HC Deb 10 November 1989 vol 159 cc1301-67

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John M. Taylor.]

[Relevant documents: Sixth report of the Energy Committee, HC 192 of Session 1988–89, on the energy policy implications of the greenhouse effect, and the Government's observations, HC 611 of Session 1988–89.

First report of the Environment Committee, HC 270 of Session 1987–88, on air pollution, and the Government's reply, Cm. 552, as they relate to chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer, and the greenhouse effect.]

9.40 am
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier)

I am delighted that today we have an opportunity to debate an issue of vital concern to every individual in our country and, indeed, throughout the world. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that nothing we could discuss in this place could be of greater or more immediate importance.

I should like to apologise to the House at once for the fact that I shall be unable to stay until the end of the debate because I am due to present the Young Environmentalist of the Year Award at lunchtime.

Our knowledge of the environment that surrounds and sustains us has been expanding rapidly in recent years, and unfortunately——

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I am aware that it is important to present the Young Environmentalist of the Year Award, but surely the House should take precedence when the House is debating what the Minister correctly described as an "issue of vital concern". Does not the House take precedence over the young environmentalist?

Mr. Trippier

I do not think that there is any difficulty about that. If I were to reply to the debate, I would have to be here. As it is, the Government have an arrangement with the Opposition that there will be two speakers from each Front Bench. I am delighted to say that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be replying to the debate. I shall be here for the bulk of the debate.

Our knowledge of the environment that surrounds and sustains us has been expanding rapidly in recent years, and unfortunately much of what we have learnt has not been good news. We are daily faced with more evidence that the activities of our species may be threatening not only the quality of life of ourselves, nor even just that of our children, but may be posing a danger to the very survival of life on this planet.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday—a speech which even The Guardian called profoundly impressive and moving— It is life itself that we must battle to preserve. The evidence is there. The damage is being done". Across the globe we can see irrefutable proof of the damage that human complacency and arrogance about the environment has already caused. That proof is being stamped on the face of our planet by the destruction of tropical rain forests, the effects of acid rain and the thinning of the polar ice caps. Some predictions are that a change in the global climate in future could devastate crop yields, flood huge areas of land and threaten the viability of societies in many countries. But we must not move from indifference about the environment to paralysis about our fate. There is no need for us to regard disaster as inevitable of preordained.

Previous predictions of inevitable doom have proven false, from those of Malthus, who believed 200 years ago that mass starvation in this country was inevitable, to those erroneous forecasts that India could never feed itself. The key is and must be human ingenuity. That, in a sense, got us into this mess. Now it is time to harness it towards the goal of getting us out.

The first point must be a proper scientific basis for understanding the problems that we face. It may therefore be helpful to the House if I set out briefly what the current scientific consensus is about climate change, and the greenhouse effect. Changes in the world's climate are inherent to the very structure of the planet and to our place in the solar system. The history of the Earth shows clearly that such changes in our climate have occurred in the past and would occur inevitably in the future even if there were no men or women here at all. Climate changes may be caused by small, natural changes in our orbit around the sun. They may be influenced by volcanic activity or even changes within the sun itself.

Scientists have predicted that in perhaps 5,000 years we shall enter another ice age, which would not reach its furthest extent for another 60,000 years. In fact, the rise or fall in temperature which can cause such a momentous change as a shift to or from an ice age may be very small. It is part of the great complexity of this problem that we as yet find it very difficult to disentangle these natural changes from the man-made effects which may be accelerating the process of global warming.

Mr. Dalyell

People should understand that talk about an ice age is not fanciful. It is a fact that it was not tundra that was found in the stomach of the mammoth. The mammoth was quickly encased in ice. That is precisely what many of us are concerned about. That is a climatological flow into an ice age.

Mr. Trippier

I should make it clear that the passage in my speech to which the hon. Gentleman has referred has been included in the publicity which the Department of the Environment is making available widely. I am grateful to him for his intervention. His last comment seems to support the publicity that we are issuing.

The naturally present greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including water vapour and carbon dioxide, keep the average surface temperature some 30 deg C above the level that it would reach without them. In other words, if there were no greenhouse effect at all, we might freeze to death.

The problem lies in Man's activities since industrialisation which have created additional greenhouse effects. We have been producing and emitting gases, such as carbon dioxide, CFCs, nitrous oxide and methane, at rates at which the world's oceans and forests cannot absorb them. As a result these gases have been accumulating in the atmosphere and gradually building up a reflective capacity which retains heat from the sun which the Earth would normally lose to space. In the short term, this artificial global warming will continue whatever we do because the full consequences of gases emitted in the past have still to catch up with us.

We have learnt enough about the greenhouse effect to know that we should be worried about it, but we do not yet have all the information we need to devise comprehensive solutions. We still need to know by how much the temperature will increase, how fast this increase will occur and how high the seas will rise as a result. Most important of all, we need to know where these effects will be most severe.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Wednesday therefore announced a major step forward by the British Government. We shall set up an international centre for climate prediction as a focus for worldwide fundamental research on climate models. My Department will be providing more than £5 million a year to fund this important new initiative, which will build on the pioneering work of British scientists and meteorologists.

I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many British scientists, notably at the Meteorological Office and at the British Antarctic Survey, who have established this country as one of the world leaders in knowledge on climate change and damage to the ozone layer.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Does the Minister accept that there is a widespread view that initiatives are all very well but that more should be done? The Government are setting up initiatives so as to obtain more information while blocking specific measures, along with the United States, to deal with the problems and to set targets. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the apparent inconsistency?

Mr. Trippier

I shall be fascinated to learn to which precise targets the hon. Gentleman is referring. I led the British delegation at Noordwijk in Holland earlier this week, and there was no blocking whatsoever. I shall make it clear that the British delegation acted as a broker in pulling together the major countries, especially America, the USSR and Japan. It was our initiative and only our initiative that led to the inclusion in the declaration of the date that was agreed by all the countries represented at that conference.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

The countries which the Minister mentioned, led by Britain, took out of any proposed draft declaration any reference to targeting CO2 reductions by specific dates and substituted a vague statement about "taking action in the future", with statements from the Minister about waiting until we had found out the kind of facts which the hon. Gentleman has just said we did not have. Surely, if we believe in the precautionary approach, we should have targets. The Government have no targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions.

Mr. Trippier

I must caution the hon. Gentleman not to keep reading The Guardian. its account of what took place at Noordwijk was completely erroneous. The accurate account was given in The Times by the journalist Michael McCarthy.

Mr. Roberts

Do the Government have any target dates for the reduction of CO2 emissions by Britain?

Mr. Trippier

Yes, it is in the declaration. The date is the year 2000. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that he knows more about what is in the declaration than I do. The levels will be decided when recommendations are made to the second world climate conference by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We are chairing the scientific part of the IPCC. Earlier this week at Noordwijk, I asked the three major industrialised countries to which I have referred to agree to that date to achieve the levels, which will be based upon scientific information provided by the IPCC. As it is clear that Britain is very much in the lead in the scientific reasearch which is provided by the IPCC, and as the Government have paid the best part of £1 million initially to fund that scientific research, it is rather silly for the Opposition to devalue the currency of the IPCC in any way.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

We may puruse this matter later, but the Minister should be clear about the fact that the IPCC is not carrying out research: it is collecting research done by other people. The British contribution is not to chair the policy panel but to chair the research panel. Policy is a very different matter.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. I did not say that it had anything to do with policy. I said that the British are chairing the scientific panel. We must get this point right. We were flattered that, in recognition of the experience and success of British scientific research in these matters, we were asked to chair that sub-committee. It is chaired by Dr. John Houghton, the head of the Meteorological Office.

Mr. Allan Roberts

This is an important matter and we need to get it right. The Minister has confirmed that the British Government and other Governments at the Netherlands conference refused to accept the freezing of the amount of CO2 emissions at the present level and will wait for the year 2000 before making any decisions about what to do. Then the British Government might freeze the level. In the meantime they could double them.

Mr. Trippier

If the hon. Gentleman does a little more research, he will find that a whole new world is opened up to him. I must make it clear that it was the British delegation, led by me, which brokered the date which was put in the declaration. I have said that any 20 per cent. figure which was mentioned at the conference may be inadequate. It may not be enough: no one knows. What on earth was the point in setting up the IPCC if we were not going to listen to its recommendations, which I understand will come forward in only a matter of months?

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

I was advised by a first-hand observer who was at the Noordwijk conference that 11 of the 12 EC countries were prepared to sign an undertaking for that reduction in the year 2000, Britain being the only one that would not, with a caveat for Portugal and Greece. Is that true or false? Is the Minister saying that my observer's view of the meeting differs from his?

Mr. Trippier

There seem to be a number of different accounts. The hon. Gentleman is not in a strong position to speak with any authority, because he certainly was not at the conference. All the information which he is imparting to the House is very much second-hand. As it is clear that we are in the lead in providing the scientific evidence for the levels that will be agreed at the intergovernmental conference which will be held in 12 months' time, it is clear that, if we are supporting that initiative, the levels which are recommended should be the ones that are accepted. I can give a categorical undertaking to the hon. Gentleman that, when those recommendations are made to the second world climate conference, the Government will respond positively. We believe that, as a first step, we should be looking to the year 2000 as the date by which CO2 emissions are stabilised.

I have already paid a genuine tribute to British scientists, notably at the Meteorological Office, for all their work. The Government are spending over £15 million on research on climate change and the ozone layer through the Natural Environment Research Council, the Science and Engineering Research Council, the Meteorological Office and Government Departments. We have also more than doubled Britain's contribution to the United Nations Environment Programme, and I echo the Prime Minister's call for other countries to do the same.

The quality of British scientific work on climate change was given international recognition last year, when we were chosen to chair the working group on scientific assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This body, which was set up jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the world meteorological organisations, is the principal international focus for research and action on climate change. I stress once again that we are fully committed to the work of the IPCC and we are providing £750,000 to support its work.

Collecting the international information we need is only the first step towards tackling the problem of climate change. The next step must be to take effective action. We remain committed to international co-operation as the only way that we can meet this global challenge, and we have called for the work of the IPCC to be continued. We have therefore called for the negotiation of an international framework convention on climate change. This proposal has been endorsed in the Langkawi declaration on the environment which followed the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malaysia.

Britain has led international discussions on a climate convention and we were instrumental in securing the unanimous agreement of the nearly 70 countries represented at the conference on air pollution and climate change in the Netherlands for this initiative. I am certain that the strong endorsement which was given to the convention at the United Nations General Assembly following the Prime Minister's speech will help to focus minds on the benefits such a convention could bring.

It is vital that we recognise that action must be collective and international if it is to be effective. In particular, there would be no point whatsoever in securing an international agreement on reducing carbon dioxide emissions to which the major CO2-producing countries—the United States, the Soviet Union and Japan—were not willing to subscribe. I hope, therefore, that some of the more short-sighted critics who earlier this week berated the British Government's attitude at the Noordijk conference —and in at least one case wholly misrepresented it—will recognise the significance of the agreement reached there, brokered by the British delegation, which I was proud to lead, and which was signed by all attending countries.

That sets out in clear terms an agreement to recognise the need to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions and to study the feasibility of a 20 per cent. reduction in emissions by industrialised countries by the year 2005. It is a major breakthrough in international efforts on climate change and I pay tribute to all the members of my delegation who helped to achieve it, and whose efforts were publicly applauded by our hosts.

Our efforts in the international sphere to secure multilateral agreement on what action is needed builds on Britain's successful leadership role in securing action to protect the ozone layer. Earlier this year my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hosted the international conference on the protection of the ozone layer and in 1990, Britain will host the second conference of the paries to the Montreal protocol, which we hope will strengthen the existing protocol commitment of a 50 per cent. cut in emissions by the year 2000. As the House will know, Britain is 10 years ahead of schedule on its Montreal obligations and that is all the more important because chlorofluorocarbons are an important greenhouse gas too.

As well as the important role we can play internationally, there are important steps that Britain can take on its own to tackle climate change. There is our aid programme to other countries. The Overseas Development Administration is already promoting projects on forestry in nearly 30 countries and I am sure that all sides of the House will want to welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this week that we will be providing a further £100 million bilaterally to tropical forestry activities over the next three years. I hope that we can build on the model of the memorandum of agreement with Brazil that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment signed in his capacity as Overseas Development Minister in July. I should add that in the United Kingdom itself we have increased our tree planting by 50 per cent. in the past 10 years.

Mr. Dalyell

I have here the text of the Prime Minister's speech to the United Nations and there is one point on which I should like clarification. The Minister said: £100 million bilaterally to tropical forestry activities over the next three years. The Prime Minister said: mostly within the framework of the tropical forestry action plan". What discussion has taken place with our partners in the tropical forestry action plan on this and what is meant by "mostly"?

Mr. Trippier

I am not aware of the precise discussions with that body. However, the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be very much welcomed. We talk with our partners in that body regularly.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Although we all welcome any effort made to preserve and protect the tropical rain forest, are his Department or the Government proposing any changes in the trading arrangement by origin marking of tropical timber so that virgin tropical timber is not imported into this country or western Europe in large quantities and that, instead, what one could call farmed timber is imported?

Mr. Trippier

I am not aware of any such measures, but as the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, I undertake to look at it myself.

The Department of Energy has successfully promoted energy efficiency to the extent of securing recurrent savings of over £500 million a year since 1983. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State hopes to be able to deal with these matters in greater detail later. The electricity supply industry is investing £2 billion to reduce acid rain emissions by fitting flue gas desulphurisation equipment to six of our major power stations.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Trippier

Yes, but for the last time.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Are the Government saying that they are committed to the six and that the six will be desulphurised? As we understand it from announcements by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the private companies that are about to take over, before the next election only Drax B will be retrofitted, the decision on Fiddler's Ferry having been postponed.

Mr. Trippier

Having cleared that point with the Department of Energy, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that although the Department does not say when, it says that we are committed to fitting flue gas desulphurisation equipment to six of our major power stations. The statutory non-fossil fuel obligation embodied in the Electricity Bill is a further important commitment.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

It is a question of logistics. A £2 billion programme is in hand, but the implementation of retrofitting desulphurisation units to power stations can be carried out only when it is most convenient and proper. The equipment has to be available, and the power station has to be shut down and taken out of the grid for a period. That has an effect on electricity supplies, and all those practical considerations have to be taken into account.

Mr. Trippier

I want to underline my hon. Friend's point. It is important to stress that desulphurisation can be carried out only when convenient and proper.

The Electricity Bill has provided the vehicle for a new and unprecedented legal duty to be placed on electricity suppliers positively to promote energy efficiency. We shall continue to work sensibly and constructively with other countries, with British industry and with ordinary consumers to strengthen efforts to reduce the threat that global warming poses.

Unlike the Labour party, we do not advocate mindless and isolated public posturing in international forums. Agreements, not arguments, are what the world needs and agreements will not be secured unless the interests of all nations, industrialised and developing alike, are recognised and catered for. Unlike the Labour party we have no mandate from the National Union of Mineworkers to endorse coal-fired power stations, whatever the environmental consequences. We shall move ahead with an energy mix which is sensible for our economy and our environment. Above all, unlike the Labour party, we have the track record of economic growth and a long, firm commitment to the environment which alone can produce the green growth we need to fund the measures required both at home and abroad to tackle climate change. We are aware of the responsibilities these global challenges impose on us. We shall not fail to fulfil them.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to make a House of Commons point, not a party political one. Will you formally raise with the Chair the question of the practice of some Ministers? Some Ministers are extremely courteous to the House and some Ministers have sat through the whole of a Friday debate. The Minister has been asked a number of questions and there are likely to be contributions from the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment and the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), who has a long record of interest and expertise in scientific affairs. Having made such a speech, the Minister will then go off to an engagement, which, however attractive, is not more important than the House of Commons. There are many other Ministers who could present awards to the young environmentalist of the year. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, raise with Mr. Speaker the acceptability of the Ministers' behaviour?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The hon. Gentleman and the whole House know that the question of which Ministers turn up for a debate or how long they stay is not a responsibility of the Chair. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's point will be noted.

Mr. Corbyn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Ministers should be accountable to the House. This is an Adjournment debate and there will be no vote at the end, so in that sense, the Government are not held accountable for their actionns. However, there are few opportunities for Back Bench Members to question Ministers directly by intervention or through their own speeches. Surely something should be done to ensure that Ministers stay to respond seriously to the points raised by hon. Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is nothing I can add to what I have already said.

10.7 am

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

The whole House welcomes the opportunity to debate the important question of global climate change, but many Conservative Members were expecting the Secretary of State for the Environment to open the debate. To find that the Minister of State is unable to stay even over lunch is less than the House was expecting.

The Opposition welcome the attention being given to the global environment and to changes in the world climate in particular. However, the problem is to know what to do in the face of threatening, but uncertain future change. I want to underline that uncertainty by mentioning new research results which have been published in the past few weeks. In an article in Nature on 14 September, John Mitchell and his colleagues at the Meteorological Office, the group to whom the Minister of State referred, revised their estimates of the effect of doubling the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and on global warming from 5.2 degrees centigrade to 1.9 degrees. That reduction of more than one half was due to introducing into the Meteorological Office global general circulation model the effect of reflection and absorption of radiation by cloud with varying ice and water content. Further refinements could go either way, but the variation of 50 per cent. or more is characteristic of the problems that we face.

Fresh light has also been shed on the question of where the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel is going. It is possible to measure directly the amount produced, and the amount remaining in the atmosphere is about 50 per cent. of that produced. It had been assumed that the balance of 50 per cent. was dissolved in the oceans, passing through the marine food chain into ocean sediments and eventually becoming the coal and oil of future eras. Through deforestation, the land was assumed to add to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not to absorb it.

On 2 November at an NERC press conference, Dr. Andrew Watson and his colleagues at the NERC Plymouth marine laboratory and the university of East Anglia announced that experiments in the North sea on the movement of gases between the sea and the air suggested that only 30 per cent. of the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels ends up in the oceans, compared with the 50 per cent. previously assumed. The implication is that 20 per cent. of the carbon dioxide generated ends up in the soil and biomass on land. The figure may be 10 per cent. or 30 per cent. but it seems to be large and positive.

Sir Hugh Rossi

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could help me with the research to which he referred. I understand that it referred particularly to the capacity of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide that the the effect of plankton and pro-plankton in the oceans and their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen was missed out. There are tremendous masses of these creatures in the southern Atlantic ocean which may be affected by the hole in the ozone layer. That creates a wholly different dimension. Was that aspect dealt with in the research?

Dr. Bray

The research was covered in a NERC press release dated 31 October and published on 2 November. Work was done on the transfer velocity of gases between sea and air in the North sea. it did not deal with the bio-geochemical fluxes to which the hon. Gentleman referred. He is right that many questions about the accumulation of carbon in the oceans remain to be answered, but it has been discovered that the first stage, where carbon dioxide dissolves into the water, is less important than previously supposed.

