clear understanding of what happened at the fifteenth session of the conference of the parties in Copenhagen in December. It also demands humility on the part of the UK and the EU. In the UK we often behave as if we are the acknowledged global leaders on climate change, and as if we believe we punch above our weight. Indeed, that has already been suggested in this debate. It may be worth reminding ourselves that the final negotiations in Denmark took place between the leaders of China, the US, India, Brazil and South Africa. The meeting itself may have been in Europe but Europe was not in the meeting.
Europe has no leader, which means, in summit politics, that it has no voice. To say that EU negotiators played a considerable role in crafting the accord may be true, but in the final frame Europe was not present—never mind the UK. Europe needs to become a player once again. We have certain unique contributions to make to the ongoing debate, but we shall not be able to make them if we cannot agree on a spokesperson who is taken seriously by the leaders of the emerging powers and the USA. The problem may not manifest itself so much at Cancun, because we do not expect the influx of world leaders that went to COP 15. However, the situation is more likely to be a problem in South Africa in 2011 at COP 17, and it certainly will at the Rio plus 20 summit the following year. It needs to be addressed now.
There is no common narrative about Copenhagen. The western media proclaimed COP 15 a failure because it did not deliver a legally binding agreement. Cancun will not deliver a legally binding agreement either. The truth is somewhat more complicated. As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the USA is a critical player, but it has refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol because of the concern that it might damage US economic growth. Given the fact that Kyoto places no binding commitment to emission reductions on major developing countries such as China and India, the USA has made it clear that it is unlikely to join any post-2012 framework based on Kyoto. By contrast, developing countries are concerned that annexe 1 countries have failed to live up to the commitment that they took on at Kyoto. They want a second commitment period under the protocol, as that guarantees the important—in their view vital—principle of common but differentiated responsibility, which reflects the greater historic responsibility of the developed nations as well as their greater wealth and capacity to act.
Another group of countries, which includes Japan, Australia, Canada and the EU, believes that it is essential to bind in the United States to any future agreement, and wants the major developing nations to take on commitments of their own. The first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol will conclude in 2012, and most parties are conscious that we must establish a post-2012 settlement that is comprehensive and preferably legally binding. Copenhagen failed to do that. So will Cancun.
In the mean time the Copenhagen accord created a loose, open-architecture structure, which is very much a coalition of the willing. Under the accord, countries put on the table the national actions that they are prepared to take to reduce their emissions—nationally appropriate mitigation actions. They monitor their success in achieving their own targets. Interestingly, although the western press accused China of spiking an agreement at the time, that is precisely the sort of structure that China had already proposed two months before Copenhagen. It has the benefit of preserving sovereignty while maximising commitment. Obama’s insistence on international monitoring of China’s voluntary actions within the Kyoto process, when the USA had not even ratified the Kyoto protocol, was less informed diplomacy than strategic media grandstanding. The world’s press fell for it, but we should not.
President Obama’s political capital has now been expended on a weak health care Act. The cost is his inability to get a climate change Bill through what was the most amenable Congress in decades. The mid-terms have configured a very different Congress, and we in the UK must now consider where future progress on climate change can best be pressed to advantage. One thing is clear: that place is not America.
China’s 12th five-year plan was announced last week. It will be published in detail in the spring, and it makes it clear that China is looking to create an emissions trading scheme. In Europe we have considerable experience, both positive and negative, of the EU ETS and the EU must work with China to help it to learn from the initial mistakes that we made in setting it up. Indeed, those discussions are already going on at a high level.
It is time for the UK and Europe to refocus our efforts away from the United States to form a more strategic alliance with China. Last week I participated in a Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment forum on climate change in Tianjin—I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—along with 70 legislators from countries ranging from South Africa to Brazil. Sixteen of the G20 countries were represented, including the US. It is clear to me that a radical programme for climate change would mean the EU joining forces with China, ultimately to create common standards in products, and a joint carbon market establishing an international price for carbon around the globe. That would be a game changer. More than that: it could be a game changer that market makers in the US would suddenly find extremely threatening. America can resist any opposition to its policies. What it cannot take is being sidelined or ignored. Let us imagine that the biggest pressure on President Obama to sort out climate change came not from the liberal left or even from some “blue dog” Democrats in the Senate, but from American industry and Wall Street itself. What if Wall Street were saying to Obama: “Climate change? It’s all about the economy, stupid!”
As we approach Cancun we need to be clear about why the accord is not sufficient and what is required to take the negotiations on a trajectory that may be able to deliver a legally binding agreement. The total emissions reductions pledged so far under the accord by the US, Japan, Europe and the major developing economies fail to match the scientific calculations on targets for stopping dangerous climate change: the accord agreed on a rise of no more than 2º C. The accord makes no enforceable provision for funding of capacity building in developing countries. It creates no binding obligation on developed countries to finance adaptation, or to effect technology transfer. It creates no structure to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. I will try to deal with each of those aspects of the matter.
First, as to emissions reductions, currently almost 50% of global emissions come from the developed world, which represents just 20% of the global population. The World Resources Institute estimates that the developed country commitments at Copenhagen would reduce those countries’ emissions by no more than between 13% and 19% below 1990 levels. The IPCC has called for between 25% and 40% reductions. Therefore, the commitments from the developed world fall well below the minimum that the IPCC believes is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change of more than 2° C. Among the major countries, the USA has offered to reduce its emissions by 17% by 2020, but only below 2005 levels, which equates to a reduction of just 3% below 1990 levels.
Let us now look carefully at our own suggested target of at least 80% reductions from 1990 levels by the developed world. Why has that not been welcomed more fully by China and other G77 nations? Let us cash out the numbers. Global emissions in 1990 were 21 gigatonnes—21 million metric tonnes—so the global reduction of 50% required to sustain a 2° C trajectory would give the world a total of just 10.5 million tonnes of emissions annually to play with. In 1990, the developed countries emitted 15 million of those 21 million tonnes, so an 80% reduction would mean that they should emit no more than 3 million tonnes by 2050, or almost 30% of the world’s total annual emissions.
Today, the developed world accounts for just one fifth of the global population, and the proportion is estimated to fall to just one eighth by 2050. Why should we expect China and India to think it fair that one eighth of the world’s people should get 30% of the world’s emissions capacity? It would mean that developed countries would have exactly three times the emissions per person of developing countries, which is hardly the basis for a just and sustainable international settlement.
To date, the mitigation debate has been locked around a failure to agree on emissions reductions targets that will equate to a rise of no more than 2° C. The reason it has always stalled there is that the Chinese and the Indians are good mathematicians and so refuse to lock themselves into what is a manifestly unjust equation.
Let us now turn to finance. At Copenhagen, developed countries under the accord pledged a significant amount of money—$100 billion annually by 2020—as has already been mentioned. There is also fast-start funding approaching $30 billion cumulatively through 2012 for developing country mitigation and adaptation. However, that created new questions on both the sources of that money and the policies that it is supposed to pay for. Those are fundamental issues of trust between developing and developed countries. The accord did not specify how, from where or under what conditions the funding would be transferred, and developing countries urgently need that clarification before they commit themselves to the way in which they will account for how the funding is used.
Developing countries, on the other hand, first seek clarification on how the money they commit will be used. They want a clear system for measurement, reporting and verification—MRV—of the developing country mitigation actions. Understandably, we say that we cannot send our taxpayers’ money to pay for mitigation projects without a clear mechanism for MRV to hold people accountable and show that the money is actually achieving the desired outcome of emissions reduction. That has created a chicken-and-egg problem in the negotiations; developed countries are unable to provide clarity on financing until developing countries provide clarity on their mitigation measures, and vice versa.
How can we break that stalemate? The proposed wording mentioning the Copenhagen accord’s figure of $100 billion has made it into the negotiating text for Cancun, albeit as one of hundreds of phrases and options that are currently in brackets. Some parties have suggested referring to the $100 billion that is otherwise mentioned only in the Copenhagen accord, but not all parties have yet agreed to do so. Potentially, a critical bulldozer to remove the roadblocks is the high-level advisory group on climate change financing, which has already been mentioned, which was created by the UN Secretary-General after Copenhagen. Heads of state and Ministers have been studying sources of revenue for the promised $100 billion a year by 2020. That group has completed a report that will be released just before the negotiations in Cancun, and the sight of money on the table might be what is needed to restore the lost trust between the parties.
In addition, negotiating sessions since Copenhagen have produced general agreement on a fund that will channel rich countries’ financial contributions to poorer nations’ mitigation actions, and both developing and developed countries have put forward constructive proposals on how that fund could be operationalised. That means that Cancun could see a COP decision officially creating that fund and procedural rules relating to it. In Europe, we should certainly press for that to happen. With more clarity about the money, developing countries might be willing to agree to let the international community measure, report and verify what that money is used for. MRV of mitigation actions in developing countries is, in my view, the essential key to unlocking those funding flows. We should emphasise that point to everyone in the negotiations. What is required at Cancun is a clear decision on how such reporting will take place and possibly some sort of global registry of mitigation actions that can be scrutinised and verified so that funds can begin to flow.
At Cancun, a goal for REDD-plus—a development of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries—should be written into the preamble of the decision text. That goal could be to reduce emissions from deforestation by 50% by 2020, for example. The type of activities recognised as part of the REDD-plus decision, however, must be nailed down. The REDD-plus decision text includes references to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forest and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The accord, however, only mentions the first three goals. To clarify which activities will receive compensation, the definition of what constitutes REDD-plus needs to be made consistent within the UN process.
Another uncertainty relates to the mechanisms used to fund REDD-plus activities. The Copenhagen accord, like the Bali action plan, states that there should be positive financial incentives for countries that take action to reduce deforestation and degradation, but how countries would receive that money is still up in the air. It could be through a carbon market, a dedicated fund or something else. That question needs to be resolved in the REDD-plus decision text.
