HC Deb 24 April 2001 vol 367 cc149-52
1. Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

What further representations Her Majesty's Government are making to the US Administration on the ratification of the Kyoto treaty. [157180]

4. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

What discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary regarding President Bush's recent statement on the Kyoto protocol. [157184]

10. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

If he will make a statement on the future of the Kyoto protocol. [157190]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

As the Prime Minister has said, we continue to believe that the Kyoto protocol provides the best framework to deal with climate change. The President of the United States has said that he accepts the need for global action to combat climate change, but he has declared that he opposes the Kyoto protocol. He has ordered a review of US policy on climate change and the next round of talks has been deferred from May to July to allow the US more time to prepare its position.

We obviously want to hear the views and ideas of the US Administration, but for our part, we think that the Kyoto protocol is the right way forward. At meetings in New York last week, Ministers from the European Union and around the world reaffirmed their overwhelming support for the Kyoto protocol.

I have discussed the issues with the Foreign Secretary and he has raised climate change with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. My Cabinet colleagues and I will continue to raise climate change in discussions with our US counterparts. I hope that we can find agreement on a way forward in July.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Kyoto protest rally that will take place on 5 May at the American embassy and of the campaign to get Coca-Cola, which funded the toxic Texan, to persuade him to change his mind on Kyoto? Will he confirm that it is vital that everyone who cares about the future of the planet does everything possible to get US policy back on track?

Mr. Prescott

I am aware that a number of protests have taken place since the President declared that he was against the Kyoto protocol. Protests and discussions have taken place not only internationally—I have referred to the meeting that took place in New York last week—but in America itself. Debates, discussions and protests will no doubt take place, as will the one on 5 May to which my hon. Friend referred. They will undoubtedly be taken into account in the presidential review.

Jane Griffiths

Will my right hon. Friend join me in being much encouraged by the talks that took place at the weekend and by the united front that has been presented by all countries except the United States? Will he also join me in hoping that the fool on Capitol Hill changes his ways before it is too late?

Mr. Prescott

I am well aware of the extent of the protests against the President's statement on the Kyoto protocol and a number of measured statements have come out of the United States Administration since then. As the Americans have asked to delay the meeting of COP 6—the sixth conference of the parties—until July, we should wait to hear what they have got to say. The President has called a cabinet discussion and review on the matter, so I hope that we will know more in July.

Mr. Rendel

Given that the Climate Change Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), would do no more than put on a statutory footing the targets for CO2, emissions that were set out in the previous Labour party manifesto, will the Secretary of State ensure that no Labour Member will oppose the Bill's Second Reading on Friday?

Mr. Prescott

The Government have made it absolutely clear that, in playing an active part in the Kyoto negotiations and in bringing to the House policies that would observe those objectives, we will fulfil our policy commitments. That does not mean piddling on the side as Liberals tend to do on such matters.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

On the position of the United States on climate change, President Bush has suggested that there may be an enhanced role for nuclear power to help in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. What efforts are the Deputy Prime Minister and his Department making to enthuse others in the British Government about the contribution that nuclear power can make in the United Kingdom further to help to meet our Kyoto targets?

Mr. Prescott

It is clear that, in the discussions at COP 6 and since Kyoto, the question of nuclear energy has been highly controversial in European nations and in developing countries. The overwhelming opinion is against the involvement of nuclear energy. As it forms part of the energy requirements of several countries, it is best to leave it out of such judgments. Decisions have not yet been taken.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that President Bush's decision has nothing to do with the American economy—America is ideally poised to take advantage of renewable technologies—and everything to do with the money that was used to fund the Republican party's presidential election victory? Will the Deputy Prime Minister assure me and the House that this Government will never bow to such financial pressure? Will he also join me in saying that he will boycott all American products from companies that support the rejection of the Kyoto protocol?

Mr. Prescott

I hope that the hon. Gentleman makes that point to the Welsh Development Agency, which is constantly over there asking for American investment in Wales. However, I take his point. We have set out our programme and, as I understand it, the climate change levy was somewhat controversial in certain business sectors. We have shown courage in getting on with our policy and in meeting the commitments that we have given. I wish the hon. Gentleman good luck with his policy.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

On the environment, my right hon. Friend will be aware that former Tory MP Tony Marlow and his long-term partner Jill Chambers are about to trial genetically modified crops at Mathry in my constituency. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that that is causing locally and will he agree to meet a delegation from my constituency to discuss those matters?

Mr. Prescott

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

We share the Deputy Prime Minister's support for the Kyoto protocol, but does he recall the comments of his spokeswoman before his trip to the United States? She said: this is a crucial chance…the first meeting on climate change since the talks at The Hague. Does he also remember his intemperate attack on the US Administration when he said that its exports would be made to suffer and Anglo-American relations should be put into "deep freeze"? Was that all just macho man bluster? While in the United States, whom did he meet at a senior level of the Administration to discuss the matter? Exactly what sanctions did he have in mind?

Mr. Prescott

The problem with the hon. Gentleman is that he believes too much that is put in the press. As I understand it, the same papers went on to say that discussions on the Kyoto agreement would not take place at the United Nations conference when, in fact, they took place on every day—on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The hon. Gentleman is reacting to those press reports and took the chance to make a statement, but he is wrong. We got on with the Kyoto negotiations.

Mr. Norman

I note what the Deputy Prime Minister says about the press and it might be useful if I quote from it. It reported: 'There will be a chance for bilateral talks' said a spokeswoman for Mr Prescott. The Times said: Mr Prescott has issued a warning that American firms would see their European exports suffer if they persisted in rejecting Kyoto. The truth is that the answer to my question is yes, it was all bluster—the same bluster that led to the fiasco of the Hague talks. The right hon. Gentleman's own officials said afterwards that he had no scheduled meetings with the US Administration and it was all a public relations exercise. When he looks back on the past four years, will he reflect on the facts that the Kyoto protocol is in disarray; the Hague talks collapsed as a result of his actions; Britain's carbon emissions are rising; and the Americans regard his contribution as ridiculous? Such diplomatic ineptitude might go down fine in old Labour, but it does not do much for our relations on climate change.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman continues to prove my point: he puts too much faith in press reports. I did not have a meeting with the Administration, nor did I seek one when I visited Washington. The meeting that I had was set up to talk to the Secretary of Transportation about the aviation deal. That is precisely what I said I would be doing. I did not have a meeting with the Administration because they had made it clear that they did not know what their policy was. Why should I have a meeting to find that out? Would it not be better to wait until July, which is precisely what I am doing? As to whether I have been inept, in my four years in government I am proud of playing a major part in bringing about the Kyoto agreement. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will find things to be proud of in his political life, but he certainly has not yet.

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