Sir Hugh Rossi

The statistics should be treated with some caution because they omit the possibility and probability that other organisms are at work in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Dr. Bray

Tighter restrictions on the absorption of carbon by the oceans would make the imbalance even greater than the 20 per cent. suggested by NERC. Absorption in the oceans would be less than the 30 per cent. that it now proposes. There would be a greater imbalance, which would accumulate in the soil and biomass on land. The hon. Gentleman is right that the major uncertainties call for more research into every aspect of the problem. I shall come later to the problems of designing policy in the light of those uncertainties.

We cannot do much about absorption in the oceans, but we can and should take measures to reduce carbon dioxide generation by improving energy efficiency and conservation. If casual and haphazard policies already lead to the absorption of 20 per cent. of the carbon dioxide generated instead of its release through deforestation, positive land-based environmental policies seem likely to contribute more to minimising global climate change than we thought a fortnight ago, before the NERC research was published. Such policies could help to feed an increased world population, preserve and enrich the natural environment and make our environment more pleasant for human habitation.

More observations, surveys and experimental work are required. Both the Met office and the NERC have said that theories about how carbon absorption on land is increasing include the extent of re-afforestation in temperate zones—which has tended to be dismissed—and the fertilising effect of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide, which causes greater growth of vegetation throughout the world. No hon. Member believes that we can be certain about what is happening.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

The hon. Gentleman has not touched on the problem of catalytic converters. I understand that the Government have been told by scientific advisers that catalytic converters will increase the output of carbon dioxide from motor vehicles by 10 per cent. One of the difficulties that we face is that as we try to cure one problem we increase another.

Dr. Bray

My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) will deal with road transport and road vehicle standards and regulations. The hon. Gentleman is right that we must look at all the effects of specific measures, whether regulatory, fiscal or other.

On predictability, the Minister implied that variations beyond 10 to 20-day weather forecasts must be due to external causes. Some of those that he mentioned have been dismissed by scientists but others are significant. Long-term variations, whether due to the annual cycle of solar radiation, year-to-year changes in sea-surface temperature or others, do not necessarily explain the variations in the atmosphere. In Nature on 2 November, I. N. James and P. M. James of Reading university reported that with the non-linear dynamics of the atmosphere, long and slow variations can occur from purely internally-generated dynamics within the atmosphere—not from interaction with the oceans—over periods of 10 to 40 years. When the oceans are included, the internally-generated variations could spread over hundreds of years. At present, no one has the computing capacity to treat that problem. Indeed, even for the 40 years suggested by James and James as the minimum time over which purely atmospheric models should be run, it will take weeks for even the fastest computers to do just one run. The increase in capacity to analyse what is happening in the oceans and atmosphere may disclose a new uncertainty about long-term variations which no amount of computing could overcome. In that case, we may need enhanced capacity to respond to changing trends, accepting that how long they will continue is uncertain.

The pace of production of important new research will continue. I have given only three samples of such research. The results could go either way. New results will continue to flow from all over the world. Certainly, much more research is needed but, equally, we must act now in the light of the best information that we have. The alternative of waiting to react will make life nastier, more brutish and shorter.

The Minister looks puzzled——

Mr. Trippier

Just amazed.

Dr. Bray

Oh, he is just amazed. I hope that he will talk to John Mitchell at the Met Office. He did not go there to get a briefing for his speech this morning.

Mr. Trippier


Dr. Bray

John Mitchell, who is the scientist in charge of the general circulation model and deals directly with questions of uncertainty in these highly non-linear dynamic systems.

Mr. Trippier

I should be happy to do that, but it is more important to talk to Dr. John Houghton who has been selected to lead the scientific research as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The trouble with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is that it conflicts with what he was saying five minutes ago. He accepted that a tremendous amount of work remained to be done, and certainly some of the evidence that is coming forward is conflicting. I have an assurance not only from Dr. John Houghton but from the chairman of IPCC that more and accurate information will be forthcoming in February next year.

Dr. Bray

I discussed the matter with John Houghton on Tuesday. I also met those present at the first meeting of the research committee of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was held near Oxford. The Minister should talk to those who have been drafting the IPCC report. He will discover that their view is that, with increased research, the uncertainties might increase rather than diminish. We shall certainly get more information, but the Minister should ask the chaps what they think. The Minister seems to think that scientists can be detached and give the best views and answers, which politicians can then mull over. That is not the nature of the problem that we face. We need a much closer dialogue between scientists and politicians.

Let me continue on the question of how we handle the research. We welcome the new centre for the prediction of climatic change which the Prime Minister announced in her speech to the United Nations on Wednesday. We also welcome the fact that it will be located at the Met Office. It will clearly represent an expansion of the work that I saw there on Tuesday.

The Met Office is, by international standards, an outstanding environmental observation, forecasting and research organisation. The researchers there tell me that they gain both from their own experience as forecasters and from the flow of data and methods of handling it. As a visitor, I thought that they also gained—by contrast with some other research institutions—from the tightness and discipline of an organisation that has to work in real time and gets constant feedback from the accuracy or otherwise of its forecasts. No comparable feedback is possible in predicting climatic change but the benefits will spill over because the forecasters have learned what to look out for.

One problem that needs to be overcome is the isolation of the Met Office. It is nonsensical for it to be located in the Ministry of Defence. The disciplined nature of the work of meeting defence operational requirements is congenial and stimulating to those forecasting. But in defence terms, it is curious, to say the least, that the weather forecasting requirements for a modest number of British and NATO flying hours are greater than those for the greater number of civil flying hours. That matter must surely be due for review. The Met Office is moving to agency status, but surely more is needed.

The Met Office should become the core of a wider environmental monitoring, forecasting and research organisation. For example, its scientists had an essential role in tracing and monitoring the Chernobyl fallout. If they are to deal with climatic change, they will have to examine changing land use, changing salinity and ocean circulation and much else besides. They will have to deal with the research community generally. The Met Office will have to become an open and accessible research and communication centre whose methods are available to the scientific community generally.

Within their own central area the scientists now accept—they did not a year ago—that computing power is the limiting factor. But because they have lived in the in-bred world of weather forecasters who, the world over, have demanded and been given the biggest supercomputers, they have neglected the really powerful developments in computing, which are coming with massively parallel computers. Ask any parallel computing buff what is the leading application of parallelism and he will say, "Weather forecasting." Ask him whether he has talked to the weather forecasters, and he will say no.

I have asked the Met Office about this matter. First, it took on a PhD student. Now it has agreed to talk to the algorithm group of the national transputer programme. I bet that in two years' time the Met Office will be running its climate model faster on a parallel processing Meiko computing surface than they can on their Cray YMP, which is to be installed in January. In that form—running the general circulation model on parallel processing—the model can be made available to other scientists to run for themselves. There is a tendency on the part of some in the Met Office to argue that their model is so complex that no one else can run it. Foreigners may come in and run it at Bracknell but they cannot take it off and run it in Norwich or Reading, let alone Japan or Ottawa.

That is how economic modellers argued 10 years ago. The London Business School and the National Institute of Economic and Scientific Research said that their models were so complex that no one else could run them. However, there is the serious scientific counter-argument that if others cannot reproduce the results, those results must be questionable. Nowadays economic models are handed round on floppy discs and run on personal computers. For the economic models in the United Kingdom, it has been useful to have a centre at Warwick university which tests and compares the Treasury, Bank of England, London Business School, NIESR and other models. Similar testing and comparison would be useful for the global general circulation models. I have asked Professor Geraldine Kenney-Wallace, the chairman of the Science Council of Canada, the Government's chief scientific adviser, whether Canada and Japan would like to take on that role. Of the five general circulation models, four are American and one is British. If the Government think that by expanding Bracknell they will somehow pre-empt the world scene in general circulation models, they are up a gum tree. The whole point is that the models—four of which are in the United States—must be available to the scientific community throughout the world. That requires a more imaginative approach to the computing facility organisation and dissemination.

It is much easier to work in that kind of environment than it is with the supercomputer, common computing service arrangements that the Met Office has been used to. The need though for a wider approach extends beyond computing. Fuller participation in the research community is needed across the board. I am not criticising the fine scientists in the Met Office, who have their hands full and are best left to get on with their job. I am saying that their organisation is wrongly related to other research and other researchers do not gain the full benefit of the unique resources and experience of the Met Office. Met Office staff may be better paid than the research community because of the decline of academic salaries in the past 10 years. I hope that they are. The answer to that is that research salaries must be increased. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) says that he thought I would say that. Is it really sensible for our most brilliant graduates to be paid £6,000 a year while they are doing research when young, grossly underqualified merchant bankers can pick up twice or three times that amount in the City on leaving college? Does he really think that that is the way in which to treat scientists? He ought to be ashamed of himself, as, indeed, should the whole Government.

The thinness of research cover shows not only in the Met Office's limited approach to computing developments. For example, the Natural Environment Research Council in its recent experiments in the North Sea on the absorption of gasses by the oceans, could not find a scientist to count the white horses in different sea states to estimate the effect of spray and bubbles directly in increasing the effective air-sea surface area. The same story can be told across the board. We cannot carry out research in isolation. It must be done in the whole research community. If we starve the research community, the research will be second rate.

The right place for the Met Office and climate research is surely alongside the research councils. There should be a joint research directorate on the global environment. It could then carry out a coherent programme of research on the global and more local environment. The Met Office cannot track down the cycles of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases from the land, in the oceans and in the atmosphere.

The Prime Minister cannot co-ordinate all this herself. No Minister at a lower level has that responsibility. The Secretary of State for the Environment is not allowed to do it and the Minister responsible for the research councils would not accept that anyway. It is all a bit of a muddle.

The Prime Minister proposed in her United Nations speech that the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be prolonged after it submits its report next year so that: It can provide an authoritative scientific base for the negotiation of a protocol on carbon dioxide emission.

The Prime Minister seems to be under a misapprehension. The panel was asked to write a report, not to direct research. It has not and will not carry out, plan or commission research. The report for the second world climate conference is being put together by 29 lead authors from 13 countries using 200 contributors to produce a 200-page report. I have been told that the material really needs a 20,000-page report. However, that 200-page report will be distilled into a 20-page policy summary and no doubt into a two-page press release. That will be all that most people will see. New research results will be fed into sections of the report on climate observations and predictions.

The report of the intergovernmental panel will be subject to peer review. But that is not the way in which research is carried out. The world climate programme and the international geosphere-biosphere programmes plan research. The Prime Minister said that we do not need more institutions. I am sure that the intergovernmental panel will produce an admirable report, but perhaps we should wait and see whether the scientists who draft the report and the politicians who read it feel that that is the best way of interacting and whether they even want to repeat that particular exercise.

Certainly the intergovernmental panel would he placed under great pressure if it had to pronounce the last word or even the best available word on global climate policies next November. That would place it in an impossible position. We should make it clear in this House that we accept that it is an unfolding story. The achievements of British scientists and their contribution to our understanding of the global climate have been despite rather than because of the appalling and abysmally incompetent way in which they have been organised by the Government.

In the much more difficult phase of application to policy on which we are now entering, the organisation as a whole must be put into better shape. There is a disjunction on policy between what the Prime Minister says and what Britain and Ministers do.

Britain emits more carbon dioxide per dollar of gross domestic product than any other industrial country. It emits 327 tonnes per million dollars of GDP compared with 307 tonnes in Canada, 299 tonnes in the United States, 293 tonnes in Germany, 216 tonnes in Italy, 204 tonnes in France and 184 tonnes in Japan. On carbon dioxide, Britain is not just the dirty man of Europe, but of the world. In that we are in a class of our own. I am sure that hon. Members will want to know that those figures come from estimates made in the journal "World Resources" 1988–89 with sources from the university of New Orleans and the Woods Hole research centre in the United States. The GDP figures that I have used are the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and relate to 1985.

Sir Hugh Rossi

I am always troubled by figures like that, particularly when they give percentages of emissions and activities in other countries. We know the methodology and the basis of figures produced in this country and we know the great care that is taken over them. However, some of the countries which the hon. Gentleman listed are perhaps not so methodical. The basis of those figures is not as accurate as ours. We have noted that not in that sphere, but in many others. Very often there is a basis of guestimate in the figures produced by other countries. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the researchers to whom he has referred carried out the work themselves using a uniform methodology, or did they rely on figures supplied by other countries which may use different bases altogether?

Dr. Bray

I am afraid that in the international research and statistical community, the reputation and integrity of British Government statistics has suffered a great deal under this Government. There are great uncertainties and they must be more carefully examined. The figures for carbon dioxide emissions are by no means the least accurate. The greater uncertainties relate to other stocks and flows of carbon dioxide within the oceans, on land and in the atmosphere. It is easy to point to the general problems which lie with the fuel inefficiencies of British industry, lack of insulation standards——

Mr. Timothy Kirkhope (Leeds, North-East)

What about coal?

Dr. Bray

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) has referred to coal. What about Germany? It is as dependent on coal as we are. However, we need more vigorous energy efficiency and conservation and insulation measures to get our figures anywhere near comparable to the levels in other countries.

It is generally agreed that easily the quickest and most effective way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is through increasing energy efficiency. On information and promotional campaigns for homes and industry, regulations and standards for appliances and buildings, financial and tax incentives for homes and industry, the Government have a long and wide record of retreat and veto. On international protocols on chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, vehicle emission standards and water standards it has been the same story, with Britain trying time and again to set a slower and less definite pace.

The Secretary of State for the Environment tried to set a new direction when he moved into the Department. He gave a fanfare—or at least a peep or two—for Professor Pearce's "Blueprint for a Green Economy" which I thought was an interesting document. It was all about bending markets in an environmentally favourable direction and anticipatory rather than reactive environmental policies—anticipatory of highly uncertain measures of probability which the Minister seems to think that scientists will be able to brush away for him, which they certainly will not.

Since the Pearce report was published, we have heard nothing more. At the United Nations this week the Prime Minister was back on the same old theme. She said that free markets would defeat their object if by their output they did more damage to the quality of life through pollution, than the well-being they achieve by the production of goods and services. So what? Free markets often defeat their objective. Professor Pearce and the Secretary of State for the Environment would bend the market. The Prime Minister would re-define the benefit or the quality of life to make the market queen.

The general nature of environmental degradation is that the effect of damaging factors such as CFCs can grow rapidly, with the environment recovering only slowly when the factor is cut out. Every year's delay in acting on CFCs means four years longer before effects fall to half today's levels. There is an urgency.

At the United Nations the Prime Minister urged the adoption of binding protocols on the different aspects of climate change at the 1992 world conference on environment and development. She said that none will be more contentious than the need to control emissions of carbon dioxide. She can say that again. But why wait until 1992? Why not use the world climate conference in November 1990 to adopt initial protocols on all the obvious measures to conserve resources which should be undertaken any way, and which the Government have been steadily resisting. Why not set targets and dates, which can then be reviewed and tightened up in 1992? Why delay and risk diplomatic breakdown in 1992?

There is no inconsistency between such early and firm action, and the most demanding research. They reinforce each other. I am confident that we can hand on this lovely world to our children and grandchildren in a better state than we found it, if we take thought and act now.

10.41 am
Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) and I would probably be regarded by many of our colleagues—I say this without offence to him, even if it disparages myself—as members of that small group of political eccentrics who browse around in the dustbins of policy, hoping occasionally to come across the word "science". The hon. Gentleman and I have attended many debates on this and similar subjects over the past 25 years. Therefore, I wholly understand his reaction to the suggestion that our most brilliant graduates should be paid only £6,000 a year. I have heard that point made almost every year for the past 25 years, irrespective of which side of the House I was on.

I make a more general criticism. It is not so much a failure of one or other particular party, it is a failure of our culture to recognise the significance and importance of science and to elevate it within the nation more continuously and more substantially than Governments of either party have chosen to do during the past 25 years. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would accept that comment. Obviously, he must make his political points, and I understand that.

I followed with great interest what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of computing, not least because it is one of the subjects that we discussed in Washington a few weeks ago. I welcome and support much of what my hon. Friend the Minister said, although I disagree with one or two minor points. I particularly like his emphasis on the solution that will come from human ingenuity. There are vast problems, but human ingenuity is a vast resource. In this context, the primary resource lies within science and nowhere else. No one should ever forget that.

Here we are again on a Friday, discussing probably the most momentous issue facing the human race. I suppose we should be grateful for the crumbs of comfort which fall from the power man's table. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House would probably validly reply that, if he were to grant us a two-day debate, the Chamber would probably be much fuller than it is now. Hon. Members who are concerned about these matters would probably find it difficult to keep the debate going. When the cameras are operating in the next few months, the country will begin to assess our judgments about the importance of our affairs, and that will be a constructive and positive influence on us.

The Select Committee on the Environment, which I chair, had the honour to present to the House a report on the energy policy implications of the greenhouse effect. The Government's response reached me yesterday. I will not weary the House by repeating many of the recommendations and conclusions in the report, which I hope most hon. Members present will probably have read for themselves, but the principal points were the urgency, scale and complexity of the issue. I am pleased to say that, in their reply, the Government accepted virtually all of what we said, but I shall draw attention to one or two points of residual disagreement.

One issue is research and development. We emphasised as strongly as we could the need for a dramatic increase in research and development. The Government replied that they do not believe that they should arbitrarily specify a proportion of gross domestic product into global warming R and D because effective research requires a bottom up pressure of sensible ideas and cannot simply be called into existence by allocating large R and D funds. I accept the generality of that conclusion, but we are now possibly looking at the necessary worldwide measures to defend the future of the human race. If one measures the R and D now being spent principally by the great industrial countries on this subject, and take that as a percentage of what they are still spending to defend themselves as nation states, one notes that it is a minuscule sum. In Committee, I argued—I am afraid, unsuccessfully—that we should form this as a percentage of defence R and D so that the willingness of Governments to face up to this issue can clearly be perceived by those who support them. In Committee, my friends supported me to the extent of making it a percentage not of defence R and D but of gross domestic product. I am sorry that the Government have not seen fit to go at least a little way down that road.

Dr. Bray

On the relationship with defence, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is absurd for the Ministry of Defence to be in charge of the Met Office? Would it not be much better for it to be in its original position under the Board of Trade? There is absolutely no reason why it should not move from where it is now.

Sir Ian Lloyd

That is as may be. I do not disagree profoundly, but the importance of the subject requires our conclusion that its work should be thoroughly and well done and fully funded, under whichever Ministry it falls. From evidence given to the House of Lords Selection Subcommittee on this subject, I understand that those concerned are not greatly worried about their relationship with the Ministry of Defence. It is a somewhat esoteric point.

Mr. Dalyell

I have respected the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of these matters for 20 years. Has he seen page 28 of the copy of "New Scientist" of 4 November in which a table shows how Britain compares with other European countries in the distribution of Government funds for R and D? The figure for Britain is 48.4 per cent.—easily higher than any other European country's expenditure on defence—West Germany 12.7 per cent., Italy 7 per cent., and the Netherlands 2.8 per cent. It is a tell-tale table.

Sir Ian Lloyd

I agree that it is a telling table, and many conclusions can be drawn from it. We could incidentally draw a beneficial conclusion from it. If our defence R and D is high, so must our global warming R and D be high. The incentive would be to increase one and reduce the other if we are to keep both as a given percentage of R and D.