Industrialised countries expect a market mechanism for REDD, with the exception of Norway, whose Government, commendably, is donating billions to rainforest protection. Rich countries envisage significant participation of the private sector in REDD financing, through market incentives such as the clean development mechanism. On the other hand, developing countries are wary of markets, preferring direct Government-to-Government funding for REDD. Although the current negotiating text contains proposals in brackets that explicitly forbid the use of markets and the creation of offsets for REDD, it also leaves the key phrase “options to use markets” in brackets.
Several parties to the REDD discussions have highlighted in their statements the importance of maintaining the environmental integrity of any market mechanism associated with REDD. That shows that they still consider a market mechanism to be a potential outcome. Outside the negotiations, Governments have created infrastructure for REDD finance but will not necessarily come through with their financing pledges—again, something that was alluded to earlier. Donor members of the REDD-plus partnership—a group of more than 60 nations that have either pledged to fund REDD efforts in developing countries or are slated to receive them—are having trouble making good on their financing promises, and some donations constitute rebranding of previously allocated funds. Our own Government should take note of that.
In contrast, the private sector has shown real interest in REDD credits on the voluntary carbon market, presumably for both marketing and speculative purposes. For instance, the first REDD project is expected to be approved under the voluntary carbon standard this December. In addition, BNP Paribas has set up an option to buy up to $50 million worth of potential forest credits from an African project. If developing countries continue to perceive private sector interest in market mechanisms for their mitigation actions while they are waiting for industrialised Government funding to come through, they may remove barriers to markets in the negotiating text and thus open up the option for business to participate in global emissions reductions through tradeable REDD credits. That is another aim that our Government should pursue at Cancun.
Mr Chope, I seek your guidance on time. I wonder how we are doing.
The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 21 minutes, according to the clock. I know that at least one other Member who has not yet spoken hopes to be able to chip in something to this debate. If the Front-Bench spokesmen take 10 minutes each and push right up to half-past 4, that means that we will have to start the Front-Bench speeches at 10 past 4, but they may want a bit more flexibility to answer some of the points that have been made. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) wishes to participate.
I am grateful to you, Mr Chope. In that case, I will not pursue my remarks on land use, land-use change and forestry—LULUCF—because I believe that the Department is already familiar with what I would say. I understand that it is looking carefully at ensuring that there will not be half a gigatonne of free credits in any post-2012 LULUCF settlement, the fear that has been expressed by many.
Perhaps the most difficult question for this conference of the parties is whether it is possible to move forward on all of the issues without first dealing with the elephant in the room: the stalemate about the overall form of the agreement. The US has contended that all the elements of a global deal should be pursued simultaneously, and it objects to an approach that it says cherry-picks—that takes areas where we think progress may be likely, such as, for example, REDD-plus. However, if negotiators continue to pursue the so-called American balance package, they may spend so much time and effort discussing the form of an agreement after 2012 that they fail to take even relatively easy decisions that could achieve real progress.
Over the past two years, GLOBE legislators—legislators participating in the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment—in 16 of the G20 countries have been discussing the architecture of a post-2012 deal. They have put forward a proposal that suggests a way forward that might be politically acceptable to the major economies. Negotiations under the Bali action plan are currently taking place on two separate tracks. The first is the Kyoto track—those who support Kyoto—whereby Kyoto parties are considering further targets for a second commitment period beyond 2012. There is also the convention track, where long-term co-operative action involving all parties including the US and major developing economies is considering how to strengthen action taken under the convention.
Based on those discussions over the past two years with more than 100 legislators in different countries, we believe that certain elements could be part of a politically acceptable deal: first, agreement on the overall level of ambition that has already been stated in the Copenhagen Accord to hold the increase in global temperatures below 2oC; secondly, a decision under the Kyoto track that commits annexe I Kyoto parties—the developed countries—to a second commitment period, 2013-17, and involves quantified, economy-wide emissions reductions targets and the associated commitments of finance and technology, subject to addressing satisfactorily the issues of hot air and the rules for accounting for forestry emissions; and, thirdly, either a new parallel treaty under the convention track or a set of COP decisions under the convention track that place comparable commitments on the US without its having to join the Kyoto protocol. Such commitments could include an economy-wide emissions reduction target and a commitment to provide financial and technological assistance to developing countries, and formalising the actions of the major developing countries—for example, on carbon or energy intensity targets, renewables targets, efficiency targets, sustainable forestry targets and other central policies—with a commitment to increased transparency through national communications under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We believe that that could be achieved through the recognition of national legislation and the role of Parliaments in monitoring, reporting and verification.
Hon. Members have alluded to many other aspects: air and sea bunkers, the EU position and whether we should have a more or less robust position in the negotiations. It is clear that Europe is split at the Commission level on European targets. They were offered at 30% if others participated and came in with further commitments before Copenhagen, and repackaged afterwards by Commissioner Hedegaard in such a way as to imply that they were good for our industry anyway, and we should just get on with it.
I met both Commissioner Hedegaard and Commissioner Oettinger the other day. In the morning, Commissioner Hedegaard told me that it was absolutely vital that we proceeded to reduce emissions by 30% by 2020. In the afternoon, Commissioner Oettinger told me that it was absolutely impossible to do so. The Commission is irrevocably riven on the subject, and there is clearly no desire to adopt a more robust position at Cancun and going forward.
I believe that we are not looking for a legally binding agreement at Cancun but for small stages of progress that can take us forward to Johannesburg in the following year, and to Rio plus 20 in 2012. However, we need to adopt a much more radical approach in the alliances that we form. We need to look across the globe to China and other BASIC countries—Brazil, South Africa, India and China—to see how we can develop common standards and frighten American business and industry into realising that they are being left behind, and that they need to come into a common framework under the UNFCC.
Members might be relieved to know that I will keep my contribution short. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) spoke with far more knowledge and detail and far more eloquently than I can, and covered many of the points that I wanted to make. That will, no doubt, come as good news to all. I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) for securing the debate. Our attendance today suggests that we need no reminder that climate change affects us all.
A perpetual challenge for climate change conferences is matching up the microcosmic with the macrocosmic: from the level of individual action to regional, national and international action. Putting that scale of possibility for action together is often the challenge that international climate change conferences run into.
Sidetracking for a moment, I am very proud to be a representative of Bristol North West. Bristol is a city that I will often criticise, but it has done extremely well in making itself a green city, with biomass plants in the Blaise nursery in my constituency, and in pressing for the wider, global impact of planning applications to be taken into account in the planning process. It might be slightly odd to raise a local issue when we are discussing such an international matter, but it demonstrates that to make progress we need not only ambition—an abstract thing—and legally-binding targets that embed hope in a legal framework, but action and strategy.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) mentioned equity, the hon. Member for Brent North talked about China, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham mentioned climate finance, and I shall talk briefly about those issues. Climate finance is an absolutely key issue. In recent discussions with some representatives from the Chinese Communist party, we talked about the perceived luxury of morality that developed countries have when it comes to climate change. As the discussion progressed, we began to unravel that the problem was having a judgmental morality rather than an enabling one. If I can suggest anything to people far more knowledgeable and experienced than me in these climate talks, it is that we need to shift from a judgmental morality to an enabling one, and to understand where countries such as China and India are coming from and the trade-offs that they have to make to reach the position—to which they aspire—of having the luxury of the morality that we enjoy.
The hon. Member for Brent North covered this issue in comprehensive detail, but I wonder whether we should flip the coin, and change from black to white, from sticks to carrots, and from constraint to opportunity. As he said, China has already demonstrated encouraging signs—perhaps surprisingly for much of the British media—that it is looking at climate change far more proactively than we may think, not only from the point of view of morality, but because it sees a great economic opportunity. Europe likes to think of itself as a leader in green technology, but we might have to start stepping up our game because China—this should be good news to everyone—is also stepping up its game substantially. It has already started to put climate change measures into legislation for the congress in 2011; it has committed to reducing its carbon intensity by 40 to 45%; and it might even, as the hon. Member for Brent North said, be willing to sign up to emission cuts, which is something that we can work on.
In particular, if we look at what Europe, and Britain as part of Europe, can offer, and at what we can bring to the table in an arena with two extremely big players, China and the United States, I suggest—and I recognise that I do not have as much knowledge and experience as other contributors today—that the best thing that we can offer is leverage. We could provide a lever to use China’s motivations and the opportunity they provide to nudge the USA into a far more co-operative position. We cannot do that by simply pushing; we cannot do it by endlessly enunciating ambitions; and we cannot do it by just creating expectations, embedding them in legislation and then somehow hoping that the existence of legislation makes things a reality. We have to be very strategic. The low expectations for Cancun are a massive opportunity, as are the low expectations of China. I very much hope that Cancun can be a massive surprise.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope, and I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on securing this timely debate.
The UN summit in Cancun is a chance for world leaders to make vital progress toward a legally-binding treaty, and it is only right that this House has the opportunity to debate the issues. We should all be in no doubt that climate change is the greatest threat facing our generation. It will have an impact on a global scale. We can expect to see greater hunger due to increased water scarcity, extra health risks from diseases such as malaria, the impact of rising world temperatures on agriculture, and more climate-related disasters. The threat is both real and urgent.
This year has been one of the hottest on record. We have seen extreme weather events across the globe, with mudslides in China, forest fires in Russia, floods in Pakistan and the breaking-off of a massive ice sheet in Greenland. Millions of people have seen their homes destroyed and their lives shattered. This is a global threat, and it will require co-ordinated global action. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) said, expectations for Cancun have dampened since Copenhagen, but it is clear that progress can be made, especially on climate finance. Making real progress on that at the forthcoming summit must surely be a priority.
