HC Deb 10 February 2004 vol 417 cc1273-330
Mr. Speaker

I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.43 pm
Norman Baker (Lewes)(LD)

I beg to move, That this House believes there should be an annual debate in Parliament on the state of the environment; notes that sustainable development and the issue of climate change is fundamental to the long-term security and stability of the world; is very concerned that climate change could, according to leading international scientists, cause the extinction of one million species by 2050, could, according to the World Health Organisation, mean an additional 150,000 people dying each year, and is, according to Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, "the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism"; welcomes the Government's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and their pledges to help meet its targets, particularly the Energy White Paper commitments to renewable energy and energy efficiency; notes however the worrying trends in key domestic environmental indicators with, since 1997, total municipal waste up by 17 per cent, road traffic up by 8 per cent, domestic energy consumption up nearly 7 per cent, high level radioactive waste up 6 per cent. and energy consumption from aviation up 21 per cent; acknowledges that investment in environmental protection and innovation benefits the whole economy and creates jobs, and calls on the Government to make better use of economic instruments to this end; and believes the Government needs genuinely to put the environment at the heart of government and to take a greater role in promoting sustainable development, and that this requires a clear lead from the Prime Minister. This year, there have been two startling stories which should cause us all to reflect. The first was a statement by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser. Writing in the journal Science, he said that climate change was the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism". It will not have escaped the House's attention that, while a great deal of our time is spent on terrorism, not very much of it is spent on climate change. The second was a report by a group of leading international scientists, warning that between 15 and 37 per cent. of all species could be extinct by 2050—a frightening statistic.

I shall return to the substance of those matters shortly, but first may I express my regret that the House has not held a full debate on the environment for a long time? The last such debate was on 15 May 2002 and, as on this occasion, it was on a Liberal Democrat motion. The debate was held during the run-up to the world summit on sustainable development. Since then, there has been no debate on the environment in Government time. It is true that there was a debate on the report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the work of the Department, but that debate was held in December 2002 and was mainly agriculture-focused.

In Parliament, we need to give the environment the focus that it deserves, and the present ad hoc arrangements are not delivering that. That is why our motion suggests that the House should hold an annual debate on the environment. If the Government do not give the lead and facilitate that, then Liberal Democrat Members will.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

I share many of the sentiments expressed in the hon. Gentleman's motion. The problem is that if we have an all-suited environment debate for one full day a year, it will cut out opportunities to debate important environmental issues that arise from time to time. For example, as chairman of the Council of Europe Sub-Committee on Sustainable Development, I am anxious to debate sustainable development, but if his proposal were adopted, such a discussion might have to form part of a wider environmental debate. Has he thought about that point?

Norman Baker

I understand the point, which the hon. Gentleman is right to raise. We have an annual debate on defence, but it does not stop us debating defence throughout the rest of the year. I hope that an annual debate would raise understanding among Members and encourage further discussion of the environment throughout the year—the opposite effect to that which he fears.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned defence debates, of which there are normally three a year. Perhaps his motion is unambitious and there should be different debates on different aspects of the environment.

Norman Baker

I would welcome three debates on different aspects of the environment, but I would settle for one if the Government were to concede the point. The Government have not called such a debate for a long time.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not with us today. The sad fact is that she has not participated in any debate even partly related to the environment since 2002, and March 2002 was the last time that the Government volunteered even an oral statement on an environmental issue. I happen to think that the Secretary of State is sound on environmental issues, but I cannot say for certain and we must read the signals—it is like watching the Soviet Politburo. We do not know definitely, but in so far as we can tell she is sound. Why is she not in the House more regularly attending debates called in the Government's name to champion the cause of the environment? We would welcome that, but it does not happen. Perhaps the truth is that her views, which may be sound, are out of line with those of the Government in general, who rank the environment low down their list of priorities.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman says that he has time for the Secretary of State, but can he think of a single area in which she has sounded her ambition to leave an imprint on the Government's environmental record by doing anything that is in any way out of kilter with what has happened before? Has she shown personal commitment to this important issue, as opposed to just being a safe pair of hands?