My Committee carefully considered many policies, recommendations and proposals on alternative energy and new systems which would be carbon dioxide benign. There is no doubt that immense interest has been shown in the use of hydrogen as a possible fuel, and even as a substitute for petrol and fuels of that kind. The OECD conference in April, which looked at alternative technologies for the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases, produced some extraordinarily interesting papers on the subject of hydrogen.

I refer first to the Government's reply on the question of hydrogen. They say that they accept our recommendation that the potential benefits should be reviewed and that they are undertaking such a review with the energy technology support unit. They state: However, for any impact on CO2 emissions to acrue from the use of hydrogen, it must be produced, usually using electricity, from a non-fossil source. That is grotesquely inaccurate.

If those who drafted the paper had read the papers that were presented at the OECD conference in Paris, they would have seen that one of the most exciting new technologies now being considered is the use of nuclear heat to upgrade natural gas to hydrogen.

In the context of this paper, there is the suggestion that, if the industrialised world moves, as the authors think it will—and rapidly—during the next two decades, to a natural gas-based economy, yielding a hydrogen economy, the power requirement to convert natural gas into hydrogen would be about 3,000 GW of nuclear electricity. Worldwide, the figure would be about 7,000. The world energy economy would then be based completely on hydrogen and, to all intents and purposes, CO2 would be eliminated.

The Government must think again and think carefully about their commitment to hydrogen research. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Energy has followed through what we told him about the work being done in co-operation by West Germany, Canada and the United States.

I now turn to the Prime Minister's speech at the United Nations, which I personally consider to be a fine speech. The lead must come from right at the top and my right hon. Friend has given that lead in her characteristically vigorous and effective manner. Much of that speech will stand careful and critical examination. My right hon. Friend emphasised the scale of the threat—and I agree with what she said. She emphasised the possible runaway or irreversible quality of the greenhouse effect. I entirely agree. She also emphasised the need for a vast international co-operative effort. I have some views on what she meant by that and on what I see as being necessary.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that science is an indispensable contributor to the solution, a welcome conclusion. She said that different nations may have to consider programmes differing in quality, scale and complexity. Those are my words, not hers, but I believe that I summarise what she said. I add simply that the main thing is that those programmes should respond to the same criteria. My right hon. Friend said that nuclear power is the most environmentally safe form of energy. I wholly concur with that view. I shall return in a few moments to the questions about nuclear power that were raised yesterday.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we must expand our model building capacity. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South fully endorsed that point and I shall return to it. My right hon. Friend also said that we will not succeed without the full co-operation of the research and development capacity and capabilities of the multinationals—a sound point. She reaffirmed the initiative taken by the Government and said that we need a framework convention, filled out with specific undertakings.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister did not accept any commitment to action and refused to set targets for reductions in CO2 emissions in Britain?

Sir Ian Lloyd

I am coming to that because my next point is to endorse what the Prime Minister said about the need to agree targets and to develop new technologies for dealing with those problems——

Mr. Allan Roberts


Sir Ian Lloyd

I shall come on to the question of when, because it relates to the problem of scientific uncertainty. The hon. Gentleman must not assume that I do not understand the importance of this or the policies that are now required. If he will exercise a little patience, he may approve of what I am about to say.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we had to increase our research and development. I agree and wholly endorse that view. Finally, she said that we must help the poorer countries. That point raises one of the biggest policy and political issues that has ever been before the House.

My endorsement so far of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said is thus enthusiastic and whole-hearted. However, in fairness to the House and to my own position, I must enter a few caveats. My first is purely scientific and technical. The Prime Minister said, in effect, that we had to place great emphasis on the planting and replanting of forests, and that this process contributes to the CO2 position. That is not quite accurate. As the evidence presented to the House of Lords Select Committee that considered the science base of this question pointed out a few weeks ago, stable forests—whether tropical or temperate—do not remove carbon dioxide, whatever their other merits. That is an important point.

The evidence pointed out that the most that one can expect from forest replanting on a massive scale as a contribution to the greenhouse problem, in relation to the massive scale of our present pollution of the environment, is about 10 per cent. Of course, 10 per cent. is not insignificant; it is of the greatest importance, but it is produced only by new trees growing to maturity. The moment those trees reach maturity, the natural ecosystem goes into balance as far as carbon dioxide is concerned. It is important that that fact is known, because it could exercise an important and significant effect on policy.

The International Institute of Applied Systems Research recently produced a profoundly interesting analysis of carbon 14, a radioactive component of carbon, from which it reliably deduced the proportion of carbon dioxide contributed by various activities. Its analysis is relevant to this debate, because that which has come from land clearance over the centuries, including in the Brazilian forests, is the major contributor and accounts for 265 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide, whereas that which has come from fossil fuels—although also very large—is less, at 170 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide. When we are considering the relative contributions from different sources, we must therefore pay close attention to land clearance.

Although this is perhaps understandable in any Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend seems from time to time to exhibit a certain antipathy towards new institutions. In her words, we need to strengthen those which already exist. However, I ask the House to consider whether that will be enough. I believe that it will be enough to produce the science and to organise great international conferences at which great and important resolutions are passed. It may be enough to organise the necessary exchanges of data.. I do not need to remind the House—and certainly not the hon. Member for Motherwell—that exchanges of data between supercomputers are a necessary component of the research, but can be an expensive business.

What about the specific undertakings and protocols to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred? She referred to "effective regimes" to supervise and monitor their application. I agree, but do such effective regimes exist? What could the United Nations do as an organisation to enforce such regimes and how could it enforce them? Even the light protocols cause the most profound reactions. I remind the House that the 20 per cent. protocol agreed at the Toronto conference could be described as a light protocol in the context of the threat. When the policy makers returned home to say, "We may have to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 20 per cent. within a decade," the reactions were profound and far-reaching. Therefore, I repeat the question that has already been asked—what are we going to do about it?

I turn now to the vital point, which is where I disagree to some extent with my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), who believes that the political will exists to execute imminent change on the scale that is contemplated. Logically, he may therefore have to agree that the institutions exist through which we can exercise that political will. Although the political will has been expressed in vigorous, interesting and dramatic terms at international conferences, in my judgment the political will to follow through that policy right across the globe to a degree that will be effective does not exist. That political will does not exist because public opinion has not yet begun to be aware of the scale of possible change that Governments will ask their publics to accept. When the public do not understand that, there is no political will because Governments do not have public support.

Do the institutions necessary to carry out policy exist? Our international institutions are frail, fragile and tend to be powerless. We may be moving into an era when frailty, fragility and powerlessness are simply not enough. The proper institutions must be created. At the Paris conference, a distinguished Japanese contributor, Mr. Akira Kinashinta, said: There seem to be no adequate policy sciences capable of handling this issue. I believe that that is accurate.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is optimistic—that optimism has been qualified to some extent by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South—about the eminence of scientific proof. That scientific proof is necessary to underpin the political decisions and policies that must be followed if it is correct that we are already suffering from the greenhouse effect. The circumstantial evidence to support that theory is powerful.

I am not optimistic about the eminence of scientific proof. The consensus of the advice given to my Committee and to the House of Lords Committee—unfortunately that Committee will not report until next week, but I have read all seven volumes of the evidence given to it—by responsible scientists is that we shall not have the answers in under 10 years. Both Committees visited Washington a few weeks ago. We had a fascinating week which started with a meeting with the scientific adviser to the President, Dr. Bromley. We talked to the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment, and we had discussions with the advisers to some of the relevant committees in the Senate and Congress. The judgment given to us in evidence was wholly reinforced in the United States. No one there is expecting demonstrable proof from their scientists within the next 10 years.

In the United States, we were given a remarkable example of what is involved. At the moment, the vast global climate models that have been created are limited by the number of grid points from which information can be received and processed. Dr. Bromley told us that they would like to reduce the grid size from 100 square miles per grid to about 20 square miles per grid. To process that information so that policy makers can obtain the answers means that the supercomputers would have to be 500 times more powerful. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South will understand precisely what that means. Although the rate of increase in computer power has been staggering, we are asking for another staggering increase before we can achieve the grid size necessary to enable us to make reasonable predictions about regional variations, never mind about other matters.

Dr. Bray

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is now suggested that further research might disclose that we are up against a barrier of ignorance that will be with us for ever, whatever the amount of computing. We shall always be faced with the problem of having to act against the background of great uncertainty.

Sir Ian Lloyd

I accept that and I am reminded of Albert Einstein, who said that the tree of scientific knowledge would continue to grow, but that the space between the branches would always be far greater than that which they occupied.

The global climate models are of immense sophistication and brilliance. They demand ever vaster computer power, but they remain primitive, incomplete, partial and tentative.

One of the vital areas areas of contribution to the interchange of carbon dioxide between the oceans and the climate is the Southern ocean. The key area of the Southern ocean is off South Africa, but that country has been excluded from the world meteorological conference. It is no longer supplying information on the scale required by various organisations. How stupid can we get?

The conclusion that must be drawn by policy makers is that we shall have no scientific proof or certainty for 10 to 20 years. The evidence that appears within that period is likely to be circumstantial or anecdotal. Within that time, we cannot separate the signal from the noise—an interesting term used by communication engineers. In this case, the noise is that of the natural environment and refers to such immense forces as the movement of the El Nino current, about 400 miles north of the Pacific. We do not know whether the droughts in the mid-west of the United States last year were the direct result of El Nino or the direct consequence of the imminence of the greenhouse effect.

For the next 10 to 20 years we are on our own, and there will be an unavoidable and tremendous dependence on judgment. We must start examining the political requirements presented to us by that situation. We must start examining now the consequences of what can only be described as "worst case" scenarios. We were shown one curve in the United States relating to an assessment of the economic cost to the United States if sea levels rose successively. That curve traced the effect of a probable rise of a few centimetres through to the possible rise should the Antarctic ice cap melt.

If that happens, sea levels would rise by between 10 and 15 m. Under the worst case scenario, nearly the entire gross national product of the United States would be absorbed in defending its coastal regions. An equal analysis would apply to the rest of the world. In the United Kingdom we must start looking at worst case, medium threat and low-threat scenarios. We must start to publish the results and prepare public opinion for what might be necessary.

Neither the political will nor the political mechanisms exist to deal with any worst case scenario. Even medium-threat scenarios would challenge the incomplete, spasmodic and largely powerless instruments that have been created by the nation states. Faced by the problem, the nation states will not set environmental policy examples that are industrially damaging to their own economies. The internal political pressure against such policies would be overpowering. They will not make great sacrifices by restricting greenhouse emissions when logic shows that their marginal contribution brings no national benefit and is offset by massive increases elsewhere.

Even allowing for the figures produced by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South, the United Kingdom contributes 3 per cent. to the greenhouse effect—the contribution from our industrial power stations is less than that. Any decision taken by policy makers will be queried if, for example, next year, the Chinese increase their coal burn emissions more than the total reduction of emissions achieved in western Europe. That is the key point. Will the Chinese react to an extreme event? They will do so only if it occurs within their area of political and economic interest.

I attended a conference in London a couple of weeks ago when I said: By adopting the most rigorous and sensible greenhouse effect policies, individual nations can conceivably mitigate the consequences for everyone. They cannot mitigate the consequences proportionately to their own efforts for themselves and this is a completely new state of affairs. The implications are very far reaching. In increasingly large areas of life and policy and in all the areas covered by energy, there is no longer such a thing as a coherent national policy. Such a policy can be said to have coherence only if it forms part of a global energy policy which, as a whole, has relevance to the problems for the global environment caused by the global energy system and fuel mix.

What questions should we ask, and are we doing the right sums? Will enough answers arrive in the right timescale? We do not know. If not, will more money achieve that objective? Money is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for success and it is one necessary condition which we can and must fulfil. Are we beginning to prepare public opinion and institutions for the possibility of having to face severe short-term energy-related dislocations?

Putting man on the moon demanded new tools and technology, and a massive commitment of resources on a scale unprecedented for the human race. Keeping man's tenancy of the earth may well require a worldwide programme by comparison with which all previous resource allocation records—even in war and when putting man on the moon—will pale into insignificance.

I shall refer to the reaction in this morning's national press to yesterday's announcement about nuclear energy. Those opposed to, and hostile to, nuclear power claim the announcement as a great victory. They said that the British Government had recognised the folly of their ways and are going to slow down and then retreat from nuclear power. That is not a conclusion of which anyone need be proud. Anyone who is fully aware of the range of complexities involved in this issue will realise that no solution is available to the United Kingdom, Western Europe or the industrial developed world which neglects or sets on one side the vital contribution now made by nuclear power and which—as I implied earlier in relation to hydrogen—could have to increase dramatically.

Alternatives are all very well. The latest estimate by the International Energy Agency is that, at the most, it could make a 1 per cent. contribution.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

It has not had the chance.

Sir Ian Lloyd

May be it has not had the chance, but even the most optimistic assessment—the free capital investment at zero rates of interests—gives figures of about 5 per cent. I am not concerned about those figures, but about the other 95 per cent. of contributions which we know cannot be met in that way. I have no doubt that the contribution from energy conservation could be dramatically increased but, during the next several decades, we shall depend on slow transition because there is no other way. Our societies cannot afford greater capital investment than more than the 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. change per annum in our energy systems.

During the next few decades we shall be vitally dependent on not only coal, the supply of which we shall have to improve by dramatic capital investment and changes in technology, but on nuclear power. We may well have to become dependent, if predictions prove correct, on natural gas and the nuclear power processing of natural gas. Therefore, those who cry triumph must look carefully at their analysis and the information on which they have based their judgment. I fear that they will have to eat their words and will become uncomfortable.

Let us not destroy the prospect of nuclear power by clutching vast numbers out of the air, as we have been doing, and attaching them to such processes as decommissioning when we do not know what the capability and contribution will be from the ingenuity which will exist in science and technology in half a century or a century's time. We may be able to decommission a nuclear power facility at a small fraction of the cost which is now estimated. Therefore, let us not take a figure of £10 billion, apply that to the British nuclear industry and say that it is uneconomic, we must scrap it and not consider it as an option. That is a fatal judgment which is fatally flawed.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know that last night a European instrument was discussed and debated in the House and that next week further European instruments are to be discussed and debated. Those instruments have a major effect on the powers of this House. You will also know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the dramatic events in Germany and the potential for the reunification of Germany which is pregnant with impact for our continent. Massive events are taking place which could radically effect the relationship of this country with Europe and European institutions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Marlow

The point of order for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that in view of the dramatic events which have taken place and the, as yet unknown, impact which those events should have on our potential relationship with Europe and European institutions, would it be possible for you to get a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to give a statement on the relevant significance of these major events and the likely outcome for this country and its relationship with other European institutions? That is an urgent point which should be addressed immediately.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have received no request for a statement. I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said has been heard by Ministers.

11.17 am
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)

When I was coming into the House on Wednesday I read a headline—I think in the Evening Standard—which struck terror in my heart. It said "Thatcher to save the world". That was the sort of hype about the speech last Wednesday. If the Prime Minister wants to save the world, why do we have a debate in the House on a Friday and not in prime time? If she wanted to save the world, why did not the Prime Minister come to the House and make a statement about her speech to the United Nations? Apparently, the whole world was in her hands. Surely she could come to the House and tell us about it.

The matter is being discussed on a Friday and the Secretary of State is not even present. However, a Minister is present for whom I have the highest personal regard and respect because he has helped me and my constituents considerably. But even he has to leave the House before the end of the debate. That is a sign of the sincerity of the Government's attitude to the environment.

Let us consider the events of three days of this week. When my noble Friend Lord Wilson of Rievaulx was the Leader of the Opposition he coined the famous phrase that a week was a long time in politics. As time has advanced, the timescale has gone down and now three days is an immensely long time in politics.

The Minister attended and led the delegation at an important conference at The Hague. He has given his version of events to the House, but it contradicts what I have read, and not only in The Guardian. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), the Liberal spokesman, also gained a totally different impression of the conference.

My impression of what the Government were going to do was formed from my reading of The Observer[Interruption.] The Minister laughs about The Observer and The Guardian. I read The Observer and the impression that I formed, and still have, is that we were delaying and saying that instead of having fixed dates and targets we would act as soon as possible. That was what we were saying to Europe when the issue of air pollution was raised. At that time we wanted to delay and forestall our action. I fear that that is precisely what the Prime Minister was doing in New York.

It is well known that if there is a problem, a royal commission is set up. The Prime Minister suggests that we should set up a world commission and do nothing about the problem. Although I admire and appreciate the Government's generosity in spending £100 million over three years to stop the erosion and deforestation in Brazil and Africa—it is a good and generous move on the part of the Government who are heading in the right direction—they are spending money on more blotting paper when we should stop spilling ink. We should not put the blame on the Brazilian or Zaire Governments and bribe them not to use their natural resources.

We should stop pollution, but the Government are significantly failing to do that. I agree with the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I Lloyd). Indeed, I agreed with every word of his speech—as I usually do. It is always interesting to listen to him.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that, environmentally, the nuclear industry could be the salvation of the atmosphere. Yet what happened when she stepped off her jet plane? She went to a Cabinet meeting which, for commercial reasons, said that the nuclear industry should not go ahead. That is the measure of the Government's sincerity on the atmosphere. I fully accept the right hon. Lady's assertion that nuclear energy is cleaner for the atmosphere than our fossil fuels—but having boasted about that, she has decided that the taxpayer must take responsibility because the private sector cannot afford decommissioning and the control of nuclear waste. Presumably, the public nuclear sector will be in competition with the privatised sector, which exists to make a profit. Will further resources be committed to nuclear power when it is in the public sector while the remainder of the industry is in the private sector? The truth is that when it comes down to commercial reasons, the environment goes out of the window.

The nuclear industry is costly because we set environmental standards following public concern about the disposal of nuclear waste. We accept that the disposal of such waste must be paid for. Coal-fired and oil-fired stations simply chuck their waste up into the atmosphere where it does no much damage. If we dealt with those fumes—as we have the technology to do—reduced the amount of acid rain, took out the SO2 and reduced the carbon dioxide content, the true cost of the privatised energy sector would be as high as the nuclear sector. At the moment, we merely chuck all the fumes into the atmosphere and other nations, as well as ours, suffer.

There are three main factors in the warming of the atmosphere: first, carbon dioxide, which is by far the biggest; secondly, the emissions from cars of nitrous oxide; and, thirdly—and more minor—CFCs. As I have already said, the Government are simply providing blotting paper for Brazil, but are doing nothing about the ink that is being spilt. Indeed, they are going backwards.

For carbon dioxide and car emissions we have the necessary technology. We do not need new technology, we simply need to spend more money on the technology that we already have. It is a question of cash. I noted that in her New York speech the Prime Minister referred to lean-burn engines. Britain is in the forefront of the world in that technology. But although they reduce pollution at slow speeds—for example, when driving round London—once on a motorway when the speed increases the lean-burn engine emits just as many pollutants as the traditional engine. We already have catalytic converters, and I believe that they are the answer to the problem. I am glad that the Government reduced the tax on unleaded petrol; it is the sort of initiative that they should be showing to a much greater degree. Catalytic converters would significantly improve the environment. They should be compulsory not only on new cars but on existing cars.