Vital to any progress towards a global deal on emissions is the provision of sustainable and predictable sources of climate finance for developing countries. Without that, many of the gains that the world’s poorest countries have made in development over the past 50 years will be lost. Climate finance is necessary to help vulnerable people and poor countries cope with the impact of climate change and develop in a carbon-constrained world. I urge the Government to press other countries, particularly those within the EU, to deliver the $30 billion in fast-start funding pledged at Copenhagen, as soon as possible. By delivering early on our promises, developed countries can send a powerful message to developing countries.
Delivering on the fast-start finance is important, but we also need to look beyond 2012 and work to develop a substantial long-term finance package. As other hon. Members have said, the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing has just reported on a range of financing sources that could be used to provide the $100 billion pledged at Copenhagen. I welcome the Secretary of State for International Development’s commitment in a speech today at a Climate and Development Knowledge Network event that the Government will seek to make progress on that at the summit. I also welcome his announcement of the Government’s support for a climate advisory fund, which will provide access to legal and technical support for the poorest countries, to secure their participation in reaching an equitable deal. A bold solution to financing must be reached, as relying on private sources alone will not be enough.
Given that the hon. Lady mentions the AGF report, I wonder whether she would share my view that an important and helpful next step would be some quantification of the potential contribution of the options in that report towards the $100 billion a year target. The advisory group has not yet done that, but it would certainly help to concentrate minds.
I thank the hon. Member for his contribution, and I accept that quantification would be warmly welcomed.
Not only is it vital that long-term finance is made available, but we should also be clear that the money must not be repackaged aid. The $100 billion pledged at Copenhagen is a similar amount to current annual global aid transfers. At a time when aid budgets are stretched, redirecting the support to global climate financing would inevitably have serious consequences. Under the Labour Government, there was a cap on UK climate finance spending, which ensured that no more than 10% of the money could come from the aid budget. Although the Government’s planned spending for this year will not exceed that cap, so far we have not received any confirmation that the 10% cap will remain for the long term. We are clear on this side of the House that the vast majority of the aid budget should remain focused on tackling poverty, and that the UK’s commitments to climate finance should supplement our aid commitments.
We need to hear from the Government what they plan to do after 2013. Will they keep the cap, or do they plan to cut the aid budget to fund international climate finance commitments? Strong leadership from the British Government is vital to ensure that we make progress on tackling climate change, and such leadership is needed both at home and abroad.
At home, we need to do a lot more to build a low-carbon economy. We can only show leadership globally when we practise what we preach. The Government inherited a strong green legacy from Labour. The Climate Change Act 2008 was the first of its kind in the world, and it is widely acknowledged that Britain has made huge environmental progress in recent years. It has been at the forefront of tackling climate change on the international stage. The Government deserve some credit for building on Labour’s legacy by bringing forward proposals for a green investment bank and the green deal. The intentions are good, though at this stage the details are thin.
In Europe, the Government need to push our European neighbours to commit to a second phase of the Kyoto protocol, which focuses on developed countries cutting their emissions first and fastest. There are grave doubts on both sides of the House, even from members of the Government, as to the Prime Minister’s ability to lead on the issue in Europe.
On 22 April, the Deputy Prime Minister said,
“I think if you’re going to lead on this, of course you have to lead at home, but you also have to lead in Europe. There’s no point clubbing together as David Cameron has done with people who even deny the existence of climate change in Europe.”
We all saw how the Prime Minister was marginalised last week at the G20 summit. We can only hope that the same does not happen again, because the UK must be at the heart of Europe pushing for an ambitious global plan on climate finance. This Government will never be the greenest ever unless they back up their soundbites with strong leadership, decisive action and determined commitment domestically, in Europe and on the international stage.
There is much to be achieved at Cancun. I urge the Government to be at the forefront of the discussions and to take a lead in ensuring that the summit delivers on climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Chope. We have had a good, productive debate; it has been thoughtful, considerate, passionate and wide ranging. Although the numbers have not been as great as we might have wished, the quality of the debate could not have been better. People looking at it from outside will have perceived the genuine commitment of everybody who spoke to get the best possible deal out of Cancun and to make real progress. One of the most important roles of the Backbench Business Committee is constantly to raise ambition; to push and encourage the Government to do more; and to encourage the Government to be realistic, but ensure that we know we have the support of parties in all parts of the House in raising the ambition for what is possible.
I commend the hon. Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) on the way he introduced the debate. He made an extremely effective contribution in which he raised many important issues. I hope to deal with those points and everything else in my response. He rightly paid tribute to the work of the last Government. One of the most important aspects of the progress that we can make in this country is the degree of cross-party agreement on what needs to be done. The commitment to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 had the support of a broad coalition. Members of the Opposition in the last Parliament pushed the Government to go further, and the Government responded positively. It was therefore possible for this country to give a global lead towards achieving our aims. The hon. Gentleman was also right to say that we need to bring as many people on board as possible. He talked about China and other parts of the world, because this is not something we can do on our own or purely with Europe. This is a global challenge requiring a global response.
I was also impressed by contributions from hon. Friends and hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), speaking for the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is completely right in saying that we have to win hearts and minds. That is where his measured tones are so much more effective than a hectoring style. That type of tone, reasonableness and thoughtfulness, help to win people round and to understand the extent of the challenges we are facing. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) says, climate change is happening now—a point supported by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree. We only need to look at what has happened this year to realise that time is not on our side. We have to act now and constantly up the pace at which we tackle these issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) talked about the need to encourage progress, not just to penalise bad behaviour. That is at the heart of the tone that we should be adopting. If we want to encourage people to change, we should be showing how much better things can be, rather than constantly telling people how bad they are at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) picked up that theme. I liked her analogy of moving from judging to enabling—that is an effective comparison. She mentioned, as others did, the importance of China. I know that when the Prime Minister and others were in China last week, they were constantly impressed that China is not a laggard. China is determined to lead the world in clean technologies. It is rolling out onshore and offshore wind and other low-carbon technologies, and seeking to take a lead in carbon capture and storage. China sees an extraordinary business opportunity and wants to ensure that it takes a global lead.
As has been constantly emphasised, the scale of the challenge shows that we must have international action; it is not something that the UK can do on its own. Our proportion of global emissions is just 2%, so even if we managed to obliterate those over the next few years, without action being taken across the world we cannot begin to make the necessary progress to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2%. We all know that beyond 2% the risks of dangerous climate change are greater and the costs associated with managing the impacts rise sharply. That is why we are committed to working towards a global deal to limit emissions, and to provide support for developing countries to adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change.
I did mean 2°C, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that for me. I am not sure what 2% would work out at, but 2°C is the figure we should be working to. I am grateful for that clarification and correction.
A legally binding global deal is the best way to secure a stable, transparent framework for action, build confidence for investors and reassurance for the developing world that developed countries will deliver their commitments, but as Copenhagen showed us, we must be realistic about when such a deal can be achieved. We all now recognise that expectations at last year’s Copenhagen conference became over-inflated. That is a point brought home by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who speaks with such expertise on many of these matters. In reality, there was a lack of political will on the part of too many countries to reach a comprehensive deal. We need to win the argument that it is in countries’ political, economic and security interests to move towards low-carbon economies.
Although we will not agree a full legally binding treaty in Cancun, we can and must make solid progress. Cancun can set the stage for future negotiations and provide an essential stepping stone towards a legally binding agreement in the future. Our preferred outcome at Cancun would be to make solid progress on a package of issues that would benefit both developed and developing countries. That package could include bringing the emissions reductions offers countries have made since Copenhagen into the UNFCCC process; strengthening the measurement, reporting and verification arrangements, which will ensure progress on emissions is transparent; and establishing the structures for climate finance beyond 2012, including an international green fund for climate change.
Achieving even that will be challenging. All countries must be prepared to show flexibility in their positions to maximise the chances of success and progress. That is why the EU has signalled its willingness to sign up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, subject to certain conditions being met. But success does not depend solely what happens at the negotiating table. Given the challenges in securing a global deal, we must increase our support for practical action on the ground, in parallel with negotiations if we are to persuade other countries that taking ambitious action is in their economic and security interests. We must demonstrate the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy domestically, and support others who are willing to do the same; encouraging them to deliver on their existing commitments to reduce emissions and go even further.
In that respect, I believe we have a strong record as a new Government in trying to achieve progress. We do believe in showing global leadership in the measures we are putting place to mitigate climate change. We have allocated £1 billion to the green investment bank, even in these difficult times, and made a commitment to come forward with additional funding. We are encouraging the most ambitious programme of energy efficiency improvements through the green deal, which will be the centrepiece of the energy Bill this winter.
We are providing £1 billion of investment to support the demonstration of carbon capture and storage technology—the most any Government anywhere in the world have allocated to a single project—thereby ensuring that the UK will continue to lead in that critical technology. The internationally renowned “2050 Pathways Analysis” helps us to consider some of the choices and trade-offs that we will face over the next 40 years if we are to move to a secure, low-carbon economy, and it allows us to explore the combinations of effort that will be needed to meet our emissions targets while matching energy supply and demand. We are taking action to switch from fossil fuels to cleaner and more sustainable green sources of energy by taking forward the renewable heat incentive, a world-leading scheme that provides long-term support for renewable heat technologies. There are also the feed-in tariffs to encourage microgeneration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West mentioned the biomass facility that I was delighted to visit with her in her constituency. Another change that we have made will enable councils to generate their own electricity and sell it to the grid, freeing up a fantastic potential that has not been delivered in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke about the critical use for technology in that area. British universities have global leading potential in the area. The genius of invention and innovation that is found in so many of our universities can provide fantastic opportunities to deal with the challenges we face. I am delighted that my hon. Friend, and many colleagues from all parties, are engaging with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, because of the contribution that it can bring to the debate.
I shall now respond to some specific issues that have been raised. The hon. Member for Chippenham, and many others, raised the question of long-term financing. The United Kingdom is making a significant commitment to support action on the ground. The spending review provided £2.9 billion of international climate finance through the international climate fund. That will allow the UK to help developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and move on to a low-carbon growth path. That fully funds the UK’s pledge to deliver £1.5 billion in fast-start finance between 2010 and 2012, including £300 million for reducing deforestation.
