HC Deb 01 July 1997 vol 297 cc89-90
1. Mr. Alan Simpson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of (a) the recent research about climate change and (b) the consequent anti-pollution targets which Britain must set and meet. [4664]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

The Government have studied the scientific assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and believe that urgent action is needed to tackle the threat of global warming. We will press for all developed countries to agree significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at the Kyoto conference on climate change in December, backed by our target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels by 2010.

Mr. Simpson

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he acknowledge that the achievements in reducing United Kingdom CO2 emissions under the Conservatives were largely based on the destruction of the coal industry and a recession in manufacturing? Meeting further reduction targets by 2005 will need a more constructive programme. What will be the components of the Government's programme? Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Chancellor to announce an immediate programme of investment in low-impact technologies for the future and energy conservation for the present to supplement his long overdue and most welcome intention to reduce VAT on energy-saving materials in tomorrow's Budget?

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend is correct to say that the achievement of cutting CO2 emissions over the past seven years has been at the cost of the decimation of the coal industry and the destruction of coal communities. No positive policies to achieve that needed reduction in CO2 emissions were put in hand. We shall certainly do that on the basis of a three-part policy: first, a new transport policy to encourage the use of public transport and more discriminating use of the private car; secondly, through greater use of renewable sources of energy, including combined heat and power; thirdly, through a big increase in home and industrial energy efficiency programmes. I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for his constant lobbying on behalf of his measure, the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation (Fifteen Year Programme) Bill. I am unable to anticipate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will say tomorrow, but we have certainly listened carefully to my hon. Friend's constant pleading.

Mr. Yeo

I am not sure whether the Minister's reply shows that there is about to be a reopening of coalfields under national ownership. Will he try to answer his hon. Friend's question? When will the Government state their policies to achieve the ambitious new target that they have just set for cutting carbon dioxide emissions? It is one thing for the Prime Minister to waft through New York and make a speech to win a few easy green plaudits, but what are the Government's specific policies to achieve those goals?

Mr. Meacher

The speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in New York in the past week was universally applauded and widely accepted, even by the President of the United States, who paid tribute to Europe's role in which we are taking a lead. The Government have already set out—and I have mentioned to the House—a detailed programme. After the Kyoto conference, when we know the exact targets that have been agreed, we shall present a revised climate change programme. We shall present a White Paper, I hope early next year, that deals particularly with our integrated transport policy, which is a key part of the whole strategy.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when politicians put green policies at the top of the political agenda, it usually means substantial indirect tax increases?

Mr. Meacher

As I have just said, this policy has many different strands, many of which do not involve fiscal measures, but I would be the first to recognise that fiscal measures, direct or indirect, can play an important role. We are, of course, considering those because we are determined, unlike the previous Government, to achieve our targets through proper, positive measures.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

Although the Minister cannot anticipate what the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say in his Budget tomorrow, will he say whether he has urged the Treasury and his fellow Ministers to accept the argument that energy-saving materials should be no more heavily taxed than energy itself?

Mr. Meacher

I am certainly on record as supporting that argument. Such a policy is desirable, but the hon. Gentleman will have to wait until tomorrow to find out whether it is in the Budget.