Sir Hugh Rossi

Although the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the use of catalytic converters will reduce the volume of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted into the atmosphere, they also increase the amount of carbon dioxides emitted—in other words, they aggravate the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Mr. Oakes

I am not a scientist, but I understand that nitrous oxide from car emissions has a catalytic effect with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which seriously increases the warming effect. Apparently the two go together. I am not a scientist, so I will not argue the point.

The Government have not seriously dealt with the two factors of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The Prime Minister might make a great speech in New York, but this country is doing nothing about that problem.

Britain has a success story on CFCs and the Montreal agreement, although no thanks to the Government. I am proud to say that in my constituency, ICI—the cradle of the chemical industry—has found the alternative to CFCs. It has spent more than £100 million on a crash research programme. The plant making the new product will be in operation in 13 months, in January 1991. Another plant will be opened in Louisiana in the United States. This country is ahead of the world in providing substitutes for CFCs. The new product will be called KLEA 134A—it is a trade name and the initials have no significance. It has been toxicologically tested and is as good as, or better than, CFC 12. In addition, and at its own expense, ICI has agreed to take in all old refrigerators so that it can safely dispose of the waste. It will also take in fire extinguishers using halon. ICI is an environmentally conscious company.

The Prime Minister was at least right when she said in New York that some of the criticisms of multinational companies was wrong. ICI is an example of a multinational company that is making a considerable impact on improving the environment.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about KLEA 134A. Has ICI given an undertaking to take all the redundant refrigerators in the country and remove the harmful CFC gases, or is it just a local initiative? I am sure that it is a move that would be welcomed in Leicestershire.

Mr. Oakes

It is certainly not a local initiative; I think that it is national. ICI has reached agreement with a major waste and scrap firm to take off its hands anything containing CFC 12, which is the most damaging of the CFCs to the ozone layer.

Mr. Dalyell

I wish to put on record the appreciation of an hon. Member from a different part of the country for the efforts both of my right hon. Friend and ICI at Runcorn in explaining objectively, while open to critical questions, the marvellous work that the company has done.

Mr. Oakes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), to my hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) and for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) and to some Conservative Members whom I do not see in the Chamber for attending the meeting with ICI. The people at ICI are scientists and know the damage that could be caused to the climate and to the world. They wanted to inform hon. Members about what they were doing, but not in an advertising sense because at that time they did not have the product. The ICI scientists merely told us what they were trying to do. At the time they had not succeded, but now they have. I am proud of that success and the fact that the product was developed in my constituency. I welcome the debate, but I do not think for a moment that the Government are sincere about the environment.

Mr. Trippier

I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. Much of what he says is fair and I am grateful to him for the nice things that he said about me. If he wishes to continue to be fair he should not make such statements. He said that the Government played no part in the reduction of CFCs. But about four things have happened in which the Government took the lead. First, as he and I know, it was British scientists taking part in the Antarctic survey who first discovered the erosion of the ozone layer. That survey was sponsored by the Government. We were the first to sign the Vienna convention and played such a part in the Montreal protocol that it was recognised that we should host the ozone layer conference. It is recognised internationally that we are in the lead because people are content to come back to London next June. We should he proud of that. The Government have taken many initiatives on the matter and the right hon. Gentleman should not say that we are not in the least concerned about the environment.

Mr. Oakes

The Government have taken an initiative by saying that there is a problem but they have done nothing to provide a solution. That was left to ICI. When the product was first developed by ICI no one knew about its effect on the ozone layer or the environment. As soon as the Government found out they reacted and tried to do something about it. The Government should take much greater initiatives with companies such as the Central Electricity Generating Board and with industry generally to make sure that it is as environmentally conscious as ICI. They should do something to save the planet.

11.32 am
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

As this is the first opportunity that I have had of doing so on the Floor of the House, may I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside to his new post? Last week, my Committee found his attendance most helpful. At that time he gave evidence on another subject and displayed a concern, an openness of mind and a willingness to be flexible on the issues that concerned us. I am grateful for that.

I was fascinated by the erudite contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy. The House knows the contribution that he has made to that subject. For many years he has devoted his parliamentary life to a study of such matters and he and his Committee have added greatly to our knowledge about matters which have recently become of much greater political significance than was the case when he embarked on his course many years ago.

It is understandable that Opposition Members should take a cynical view of what they regard as the conversion of the Government. Reference has been made to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the United Nations. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant put that speech in its proper perspective, and I join him in welcoming the profound and important statements that it contained. Britain should be proud of the fact that it is being seen to take the lead in matters that present the world with enormous problems requiring solutions.

I know that Opposition Members do not want to hear about such matters and adopt a cynical attitude. However, it is part of the Opposition's function to adopt such an attitude, because if they did not question what the Government were doing they would not be operating correctly. The way that some Opposition Members talk about what are called the green issues is a little rich. I recall—the hon. Member for Bootle will remember this—that only six years ago my Committee decided to look into the phenomenon of atmospheric pollution. We embarked upon an inquiry which, for want of a better term we called acid rain, into the consequences of the burning of fossil fuels. The hon. Member for Bootle will remember, when the Chairman first raised those subjects as possible matters for inquiry, the bemusement with which some members of the Committee greeted the suggestions. They asked what acid rain was, how it was important and how it affected us and Parliament. They asked how it affected the nation and, in an aside, they said, "There are not many votes in it, are there, because the public are not concerned?"

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said so far, and especially with his suggestion that concern for green issues has come late to all political parties. One of the things we complain about is that it has come particularly late to the Prime Minister. There is an element of cynicism among those of us who have been involved with those issues for many years, even before we were in Parliament. In many senses, the Prime Minister is using them as a way of diverting attention from what is going on at home so that she can get headlines such as: Thatcher's plan to save the world".

Sir Hugh Rossi

I do not accept that for a moment. I have nothing whatever to gain by doing so but I can say that I am perfectly satisfied that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a deep personal conviction on these matters.

Let us look at what is happening. I spoke about the inquiry into acid rain, which was met with scepticism and cynicism all round. As my Committee says in the opening part of its report, members of the Committee approached the subject with an open mind because they knew very little about the subject at that time. That reflected the situation in the House. We came back absolutely convinced about the problem and the need for action, and we reported accordingly.

The reaction outside to the report was typical of the mentality of the country as a whole. No political party excluded, the reaction was summarised very nicely in the third leader of The Times following the publication of our report. It posed the questions: "What are these 11 men up to? Are they trying to scare us? They have gone over the top by exaggerating a situation for which there is no real scientific evidence."

The consensus at that time was that no scientific nexus existed between emissions from power stations and industry and damage to the environment. That was the majority view in this country and the advice given to the Government. That advice was given also to the Labour party. It required 11 hon. Members from all parts of the House to take the trouble to study, to go abroad and to investigate the subject for themselves, so that they could subsequently identify the dangers. From that time on, some notice began to be taken both in the House and outside.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Is it not the case the Britain was about the last country in Europe to acknowledge the problem of acid rain and the last to join the 30 per cent. club? Is it not true also that Britain has done less to tackle the problem than any other Community member?

Sir Hugh Rossi

It is the last country in Europe to record the effects of acid rain, for the reasons given in the Environment Committee's report. The complacency that existed at the time of the report was based partly on the enormous success of the Clean Air Act 1956, which removed the dirt and dust from our atmosphere, did away with London smog, and brought a 100 per cent. increase in the sunshine enjoyed in London in the 1970s over the 1950s and the return to central London of many species of wildlife that had not existed there since the industrial revolution.

That was coupled with the tall chimney policy, based on the scientific belief—still prevalent in respect of the oceans—of "dilute and disperse" It was thought that the atmosphere was so vast that it could absorb, dilute, disperse and render harmless anything put into it. We know now that that theory was wrong. We were misled partly because, while tall chimneys took the muck high into the atmosphere, that only served to carry it elsewhere—and then the people at the receiving end started agitating for changes and corrections. That is why members of the Committee visited many of the countries so affected.

Mr. Allan Roberts

I accept, as a member of that Environment Committee, that the report was good and was before its time. However, it was published six years ago. Recommendation 3.50 in the Fourth Report was (a) that the United Kingdom joined the 30 per cent. club immediately"— after six years, we still have not done so— and that this target be achieved by the CEGB being required to reduce its emissions accordingly. In fact, Britain has increased its emissions accordingly over the past six years, and the Government have done nothing.

Recommendation 3.50 (b) was that in the medium term as power stations come to be refitted"— none has been refitted, and the proposal is to refit only one before the next general election— the CEGB should be required to instal equipment to attain the overall national reduction of 60 per cent in accordance with the EEC draft directive, that is, by the end of 1995. None of those recommendations has been accepted or implemented by the Government, and nor have any of the Select Committee's latest significant recommendations.

Sir Hugh Rossi

I acknowledge the enthusiastic role that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) played subsequently in the work of the Select Committee. Like him, I regret that the Government did not see fit to join the 30 per cent. club, as the Committee unanimously recommended. However, he knows as well as I do that this country is likely to attain the targets that have been set far earlier than many of the signatories to the agreement. We have, however, joined in agreeing the targets of the EEC directive in respect of large combustion units, and we are well on target with the reductions required by that directive. We are playing our full part.

The hon. Member for Bootle is right to say that there was a reluctance to accept immediately the dangers that the Committee cited, because of the scientific advice that the Government were then receiving. The attitude taken by the scientific world at that time was very similar to that which it adopted many years ago on the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer—"Not proven…it is in doubt that…the balance of probabilities is…" A similar view was taken in respect of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and their impact on the environment.

One cannot blame a Government, having listened to scientific advice, for adopting a cautious approach. However, the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that the Government accepted all the Committee's recommendations——

Mr. Allan Roberts

Because they did not cost any money.

Sir Hugh Rossi

—as to the need for research and for monitoring air quality, in order to establish the facts. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's remark from a sedentary position, I had it from the chief scientist to the Department of the Environment that, following the Government's acceptance of the Committee's report and recommendations, money became no object insofar as scientific research into that area was concerned. It proceeded apace.

It is hardly surprising that, following that research, just as night follows day, the Government reached the same conclusions as the Committee reached in 1984. Some 18 months after our report was published, a programe of desulphurisation costing £600 million, now increased to £2 billion, became part of our country's efforts to achieve the norms set in the EEC directives. I am satisfied that the United Kingdom will continue to honour its obligations under that directive and will reach its targets before many other members of the 30 per cent. club.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

We obviously welcome reductions in sulphur emissions, which reduces acid rain, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will turn his attention to another significant cause of pollution that is increasing throughout the world: the internal combustion engine. Is it right for the British Government and every other Government in Europe not only to predict a 120 per cent. increase in private car ownership over the next 25 years but positively to encourage it? Should not the Committee turn its attention to reducing the number of internal combusion engines and to increasing the use of public transport, which would inevitably give rise to much less pollution?

Mr. Tony Banks

Yes—bring back the sedan chair.

Sir Hugh Rossi

If the hon. Gentleman will compose himself and become more patient, he will find that I shall direct myself to transport in a minute or two. I wish that my Committee could examine problems that are associated with transport. It has been difficult to deal with energy matters without trespassing far too far into the province of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy. Similarly, it cannot examine transport policy. It can, however, consider the environmental consequences—

Mr. Oakes

I intervene on the £2 billion and the report of the hon. Gentleman's Select Committee. Surely he must realise that the spending of £2 billion is not directly the result of his Committee's report. The Government fought tooth and nail against it. They lost, and that is why they are spending £2 billion.

Sir Hugh Rossi

The hon. Gentleman must be relying more upon newspaper reports than on personal knowledge of what happened. If he studies the record, he will find that the Minister who was concerned in the Department of the Environment with EEC directives on large combustion played a leading part in getting the norm settled and agreed to. That is the role that Britain played in the Montreal protocol and its revision.

Mr. Allan Roberts

What about CFCs?

Sir Hugh Rossi

The hon. Gentleman is preoccupied with CFCs, as we all must be.

The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) must be fair. It is not always entirely safe to rely upon newspaper reports as a source. If he wants sources, I suggest that there is more than an abundant supply to satisfy him in the Library, in the reports of my Committee and in those of the Committee of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant. In that material he will find the matter dissected and analysed, followed by recommendations. I recommend that he read that material instead of the more facile commentaries upon what may or may not have taken place, many of them being based on conjecture.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Hugh Rossi

I must get on. I have a great deal of ground to cover and I want to be fair to those who wish to participate in the debate.

My Committee dealt with the subject that is before us again in 1985–86, when we produced an update on acid rain. We did so once again when we produced the report on air pollution of May 1988. We discussed the Montreal protocol and recommended that the Government should take action to tighten the protocol, which happened subsequently.

My Committee dealt also with the greenhouse effect. I am sure that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) will agree with what I am about to say, because the Committee's findings conform very much with the burden of his speech this morning. The Committee underlined the necessity for more and more expenditure upon research. In paragraph 154, it stated: The urgent need for more research on the problem is underlined by our understanding that the development of abatement technology for greenhouse gases is in its infancy. Techniques of removing and disposing of carbon dioxide from fuel gases are unproven and, if technically feasible, are likely to be prohibitively expensive. We were told that carbon dioxide emissions are more likely to be reduced by a strategy of more efficient use of energy and a changing to non-fossil fuels. In other words, we do not know very much about it and there is a great deal more to learn. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South underlined that when he spoke of the effects upon the oceans of the absorption of carbon dioxide.

Dr. Bray

The hon. Gentleman's Committee has an admirable record on recommending action at the same time as research and not regarding research as an excuse for not taking action.

Sir Hugh Rossi

At some stage, politicians have to make a judgment on the balance of probabilities. They cannot wait for absolute scientific proof: I accept that. However, we need to know some of the basics before we can make value judgments on the balance of probabilities.

There is unequivocal evidence that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased over the past 30 years, and that the gases existed in much smaller concentrations before the industrial revolution. The Meteorological Office has made a major international contribution to modelling climatic change, whether that be under the auspices of one Government Department or another. It estimates that the range of possible time scales for the doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations from their pre-industrial revolution levels is from 60 to 100 years plus. The effect of such a doubling would be to increase average world temperatures from 1.5 deg C to 4.5 deg C, with a rise in sea levels of between 20 cm and 1.5 m.

The European Commission has analysed some of the possible effects of global warming in Europe. It suggests that these could include permament inundation of many coastal areas; coastal erosion; flooding; storm damage; lack of water for human consumption, power generation, effluent dilution and navigation; changes in the growing seasons of plants, agricultural yields and crop certainly and quality; changes in forestry; an increase in tropical diseases; more frequent famines and food supply shortages; and an impact on marine life and the diversity of all life systems. That is an appalling scenario. One may feel that it is almost Cassandra-like in tone. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore it, even if it is only half true.

The problems of predicting the effects of greenhouse gas emissions were emphasised last week when the Natural Environment Research Council revealed the results of the first phase of the North sea community project, to which the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) has referred. That research has revealed that the take-up by the ocean of carbon dioxide may be only 30 per cent.

compared with the 50 per cent. thought previously. Dr. Andrew Watson of the NERC's Plymouth marine laboratory warned that CO2 in the earth's atmosphere may increase 20 per cent. faster than current models predict.

On 3 November, in The Independent—I am sure that the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) will not mind my quoting from a newspaper—Dr. Watson said: we do not know if, or why, the land vegetation takes the carbon dioxide up, or how long they might continue to do so. Scientists are being asked by the policy makers what they should do. It's rather embarrassing to admit we do not even know where the carbon dioxide is going. That is the dilemma with which we are faced in discussing these matters, not as scientists but as politicians. It is the dilemma that the Government must face in deciding upon actions which might have enormous consequences for the people of Britain and throughout the world in terms of their lifestyles and way of living.

I should like to refer to some aspects of this dilemma, one of which is, of course, transport. We know that deforestation causes the build-up of CO2 in two ways. The burning of forests produces CO2 directly and means that there are fewer trees taking in CO2 to retain growth and then release oxygen. In addition, any change in land use which increases erosion and soil degradation is likely to result in a greater release of carbon held in the soil.

I was delighted when, last July, the present Secretary of State for the Environment, then Minister for Overseas Development—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten)—signed the first agreement between Brazil's Ministry of External Relations and any foreign country. If the right hon. Member for Halton is asking for action by Britain, here is one: Britain will supply money and expertise to train Brazilian officials to explore the environmental impact of projects.

Last week, at a meeting of the International Tropical Timber Organisation, made up of the big consumer countries—such as Japan, the United States and the EEC—and countries that have or used to have tropical forests, it was the United Kingdom that proposed a worldwide labelling scheme for tropical hardwoods which would identify their origins and allow the consumers to refuse to buy those hardwoods. That would have an impact on the trade, but the matter goes further than that. It is essential that we help those countries with reafforestation programmes. If hardwoods have to be cut down because they are needed, new hardwoods must be planted at the same time to replace them.

The developed world can help the developing world by a price mechanism for hardwoods to enable developing countries to bear the costs of reafforestation. It is difficult for the developed countries to persuade developing countries to change their ways and not to maximise their produce as economically as possible. Developing countries may say, "You have had your industrial revolution and you have attained your standard of living. All you are trying to do now is to stop us catching up with you." We must recognise that problem and do what we can to solve it. It is true that there is virtually no control today over the world timber trade. The statistics are wholly unreliable and short-term cash need has meant that countries such as Thailand and Nigeria have literally run out of cash crops and have been forced to place a ban on exports.

Research on the relative advantages of maintaining rain forests or cutting them down to cultivate other crops has shown that the forests produce twice as much cash if left standing. Managed Amazonian forests that produce Brazil nuts, rubber and honey yield £4,500 per hectare compared with £2,000 if cleared for cattle ranching. I hope that the future liaison between the United Kingdom and the Brazilian Government in carrying out research and in finding alternatives will make a contribution both to the Brazilian economy and to the world in terms of a reduction in global warming.

About 10 per cent. of land in the United Kingdom is wooded and that area could be expanded to 25 per cent. If the area were merely doubled and the extra land were devoted to broad-leaved species, 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide would be absorbed per annum. The Select Committee on Energy noted that if trees were used as fossil fuel and constantly replaced by new trees, no net carbon dioxide would be added to the atmosphere and they could provide 20 per cent. of the United Kingdom's electricity requirements. Clearly, there is a need to think out our policy on land use carefully. Taking land out of agriculture and the planting of trees—broad-leaved wherever possible—would not only create a pleasant environment in terms of the physical view, but would contribute considerably to alleviating the problems that concern the House today.

I was asked about cars, and I must say that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is right. Cars are responsible for about 60 per cent. of all greenhouse emissions from the transport sector. It is a matter of current controversy between Her Majesty's Government and our EC partners whether the three-way catalyst or lean-burn engine technology is the correct way forward. Our Government prefers the lean-burn technology and that was the conclusion to which the Select Committee on the Environment came in its 1984 report on acid rain. But again, the scientists do not agree and they continue to fight among themselves.