The £2.9 billion is new in that it is drawn from the rising aid budget. Part of the £1.5 billion to which I have referred relates to the fiscal years 2011-12 and 2012-13. That is included in the figure of £2.9 billion. Funding for years three and four of the spending review period represents a further commitment of resources for climate finance. The hon. Gentleman may like more detail on that, and I would be more than happy to correspond with him if any further clarification is necessary.
Such figures demonstrate the UK’s commitment to scaling-up climate finance to meet its fair share of the $100 billion of public and private international finance per year from 2020. We welcome the recent report from the UN Secretary-General’s advisory group on climate finance, which makes a number of recommendations on how to meet the $100 billion goal. We look to make good progress in implementing its recommendations.
We need things to happen now, and that is why we call for international bodies such as the United Nations framework convention on climate change, international financial institutions, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the G20, and others, to take action in their areas on the back of the report, so that we can deliver progress at Cancun with a view to producing concrete proposals by the time of the climate change negotiations in South Africa next year. It is clear that public finance alone is not enough; we also need to mobilise private investment. That is why we have launched the capital markets climate initiative to help create the right commercial conditions to drive economic investment in emerging economies.
The fast-start programme has been mentioned. As I have said, the United Kingdom will provide £2.9 billion through the new international climate fund and the spending review to help developing countries to adapt to the impact of climate change and move to a low-carbon growth path. That fully funds the UK’s commitment to deliver £1.5 billion in fast-start finance between 2010 and 2012. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park asked about the importance of bilateral agreement. We are absolutely clear that any action must be taken through bilateral and multilateral discussions. It will be a priority to deploy some of the finance to tackle deforestation.
The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) asked whether developed countries need to be clear about the finance they will provide to developing countries. We could not agree more about that, which is why we are pushing other countries to be transparent about how and where they are spending their fast-start finance. We support a Dutch-led website that allows countries to make information about their fast-start spends publicly available.
In his opening comments, the hon. Member for Chippenham asked about which AGF sources are a priority. He asked about the levy on aviation and shipping and the financial transaction tax. The report identifies a range of proposals on how to achieve the goal of £100 billion, and we now need to work with others to make that happen. The United Kingdom continues to work with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation to develop co-ordinated global solutions to tackle emissions from those sectors. Many questions need to be explored about whether proposals for a financial transaction tax offer a stable and efficient mechanism to raise revenue. Those are issues that the Government will take forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park asked about aviation, and we want to ensure that action to limit emissions from aviation is discussed at Cancun and in further negotiations next year. However, we must look at the potential perverse consequences that can sometimes emerge. It is clear that some freight is being brought by air into mainland Europe and then by lorry into the United Kingdom because of different levels of aviation tax in different countries. If we act unilaterally, we must be aware that the ingenuity of the business community will find ways around that, and it could be British consumers who end up paying without the important carbon savings being delivered.
My hon. Friend also asked whether the United Kingdom would support an end to World Bank lending to fossil fuel projects. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development said this morning, we will press the multilateral development banks to support a shift towards climate-smart lending across their portfolios. As part of that, the Government are reviewing the role of the multilateral development banks in energy lending. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park has publicly asked the Department for International Development questions about that, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the comments that he has made during this debate. He also asked whether we will press for reform on fossil fuel subsidies. We strongly support the G20 commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. That commitment was restated at last week’s G20 summit, and I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to raise the issue in our bilateral contact with counterparts in other countries.
We have covered many issues during the debate, but I will conclude with the extent to which there should be international agreement. We would all like to see the EU take an international leadership role in these debates, but we must also recognise that we have our own national perspectives to push forward. As a country with a strong Commonwealth link, we perhaps have a different perspective from that of other countries in the EU. Although we would all welcome greater EU co-ordination and a greater ability to speak with one voice on such matters, we also greatly value the ability of independent nations and Governments to speak on behalf of their own populations and the expertise that they bring to the debate.
The situation is not about us and China against the United States. This is a global issue and we must bring the United States with us. I am not sure that trying to bully the American business community will work. We must build bridges with the American people and the American Government to persuade them of the urgency of doing what needs to be done. We know that they are facing particularly difficult times, as are we. The work of international organisations such as GLOBE International plays an extremely important part, and in that respect I pay tribute to the work carried out by many hon. Members of this House. If we are to make progress, we must do so in a co-ordinated way.
My final point relates to forestry, and a couple of contributions have mentioned the programme on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries—REDD-plus. Our overarching goal is to maximise the contribution to global mitigation from forest and land management action in developing countries. We seek to achieve that by agreeing to strengthen the UNFCCC rules on counting emissions from forest management action towards the targets of developed countries. Those rules should incentivise action beyond business as usual and ensure environmental integrity, but avoid unfairly penalising countries that are practising sustainable forest management. We are also seeking an ambitious deal on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), who leads on these matters in the Department, is talking to some of his international counterparts at this moment, which is why I have been standing in for him and responding to the debate. I hope that I have been able to reassure my hon. Friends and the Opposition Members who spoke that this is a matter of profound importance to the Government and we are determined to continue to make progress.
Houses in Multiple Occupation
It is a pleasure to open a debate that you are chairing, Mr Chope. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate on houses in multiple occupation after I pitched the idea to it “Dragons’ Den” style. A colleague told me that I am making history today by having been granted the first one-hour Backbench Business Committee debate in Westminster Hall. If that is the case, I am grateful to be blazing a trail on an issue that so directly affects my Loughborough constituency.
It is a pleasure to see the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) here today. Some of the substance of what we shall debate was discussed in the Delegated Legislation Committee debate on two relevant statutory instruments earlier this week. I see from Hansard that even though I was not present at that debate, I managed to get a mention in it because of this debate. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) suggested that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who spoke then, would be speaking today. In fact, we have a different Minister today. I hope that that is because the Department realises that this is a topic of serious concern to quite a large number of hon. Members, so two Ministers need to take an interest in it.
I thank hon. Members for being here today. I realise that 4.30 on a Thursday afternoon is something of a graveyard slot, but several hon. Members have delayed leaving Westminster to be here and I am very grateful to them. I have received messages of support from hon. Members who cannot be here, including the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who all confirm what a huge problem the concentration of houses in multiple occupation is in their constituencies.
On 9 June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was asked by the hon. Member for City of Durham to confirm that the Government would not seek to undermine the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Order 2010, which came into force on 6 April this year. He replied:
“We all know of the problems of houses that are kept badly, and of past problems involving HMOs. I will ask the Minister for Housing to get in touch with her about his plans, so that we can ensure that we get this right.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 329.]
I suggest to the Minister that the fact that we are here today means that we have not yet got this area of policy quite right, but I hope that today’s debate will assist with that.
The primary reason for my asking the Backbench Business Committee for the debate was the changes that the Government decided to make to the April order. However, issues surrounding HMOs are not just about planning. I suspect that some hon. Members might want to talk about licensing and regulation of HMOs and safety concerns.
The change that I have mentioned was to introduce the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (No. 2) (England) Order 2010, which came into effect on 1 October and drove a coach and horses through the earlier order by allowing as permitted development the change of use from a dwelling house to a small-scale house in multiple occupation. The reasons for the April order and the reasons why the October change has been greeted with such disappointment by affected communities were discussed during the Delegated Legislation Committee and I do not want to repeat all of them here. That said, certain of the concerns are so great that I cannot avoid repeating some of what was said by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. This debate also provides an opportunity to consider the wider issue of sustainable and balanced communities, and I will say more on that in a while. I should say now that I am a member of the all-party group on balanced and sustainable communities.
I shall concentrate on four issues. First, I shall talk about why any control on HMOs is needed at all, focusing on our experiences in Loughborough. The second issue is the April and October orders and the third is the practicalities of directions under article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. The final issue is where we go from here.
Shortly after I became the candidate in Loughborough, I was contacted by a group of residents known as the Storer and Ashby Area residents group, or SARG for short. Many of them live in an area of Loughborough known as the golden triangle. The area consists of a concentration of terraced houses, which had previously been occupied by all age groups and were within easy reach of the town facilities. However, over the years and particularly between 1994 and 2004, as our extremely successful local university expanded, there was insufficient student accommodation on campus, so landlords, including parents of students, began to buy those terraced houses and rent them to our students. That led to various problems, such as late-night noise, pressure on parking and rubbish collections, poor maintenance of houses and so on. Furthermore, the problem is not confined to one area of our town, but has spread to other areas and types of housing.
I should stress that I and, I think, the residents, because many of them work there, are very proud of our excellent, world-class university. It is my pleasure to visit the campus regularly—even when that involves a live TV debate about student finance against the vice-president of the National Union of Students. However, a growing university in a relatively small town causes problems, and no one seemed to be hearing the problems. The crunch came when the members of the residents group opposed a planning application relating to the building of more student accommodation in their area of town because of the impact that that would have on the local area. The planning inspector agreed with them, and everyone else locally started to sit up and realise that there was an issue that had to be tackled.
I am pleased to say that, since then, we have all learned a lot and come a long way. On the whole, there are good relations between town and gown in Loughborough. We have an excellent community relations officer at the university, senior management who want to be helpful, committed local street wardens, a proactive student union, a supportive and engaged council in Charnwood borough council, and residents who are able to raise the alert about problems. However, the problems remain.
The fact is that the balance in the part of Loughborough to which I am referring has almost irrevocably changed. Each academic year, residents have to brace themselves for the arrival of the students. Will they be good neighbours, as many are, or will they bring trouble, late-night noise and too many cars, often inconsiderately parked? The Minister might well ask, “Hasn’t the damage been done? What would the April order have done to help with that situation?” Well, even now, there are people buying the remaining properties and trying to convert them. The April order would have given the local authority the power to know when those conversions were being proposed and to consider the impact on the local area.