Norman Baker

Tricky questions first. If we believe what we read in the press and consider the smoke signals, the right hon. Lady was responsible for ensuring that the Government's Kyoto target was not downgraded by 15 per cent., which the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry apparently wanted. The Minister for the Environment is nodding, so that suggestion is correct.

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

indicated dissent.

Norman Baker

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seems to be quite good at defending her budget, although I would not want to overplay that point. She is a friend of the environment—in so far as we have one in this Government—so let us not be too unpleasant about her because we need her on board to help us.

I listened in vain to the Queen's Speech introducing this Session for a mention of the word, "environment", and it appeared once: the new strategic environment in which the Armed Forces operate." —[Official Report, 26 November 2003: Vol. 415, c. 7.] It appeared, but not in the context that many of us would have wished.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)

The hon. Gentleman is making great play of the word "environment", as though someone who does not mention it cannot be doing the right thing by the environment. What about the Energy Bill, which is surely a major step forward? It proposes difficult targets on, for example, renewable energy sources.

Norman Baker

The Energy Bill has a number of good elements—I was about to be nice about it—and I shall go on to discuss domestic policies. It is important to paint a fair picture so that one can criticise after having praised other matters.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP)

Before the hon. Gentleman is too kind about the Energy Bill, does he share the views put forward by the Scottish renewable industry, which has expressed grave concern about the costs associated with tapping into the national grid? Many developments by the Scottish renewable industry are located in the far north of Scotland on the islands, and it will be expensive to connect them to the national grid, which has led the industry to raise concerns about the future of renewables.

Norman Baker

The renewable target in the White Paper is welcome. Access to the grid is a serious issue. In many cases, power supplies are offshore, a long way from centres of population, and that is a matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has raised on several occasions. The Government say that they will address it, and we will see in time whether they do so.

When the Prime Minister was questioned last week by the Liaison Committee, he gave his usual impressive performance, except when he was asked about the environment. Then his eyes glazed over and we saw a rather different Prime Minister. He was asked whether he agreed with the Government's chief scientist on climate change, and he replied: Looking very long term, if I look at when my children are my age, yes, I think that is the key issue that faces us. He was not entirely convincing, and he even forgot the name of the Department represented by the Ministers here today. He gave the impression that the environment was a humdrum issue, as did Mrs. Thatcher before him.

At least the Prime Minister said that he recognises climate change as an issue for 30 or 40 years' time, but he seems not to realise that it is with us now, and is accelerating. Species are already disappearing, the polar icecaps are melting and we are seeing wild swings in our weather patterns.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that our Kyoto targets exceed those of any other country? Does he accept that the UK is the only European country to put forward an emissions trading scheme? Most particularly, does he agree that climate change will be long term? Even if we take steps now, it will be a long time before we change the pattern of the curve.

Norman Baker

I certainly recognise the Government's commitment to Kyoto and I shall say so later. Climate change may be long term, but it requires action now, and that is what we are not seeing to a sufficient degree. The oil tanker will take a long time to turn round, and we need to start now. We cannot wait for the time when the Prime Minister's children are his age now to realise the catastrophe that awaits us. It is a difficult political issue for all of us. We have to convince the electorate and the wider world about an issue that is not immediately on our doorsteps but which requires immediate action. It will be too late in 30 or 40 years' time.

The most recent models of climate change from the United Nations Environment Programme suggest that global temperature will rise between 1.4 and 5.8 per cent. by 2100. That is grotesquely in excess of anything that has happened in the past 10,000 years, and there is no guarantee that flora and fauna—let alone human beings—will be able to adapt to such change.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about flora and fauna. Does he agree with some scientific opinion that suggests that, if the polar icecaps continue to melt at a faster rate, the warm airs from the gulf stream will be greatly weakened and we will have a climate more similar to the deep continental one? In other words, winters in this country could become much colder.