The hon. Member for Islington, North may be surprised that there is common ground between us on any subject, but it is clear that an increase in the use of motor vehicles, even in the light of recent technology, is bound to contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect. That must be taken into account seriously when evolving transport policy.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman and I agree that the internal combusion engine is the major source of greenhouse gases. Will he confirm that catalytic converters, while purifying vehicle emissions to some extent, increase carbon dioxide emissions because of less efficient burning and that we need a long-term policy of reducing the number of internal combustion engines and increasing communal forms of transport to reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by transport?

Sir Hugh Rossi

The hon. Gentleman must have temporarily left the Chamber when I made precisely that point when I intervened in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Dr. Bray). I put it to him that catalytic converters increase the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. That is why I told the Select Committee on the Environment that, in the light of information received in 1984, the lean-burn approach was the way ahead. Lean-burn motors operate on a reduced quantity of petrol compared to air, therefore emit fewer gases into the atmosphere. Whether we can achieve and implement that technology is still open to doubt—which is why, in agreement with our European partners, we are adopting the three-way catalyst solution.

Behind that European decision, there is pressure from the manufacturers of larger motor cars which rely on a powerful engine to sell their product and meet the market. Such larger engines would run less efficiently on lean-burn technology, so the manufacturers prefer the three-way catalyst which will enable them to build ever more powerful cars to zoom up and down the autobahns of Europe where there are no speed limits.

A European transport policy must be evolved to deal with the problems mentioned. The hon. Member for Islington, North will recognise that the people of Europe demand as much personal freedom of movement as possible. Nothing achieves that as well as the motor car parked on the doorstep, into which one can jump and arrive immediately at one's destination.

Mr. Allan Roberts


Sir Hugh Rossi

That is the preference of the British people. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bootle will pledge this in a moment, but it would be a rash Government that limited the size of motor cars to say, 1,000 cc or insisted that people use their motor cars only once a week or for essential purposes. I do not know whether the Labour party has any such regulations in mind, but I doubt that it would dare to contest a general election advocating them.

Mr. Allan Roberts

We would contest a general election pointing out that what the hon. Gentleman says is not the case. The motor car is not a convenient mode of transport into which one can jump and arrive quickly at one's destination. Anyone who thinks that it is possible to travel quickly across London has not tried to do so recently. The M1 and the M6 have become the longest car parks in Britain. One cannot drive along them; one simply parks on them. We are destroying the advantages of the motor car by allowing too many on our roads. By failing to support public transport, the Government have failed to encourage people to use it.

Sir Hugh Rossi

The hon. Member is introducing a personal note. If he is interested, let me tell him that I use my motor car to get to my constituency at inconvenient hours—inconvenient in terms of my programme, that is—and to depart from the House at unsociable hours. My preferred way of getting round London is by underground. Most Londoners who are worldly wise go by underground at every opportunity. That is the way to get around London, for all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave. Before long, those responsible for transport policy will have to turn their attention to the whole question of inner-city traffic, but for the moment I am concerned only with environmental issues and the effects of CO2.

I did not intend to detain the House for so long, but I have had to deal with interruptions or appear unreasonably discourteous. I hope that I have explained some of the problems that exist and the matters that we need to examine.

The Environment Select Committee has also been considering the disposal of waste, landfill and the generation of methane gas. Methane gas is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. We must find ways of trapping it and using it to generate electricity. There are about 20 schemes in operation at the moment. We should like a process to be adopted universally whereby we can eliminate the gas and turn it to good use. We shall then have made a double gain. It is for local authorities, which are responsible for the regulation of landfill sites, to ensure that that comes about.

We must also consider much more seriously than hitherto combined heat and energy systems and the disposal of refuse and sewage sludge by incineration. We should ensure that such waste is not dumped at sea or in landfill sites and allowed to create further hazards. It should be incinerated under controlled conditions and used to produce energy, as an alternative to the burning of fossil fuels.

The debate raises a whole range of issues. These are early days yet, and our knowledge of these matters is still limited. Despite what Opposition Members say, however, it is quite clear that the Government are apprised of the problem, and that they are anxious to act in the light of advice that they receive concerning the best way forward. I am sure that the Opposition are equally concerned about the problems. In the Select Committee that I chair, I have been able to achieve co-operation between the parties in finding solutions to the problems rather than continually carping and selling the country short—the role to which Opposition Members frequently reduce themselves.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Several hon. Members wish to speak, in addition to the Minister and the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. I therefore appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House for short speeches.

12.14 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

We should perhaps take the advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the secretary of the Budapest chamber of commerce, who told members of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry a year or so ago that in Hungary they believe in short speeches and long sausages. Unfortunately, it seems to be the other way round in this place. I shall try to make my remarks as compact and systematic as possible.

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy, the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), and the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) both seemed to be saying that we needed more information and better knowledge. They claim that it is very difficult to take decisions without that knowledge and the Government should put their resources into securing more information.

No one would disagree with the need for research to get more information on which we can base decisions. Most people accept, however, that the potential seriousness of the crisis that we face is such that we must take positive and specific action now in the light of the knowledge that is currently available. Both the hon. Member for Havant and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green drew considerably on the Prime Minister's speech to the United Nations. It is obvious that the Prime Minister has an excellent speech writer on the subject of the greenhouse effect, and she delivered the speech extremely well—it even came across as a visionary speech. It was a little unfortunate, however, that at the very moment when the Prime Minister was making her speech to the United Nations the Minister for the Environment and Countryside was blocking specific agreements on real reductions. The record appears to be disputed on that, but that is the information from all the first-hand reports that I have from people who were present and from the press.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman has just misled the House yet again. This is probably the fourth time that he has misled the House so far. He said that it was at the precise moment, when in fact it happened the day before. As vicars say in the Church of England, could he also share with us the names of the people who gave him his information at first hand?

Mr. Bruce

I could do that, but I do not see why I should do so without their authority. There is no secret about it and I would give the Minister that information, but I will not put it on the record as that would be invidious and a discourtesy to people who give me information.

The Minister is disputing press information. Is he saying that The Observer and The Sunday Correspondent are wrong? The Sunday Correspondent has a headline, "Britain shuns gases freeze." The article states: The Government argues that there is no scientific consensus on the size of a cut needed to avoid climatic change. The article in The Observer to which reference has already been made states that the objective was to: 'stabilise' emissions of carbon dioxide in industrialised countries at present levels by the year 2000 and 'investigate the feasibility' of reducing them by 20 per cent. by the year 2005. Did the Government agree to that? My information is that they would not agree.

Mr. Trippier

This is the fifth time that the hon. Gentleman has misled the House. He is referring to an article in The Observer which was written by Mr. Geoffrey Lean. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be very well briefed on the subject. The ministerial conference did not start until first thing on Monday morning. Any supposition that Mr. Lean reported in The Observer was thus conjecture at best.

Mr. Allan Roberts

But he was right.

Mr. Trippier

No he was not. The situation changed dramatically, and I changed it. That story is in The Times article on the Wednesday morning.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to the Minister. It is his word against others. My advice from someone who attended the conference is that 11 of the 12 members of the Community [Interruption.] The Minister has not told me whether the Government agree with specific targets for the year 2000. If so, what are they?

Mr. Trippier

Honestly, the hon. Gentleman must listen more carefully to me. It was my responsibility, and I am proud to accept that responsibility, of putting the year 2000 into the declaration. The hon. Gentleman obviously has not read the declaration. The levels would be agreed at the climate conference put forward by the IPCC. If I say it at least 13 times, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be on to it in a flash.

Mr. Bruce

I understand that the other member states wanted to include specific agreements about targets, but the Minister wanted to take them out. That is the most important issue.

Mr. Trippier

What other members?

Mr. Bruce

Eleven out of 12 Community countries wanted to do that. The only reservations came from Greece and Portugal which were given caveats because of their circumstances. One day soon, I trust, the facts of the meeting will be reported and the Government's position will be clear. The Government's position remains unclear at the moment. It appears to me that, as in virtually every case when such international agreements are sought, the British Government tried to avoid specific commitments. When the Government are finally boxed into a corner, they have the audacity to claim that they have triumphantly secured an agreement that has advanced the frontiers of environmental protection. That is the standard ministerial speech.

Since the Prime Minister made her Royal Society speech I have taken the view that she is genuinely concerned about the greenhouse effect, but she has failed to grasp that it is incompatible with her political philosophy to take appropriate action. It is incompatible with Thatcherism. That is a problem for the architects of that philosophy. Thatcherism does not appear to control the Cabinet any longer. That being so, we saw the first step in a positive direction yesterday, when the Secretary of State for Energy announced the abandonment of the nuclear power programme, which should have been abandoned years ago.

Mr. Tredinnick

Surely the fact that the Prime Minister chose to speak to the United Nations about the environment—she could have chosen any other issue—is an illustration of her commitment.

Mr. Bruce

No, I am afraid not. I have made it quite clear that fine words do not alter a situation unless real, specific action is taken. All the fine speeches in the world will not alter things. So far, the Prime Minister has acquired a good speech writer, but she has taken very little action to back her commitment.

As has been acknowledged by hon. Members, greenhouse gases from various sources are causing concern and they could get out of control and cause an irreversible disaster at any time. It is worth remembering that dinosaurs are regarded as one of the evolutionary failures of this planet. They managed to survive for 70 million years but were apparently wiped out virtually immediately after a major climatic change. The human race has been in existence for only a tiny fraction of that time, but it could face exactly the same annihilation. It could take place at any time within the next few years, and within a short space of time, unless we take action now.

The main greenhouse gases include, chiefly, carbon dioxide, which comes from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and the burning of biomass; methane, which comes from animals, the burning of biomass, and landfill sites, rubbish sites, gas leaks, paddy fields and swamps; CFCs, which come from aerosols, refrigerators, air-conditioning and solvents; nitrous oxide, which comes from fertilisers, the burning of biomass, and fossil fuel combustion; and ozone, which is caused by the reaction of sunlight and car emissions. All those matters must be addressed if we are to deal with the problem. Carbon dioxide may be the biggest problem, but the others are on the increase and cannot be left without action.

It has been acknowledged that carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom are the second highest in Europe, after West Germany. We have no reason to be complacent about that. Whereas emissions in West Germany and France are decreasing, they are continuing to increase in the United Kindom. Although we are getting a reduction in emissions from power stations, vehicle emissions are increasing.

I do not wish to dwell for too long on catalytic converters, but there is no doubt that introducing mechanisms to clean up car exhausts is utterly useless if we do not have a transport policy to ensure that we switch from private transport to a proper public transport system. That is borne out by the fact that the investment of subsidy in our railways, for example, is the lowest in Europe. Britain invests £1.95 per kilometre, France invests £5.83, and West Germany invests £5.37. Luxembourg, which may not be directly comparable with the United Kingdom, invests £16.06 per kilometre. That is illustrative of how out of touch we are. Of course there is also the Channel tunnel mess. The Government refuse to accept their responsibility to ensure an environmentally sound and efficient link—if we are to have the tunnel at all.

However, the Government continue to promote a massive road-building programme which, apart from not solving the traffic problems, will add greatly to the problems of vehicle emissions. Whereas in the United Kingdom 4 per cent. of freight travels by rail, the comparative figure for West Germany is 20 per cent. The Government should have a policy of closing that gap.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems is that although the major motor manufacturers in the world may be forced into accepting improved environmental standards in western Europe and the United States, that is not happening in poorer countries? Indeed, many of the economic models that poorer countries are persuaded to accept encourage road development and internal combustion engine transport, whereas they should be encouraging the very opposite, railways and other forms of public transport.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman's intervention deals with a different but relevant argument about the appropriate method of ensuring that poorer countries can aspire to improved living standards in ways that are environmentally sound. That is an important point.

Unless this view is picked up by his successor, one regret at the departure of the former Chancellor will be that at least he recognised that company cars are a major source of the growth in traffic in the United Kingdom. That issue should be addressed because a company car is a heavily subsidised perk. In the circumstances that we are discussing today, it is time that we reconsidered whether that policy should continue, given the resulting costs to the environment and traffic congestion.

Methane comes from various sources, which include gas leaks, about which more should be done. I understand that it is slightly less than 1 per cent. of the total, but that still amounts to a substantial tonnage. According to written answers that I have received, only 26 landfill sites in Britain exploit the methane from such sites although 438 sites are suitable for commercial exploitation. Again, what are the Government doing to ensure that that wide discrepancy is sorted out?

I turn now to the problems caused by CFCs. It is worth mentioning that when The Sunday Times had a questionnaire to try to discover how green Members of Parliament are, it maintained that the main concern caused by CFCs was the increasing incidence of skin cancer. I dispute that. The main concern about CFCs is their impact as a greenhouse gas, especially when one discovers that the ozone layer over the Antarctic can disappear in a matter of days when the sun rises at the end of winter and that that phenomenon could race through the whole of the ozone layer at any time if circumstances got out of control. That makes dealing with CFCs an urgent priority, especially since they do not disappear but have a long life in the atmosphere.

The Government have tried to claim some credit for the Montreal protocol, but that protocol is now wholly out of date in relation to what can be achieved. I am increasingly of the view that my Chlorofluorocarbons (Control) Bill, which I introduced earlier this year and which I was told is impractical, is exactly the legislation that the Government should have picked up. Indeed, it is almost identical to the legislation now being adopted by the West Germans. The fact that the Government were not prepared to take that action shows a lack of urgency in their thinking.

The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) intervened on the question of ICI's willingness to recycle fridges. I want to put on the record the fact that the first two local authorities in the United Kingdom to offer recycling of CFCs from fridges were the London borough of Sutton and my own district of Gordon. They did it because they are controlled by Liberal Democrats and because our party takes action on such matters, while others only talk about it. If we as local councillors can do it, the Government should be able to do a great deal more if they have the will, but I fear that they have not.

The problems of nitrous oxides—NOX—come back to vehicle emissions. No doubt that argument will run and run with more European orders late at night as the European Community forces us, kicking and screaming. into a more environmentally sound transport policy.

As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy said, it was interesting that the Prime Minister chose to pick out the environmental virtues of nuclear power. Totally dispute the claims made for nuclear power and make no secret of my belief—I may be castigated by the Chairman of that Select Committee for this—that the expansion of the nuclear power industry over the past 10 years cannot be justified on either economic or environmental grounds. I have opposed nuclear power every inch of the way. I note that the South of Scotland electricity board has now admitted that Torness, which I demonstrated against, is an expensive white elephant and should never have been built in the first place. That is true of other power stations that should not have been built.

I accept, however, that if we get through this crisis, the next generation or subsequent generations may see a role for nuclear power—generated by fission, fusion or from hydrogen. I accept that we may come back to that option, but I do not believe that we should advance with that programme now. Resources should not be diverted to that end. They would be better invested in more immediate means of reducing the greenhouse gases. We should promote energy conservation and promote more benign energy alternatives.

If nuclear power was seen as the sole solution to the greenhouse problem we would have to build one new nuclear power station every day and a half for 40 years at a cost of $787 billion per annum. That would ensure that we had sufficient nuclear power capacity to replace the energy capacity generated by other sources of power. At the very best, nuclear power can make only a small contribution. It is a red herring to try to pretend that nuclear power is anything other than a small component of energy generation. It was ironic for the Prime Minister to try to make that claim the day before the Secretary of State for Energy announced the effective abandonment of the expanded nuclear power programme.

I do not accept the argument that nuclear power is environmentally sound. That argument is not borne out when one considers the costs of the programme, the unknown problems of decommissioning and the increasing problem of reprocessing nuclear waste materials. Because of that, the case for any further development in the future cannot be made. The resources would be much better spent elsewhere.

For many years my party has taken the environment issue seriously. In the local councils that we control we have ensured that environmental issues are put at the top of the agenda. We can stand up and defend our record far better than any other party. We have put forward to the Secretary of State for the Environment a raft of proposals in our environment Bill. They represent specific measures to deal with the problems that face us. Let us consider what the Government have done. They have cut the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office. They have maintained limited support of research and development into renewable sources of energy and that support does not compare with the investment they have made in nuclear power. In many cases they have pulled the research from under those projects just when they were becoming viable. That is particularly true of wave and geothermal research. They introduced a programme to clean up our coal-burning power stations only as a result of intensive pressure from our European Community neighbours. They resisted that pressure as hard as they could.

I hope, however, that there is a glimpse of light and wisdom appearing in the Cabinet. I was extremely encouraged when the new Secretary of State for Energy made a speech in Canada—interestingly enough he did not make it here—when he said: Energy efficiency is the single most cost-effective response to the effort to limit carbon dioxide. The right hon. Gentleman made a good start yesterday, in embarrassing circumstances, when he scrapped the nuclear power programme. Perhaps he will come hack to the House soon to tell us exactly what he will do to ensure that his belief that energy efficiency is the single most important way in which to reduce the greenhouse effect will be put into practice by Government policies. Those policies should ensure that we achieve the targets set. We have been told time and again by the Department of Energy that energy savings of 30 per cent. on current use are perfectly attainable within existing technology. We do not achieve those targets, however, because the Government refuse to invest the necessary money to do so.

At the bottom end of the fuel poverty and energy efficient scale no one in this country is eligible for any grant towards loft insulation. All the available sources of grant aid for energy efficiency have been effectively phased out. That shows that the Government do not have the slightest idea about how to grasp the problem. Energy efficiency is the most important policy that they could follow. They could take a lead. The Prime Minister cannot get away much longer with making fine speeches while allowing Ministers to obstruct the development of practical policies to achieve the desired objectives.

In the Select Committee on Energy, Edmund Burke was quoted—for the benefit of the Committee—as saying: Nobody made a greater mistake than…who did nothing because he…could only do a little. I regret to say that the Government are all talk and very little action.

12.35 pm
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

This debate could not be more timely. This week we have seen, first, the meeting of the world's leading industrialised countries at Noordwijk in the Netherlands and, secondly, the Prime Minister's address to the United Nations in New York.

Earlier this year the Government demonstrated their commitment to the environment at the international conference on saving the ozone layer held in London, which was widely acclaimed throughout the world. In 1987, the Government accepted the Brundtland report on sustainable development and the Government's response, "A perspective by the United Kingdom on the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development" was published in July 1988. Therefore, when Opposition Members say that we have been doing nothing, they need only look at the record of the Conservative Government this year and in the preceding two or three years to see that a great deal has been done.

When I looked at the report last weekend, my fingers found chapter 10, headed "Managing the Commons". I wondered whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had had a chance to look at that chapter to glean some insight into controlling the House in difficult times.

The report's central message relates to the concept of sustainable development or development without destruction. It is sometimes claimed that this is a new concept, but it is not. For centuries that approach has been adopted by rural societies. We are taught at school that in working the land, farmers rotate the crops. But it is a concept which the industrial society is having to relearn. Brundtland suggests that by successfully applying the tried and tested method to modern conditions we shall achieve a major breakthrough in managing and reconciling economic growth and the conservation of natural resources.

Later, I shall contrast Brundtland's stance, which is supported by the Government, with some of the views held by other parties in this country. Only a decade ago these two vital elements, the breakthrough in managing and reconciling economic growth and the conservation of natural resources, were regarded as fundamentally incompatible. However, this great and important report demonstrates that with wise management not only can they be made compatible but that they are essential to each other.