In 2005, Charnwood borough council introduced a supplementary planning document on student housing provision in the town, which adopted a threshold approach that applied different responses to planning applications, depending on the percentage of student houses in any one area. The SPD is a material planning consideration when planning permission is sought—but that assumes that it has to be sought. If the property is being converted into a small-scale HMO, planning permission is not needed. That is why the April order was good news for Loughborough.
What are the consequences of losing a balanced community? The part of Loughborough to which I am referring has lost its primary school, church and post office due to lack of permanent residents. There is a rather ghostly atmosphere during university holidays, and as students are, by their very nature, transient, there is less of the sense of community and social interaction than is normally found in a stable and balanced community. There are also higher levels of crime. If a burglar breaks into a student house, he is likely to find several laptops, TVs and so on, which is bad news for the neighbours.
Turning to the April and October orders, I entirely understand the Government’s desire to empower local communities, where there is a problem with a proliferation of HMOs, to take action. I also understand that that problem does not affect the vast majority of local authorities. However, we must give communities real power to put effective controls in place if they want to do so. I will come on to article 4 directions, but first I want to examine the reasons given for the change as set out in the explanatory memorandum and impact assessment for the October orders.
The evidence base for the impact assessment sets out many of the problems associated with HMOs—for example, antisocial behaviour, increased litter, parking issues, reduced opportunities for low-cost home ownership, closure of under-used community facilities, pressure on over-used community facilities such as doctors, and loss of community balance. The evidence base goes on to say:
“It has also been argued by some that it”—
that is, all councils being caught by the April order—
“could result in a reduction in supply of this type of low cost housing in areas where it is needed because prospective landlords could…be deterred from entering the HMO market by the time, cost and uncertainty arising from the requirement to submit planning applications. However, there is no reliable evidence supporting this.”
Pages 8 to 10 of the evidence base set out the costs and benefits of the new orders for each affected group: landlords, local authorities, the planning inspectorate, HMO tenants and the local community. Those drafting the evidence base managed to think of both costs and benefits for each group, except for local residents, for whom no benefits are listed at all. That is at best highly unfortunate, given that they have to live in the affected areas.
On page 11, the document also says in relation to the costs of the new October orders that
“there may be some costs such as: local communities would have no opportunity to comment on new individual HMOs…local authorities would lose the ability to consider the impacts of new individual HMOs”
“there may be a slight increase in complaints from neighbours in relation to particular HMOs. These costs have not been monetised.”
I will say a word about the way in which the July 2010 consultation was conducted. A limited number of groups, including, I am pleased to say, the National HMO Lobby, were invited to take part. In response to a written question, the Minister for Housing and Local Government sent me a summary of the responses. Of those invited to respond, eight were against the proposed change and six in favour. Of those who responded on their own initiative, 31 were against and eight in favour. I ensured that all my local interest groups, the residents, Charnwood borough council, Loughborough university and Loughborough students’ union, responded. All supported the retention of the April order.
Loughborough university stated:
“The concept of community balance is important in our local setting and the University continues to invest significant time, energy and resources to community issues. The University continues to believe that the case for the new legislation is similarly unchanged.”
“We fail to understand why you are overlooking the responses of 92% of more than 900 respondents to last year’s country wide HMO consultation, all of whom saw a change in the Use Classes Order as the preferred way forward for avoiding concentrations of HMOs. Participants did not make a blanket proposal to stop landlords converting family homes into HMOs. We envisaged a change in the Use Classes Order which councils could opt out of in situations where it was expedient to increase such accommodation. We breathed a sigh of relief that Charnwood Borough Council were at last being given the tools with which to control concentrations of HMOs and which could be tied into the existing Student Housing SPD.
Your decision to revert to the status quo, with some slight changes to Article 4 Directions is like a slap in the face to local communities. We have been told for years by our local authority that Article 4 is not a practical means of control, more so now, in view of cutbacks to budgets and workforce. This implies that you are happy to consign communities like ours to eventual extinction.”
The reason given for the limited consultation was that the detailed consultation that had taken place a year earlier had teased out the main points. I am sure that that is true. If those responses hold good, it is worth noting that only 1% of respondents supported the position that we find ourselves in of relying on article 4 directions.
I acknowledge the letter and attachments that the Department sent to me last night about article 4 directions and the process for making such directions. It would have made it easier if they had arrived at 7 pm when I started drafting my speech, rather than at 11 pm when I had just finished, but I was glad to have them.
My concern is whether the ability to put in place article 4 directions adequately fills the gap left by the April order. The evidence base for the impact assessment on the October orders shows that there are direct financial costs to local authorities of putting article 4 directions in place. First,
“they will bear the administrative cost of processing planning applications as the fee is waived where article 4 directions have been made”.
“there will be costs associated with publicising the intention to make article 4 directions.”
“where article 4 directions have been made with immediate effect or less than 12 months notice and where applications which were submitted within 12 months of the effective date are refused or granted subject to conditions, local authorities may be liable to pay compensation to applicants as set out in the Benefits section above.”
“there may also be costs associated with the need to investigate where intervention is necessary…and enforce against unauthorised HMOs.”
The evidence base concludes:
“It is difficult to determine the extent to which local authorities will use article 4 directions to deal with new HMO development.”
Local authorities have concerns about having to pay compensation to a party whose planning permission is refused when it would otherwise have been permitted development. Charnwood borough council’s response to the Department in July 2010 stated that the article 4 option
“was among those offered to stake holders by the previous government in its exploration of potential planning responses to the problem. It failed to attract support chiefly because of the provisions for compensation which would have discouraged local planning authorities from claiming that power.”
The Minister knows that local authorities will be calculating whether that is a financial risk worth taking at a time when money is so tight.
The submission of the Residential Landlords Association to the Department in July responded to the question whether planning authorities would choose to issue article 4 directions with immediate effect or with less than 12 months’ notice:
“No, from our experience where compensation is involved it is highly unlikely that local authorities would seek to do anything which could involve them having to pay compensation.”
In the light of the documents that were sent to me last night, will the Minister confirm what is the situation in relation to the conversion of a dwelling house to an HMO? Am I correct that if a council makes an article 4 direction with 12 months’ notice of that direction, compensation may be payable if permission is refused within that first 12 months, but that after that time, assuming that all the proper processes are followed and the article 4 direction remains in place, compensation would not be payable?
I note that the Secretary of State also has the power to make article 4 directions. Will the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State might take action if a local authority unreasonably refuses to make an article 4 direction in an area that needs it? I appreciate that that is not the kind of top-down action from Whitehall in which this Government, and this Secretary of State in particular, want to indulge.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. A number of hon. Members present have a university in their constituency. Much as we value those universities and the economic benefits that they bring to our areas, there are significant problems relating to HMOs. Does she agree that in areas with large unitary authorities, such as Cornwall, the council that is best placed to make decisions about the use of article 4 directions is the parish or town council in the area that contains the HMOs?
I agree absolutely. If the Government want to empower local communities, they must do so at the right level and include those who are most aware of the problems. Local communities and councils that work together are fully aware of the problems. The Government rightly talk a lot about the localism agenda, and I am sure that the Minister has taken on board my hon. Friend’s point.
The counter-point to that and to the Government’s thinking on this matter is that if there is not a problem in an area, there will not be many applications to change to HMOs. The Government have therefore got this argument on its head.
I recognise that this is not an issue for a large number of local authorities. Submissions have been made to suggest that councils could opt out of the regulations if they do not apply to their area. The Government have decided to give local authorities the power to impose restrictions when planning permission is sought. If that is the case, my argument is that local authorities must have real power and not be open to undue financial risk. Even those of us who have not been councillors know that local planning authorities do not like to take risks. If there is any chance of a financial risk in the current financial climate, they will be reluctant to take the powers that the Government have said are on offer to plug the April order.
Finally, I will say a word about restoring balance to our local communities. It is generally accepted that when a concentration of about 20% or more of a particular group, such as students, is found in one community, the balance of that community starts to change. I have mentioned the damaging effect that that shift had on the local school, church and post office in one area of Loughborough. Long-established residents decide they want to move out and potential new permanent residents decide to stay away. I do not believe that any national or local authority wants to see that, and I certainly do not as Loughborough’s MP.
Where do we go from here? I hope that I can help the Minister by offering a few constructive thoughts. First, the explanatory memorandum for the October orders states that the policy changes are to be reviewed in October 2013 to consider their impact and the extent to which the objectives have been achieved. It states that arrangements are in place to allow a systematic collection of monitoring information for future policy reviews. In annexe 1, the post implementation review plan is helpfully set out in detail. I agree that it is important to check what impact the changes are having. Will the Minister confirm that the review will take place and say what arrangements are in place to allow for the collection of that monitoring information?
Secondly, I hope that the Minister will pass on to the Minister for Housing and Local Government that since July, I have received more requests for him to visit Loughborough. Indeed, more constituents have requested him than have requested the Prime Minister. Please will the Minister or his colleague agree to visit Loughborough to see for themselves why local residents and the council are so concerned about this issue?
Thirdly, anecdotal evidence in Loughborough suggests that, as a result of the university having built much more on-campus accommodation, demand for houses in certain streets might be beginning to fall. Is there a way that the Department could work with local councils and communities to restore balance to such areas and to create more sustainable communities?
The Department recently announced a consultation on the new homes bonus. One of the questions is whether the bonus should be extended if empty properties are brought back into use. Would the Government consider whether the scheme or some other incentive could be extended to properties that can be used by families or other long-term residents, rather than sitting empty because the demand for them as student lets is shrinking?
In particular, many of my residents are concerned that, because students do not pay council tax, no council tax is received in respect of HMOs occupied solely by students. I agree that that is a whole other debate, for another day, but some form of financial incentive for restoring balance to local communities might be welcomed by local authorities and, indeed, actively sought in difficult financial times.