The report states: Poverty forces many of the people of the world to overdraw on the earth's ecological capital creating this vicious spiral of environmental degradation and further poverty. However, the technology and the advanced social and commercial systems of our industrialised world can be harnessed to provide opportunities for all mankind and, at the same time, protect the natural systems that support life on earth. That is a key point at a time when there are tremendous pressures on our eco systems.

I said that growth was essential, and that view is supported by the Brundtland report. The policies advocated particularly by the Green party and some other Opposition groups are detrimental to the process of protecting the environment in a major industrialised society. The Green party's commitment to reducing the country's economic growth as part of a strategy for protecting the environment, although well meaning, is profoundly misguided.

We must face the fact that we are an industrialised society. In the past 10 years we have seen sustained economic growth under this Government and a massive investment in measures to protect the environment—in particular, the £1 billion programme to combat acid emissions from power stations. We can argue that more should be done, but the fact is that we are spending £1 billion that was not previously being spent. The Green party's doctrine of negative economic growth would do more than lead to a decline in the resources available to protect the environment and to improve our life; it would create mass unemployment and stop the production of the financial resources necessary to combat the environmental problems that we face. I find its policies profoundly wanting.

We all know that global warming caused by the greenhouse effect is the greatest threat to the prospect of sustainable development. The best estimates suggest—my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) touched on that—a global warming of 1.5 deg C to 4.5 deg C by the year 2050. The United Kingdom can be proud that it supports research in that area to the level of £7.5 million. The Department of the Environment has almost quadrupled research on climate change, from about £600,000 to £7.5 million.

The Opposition have attacked the Government for not doing enough, yet the Government have been involved in measures to protect the ozone layer from at least 1985, when we signed the Vienna convention for the protection of the ozone layer, and in 1987 the United Kingdom and the EEC signed the Montreal protocol to that convention. As hon. Members will recall, the protocol requires that CFCs should be reduced by 50 per cent. by 1999 and that the production and consumption of halons should be frozen from 1992. That is hardly a laggardly approach.

I have already referred to the March conference on saving the ozone layer held across the road in the Queen Elizabeth centre. I was fortunate to attend that conference. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opened it and I noted the strong conviction with which she delivered her address. It is absurd to claim that nothing was achieved because, as a direct result, another 20 countries agreed to join the Montreal agreement and 14 others, including China—that is very signifiant—are seriously considering doing so.

Following the United Kingdom initiative, on 2 March EEC Ministers agreed to reduce the production and consumption of CFCs by at least 85 per cent. as soon as possible, and to eliminate them by the year 2000. It is important that these points are highlighted because it appears that Opposition Members have skirted the positive steps that my right hon. and hon. Friends have taken this year and in recent history.

Just as Britain played a leading role in pressing for an agreement on CFC reduction earlier this year, so we played a leading role at Noordwijk on Tuesday in securing agreement on how global warming should be tackled. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) took my hon. Friend the Minister to task about the substance of that meeting. I have read the reports in the newspapers and I understand that at that meeting there were very real disagreements. However, my hon. Friend was the key person in bringing about a compromise. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) may laugh, but it was my hon. Friend's work that brought Ministers together so that they could come up with the statement and an undertaking to stabilise CO2 emissions by the year 2000 at the latest. Surely it is better to have such a firm agreement than no agreement at all.

Mr. Allan Roberts

The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the Government were instrumental in watering down the proposals, in refusing to accept the setting of targets and in coming up with a statement that means nothing.

Mr. Tredinnick

The hon. Gentleman has not listened to what I said. The Minister managed to persuade his colleagues to come up with a statement that shows firm agreement. The hon. Gentleman may be jealous of the fact that the Minister was able to pull that off. It is another illustration of the Government's determination to tackle environmental issues and to lead the world. We should be proud of that.

As I said in an intervention, on Wednesday the Prime Minister took the opportunity at the United Nations to devote her speech to environmental matters. It might have suited her domestically to talk about many other issues, but she chose to speak on the environment. The Opposition rather uncharitably suggested that the Prime Minister's contribution was the work of a speech writer. I watched the Prime Minister on television and to me she came across as the scientist that she is, as someone with a real understanding of the problems. There are not many scientists in the Opposition and the nation is fortunate to have a scientist as its Prime Minister. At the next general election the electorate will look to the leaders of the political parties to comment on environmental issues. Of course the Conservative party will win hands down because our leader has a proper understanding of science.

At the meeting in New York the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, gave specific undertakings that will benefit the environment. The first was the decision to establish a new research centre because of the climatic change expected from an increase in the level of CO2. That is welcome and will be set up next year. I am sure that the £5.5 million per annum to be spent on that will turn out to be cheap in the long term.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister quoted a scientist from the British Antarctic survey who said that recent recordings have shown that the ozone layer is much reduced. It was a British scientist who discovered the hole in the ozone layer and it is important that we move forward yet again with measures that will reduce the problem of thinning. The Prime Minister called for three international conventions to commit the world to action on climatic change, ozone depletion and the preservation of plant species. Such preservation is crucial. It is a tragedy to lose species, because most of our medicines are derived from plants or animals or from other forms of life. I see that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is nodding. Most developments in food production also derive from plants. To see species wiped out through negligence and ignorance is the greatest possible tragedy. Plants are the raw material of nature, and we forget that at our peril.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also gave an undertaking to provide an extra £100 million over three years to aid the tropical forestry action plan sponsored by United Nations, which aims to stop the destruction of the Amazon rain forests. Many years ago I hitchhiked through the Zaire jungle. Opposition Members might ask why I did not stay there.

Mr. Corbyn

We have more respect for Zaire.

Mr. Tredinnick

I was fishing for that sort of retort.

I gained an enormous respect for the jungle and for the different species of animals and plants that exist there. Although the jungles of the world serve as home for different species, they are similar in other respects. A tremendous amount of animal life is crammed into all of them. Right hon. and hon. Members who have not had an opportunity to visit such places should be aware of that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant described the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as outstanding, and I certainly agree.

Having covered the international measures that we have taken and the events of last week, I turn to specific parts of the world, starting with east Europe. I have spent some time also in east Europe, where I experienced at first hand its pollution problems. If one drives from Detmold to Dresden, one quickly discovers that the level of pollution there is phenomenal by western standards. One has to contend with huge clouds of polluted atmosphere. People who move from East Germany to West Germany often coment that the first change they notice is that the air smells so different.

The pollution in East Germany is principally due to brown coal emissions.

About a month ago I was in Poland, where the same pollution problems are to be found. Pollution there is way above anything that is acceptable in the West. In the light of Egon Krenz's historic announcement that the Berlin wall is almost redundant, and in view of other dramatic developments recently in Poland, Hungary and even in Russia itself, as well as in other east European nations, now is the time to spread our environmental ideas into those countries.

When we talk about aid packages, we must ensure that environmental matters are not forgotten. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be given a positive reception by his east European counterparts. When I was in Poland, I spoke to Ministers of the Solidarity Government, and they are keen to take up ideas on improving the environment. The representatives of at least one other east European country have approached friends of mine who work within the Tory green initiative group, also looking for ways of inroducing pollution controls.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant remarked that China is increasing its coal burn by a greater amount than the total reduction of coal burn in the West. Smog levels in Shanghai are so high that one cannot spend more than a couple of hours in the open. My hon. Friend referred to energy consumption. The Chinese also hope that soon every household will have a fridge, which will phenomenally increase CFC gas emissons.

The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) mentioned ICI's contribution in respect of CFC substitutes. Both ICI and Du Pont are both developing such substitutes. The Government will have to find a way of making those substitutes freely available to Third world countries which want to use them. We shall have to buy them in, effectively, regardless of the cost. There will be a disaster of the most enormous proportions if what is almost a subcontinent that is populated by millions produces damaging CFCs.

I shall move on to more local issues. The positive lead that the Government have taken has encouraged environmental work at local level. I congratulate Leicestershire county council on its efforts. Last month, it held a lead-free campaign for 10 days, which was extremely successful. Secondly, it has adopted a programme for the next four years that is aimed at promoting attitudes to improve the environment, including the recycling of materials. There is a problem because although the public will save, there is a shortage of processing companies. For example, it may be said that the bottom has fallen out of the wastepaper market. Too much is being reclaimed. In Leicestershire, voluntary organisations cannot get rid of the waste paper that they are collecting. I understand that there has been a drop from £20 to £25 a tonne for waste paper over the past two months. The Minister should consider those problems and those which are being experienced with the recycling of bottles and aluminium.

At district level, Hinckley and Boswell borough council, which comes into my constituency, ran a community project from 1981 to 1988 that enabled the unemployed to gain new skills and to implement schemes to improve towns and villages and derelict land. That is another illustration of the knock-on effects of the Government's policies. The council is discussing establishing a special fund for environmental schemes in 1990–91, not just for the main town of Hinckley but for every village. I am sure that the fund will be welcomed throughout the constituency. Another scheme involves canal and park renovation, and is proceeding apace.

Finally, I make a plea for improved labelling. Discussions are taking place on introducing various schemes. I speak as a Member who is closely involved with the Tory green initiative, which is a Conservative green group. The group believes that the product label for Europe should indicate whether a product is environmentally friendly and whether it is recyclable. I suggest that a heart symbol would be appropriate, perhaps with a line down the middle with a green sign for environmentally friendly and a yellow sign for recyclable. The two colours should be present only if the product meets the two criteria.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I understand that a plea was made earlier that hon. Members should not make overlong speeches. I hope that it will continue to be borne in mind.

12.59 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I think that there is a consensus that we are dealing with possibly the most difficult environmental challenge that is facing the globe. There are great uncertainties when it comes to quantifying how dramatic is the threat that confronts us. I have been impressed by several of the contributions which have been made to the debate, but especially by that of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. My hon. Friend highlighted the need for much more scientific research and the uncertainty that there is in estimating the seriousness of the greenhouse effect.

It is clear that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. That is something that has been measured for centuries. The amount has increased from 270 parts per million 200 years ago to 350 parts per million, and it is still increasing. The more we use our fossil fuels—coal, oil and gas—and the more we cut and burn our trees, the more carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere. Projections based on the historic growth in energy demand show that, by the middle of the next century. we will have doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It is clear that carbon dioxide emissions raise the planet's temperature. Venus provides an example of the greenhouse effect. It has a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide and, while it is closer to the sun than the earth, its temperature is still much higher than would normally be expected. Heat is trapped by the carbon dioxide, resulting in a temperature of about 800 deg C.

It is difficult to work out the mean global temperature. Measurements show that there has been an increase of about 0.5 deg C this century. The projection for the middle of the next century is between 2 deg C and 5 deg C, increasing the sea level and causing flooding. Despite the urgent need for much more research, we are facing a catastrophic threat not only of flooding but of climatic change, which will affect our food supplies. I support the call for more research. It is time to take action.

The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) referred to the increase in the budget for private research into climate changes in Britain—£7.5 million this financial year. The energy budget—the value of the coal, oil and gas that we burn—is about £15 billion a year. One 2,000th of the amount spent on burning our fossil fuels is spent on evaluating its effect on the climate. I am reminded of the campaign by ASH—Action on Smoking and Health—to prevent cigarette smoking; the resources spent on preventive care are feeble compared to the economic impact of the problem.

I regularly attend Energy Question Time. Over the past two years, I have heard all sorts of accusations about coal-fired stations and the greenhouse effect. Such stations contribute only about 10 per cent. of the greenhouse gases worldwide. Even if it were possible to replace coal power with nuclear power in the short term, that would solve only 10 per cent. of the problem. Oil and gas are a part of it. Emissions from cars and central heating—whether gas, oil or solid fuel—are contributing to the greenhouse problem.

The difficulty is almost intractable, because in tackling it we are attacking living standards. The increase in living standards has caused a growth in energy demand. Difficult political choices must be made. The hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) questioned whether there would ever be the necessary political will in any advanced country to confront this problem. It is all the more difficult in Third world countries. We talk about limiting carbon dioxide production in Third world countries such as China, India, Africa and the countries of south America. We talk about limiting carbon dioxide production here, but are we to deny them the energy they need for development and so block that development?

Other hon. Members have mentioned CFCs and the case for their almost immediate disuse is overwhelming, especially as substitutes are available. Nitrogen oxides are a problem, but lean-burn technology and catalytic converters can stop their production in motor fuel. Methane is also a problem and it is not recognised sufficiently that in the production, distribution and combustion of natural gas, there are considerable leakages of methane. Methane molecules which get into the atmosphere are 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide molecules. As a result of those leakages, natural gas contributes just as much to the greenhouse effect as coal does, despite the fact that it holds two or three times as much energy per tonne.

Energy efficiency must play the largest role in cutting carbon dioxide production. Energy conservation cannot solve the problem, but we could use energy far more efficiently than at present. The Government's own advisers estimate that we could improve energy efficiency by about 40 per cent. in 25 years by insulating our houses, factories and offices, and by introducing district heating and combined heat and power.

I was a member of the Committee on the Electricity Bill earlier this year and Labour Members and the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who is not in his place at present, tried to introduce dozens of amendments on energy conservation. I regret to say that the Government accepted none of them. The Bill's commitment to energy conservation is limited. We wanted the Government to accept especially the concept of least-cost planning, so that when the private companies built new power stations, they would have to demonstrate that the money would not be better spent on energy conservation. In the United States, power utilities themselves are taking responsibility for home insulation to improve energy efficiency for consumers. Many studies show that £1 billion invested in energy conservation is five to 10 times as effective as £1 billion invested in a power station.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the role of nuclear power. Nuclear power is nonsense in terms of the least-cost planning concept. It would be far better to spend £2 billion on energy conservation than to spend it on Sizewell. The results of such investment would be almost immediate. It would create many more jobs and would be 10 times as effective in terms of helping with the greenhouse effect. I was delighted by the Government's decision yesterday, but I wish that they had gone further, decided to scrap Sizewell B and spent the money on energy conservation.

We shall have to move away from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy. For a host of environmental reasons, nuclear power is quite unacceptable. We should be moving far more to renewable sources of energy and we should be scaling up dramatically our investment in wind power, solar power, geothermal power, tidal power and hydro-electric power. As we now know, the Severn estuary barrage project is perfectly feasible. It could produce more power than all our nuclear power stations and would not produce carbon dioxide. It would generate electricity without contributing to the greenhouse effect. It would not add to the problem of nuclear waste. Its environmental impact would be very different and would not threaten the future of our planet.

I am delighted with the Prime Minister's announcement earlier this week of an extra £100 million to tackle the problems in tropical rain forests. The rain forests are critical on a planetary scale to the solution of the greenhouse problem because of their terrific photosynthetic potential. Every acre of tropical rain forest is 10 times more fertile and productive in absorbing carbon dioxide as an acre in temperate zones. In Brazil, vast acreages of forest which would absorb carbon dioxide have been destroyed. Such pillage of our inheritance of the planet threatens our survival.

The Government have not said what they will do about private transport. The contribution of motor vehicles to the greenhouse effect is greater than that of coal-fired power stations. Motor vehicles produce nitrogen oxides as well as carbon dioxide and ozone at ground level. That contributes about 12 per cent. to the greenhouse effect. Curbs on motor cars may be politically difficult, but they must be put on the agenda. The Department of Transport's White Paper published in July proposed a £6.6 billion road-building programme, but did not mention energy efficiency once. It proposes a 40 per cent. growth in road building over 15 years and a doubling of road traffic over 35 years. There are politically difficult decisions to be made and all advanced countries must bear in mind the greenhouse effect.

No one has mentioned a carbon tax, but I have an open mind about it. It could play a critical role internationally. A tax on the use of all coal, oil, gas and motor transport could raise money to subsidise public transport. We need to move from private to public transport. The revenue raised from fossil fuel power stations could be used for energy efficiency measures, such as home insulation. A carbon tax could help to improve the efficiency of our transport system and reduce energy demand.

Many hon. Members mentioned the Prime Minister's speech at the United Nations. We are proud that Britain has taken a part in the international forum and, lately, taken the lead on the ozone layer. However, the Government's rhetoric at the United Nations is completely at variance with their record on so many environmental issues.

The Prime Minister said that by the turn of the century 50 per cent. of our domestic waste would be recycled. What is the Government's record after 10 years in power? Less recycling is carried out in Britain than in any other European country. We have had a £2 billion programme to deal with acid rain, but by the time that the Government leave office, not a single power station will have been desulphurised. In comparison with Germany, Sweden and other European countries we are way behind. The Government will have cut the budget of the energy efficiency office by half between 1986 and 1990.

While the Prime Minister was speaking those fine words in the United Nations, the Government were recalcitrant and were dragging their feet in the Hague. They were there with the United States and the Soviet Union working against the European Community. They, alone among Governments in the European Community, do not have explicit targets written into agreements.

We need specific targets to deal with the greenhouse effect. Whatever the uncertainties, it is time to act, politically difficult though that may be. We must freeze CO2 production at present levels by the year 2000 and aim to cut and cut during the next century, because the planet simply cannot absorb the CO2 that we are producing.

1.15 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) that people who have spent time in the rain forest come to have very strong feelings about its biological diversity. That is why he was justified in making remarks about his own experience in Zaire and that is why some of us with experience of staying in rain forest will go on and on raising the issue. I have been here since 9.30 am and whatever the effect of greenhouse gases on the global environment may be, the greenhouse effect in the House of Commons is pretty unacceptable. The Leader of the House will have to consider the question of climatic change brought about by the television lights because the glare and heat simply will not do.

Let me cut down my speech by putting some questions. In what respects were the reports of the Noordwijk conference in The Guardian and The Observer inaccurate? A good deal has been said about that but it is not at all clear which aspects of the reports the Government find inaccurate.

Does the Minister accept the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) about the importance of the work of ICI at Runcorn, and what will the Government do to encourage other firms to follow ICI's example? On nuclear power, I record my great admiration for the technical achievements of the South of Scotland electricity board and leave it at that.

I shall concentrate on the rain forest. I believe that global climate is a momentous issue. In one sense, it is as important a topic as any that the House has discussed in my 27 years here.

Let me ask for the Government's view on a basic problem. Defence spending was outlined in a table referred to on page 28 of New Scientist of 4 November. Will the Government tell me in writing whether they in any way challenge the figures given by the statistical office of the European Community?

Many of us have had pressing representations from our constituents about Ferranti and its orders. Is it fanciful to suggest that the time may come when we have seriously to consider exchanging spending on European fighter aircraft and ever more sophisticated equipment for spending on forest equipment that is urgently needed throughout the world? I am not naive about it—of course, there must be defence spending—but do we really need to spend so much on defence and has any real thought been given to turning swords into the ploughshares that are so desperately needed if we are to tackle the problems to which hon. Members have referred? I am not the most uncritical fan of the Prime Minister. However, as I can express only a personal opinion, I thought that she was right to go to the United Nations. She made a very important speech which repays study. On page 6 of the text of her speech, she said: We also have new scientific evidence from an entirely different area, the tropical forests. Through their capacity to evaporate vast volumes of water vapour, and of gases and particles which assist the formation of clouds, the forests serve to keep their regions cool and moist by weaving a sunshade of white reflecting clouds and by bringing the rain that sustains them. A recent study by our British Meteorological Office on the Amazon rainforest shows that large-scale deforestation may reduce rainfall and thus affect the climate directly. Past experience shows us that without trees there is no rain and without rain there are no trees. Is that a reference to a matter that I have raised before in the House, on 14 March this year? If there is any more felling in the state of Para or in the eastern Amazon the rains that have come in from the Atlantic for tens of thousands of years through the classic process of evapotranspiration will not give way to that hopscotch effect of vapour—I am using the loosest of physical terms here—which across the Amazon gives life to the rain forest. In particular, is the problem perceived to be that if there is a cut-off on the Atlantic seaboard by any more destruction, the dry period may get longer, many of the plants may wither for want of the waters that have come to them automatically and the cattle ranchers may have to press even harder for new land on which to feed their miserable cattle? Might forest fires be even more frequent?

In February I went to Altimera to attend the rally of the Amerindians. Never in my life have I seen such destruction. Mile after mile of rain forest had been destroyed. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) knows exactly what I am talking about. Has the Prime Minister accepted this problem?

We must also consider the Brazilian view. The Brazilians state: It must be pointed out, moreover, that Brazil's hard-won trade surplus is largely being consumed by interest repayments on its foreign debt, rather than in overcoming the country's pressing developmental problems. The Brazilian view is crucial to the whole issue especially when they refer to the depletion of the ozone layer, arising from the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons in refrigeration and aerosol propellants. According to figures from the United Nations Environmental Programme, developed countries are responsible for 95 per cent. of their production—USA 28 per cent., EEC 44 per cent., USSR 10 per cent., Japan 13 per cent.—while Brazil contributes less than 1 per cent. Is not the £100 million no more than a drop in the bucket in relation to overcoming the very real problems?

I want to set a marker about British support for the Tapajos project about which I have questioned the Minister for Overseas Development. I approve of the four projects—the Caxiuana national forest management project, the Ducke reserve project, the tropical forest research project and the Varzea management study. All those are estimable as far as they go. It was also estimable for M. and N. Norman and Company, a timber merchants, to organise a conference in Glasgow on labelling at which the Department of Trade and Industry was represented by Terry Veness. We could possibly hear more about origin labelling of tropical timber.

From Sarawak there are pleas from the Penan people, and, in particular, the letter of 14 October to the Prime Minister from David Gee of Friends of the Earth. I beg the Government to take the matter seriously.

In view of what was said about biological diversity, it is fair to ask the Government about their reaction to the four proposals of Tony Juniper and his colleagues of the International Council for Bird Preservation. They are, first, an EEC import ban on all parrots at risk of extinction; secondly, strict new EEC welfare standards for all parrots in transit; thirdly, a "buy captive-bred" campaign in the United Kingdom promoting the purchase of only captive-bred birds as pets; and, fourthly, a habitat tax payable on parrots sold in United Kingdom pet shops.

This is a truncated speech. Perhaps I will have the courtesy, as I always have had in the past, of a full governmental answer in writing.

1.25 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I am delighted to take part in this debate. Conservation issues and an interest in the environment first propelled me into politics when I was at university about 20 years ago. It is significant that that was a time of growth and productivity, and there was much interest in environmental concerns. My political career developed as the country became much more concerned about the problems of lack of growth, lack of investment, high unemployment and so on. Once again, we have a period of high growth and productivity and environmental issues are at the forefront of the political stage.

This issue has always been important to me. For many members of my generation, the first images of the planet Earth, seen from outer space, brought home more forcefully to us than any words ever could the nature of the earth as a finite spaceship flying through space. It reminded us of the necessity of preserving our environment.

As Conservatives, we should not be apologetic about these issues. In recent years, the green lobby, which is often motivated by the Left, has taken over the debate. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative last autumn, her speech in the United Nations this week, and all the other initiatives that she has taken. There is something deeply important in Conservative philosophy about preserving the best of the past and preserving our environment. That happened in the 19th century when we were not a laissez-faire party. People such as Lord Shaftesbury and Lord Salisbury stood up not for preserving the environment but for protecting workers' rights and ensuring that they were not exploited. In many ways, that tradition continues throughout Conservative party thinking and philosophy.

However, we must apply our own emphasis. We cannot fight the battle on the ground of our opponents' choice. We must make our own response and develop our own philosophy to meet what is undoubtedly a major global threat. We should consider doing that through the pricing mechanism—not necessarily bureaucratic trade mechanisms—for example, when dealing with fossil fuel emissions.

The Prime Minister's step-by-step approach is right. We must start with evidence. I am told that there has been global warming to the extent of 5 deg over the past 100 years. The highest recorded temperatures were in the 1980s, but it will be at least 10 years before we can gather enough scientific evidence to be sure of our facts. From evidence, we must proceed to research. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative to set up a world research body to examine the world climate.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we must work with industry. We cannot hold up multinational industry as the villain of the piece. Indeed, we can do nothing without multinational industry. I have been impressed by the work that I have seen in oil companies such as Conoco and British Petroleum and by the efforts that they are making to plough their initiatives back into the environment.

Therefore, we start with evidence and progress to research and to working with industry. However, we can do nothing on our own. It may surprise Opposition Members to know that I am a believer in the necessity for overseas aid and in accepting that we are one planet. That is why I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this week about putting more British resources into curbing deforestation, especially in the south American continent.

We should work from a sound Conservative philosophy, be true to our past and consider concepts such as the pricing mechanism, rather than bureaucratic solutions. We should rely on carefully researched evidence and be determined to promote international evidence, such as we saw in Noordwijk this week, because that is the best way to proceed.

1.30 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Of necessity I shall be brief, because the debate has been dominated by several excessively long speeches which do no credit to the subject or to the way in which the House treats it.

Many hon. Members have a serious interest in and concern about this issue and I very much welcome the fact that at last the House is debating world climatic change.

The debate has emphasised and underlined the inefficiency and incompetence of House of Commons and Government procedures for dealing with major environmental issues. We should have a Select Committee on the Environment which is not dominated by local government considerations. We need a Select Committee to consider environmental considerations and to bring together all the issues affecting environmental change. Likewise, we should have a Ministry to deal with environmental matters, not a Department of the Environment which, again, is largely dominated by local government considerations. However, I suspect that we shall have to await the election of a Labour Government before we have a serious environmental Ministry.

The magnitude of the issue of climatic change brought about by industrial pollution and development is well understood by millions of people. Indeed, it is probably better understood by many outside the House than by hon. Members inside. Environmental considerations are not the sole preserve of the industrialised North, which is taking part in the impoverishment of the southern part of the globe. Environmental considerations are widely understood. They are understood by those people in this country who live in polluted towns or cities. They are also understood by people who live in other parts of northern Europe and who suffer the acid rain emitted by Britain.

Environmental considerations are also understood by people in poor countries. One of the most illuminating discussions that I have ever had about the environmental damage done by the northern part of the world was at a small village in the delta south of Calcutta in India. I had a long discussion with the people there one evening. They told me that they too were suffering environmental damage because of the imbalance of the world's wealth. Their rice fields were being flooded so that they could take part in fish farming, but none of the fish was ever available to them. It was all immediately exported to Japan. Those people were losing their crop-growing facilities simply to promote greater wealth in Japan and there was very little that they could do about it.

Similarly, the forest peoples in Malaysia and in Brazil, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has just referred, are losing their livelihoods and their opportunity to preserve their environments simply because of the activities of the international logging companies which are pillaging and destroying those forests and promoting cattle ranching and the like, leading eventually to desertification and to local climatic change, which then becomes a major climatic change.

We are, at a time in the history of our planet when the power of human kind to dominate and to change the climate has come to full fruition. The hole in the ozone layer is but an example of that. Many climatic disasters are already happening. I refer, for example, to the loss of the rains in north Africa, to the droughts and floods in north America and to the changes in the currents off the coast of Peru, which have led to the loss of Peru's fishing industry. There are already many obvious signs about what is happening.

We must decide our response to what is happening and, in the four minutes left to me, I want to develop two approaches briefly. The first relates to the question of what the United Kingdom Government's policies should be and the second deals with how we can relate that to the rest of the world. The British Government have an obsession with the free enterprise economy and the market approach. The Prime Minister cannot propose any solution to any problem without putting it in the confines of the price mechanism. Frankly, it is the free enterprise system that promotes consumerism, pollution and environmental damage. It is about time that people began to understand that.

Of the energy consumed in this country, 20 per cent. is immediately wasted. For years, the nuclear power industry has lied, but, at last, it has been revealed that nuclear power is twice as expensive as any other form of conventional power. Similarly, the investment and research into alternative energy sources and the promotion of wind, wave, water or solar power is tiny compared to the investment and research into nuclear power potential—all because there is no immediate capitalist benefit attached to such alternative energy. We believe that there should be much more research into renewables and alternative sources of energy that are non-pollutants, and which therefore do not produce greenhouse gases.

We have presided over a mammoth growth in the use of internal combustion engines and we have promoted multinational capital, which has encouraged the use of those engines all over the world. Those engines are the biggest single polluters.

We have promoted consumerism, which is inevitably wasteful. Why are electrical goods made to last for only five years? Why do cars have a life of only 10 years? Why is our manufacturing industry based entirely on consumerism and waste? A different attitude towards the economy and towards society is required.

The problems are summed up by the Government's attitude towards the environment. When the Prime Minister made her speech to the United Nations, no one would have believed that her Government, only two weeks before, had vociferously argued at the Paris conference on the future of the Antarctic for the development of the continent for mining purposes. The hypocrisy of the Prime Minister and her Government is breathtaking.

Many people live a poor existence. Life expectancy in two thirds of the world is half that in Britain. Living conditions in many parts of the world are absolutely appalling. That is partly a result of the economic relationship between the North and the South. It is also the result of the arms race, on which $3 billion a day is spent. I welcome any increase in the powers of the United Nations Environmental Programme. I wish that all Governments would give more resources to it. I welcome the fact that the British Government intend to give more money to it, but it is not enough; it needs far more.

We should exert political pressure on the International Monetary Fund and on the World bank to change their attitude towards environmental schemes and towards the poorer countries. It is no good when they tell poor countries to get themselves out of debt and to reduce their balance of payments deficits by increasing their export-led industries. That does nothing to improve the living standards of the people and the policy has led directly to the destruction of the rain forests, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow.

A great deal can be done to improve our environment and to promote the improvement of the world environment. It requires a change of attitude and an end to the philosophy that advocates that price is everything and that the free market economy can solve all. It cannot do that because, of itself, it is the basic cause of the belief that the natural world is there to be exploited for ever more. That is not its function.

We require a real commitment to sustainability in the management of our economy and that of the world. It is not a question of the northern, rich Governments lecturing the poorer Governments; it is a question of working with them to improve living standards and to protect the environment at the same time. Those two objectives can go together, but not if our attitude towards the world economy is based on the idea of an endless supply of natural resources on the never-never.

Waste and climatic damage cannot continue for ever more. Unless we pay serious attention to those problems, we shall reap the whirlwind.

1.38 pm
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

In some respects this has been a comprehensive and thorough debate. Some rather long speeches have been made——

Mr. Corbyn

Not by me.

Mr. Roberts

No, indeed. Those speeches made it difficult for Back-Bench Members who wanted to speak.

This is an important issue and we must put on record not only what the Government claim they have done, but what the Opposition will do when we become the Government after the next election.

Scientific opinion is divided about our knowledge of the greenhouse effect, but no one doubts that the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing. One school of scientific thought says that we cannot yet disentangle natural oscillations in the climate from man-made intrusions, let alone the route by which increased CO2 and methane levels in the atmosphere impact on global warming. The Government seem to use that as a justification for not taking action on targets. The other school of thought, supported by the major international conferences on the greenhouse effect at Toronto and Hamburg in 1988, have urged an early commitment to major cuts in CO2 emissions, especially in OECD countries.

Both schools of thought are agreed on two matters: first, that there is an urgent need for a huge international collaborative scientific effort to follow the Brundtland comission on the global environment and deepen our understanding of the causative changes of global warming and, secondly, that there should be no obstacles to an early decision on large cuts in greenhouse gas production, especially in those sectors where it kills two birds with one stone. Since CFCs produce about 18 per cent. of the greenhouse effect and also deplete the ozone layer, they should be eliminated as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is speaking to Benches that are unoccupied by those Conservative Members who have taken up 128 minutes of parliamentary time. That is quite unacceptable.

Mr. Roberts

Since CFCs produce 18 per cent., of the greenhouse effect and also deplete the ozone layer, they should be eliminated as rapidly as possible. Likewise, energy conservation initiatives should be introduced without delay because they are at one and the same time the least-cost solution for the consumer for balancing energy supply and demand, and the largest single insurance policy available against the onset of further global warming.

The Prime Minister is trying to postpone any decision on greenhouse gases until well after the next general election—at least 1992. At the Commonwealth conference in Kuala Lumpur recommendations were made by the scientists who were there as expert advisers, led by Martin Holgate—who came from Britain, and used to be the Department of the Environment's scientific adviser. They recommended that the developing world must carry the overwhelming burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, 73 per cent. of the world's carbon dioxide comes from industrialised countries and 80 per cent. of the world's greenhouse gases come from the developed countries.

Barber Conable, president of the World Bank, has spoken about north America and Europe together being responsible for three quarters of CO2 emissions. Only 8 per cent. of the world population live there, whereas the developing world, in which 80 per cent. of the world's population live, is responsible for only 7 per cent. of CO2 emissions.

Although it is important that we do something about the tropical forests, and the contribution that is being made by the developing world to save the tropical forests is environmentally desirable, it is not the way to deal with the major problem. The way to do that is to deal with the emissions from the developed world, not the developing world. We are the culprits.

The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia removed the first draft clause from the Langkawi declaration—the Commonwealth environment statement. The clause said that Governments should reduce pollutant emissions through planned and regulated policies. The other countries, which are not developed, supported its continued inclusion.

In the conference in the Netherlands at Noordwijk, the club of big polluters—the USSR, the USA, Japan and Britain, which produce 50 per cent. of the world's carbon dioxide—were represented. The initiative to reduce pollutant emissions came from the British Government who, at the Netherlands conference this week, removed any proposals for targeted CO2 reductions. The Government also killed an initiative to freeze CO2 emissions at 1987 levels by the year 2000. The Minister seems proud of the vacuous comment that he inspired, that the Government would agree to do something non-specific about it as soon as possible or some time in the future.

The USSR, the USA and the United Kingdom are free to increase their CO2 emissions under the agreement reached in the Netherlands. For example, they could double them now and then freeze them in the year 2000. Is that the central role for Britain on climatic change? The Minister says that we must wait for science, that we must wait for a report at the end of 1990, within the IPCC framework, before taking any action. That is what we said about acid rain, about CFCs and about the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

The Prime Minister has said that we must wait for a global convention in 1992 before setting targets or implementing any action to reduce CO2 emissions. The Government are delaying action until after the general election. In the Netherlands, the right hon. Lady admitted that Britain had no targeted reduction programme for carbon emissions. Why are the Government so reluctant to act, even though the Prime Minister, in her speech, accepted the nature of the problem? It is because of the Government's energy and transport policies. The CEGB energy projections given to the Energy Committee show that CO2 production for the electricity supply industry in England and Wales in the year 2005 will be up to 26 per cent. greater than in 1987. That will be a direct result of the Government's refusal to change their policies. Energy production is the major source of CO2 emission.

Another major source is transport, as many hon. Members have already mentioned. Vehicle traffic miles will increase by between 83 per cent. and 142 per cent. by the year 2025. The Government policies mean major increases in CO2 emissions. The Open university calculates that, on top of the 98 million tonnes already being created, road traffic will create between another 6 million and 130 million tonnes. The Government are refusing to take any significant action to switch resources to public transport. Some 6,000 new cars a day come on to our roads, 50 per cent. of which are company cars that arrive on our roads as a direct result of Government subsidies. Two Budgets ago, the Chancellor said that the Government would take action about subsidies for company cars, but we are still waiting.

Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and lead all come from motor vehicles. The catalytic converter will solve a significant number of pollution problems, but not carbon dioxide. Without a switch in emphasis towards encouraging and developing public transport, the problem will not be solved. Emissions from cars have increased by 33 per cent. during the past 10 years. The Prime Minister may understand the problem, she may make fine speeches about it and she may urge others to act, but she shies away from action herself. She makes a lot of noise and obtains a lot of publicity but, like Eddie Edwards—Eddie the eagle—she and the Government always end up coming last. She is the Eddie Edwards of the environmental world—a lot of noise and a little bit of action. The fact that she shies away from action because of the consequences on the already published plans of her Departments was no more clearly illustrated than by the statement in the House yesterday. That has altered the whole perspective of Government policies on nuclear power.

The United Kingdom is the sixth largest producer of carbon dioxide. If we do not take action, no one will. Total emissions of CO2in Britain have remained stable for the last 10 years. There have been no reductions, but there will be increases. There would have been reductions if the Government had not closed many industries, because it is only in the industrial and not in energy or transport sectors that there have been any reductions in CO2 emissions. As I have said, there will be a continuing increase in car and energy production emissions.

The Prime Minister promised £33 million a year for three years to protect the tropical rain forests. We do not object to that, but it is not enough. Much more needs to be done by Britain and internationally. As I said earlier, the developing countries are not the main cause of the problems. It is a technique and trick of the Government to highlight the problems and then to blame the developing countries and try to assist them, even though it is the developed countries that are the culprits. That was done in the case of CFCs. It was said that it was all the fault of India and China, but they are responsible for only 5 per cent. of the world's CFCs. Now it is said that these foreigners in the developing world are causing global warming, even though the developed world creates 95 per cent. of the problem.

Global warming will flood Ireland and destroy whole forests. It will cause the slow death by starvation of millions of people and millions more will wander the world looking for a home. In the face of that, the Government and the Prime Minister are playing politics. They are claiming to save the world and exploiting concern by their speeches, while refusing to take the action that is necessary, such as the decision by the West German Government to phase out all CFCs by 1992.

The Government highlight the Montreal convention agreement as a great breakthrough for Britain and quote the 50 per cent. cut in CFC consumption that is planned for this country. Such a cut would be totally inadequate, but it is only a 35 per cent. cut. The balance will be sold to the developing world, as if the developing world has a different ozone level from that of Britain.

We need more effective action. Carbon dioxide emissions from power stations, industry, motor vehicles and home-heating systems are responsible for 50 per cent. of global warming. Only one third of the United Kingdom's carbon dioxide emissions comes from fossil fuel power stations, so that source makes a contribution of 15 per cent. to the problem. Therefore, we cannot say that the problem will be solved simply by switching to nuclear power.

Other pollutants such as CFCs, tropospheric ozone—much of which is produced by motor vehicles—methane and nitrous oxide—much of which comes from the over-use of nitrogen fertilisers, a problem that the Government will not address because of the lobby from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—all contribute to the greenhouse effect. A high priority must be given to developing more efficient and cleaner methods of using coal. The projects on fluidised bed combustion should be given a high priority. That type of technology, together with combined cycle gas turbines, should be ideally placed in small electricity generators and combined heat and power schemes. The more efficiently we burn fossil fuels, the fewer greenhouse gases are produced.