The idea of empowering local residents and the council to take direct action in specifically affected areas is right, but the powers must be real and capable of being exercised without opening local authorities to undue financial risk that would stop them taking those powers. This is also an opportunity to empower communities to put right some of the damage done—the imbalance caused by the rapid proliferation of HMOs in towns such as Loughborough. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.
Before calling the next speaker, may I say that there is a lot of interest in the debate? If I call the first Front-Bench speaker at 5.10 pm, that leaves only half an hour to fit everyone else in, so I hope that people will keep their remarks appropriately brief.
I am speaking in the debate because the issue is of extreme importance to my constituents, in particular those living in areas such as Dunkirk, Lenton and Wollaton Park who feel that their local neighbourhoods face irretrievable damage as a result of the uncontrolled spread of houses in multiple occupation.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing the debate—her contribution was extremely thorough and asked many good questions on behalf of all of us.
Local people in Nottingham, supported by their local elected representatives, campaigned for years to secure the planning changes that Labour introduced on 6 April. They would agree that we should have acted earlier, but the change was none the less very welcome when it came. It was exactly what local people had been asking for and would have protected their communities for the future.
I do not need to go into a great deal of detail here, because hon. Members present understand the problems that high concentrations of HMOs create in local communities, but I want to set out briefly why the issues matter to my constituents in Nottingham South.
In Nottingham, we are fortunate to have two excellent universities that attract thousands of young people to our city. We value greatly the contribution that the universities make to our city and we welcome students into our communities. However, the impact of large numbers of family homes being converted into student lets has been considerable, and many long-term residents feel that their local neighbourhoods are changing beyond recognition.
For example, in Lenton, we have seen many of the local shops disappear, to be replaced by takeaways. Local residents have seen their local primary school shut down for lack of children. During term time, they experience daily problems with parking and, unfortunately, on occasion, with noise, litter and increased crime. Outside term time, they sometimes feel that they live in a ghost town.
The universities, Nottingham city council and local voluntary and church groups are working hard to restore a sense of community, but they need the support of the Government too. The ability to control the development of HMOs gave local people real hope—the opportunity to maintain balanced and sustainable communities, rather than have their neighbourhoods left to the market.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I am conscious of time. Obviously, the problems do not stop at the boundaries of Nottingham South. In Nottingham East, we share a similar set of problems. She is completely correct to say that the permanent residents, in particular those who are not students, feel strongly about the issues. It is a planning matter, and it seems such a shame that we are now not in a position to have the local authority properly empowered, in particular for this next year, to exercise those rights on behalf of local residents.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—it is about the opportunity to maintain those balanced and sustainable communities, not about being anti-student. Students are very welcome, but it is important that communities are balanced. That is why local residents feel so badly let down by the Government.
I have three questions in particular that I want to ask. Hopefully the Minister will respond to them. First, why was the consultation this summer so narrow and selective? The previous Government undertook extensive consultation on all the options and the planning changes they made reflected the view expressed by the vast majority of respondents. The current Government seem to have ignored all that and, after a hasty consultation over the summer, have chosen the option virtually no one—just 1%—wanted.
Secondly, why was the change rushed through without proper time for debate and discussion of the consequences or any time to see the implications and effects of the new planning changes that had just been brought in? It is very welcome that we are having today’s debate, but the truth is that it is too late. The protection that local people had worked so hard to secure was removed at the beginning of October—yet the guidance on article 4 directions was not published until last week.
Finally, do the changes not present landlords in those areas most affected with a perverse incentive to convert family homes into HMOs before article 4 directions are in place? Local authorities cannot risk compensation claims, especially in the current climate, and therefore we will have a gap of at least 12 months when we will be back to uncontrolled development.
Local communities such as mine are desperate for local planning authorities to be able to protect their interests. Why are the Government simply ignoring them?
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing it. She articulated well many of the concerns of local authorities up and down the country, in particular on article 4 directions and the potential for compensation—certainly something my own local authority in Milton Keynes is concerned about. I will not dwell on those points, since she spoke so well, I simply ask the Minister one question on behalf of Milton Keynes council, which, he is aware, is seeking a legal review at the moment. The council is keen to continue negotiations with the Government, but I understand that the Government would rather wait until the legal challenge has finished before they communicate again. It would be helpful to me, and to the council, if the Minister could confirm that.
I am sorry to say that the debate is particularly relevant to my constituency. I have long pushed for tougher measures on HMOs, given the various problems that they have caused in Milton Keynes. I even secured an Adjournment debate on the matter back in 2007. However, two months ago, two people died in an HMO fire—deaths that might have been prevented—which brought into sharp focus why fire safety is paramount in such properties, of which we have many in Milton Keynes. I want to summarise the chain of events that led to the tragedy and propose how lessons might be learnt.
In the early hours of Sunday 5 September, the emergency services were called to 200 Fishermead boulevard, where a fire had broken out on the first floor. It was clear to crews on arrival that this was an HMO: a three-storey, three-bedroom terrace property converted into five bedsits. Firefighters rescued one woman, and a firefighter was injured when the floor collapsed beneath him.
In the morning, friends were still searching for 29-year-old Bola Ejifunmilayo and her three-year-old daughter Fiyin. It was not until the next day, when the friends reported the two missing, that the property was searched again. Their bodies were discovered in a top-floor bedsit, 30 hours after the blaze. Why the search was discontinued and why it took so long to discover the bodies are the subjects of separate police and fire investigations. I would not want to pre-empt the outcome of either investigation. My focus is simply that this was an undeclared, unlicensed HMO.
Since the incident, I have met the Buckinghamshire fire and rescue service. It is clear that the outcome of the tragedy could have been very different with only a few simple fire precautions. The crucial point is that, because the landlord declared that the house was not an HMO, there was no local authority inspection, which would have ensured fire precautions, such as fire alarms, being put in place. As a result, the fire was burning for approximately 45 minutes before 999 was called. There were no self-closing doors but, for example, the door to the room where the blaze started was open, and fire doors could have contained the blaze for at least 30 minutes.
On Monday, I joined officers during an HMO inspection. Their checks included ensuring that the landlord provided means of escape, as well as fire extinguishers, blankets and doors with in-built keys to unlock them. The unregulated conversion of some HMOs—such as the addition of extra rooms or the removal of wall and floor linings—can also pose structural risks, and creating ducting or openings between floors can assist the spread of fire and cause a chimney-like effect for the flames.
It is widely accepted that HMOs are more susceptible to fire than other types of properties. That is borne out by the figures. In 2007, around 2% of houses in the UK were HMOs, but around 33% of fire deaths happened in multiple-occupancy properties. In Milton Keynes, HMOs suffer a disproportionate number of house fires.
Apart from overcrowding, HMOs put five times as much demand on the electrical supply. In these properties, kitchen appliances such as fridges are common in bedrooms; electric extension cables abound; and several people often cook meals at the same time. There is also an element of anonymity among the people who live in HMOs. That can heighten the risk of fire. The population in some HMO communities can be very transient, and it unlikely that residents will know who is living in the next room, let alone the next house.
On the tragic morning of 5 September, it appears that there was confusion in Fishermead about who lived in which bedsit. Firefighters find it harder to evacuate places if there is no awareness among those who live there and no interdependency. Given the nature of HMOs and their tenants, will the Minister acknowledge that they are more hazardous and that they therefore warrant more stringent fire regulations? Despite fire safety being paramount in HMOs, 200 Fishermead boulevard was not licensed or identified as an HMO, and was therefore not subject to safety checks. As far as the council was concerned, it was a single family dwelling. The authority had been assured of that through an e-mail from the landlord in January 2009.
I emphasise how important it is for the authorities to know when a house is an HMO. Not only can the information help prevent fires, as I have explained, but when the fire service takes a 999 call the crew is able to prepare for such an incident en route. Given that fire safety can be assured only when an HMO is declared as such, registering these properties should be made a priority.
Even for registered HMOs, risks surround inspection. Dual legislation means that although local authorities are responsible for inspecting bedrooms and private areas, the fire service inspects communal areas such as kitchens, landings and stairways. The fire authority acts under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, but the council has to adhere to the provisions of the Housing Act 2004. However, Milton Keynes operates a Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services or LACORS agreement. The council enforces it on behalf of both authorities, and it is supported by the fire service out of hours when required.
Apparently the LACORS method works better than when responsibilities remain divided. Even then, however, fire safety is not as rigorous as it could be. Councils have to give 24 hours’ notice before inspections, but fire authorities can enter immediately. As a result, the deputy chief fire officer has written to the leader of Milton Keynes council, offering the authority the fire service’s more dynamic powers.
It is no wonder that the fire service is so keen to help. It is the fire service that has to deal with the consequences. Officers would rather visit homes and install fire safety precautions than tackle a fire. They even have the power to prosecute. Meanwhile, the council is overstretched. Milton Keynes has five council staff responsible for overseeing the city’s 90,000 properties. Will the Minister consider streamlining this dual legislation? Though the LACORS agreement works well in Milton Keynes, will he consider allowing the fire service to take the lead in HMO fire safety?
I acknowledge that HMOs fulfil a necessary role, and that they are here to stay. However, our current legislative approach underestimates the magnitude of risk that they pose to residents—as proved at Fishermead. I would like to see a more robust approach to fire safety for HMOs. To that end, will the Minister acknowledge the risk, prioritise their registration and perhaps put the fire services back in the driving seat?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing this debate, and on the way in which she put her case to the House. I do not disagree with one word of what she said. The hon. Lady has campaigned and been active in the House on the issue of HMOs, as have I. If the Minister here today—and the Minister who was present at what might be called part 1 of this discussion, which took place on the prayer against the orders that were debated in Committee Room 12 on Tuesday—will not listen to me, I hope that they will listen to her.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that, in Loughborough and in many other communities, the advent of new rules that enabled local authorities to take planning action as far as permission for HMOs was concerned represented a manifest step forward. Local authorities in many towns and cities had long wanted a change to be made so that such action could be taken.
As has been said, the debate is not about students or studentification. It is about balanced and sustainable communities in those parts of the country where students—but not exclusively students—occupy HMOs. It is not the students’ fault, and not their concern, but such homes are often used in that way without conversion—and, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) said, without any thought of safety. They are placed in the HMO market and are instantly occupied by four, five, six or even seven people, where previously a family may have lived, with the attendant changes and stresses on the community that that represents.
Such change was for a long time out of sync with planning and housing legislation, and the idea that it could be subject to planning regulation and planning permission was a great step forward, not only in theory but in practice. The balanced and sustainable communities all-party group visited Belfast last year to see how the changes had been implemented there. It was a precise parallel, with the use class orders for housing separated into two, and the changes have worked well. Not only that, but the landlords in Belfast thoroughly supported the changes. They accepted that the new regime brought a number of benefits for them, as well as for the communities affected. I agree with the hon. Member for Loughborough that when the changes came into effect in the spring they made a difference. It was a difference too long in coming, but it was nevertheless real.
We then come to the October changes. Frankly—I shall not mince my words—they were an act of legislative vandalism. They purported to change the planning regulations so that planning permission could be required, under article 4 direction, in the communities with a concentration of such properties. As the hon. Lady said, it is extremely unlikely, particularly in the present circumstances, that many local authorities will take that route.
I have a letter announcing that the local authority in Southampton is cutting 250 jobs; among them are five environmental health officer jobs. That is the result of a £62 million deficit in the council’s budget heading. The idea is fanciful that, at the same time as such cuts are being made, local authorities could easily take on board the risk of the compensation payments that might loom. It is also fanciful to suggest that local authorities would undertake a process outside the planning system, when if the planning permissions requirement had remained, the application fees would have paid for most of the changes so they would have been, effectively, self-funded.
We are back to the status quo ante. Like the hon. Member for Loughborough, I received a cyber missive late last night from the Minister for Housing and Local Government, setting out his reasons for the change. After a page of discussion on article 4, which is not quite the weapon that he thinks it is, he said that the problem affected only a small number of communities. That is not right. Indeed, in our debate on the orders on Tuesday, he said that the Rugg report on the consultations on the legislative changes made in April stated that only 0.5% of wards were affected. However, that was based on the idea that 10% or more of homes in that particular ward had already turned into HMOs. He then conceded that that was a substantial underestimate, and that 5% or 6% of communities were affected. That is out, I think, by some 15%, and I put the figure at 20% or 30%.
Most of the main freestanding towns and cities in this country have this issue at the heart of their communities. It is not a tiny minority issue. It may be the case that in substantial parts of the country it is not a particular issue but, as the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) pointed out, those are the places in which very few applications are made, so it is not a particular imposition—in theory at least—for those communities to have to look at planning permission as far as such homes are concerned. Even if it were an imposition, the original suggestions made during the discussions before the April measures provided for the idea of an opt-out.
In the letter that appeared on my computer last night, the Minister said that the change is all about localism. However, what has happened with these changes—which are frankly unbelievable amendments to the April changes—is that local people have been denied the opportunity to take back control of how their communities are balanced and planned by their local authorities. A far better version of localism would have been to enable communities and local authorities to opt out of measures if they thought that they were not appropriate for their areas. That would have been a genuine local choice. Before the recent changes, if communities had had serious concerns, the use class changes, the planning permissions, the funding and the ability of those communities to make decisions based on local need would be firmly in place. I therefore reject the idea that the measure is all about localism; it is not. It is about taking us back to the position we were in before any changes were made. I regret to say that those people who have been campaigning hard for change will have to do so all over again.
I hope that the Government will think again about the changes, review them early and conclude that they have got them wrong. I hope rather than believe that that will be the case. It may be that the representations that were made by the hon. Member for Loughborough will have to be repeated by many others to enable us to make progress to the balanced and sustainable communities that could have been achieved by these changes.
In view of the time, I shall be as brief as I can. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing this debate on a matter that affects a large number of constituencies the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
When I arrived in Southampton in 1991 to go to university in what is now the constituency of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), only one in seven of the population went on to higher education. That figure is now almost one in two. My constituency of Bournemouth West is probably at the stage now where Southampton was in the early 1990s. Figures from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health show that between 2000 and 2007, studentification increased in Bournemouth by 47.1%. That dramatic increase is having a huge impact on the communities that I serve.
On 17 June, the Minister for Housing and Local Government stated:
“I understand the concerns of local people who see their neighbourhoods being damaged by undue concentrations of HMOs and the significant impact this is having on their quality of life.”
That is profoundly true in Bournemouth West.
In two areas of my constituency, the problem is particularly acute. The Branksome East ward is in the Poole area and is adjacent to the university campus. Large Barratt-style houses that would go for between £350,000 and £400,000 are being purchased by landlords and used for student accommodation.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point on behalf of his constituents in Swindon, and one that is worthy of further consideration by the Minister.
In the area to which I referred there is a fantastic residents association, led by Victor Shears, that is trying to get Ministers to understand the impact of the problem and the ways in which it is changing the character of our communities. The Winton area, the most significant area in my Bournemouth West constituency, has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of students in recent years. The Winton Forum, which is chaired by Pat Oakley and the former Liberal Democrat councillor Anson Westbrook, is working hard to engage in a dialogue with Ministers. It wants places where the problem is particularly serious to be better supported by Government regulation.
Let me give one small example of the problem’s impact on the quality of life in the area. Bournemouth university, the Arts university college and Bournemouth council got together to joint fund a duty officer to monitor noise. In 2008-09, complaints were upheld against more than 90 student properties. Some 63 abatement notices were served on 16 properties. In the past year alone, the number of complaints has risen by more than 25%. In part, those increases were down to the fact that the local community and the university published out-of-hours numbers so that residents could make their complaints known.
Other hon. Members have talked about the increase in the number of fast food outlets and the diminished trade during university holidays that makes businesses unviable. I am not anti-student. I would not change a second of my experience in Southampton in the early 1990s. This is about universities being a vital part of the local economy and responsible players.
Let me put three important points to the Minister. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough made the point about compensation. That is a very serious issue that local authorities are having to deal with under article 4 directions. Secondly, there is the matter of the private rented sector handing over its properties to the university letting service, thereby exempting itself from some of the regulations. My hon. Friend was absolutely right about that, and tempts us to an Adjournment debate. Thirdly, there is the fact that student properties do not contribute to the council tax, but still require the services of the local authority.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her efforts in this debate and I hope that we can have some reassurances from the Minister. I hope that I have been brief enough to let in one of my other colleagues.
I thank the Front Benchers for that concession.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on not only securing the debate but making an excellent and knowledgeable speech. I say that as someone who has been both a councillor and an MP for Headingley. I have worked with many campaigners not only from Leeds but from all over the country. Let me put it on record that I think that it is a disgrace that I have only two or three minutes to give the views of the people of Headingley, who have been campaigning on this issue for 10 years. We should have had a debate on this subject before 1 October and before last Tuesday. It is an insult to each and every Member of this House and to Parliament that we have not had the chance to do so. As a big supporter of Parliament, I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree with me, even though he will probably not say anything.
This is a cross-party issue. I pay tribute to Andy Reed, the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, who assiduously worked on this matter; my own predecessor, Harold Best; and all the MPs, councillors and council groups who have taken the subject seriously. It is interesting that the Government say this is all about giving councils more power. In that case, why were councils not consulted about the reversal of the changes in April? Some have taken to legal action to get their views across, which seems a very perverse perspective.
I am proud to be the vice-chair of the all-party group on balanced and sustainable communities, and I work with colleagues with similar problems in similar areas. I always make it clear that what is important is balance and that balance is in everybody’s interest. Areas that are 90%, 95% or 100% HMO, as some are, are not in the interests of students. During the summer, those areas become ghost towns; they do not have neighbours to look after the properties and keep an eye on them. The only ones who benefit from that imbalance are the businesses that rely and thrive on it.
There is frustration after 10 years of campaigning all around the country and, let’s face it, not being listened to. When we were finally listened to, there was a consultation and a decision, but it has been quickly reversed without consultation with councillors, Members or the all-party group. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough pointed out that 92% of respondents to the consultation wanted change.
In the limited time that I have, I want to make a few points to the Minister. First, HMOs are an important part of the housing stock, as we all recognise, and in their appropriate place they are to be welcomed, but they do not represent additions to the housing stock because HMOs are nearly always conversions from existing family homes, hence the problem. In nearly all cases, and certainly in virtually every case in my constituency, one more HMO means one less family home.
The additional burdens on local planning authorities have perhaps been exaggerated. Indeed, I ask the Government to justify the numbers further. The figure of 8,500 additional planning applications per year is cited, but I have not seen grounds for that estimate. Will the Minister write to the all-party group providing that information? There is no real financial burden on local planning authorities from the changes that were announced in April, because the fees for planning applications are intended to cover the costs, and all planning applications for HMO change-of-use should, therefore, be cost neutral.
I must bring the Minister’s attention to the letter that the Minister for Housing and Local Government received from Leeds city council, which referred to the costs of article 4 directions. We are all aware of the problem and are trying to resolve it. Only this week, Leeds city council in its entirety—all parties—supported a motion to, first, lobby the Government to say that they think that the Government have made a mistake, and, secondly, to ask for clarification about whether they can use those article 4 directions, because the costs that the chief planning officer in Leeds set out are worrying, as other hon. Members have mentioned. The cost of surveying the housing mix in some areas would be £320,000, and, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said, we are in a difficult financial situation. I know that Ministers have addressed the costs of compensation, but concerns remain.