We should target the major fossil fuel burning power stations for retrofitting and flue gas desulphurisation. The Government still refuse to join the 30 per cent. club and will not commit themselves to the 60 per cent. reduction in the time scale that is required by the European Community. They have plans and proposals for retrofitting only one fossil fuel power station. Fiddler's Ferry has been cancelled and Drax B is the only one in the programme. They say that they will eventually see to six power stations, but that will be done well after the next general election. That is not a commitment and the Government's inaction is a scandal. We must also take into account the type and content of fuel. For example, heavy fuel oil has a ratio or more than 2:1 of sulphur compared with coal.

Britain must have a major programme of energy efficiency and conservation, and it will get one from the next Labour Government. The efficient use of energy and the efficient management of its demand will benefit Britain. We are committed to energy saving. That will save money and create jobs. Our comprehensive energy efficiency programme will insulate and help to heat the homes of the elderly and those in need. It will boost home markets for Britain's energy efficiency industry, slow down the loss of finite fuel resources and create jobs in home insulation and heating.

We shall launch a major programme of domestic insulation in co-operation with local authorities, and we will involve industry in a partnership with central and local government to develop major initiatives for energy saving within industry. Research and other activities relating to alternative energy resources will also be increased. In 1984–85, Britain spent between £15 million and £17 million on research and development into alternative energy sources such as wind, tidal, wave and solar power, and geothermal energy, but in the same period, we spent £154 million on nuclear power. That illustrates the Government's priorities.

As to CFCs, in an interesting speech at a major conference, the Prime Minister acknowledged the problem but only urged the market to deal with it, refusing to ban the use of CFCs in aerosols. She declined requests for Government intervention or expenditure in phasing out totally the use of CFCs. The United Kingdom contributes 10 per cent. of the world's total CFC production, which is a massive amount. By simply imposing an effective ban on aerosols, the Government would meet their obligations under the Montreal convention. Even if British consumption of CFCs were reduced by 90 per cent., it would still account for more CFC usage than India. Greenpeace is calling for a 100 per cent. phase-out immediately. West Germany is taking that action, so such a demand could be implemented in the United Kingdom.

ICI is the world's second largest producer of CFCs, and Europe's largest producer and exporter. I welcome the company's initiatives in finding alternatives, but commercially it would have been in great difficulty if it had not done so. Britain produces three times more CFCs than India and China together. Last year, the United Kingdom exported CFCs to 117 countries—80 of which have not signed the Montreal agreement.

The Department of the Environment has also agreed to allow methyl chloroform to be used until 2030. That substance, an industrial solvent, is responsible for one twentieth of ozone depletion, yet the Government refuse to take any action on it.

Both the lean-burn engine and the catalytic converter should be speedily adopted in this country. The Government's recent campaign against the catalytic converter, in opposition to other Community countries, was scandalous. They now accept the inevitable, but use the lean-burn engine as an excuse for doing nothing about insisting on the fitting of catalytic converters. We want to see both technologies implemented. They are not alternatives.

The lean-burn engine burns more air than petrol. The more air that is burnt, the less petrol—and the emissions are leaner. Everyone wants a car that does not use so much petrol, but the technology can be developed and implemented only within limits. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) remarked, the faster a lean-burn engine car is driven, the more pollutant it emits—so we also want the catalytic converter adopted. We want public resources switched to public transport, action on nitrogen fertilisers, and the cuts made in research to be restored. The Natural Environment Research Council recently lost 60 staff, and 700 environmental scientists have been shed over the past five years. If the Government a re really placing more emphasis on research, why are they cutting the number of staff involved?

We support also the action being taken in respect of rain forests. However, the Government recognise that environmental concerns—the green issues—are of growing importance to the British electorate. It will be considered the height of cynicism if the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, in an attempt to appear concerned about the environment, make fine speeches but by their actions prevent genuine international concern being translated into action. It will be seen as the height of cynicism also if the Prime Minister's most recent speech on the environment is not translated into action, with the setting and achievement by the developing world of specific targets.

The Minister must take back to the Prime Minister a message of concern from right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and stress to her and to other members of the Cabinet that the House wants specific targets to be set and action to be taken—and that fine words are not good enough.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members who spoke respectively for 27 minutes, 32 minutes, 41 minutes and 23 minutes were not present throughout the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts).

2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)

I am pleased to have listened to a good debate, and I shall try to respond to as many points as possible. I welcome the fact that we have been able to cover two important reports produced by the Select Committee on Energy and the Select Committee on the Environment. We were helped by two notable contributions from the Chairmen of those Committees, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi).

My two hon. Friends and many Opposition Members have stressed that climate change is surrounded by great uncertainty. Britain is playing a leading part in the huge international effort being made to understand better the complex factors at work. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who opened the debate for the Opposition, was right to point to the uncertainty. We have all been following the debates in the technical press and we know that an enormous amount needs to be done. The hon. Gentleman was rather grudging in his welcome for the initiative that has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her speech this week to the United Nations announcing the setting up of a new climate change prediction centre.

The centre will do much of what the hon. Member for Motherwell, South apparently wants. It will, for example, have a new computer. I accept that we need new and powerful computers to do the necessary climatic modelling. The centre will be annexed to the Meteorological Office. There will be the closest possible co-operation with the Meteorological Office and other centres throughout the country and abroad. It will be open in its links and open to scientists from other countries to visit.

I have mentioned the uncertainties that surround the hugely complex phenomenon that we call climate change, but at least the main facts are clear. There has been a build-up in the atmosphere of so-called greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide. This may have led to a small but progressive warming in average global temperatures. If that continues unchecked, the consequences, although difficult to predict, are likely to be serious and even catastrophic. I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House who said that our action must not await final proof. I recognise that final proof of the changes and factors at work is likely to be highly elusive.

We have taken action already to reduce some of the greenhouse gases. CFCs are known chiefly for their damage to the ozone layer. The phenomenon was first detected by British scientists in the Antarctic. It is true also that CFCs are among the most potent of greenhouse gases. That is why we enthusiastically signed the Montreal protocol. We are 10 years ahead of our obligations under that protocol to reduce our use of CFCs. We are in the forefront of the countries pressing for even steeper reductions. I agree with the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) in his praise for the way in which ICI has developed substitutes for CFCs at its plant at Runcorn. I congratulate ICI on that. It shows that commercial interests can be harnessed to meet some of the environmental challenges that we face.

Methane is another greenhouse gas. It is produced by animals, rice paddy fields, mining and the escape of natural gas. It is a difficult gas with which to deal because it is linked so obviously to the relentless increase in the global population, but Governments can do their bit. This Government are already doing so. We have taken action to promote the use of landfill methane, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Not only does this cut methane emissions from the ground but, by burning methane, we can use it to produce energy. My Department, in association with the Department of Energy, is working on schemes to promote and extend these initiatives.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

I specifically asked why less than 10 per cent. of the suitable sites are developed. Does the hon. Gentleman know what will be done to increase take-up? Less than 10 per cent. is a long way short of potential, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Not all sites are suitable. It is difficult to get the necessary equipment in place to use all the methane available at all sites, but we are working with local authorities to find out whether the number of sites can be extended. Considerable success has been achieved.

Far and away the largest greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide because of the huge quantities released each year into the atmosphere. Of course, there are huge natural flows of carbon dioxide from the land and the oceans into the atmosphere and back again, but man's activities are putting more carbon dioxide into the air than can be absorbed. The burning of fossil fuels—mostly coal and oil—is the main cause. Simply put, we are taking carbon which has been built up over millions of years out of the earth and putting it into the atmosphere through combustion. We must try to control our emissions of carbon dioxide and also, separately, find ways of absorbing it back again. Both sides of this coin are receiving attention.

I agree that international action is essential. We have been over the Noordwijk conference. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside has made clear the leading role that he played. For the avoidance of doubt—I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members have had the chance to read the Noordwijk declaration—I stress that the final declaration recognises the need to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions and states: Such stabilization of CO2 emissions should be achieved as a first step at the latest by the year 2000. It is true that some of the large industrialised countries, including Russia, the United States and Japan, had difficulties getting this far. That is why Britain played an important role in getting those countries to achieve a consensus and to sign this declaration.

Mr. Allan Roberts

That declaration does not mean a thing. Those three countries and Britain refused to accept the original draft which included targets and which would have meant a much earlier freeze on CO2 emissions. Britain was instrumental in supporting the USSR, the United States, Japan and other countries in reducing the commitment. The compromise is a fudge that means nothing.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The hon. Gentleman will agree that it was right that all countries at the conference should sign a final declaration. Britain played a leading part in getting those other countries to achieve that mainstream international consensus. We know that the next stage is to assess the scientific evidence at next year's meeting of the IPCC, followed by the second world climate conference at which specific carbon dioxide targets will be negotiated and agreed.

I want to pass on from Noordwijk to the more general question of what we are doing to reduce carbon dioxide. The task will not be easy. When I hear criticism from the Opposition about the lack of specific tagets, I cannot help turning to the new Labour party document, "Meet the Challenge: Make the Change". I have looked through all its 88 pages of closely written type to try to find a commitment to a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. It is not there. The document is consumer-friendly and full of generalised aspirations, but there is nothing about the difficult decisions which are necessary if we are to move forward on the issue. I shall not take lectures from the Opposition about the lack of specific targets when they fail to give specific targets in their own policy document.

We have our own programmes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I have explained how the adoption of specific targets must await international agreement, but we already have programmes that offer long-term benefits in carbon dioxide reduction. Conservatives believe in diversity of supply: nuclear, gas and the alternatives. But the Labour party is the party of coal and, therefore, the party of carbon dioxide.

We know that nuclear energy is going through a period when the economics may rule out an expansion, but we are promoting—and expect—an increased use of natural gas because gas-fired power stations are not only more energy efficient, but produce less carbon dioxide for each unit of fuel.

Mr. Corbyn

It is interesting that despite the Government's own statement yesterday, they still appear to be obsessed with nuclear power. Would not the Minister be better advised to tell the House what research facilities and resources he will put into renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, water and solar power, rather than to pursue his obsession with nuclear power? He still seems to be besotted with it.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The Department of Energy has an excellent programme of research into renewable energy. In addition, the Electricity Act 1989 allocates a specific role for renewable energy. We expect that by the end of the century, at least 600 MW of electricity should be generated by so-called "alternative" means. If that programme can be expanded so much the better.

Mr. Allan Roberts

I must make it clear that the Labour party is the party of clean coal. We want to continue burning coal in fossil fuel power stations to produce energy, as do the Government. The difference is that we would carry out that burning cleanly and we would ensure that fossil fuel power stations are retrofitted. It suits the Government not to take action to clean up the burning of coal so that they can stigmatise it as dirty to justify their obsession with nuclear power.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

We recognise that coal will continue to play an important part, but however clean the hon. Gentleman gets his coal, it remains a fact that every tonne of coal burned produces two tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy, whatever the economic situation at present, does not produce carbon dioxide or emissions leading to acid rain.

Energy efficiency has been mentioned by several hon. Members. The Electricity Act 1989 requires the Secretary of State for Energy and the Director General of Electricity Supply actively to promote energy efficiency. In addition, suppliers will have to give advice to consumers on the efficient use of electricity. The success of our energy efficiency campaigns is shown by the fact that although United Kingdom output has increased by 40 per cent. over the past 25 years, our energy consumption has stood still. My own Department is giving a lead here and has reduced its energy bill by 24 per cent. since 1985–86.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Will the Minister acknowledge that in the past eight years energy consumption has increased and that it is only because of the 1979–81 debacle that the net result is a decrease? Does he accept that the Government have cut funding for energy efficiency projects and the Energy Efficiency Office and that as a result we are nowhere near achieving the targets that the Department says are technically feasible?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The hon. Gentleman has chosen his own base date. I have chosen a longer time scale which gives a more accurate picture. I mentioned the Electricity Act 1989. It is not only the crude sum devoted to energy efficiency but the way in which the money is targeted and the specific administrative arrangements that are important. The hon. Gentleman served on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, so he should know the provisions that it contains to promote energy efficiency and encourage alternative power sources.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

I, too, served on that Committee. The clauses that the Government have written into the Bill are almost meaningless. The new privatised utilities can get away with a mere leaflet conveying information to the consumer. Such leaflets are already published. A Government committed to energy efficiency would have included in the Bill least-cost planning and targets, as proposed by amendments moved by Social and Liberal Democrat Members.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

My recollection of the Committee proceedings is not the same as the hon. Gentleman's. The Act contains specific and binding obligations on electricity suppliers to promote energy efficiency.

The other side of the coin is the need to trap more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and put it back into the land. The importance of forestry was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Havant and for Hornsey and Wood Green. I agree that forestry has an important part to play. Deforestation may account for up to 20 per cent. of the greenhouse effect.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned forestry, too. He raised several points, but I do not have time to answer all of them. Some strayed outside the subject for debate this afternoon.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the Minister that the motion is that this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman was free to raise any point that he wishd. Perhaps I should rephrase what I said. Some of the points that the hon. Gentleman made strayed outside my responsibilities in the Department of the Environment. I shall ensure that he receives responses from the appropriate Departments.

I have always listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman says, both through journalism and in the House, and I respect his views. He was characteristically generous to the Prime Minister about her speech to the United Nations. He was right that she had in mind the Amazon basin when she described the dangers of deforestation. He criticised the figure of £100 million for an initiative to help with the management of tropical rain forests. We can argue about the amount, but the essential point is that the Prime Minister has put forward the notion that we cannot dictate to countries such as Brazil, India and China. We must work with them, not merely tell them what to do. We must show them how to manage the important natural resource of rain forests and give them financial help and technological assistance.

Mr. Dalyell

The most practical way to do that is to put to work the three nuclear power stations between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. As Siemens and Westinghouse are at fault, that seems that most practical thing that can be done.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Nuclear energy may have a part to play in Brazil, too. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should try to persuade other Opposition Members of its importance.

The hon. Gentleman will agree that we need to conserve tropical rain forests and promote sustainable management. It is acceptable for mature tropical rain forest trees to be harvested provided that they are replanted. What we must not do is to burn them, thus putting the carbon straight back into the atmosphere. There is nothing wrong with using the wood for buildings and furniture because that locks up the carbon in solid form. Provided that the trees are replanted as part of a sensible and sustainable policy of regeneration, everyone benefits—those living in the forests, the countries concerned and the international community.

Temperate forests in countries such as ours also have a part to play. Temperate trees are less good at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as I am sure the hon. Member for Linlithgow knows, but we have played our part and continue to do so. The United Kingdom has increased its tree planting by 50 per cent. over the past 10 years and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a number of schemes, such as the farm woodland scheme, which should lead to increased planting. Our target is 36,000 hectares of new planting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said that we must get to the front of the international pack in our response to climate change. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did that at the United Nations, but I should stress that these matters cannot always be dealt with by Governments, even if Governments co-operate. Public concern, co-operation and acceptance are important. That is one reason why my Department recently produced a leaflet, which I commend to hon. Members and their constituents. It is called "Global Climate Change" and its aim is to try to increase public awareness and understanding of this complex issue.

The public are also involved as consumers. We have seen from the success of the campaign to encourage the move from leaded to unleaded petrol that consumers can be persuaded by administrative measures and the price mechanism to make the change to more environmentally friendly fuels. Moreover, consumers voluntarily choose some items, such as aerosols, that do not contain CFCs.

Mr. Leigh

Can my hon. Friend comment further on my argument that the Government should work out a distinctive response to environmental concerns based on the pricing mechanism? Will he pursue that matter with his colleagues in the Department to see how we might proceed?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

The leaded petrol example that I gave shows how the price mechanism can be turned to our advantage. I do not rule out the possibility of, for example, a carbon tax, although it would not necessarily work to the advantage of coal. If all the external environmental costs can be swept together and attributed to the burning of coal, the price of coal might go up and, who knows, nuclear energy might come back into the economic arena.

But we reject a centrally planned system. The command economies in eastern Europe are among the most polluting of all the economies in the world and that is why we favour a voluntary approach involving the consumer in what we are trying to do by using a mixture of persuasion and fiscal incentives. The public must also be shown that none of this will be painless.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the need to remove sulphur oxides from power station emissions. We know that those emissions contribute to acid rain. Criticisms were raised that that was not being done fast enough. However, removal is not a cheap or a problem-free option. Flue gas desulphurisation equipment needs limestone as its raw material. That limestone must be quarried, frequently in places of great natural beauty. In addition, the sludge produced by the process must be disposed of. I hope that hon. Members will understand that the solution to one environmental problem can lead to another. Very difficult decisions must be taken, but nothing is served by pretending that the way will be easy or cheap.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of exhaust emissions. This country has an excellent record in responding to the need to reduce pollutants from vehicle exhausts. We have made great strides in removing lead from petrol. We have also signed the Community directive to bring in catalytic converters within three years. They will greatly reduce the emissions of carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. However, as several hon. Members have stated, they do not deal with the problem of carbon dioxide. That requires the development and manufacture of lean-burn engines and I am delighted that research on that is being pursued vigorously by the Ford Motor Company and the Rover Group.

We must make our vehicles more energy-efficient. That does not conflict with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is doing to make our road transport system more efficient. Nothing wastes fuel more than congestion in traffic. The constant stopping and starting in traffic is the least energy-efficient option. That is why we are pressing ahead with a road programme while at the same time recognising that we must make our cars and vehicles more energy-efficient.

Several other topics were raised in the debate and I have not had time to cover them all. The problems will not be solved easily or quickly. This is a global issue. Britain produces only about 3 per cent. of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide. Anything that we can do to reduce that—I have referred to some of the measures that we are already taking—could simply be swamped by increased coal burn, for example in China. In a different sense, it could be swamped by the continuing deforestation of tropical hardwoods, which was an issue raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

The science involved in these issues is extremely complex and not fully understood. There is a pressing need to increase our understanding. Britain is playing a leading role. We are chairing the first working group on scientific assessment which will pull together the work being carried out. The second working group, chaired by the Soviet Union, will investigate and report on the impact of climate change, and the third working group, chaired by the United States, will look into and report on policy responses to climate change. Those are the appropriate forums to pull together what we know and then go forward to a second climate conference at which specific emission targets will be set.

The criticism levelled at the Government by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) in relation to the Noordwijk conference is misdirected precisely because we already have in place other organisations within which the decisions will be taken. If the hon. Gentlman wishes to be taken more seriously, why did he not, as a Labour party spokesman, tell us of his emission reduction targets and how he would meet them? Difficult decisions will be taken. I looked in vain for a commitment in the recently published Labour party policy document.

We are moving forward on a general front. Our uncertainties about this complex phenomenon are not stopping us taking action now. We are doing something to increase forestry planting in this country and to try to stop deforestation abroad. We are looking at ways of getting more energy out of our existing fuels in powers stations and——

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournement of the House lapsed, without Question put.