I shall sit down to give my colleague, the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), the chance to speak in this debate, but I regret that we have not had a chance to debate HMOs and the changes properly—a debate that I have twice asked for in business questions. Can that finally happen, so that we have hours to all put our constituents’ views across?
Thank you, Mr Chope, for the opportunity to support this excellent debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) secured. I am conscious that I need to be brief, and, as I intervened earlier to get one of my points across, I will be.
I speak as both the North Swindon MP and as a former councillor of 10 years in my constituency. I have seen at first hand what a big problem this is. I have a quick list of reasons why I am so keen to support my hon. Friend. Those reasons include the connected problems of antisocial behaviour and crime; inadequate parking provision—I know from experience that that does not mean that people give up their cars but that they create parking spaces, which is dangerous, particularly for emergency service vehicles; the pressure on rubbish and recycling services; additional strains on local facilities, which was mentioned earlier; and the fundamental change to the nature of an area. Hon. Members have spoken about the impact of HMOs on the quality of life, as I have in earlier contributions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) brought up safety.
I am conscious of time, so I will simply reiterate the point that I made earlier: my constituency is desperate to secure a university. As a councillor, for a number of years I kept making the point that we should link an increase in higher education provision with additional halls of residence provision, to ensure that there is not a knock-on impact on to the existing housing stock. I would like the Minister to look at ways to explore whether that is practical.
Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) on securing the debate on an important issue, which I know is close to her constituents’ hearts. She will know that, sadly, in many respects the debate is overshadowed by the fact that on Tuesday delegated legislation passed that took away local people’s right to object to new HMOs in their areas. We have heard excellent speeches and interventions this afternoon, all of which have reinforced the points that the hon. Lady expressed so well in her speech.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who rightly expressed concern about the nature of the consultation, which I shall touch on shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) gave us the benefit of his wide experience. The hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) argued forcefully for his community, and was matched only by the anger of the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and the constructive comments from the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). I shall talk about the constituency of the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) later.
We all know many problems caused by the unchecked spread of HMOs. They include poor-quality conversions; cramped living conditions; loss of mixed and balanced communities; higher, wasteful energy consumption; and a greater risk of fires, and, therefore, concerns over health and safety. In conversations that I have had with the fire service, one thing is clear: the greater the number of bedsits, the greater the risk of fires. That is exacerbated by the lack of hard-wired smoke alarms in those properties. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will attend tomorrow to support the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders), which will help to tackle that serious problem. I hope also that the Government will not oppose it on the basis of the one-in, one-out rule for regulation, particularly when we hear of the tragic case that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North raised of a death that might have been prevented.
Stripping away the ability of planners to review applications for bedsits as a matter of course does not fill me with confidence that standards and safety for tenants will rise. In our debate on Tuesday, I raised with the Minister the fact that Labour’s regulations were introduced after a substantive consultation with stakeholders across the sector. There was no such consultation when the present Government decided to do away with those rights for local people. That is not localism. However, representations were received from a number of interested parties—let me run through a few of them from papers deposited in the Commons Library. The National HMO Lobby was against, the National Organisation of Residents Associations was against, the Planning Officers Society was against, and the Royal Town Planning Institute was against. They commented that the blanket removal of a council’s ability to manage controversial developments in their area will, in practice, have the opposite effect to the one that the Government want. Torbay, Southampton, Milton Keynes, Exeter, Charnwood, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Haringey, Blackpool, Great Yarmouth, Oxford Nottingham, Southend-on-Sea and Thanet councils were all against the change. Only one authority was in favour: Canterbury.
Right hon. and hon. Members wrote to the Minister opposing his plans to take the rights away, including the hon. Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) and for Bath (Mr Foster), from the Liberal Democrats, and the hon. Member for Loughborough, who rightly pointed out that when the Labour Government held a consultation, 92% of respondents were in favour of the rules that we brought in and only 1% were in favour of the article 4 directions that the Minister has introduced.
I am sorry that the Government are not listening to the hon. Lady’s utterly reasonable concerns, but that is not surprising. Are the Government really seeking to devolve power to local communities, as they claim? Are they merely trying to smooth the path for developers and landlords at the expense of local residents’ rights? We heard on Tuesday and today that the change is about avoiding blanket legislation to protect a few people. All equality legislation is predicated on that premise. Would the coalition do away with that as well? Why are these measures being brought forward in haste? Is it because the changes to housing benefit will increase the number of people seeking single rooms and bedsits? According to the Department for Work and Pensions, something like 88,000 people will seek to move into bedsit-type accommodation.
I am amazed, however, that the Government would pursue a policy that strips away local people’s rights. They preach the virtues of localism, but sacrifice those virtuous words when it suits their political aims. Localism is not a creed for this Government; it is a convenience. Local people and local communities deserve better than that.
We have heard a lot from Ministers about the wonders of article 4 powers. We have heard from hon. Members speaking for their local authorities that the powers will not do the job. Plymouth city council expressed the view to me that because the directions will cause the number of HMO applications to rise, while planning fees are not payable for such applications, the change will create additional work load with a net cost loss. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that.
I have not seen any evidence to support the Government’s case for the change in regulations. Colleagues here today have argued the case well. I hope that the Minister will respond in detail to the specific questions posed, particularly by the hon. Member for Loughborough.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this debate, which has included well informed and occasionally passionate contributions from Members. I do not want to minimise the underlying point that it is important to ensure that houses in multiple occupation are appropriately placed, safe and secure and that they do not have a destructive impact on their neighbourhood. It is certainly not the Government’s intention to give a charter of immunity to unscrupulous landlords. On the contrary, we have introduced a targeted process of control that is available to local planning authorities. As quickly as I can due to limited time, I will explain to the House exactly what is proposed, state what progress has been made and, as far as I am able, answer the questions raised.
One point at issue is how widespread the problem is. The Minister for Housing and Local Government gave in the debate on Tuesday and brought to the Committee the estimate made in the Rugg report. He said, “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s actually 10 times worse than that, and that it’s 5%.” Members have said today that 20% of the country is affected. In that case, I must say gently to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) that he cannot claim at the same time that 8,500 planning applications is an overestimate. If the size of the problem is anything like what some people have described, the number of applications made will be hugely greater. In fact, if it is a 5% problem, that means that out of the 8,500 applications that the impact assessment anticipates, only 450 would be in problematic areas. That would impose on landlords a £12 million application cost that would be completely unnecessary for 8,000 out of those 8,500. I say to hon. Friends who perhaps believe even more strongly in deregulation than I do that surely there cannot be anything very wrong with that.
I understand that, so I will make my intervention brief. The Minister’s mathematics simply do not add up. If the problem is as concentrated as he suggests, most of the applications will be made in certain areas and not others. He cannot divide the number arithmetically across the country, conclude what the number of planning applications will be and still stand by the view that it represents only a small number of wards in the whole country.
I can, and I shall debate it with the hon. Gentleman later over a cup of coffee. I point out that that is not at the heart of the Government’s case. Our case is quite clear: effective legislation should be in place where there is a genuine problem. We are saying that that will be determined by local planning authorities, not by national legislation.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a letter from Southampton city council. I know that Southampton and Portsmouth do not get on well, but Portsmouth has already started the process of imposing an article 4 direction on the whole city. It takes 28 days to do it, and then its 12-month period will run. Perhaps Southampton should learn from Portsmouth. It is dangerous for me to say so, but I will say it.
I commend the Minister for Housing and Local Government on pointing out in the debate on Tuesday that in his constituency of Welwyn Hatfield, Welwyn was fine while Hatfield had a problem due to the university of Hertfordshire students and their HMOs. He supposed, and I understand that he told the Committee, that Welwyn Hatfield council would take action on article 4 in relation to part of its area. Several Members who have spoken in this debate mentioned specific areas in their constituencies that were a problem. The hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) mentioned Branksome East and Winton in particular, and the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) discussed three wards in her constituency.
That is exactly the Government’s point: the problems are comparatively localised, although serious where they arise. We believe that there is a better way to address them. We believe that the article 4 system will deliver. There is already evidence from Manchester, Portsmouth and Exeter that local authorities are responding and are not finding it unduly burdensome to go down that route. The guidance issued by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 4 November will, I hope, give them some additional reassurance on that point.
I welcomed and enjoyed the contribution made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). Yes, we will be undertaking a review, as she requested. Yes, monitoring will take place. I am absolutely sure, given all the eyes turned on us, that if we did not, the House would be quick to remind us of it.
I will have to write to the hon. Lady on that point, but I am very willing to do so. There are a number of questions to which I might not have the opportunity to respond fully and properly, and I will attempt to catch up with them by correspondence.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) that we absolutely should not trivialise the issue of safety in HMOs. As a type of housing, they have a poor reputation for safety and fire. That is why a licensing system exists and fire brigades pay special attention to them. However, that is not controlled by the planning system. The planning system responds only to applications, or possibly to reports from neighbours that an application should be made. It does not prevent a rogue landlord from turning his house into something else, which might lead to horrific incidents like the one that my hon. Friend reported. The issue is not part of the planning application process, nor is it specifically relevant to the legislation that we are discussing, but fire protection matters are a responsibility of my Department, and I will take his concerns back to the relevant Minister, so that he is fully aware of the situation.
Another point made was that a local planning authority may be too big a body to take a sensitive and informed decision about where an article 4 order is needed. The example given was Cornwall. If Cornwall is too big an area to take a sensitive and informed decision about where HMOs need to be controlled, how much more true is it that central Government is not in the right place or on the right scale to decide? The driver for the change is giving that responsibility back to the locally elected democratic level in this country, which has been disempowered over the years by successive Governments. We are turning that process around, which means that we are strongly committed to helping councils and local planning authorities take such decisions and respond to pressure from the ballot boxes in their areas rather than to the dictates of Whitehall. That is what localism—turning the whole top-down control system into a bottom-up one—is all about. I do not apologise for what the Minister for Housing and Local Government has said. It is right that the House recognises the importance of localism in this context.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).