Norman Baker

That is indeed one scenario, and that is why we now try to talk of climate change, not global warming. What is clear is that we will see significant changes in our weather and climate, and we should not gamble with that—although it appears that we propose to do so.

There are statistics that support both sides of the debate, but I was struck by the report that more than half of the world's wetlands have disappeared since 1900, and that figure will reach 85 per cent. in the next 30 to 40 years. That is an appalling figure. I say that not from soft sentimentality about wetlands, but because managing wetlands sustainably will aid significantly in meeting the targets set at the world summit on sustainable development to halve the number of people without adequate water and sanitation services by 2015. It is a people-centred statistic, as well as a nature-centred one.

Sustainable use of the planet is inextricably linked to a stable and prosperous future. Many hon. Members will have seen the excellent WWF report "Living Planet Report 2002", which demonstrates all too graphically how we are using up the capital resources of the world faster than they can naturally be replenished. That will lead to an increase in poverty and human misery and, potentially at some time in the future, to resource wars over basic substances, including water. We must try to avoid that.

It is worth remembering that the poorest countries are likely to be the most vulnerable and most affected by climate change. Some 60 per cent. of the additional 80 million people likely to be at risk from flooding are in southern Asia, and 20 per cent. in south-east Asia. Africa is expected to experience significant reductions in cereal yields, as are the middle east and India. An extra 290 million people could be exposed to malaria by the 2080s, with China and central Asia experiencing the biggest risk. Those are frightening projections. I hope that they are wrong, but if they are anywhere near right, we have a big problem on our hands.

It is also predicted that 3 billion people, predominantly in Africa, will suffer through increased stress on water supplies. There is an old saying that forests precede man and deserts follow him, and that is becoming all too true. Deforestation is having a devastating impact on the global climate. That is true not only for Brazil and Indonesia, which are the focus of popular concern, but for countries that should know better, such as Australia and what is happening in Tasmania. It is also happening in Africa to a degree that people have not so far appreciated. A parliamentary answer I received from the Secretary of State for International Development suggested that 5.2 million hectares of forest disappeared from Africa each year. That is an area the size of France, and we cannot go on like that. Some 80 per cent. of ancient forests have been destroyed, degraded or fragmented by human activity, and that has a massive impact on biodiversity and threatens to destroy the livelihoods and way of life of millions of forest-dependent people. That is the bleak reality that we face.

Much of the logging is illegal and many of the products are exported to the UK and other European markets. The Indonesian Government lose an estimated $6,700 a minute in revenue because of illegal logging, but Indonesian companies that rely on illegal logs to feed their sawmills still export plywood to the UK, where it is used once or twice and then thrown away. I welcome the fact that the Government support the European Parliament's resolution on forest law enforcement, governance and trade, which is a good first step. However, it will not stop the illegal timber trade with the European Union. As Greenpeace points out, the plan contains no commitment to legislate against the import of illegally logged timber, but relies instead on voluntary partnership agreements, such as those already in place between the UK and Indonesia. That is clearly not enough.

We need a sensible approach to public procurement. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) raised with the Prime Minister the issue of the timber being used for the new Home Office building. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister laughed at the matter, instead of treating it seriously. That is not good enough. I also gently suggest to the Minister that while Government statistics show that we import large quantities of timber from places such as Vatican City, there is some way to go in regulating the timber trade. Surely there are not that many old church pews in Vatican City.

Climate change will affect us in the UK directly, as DEFRA's own website shows. The most recent climate change scenarios show an average annual temperature increase across the UK of between 2 and 3.5 per cent. by the 2080s, with all the possible consequences that we have heard about, including high summer temperatures and increasingly rare cold winters. However, the changes to the gulf stream may mean colder winters, giving us the temperatures found in Labrador. The US National Academy of Sciences has even described such changes as "likely". That may be the worst-case scenario, but even alternating between colder and warmer temperatures for several decades would play absolute havoc with agriculture and civilisation generally.

Whatever the shape of the changes, it would be better not to take the gamble that we are taking. This is not an issue for the long term, as the Prime Minister said last week: it is an issue for now. However, I want to give credit where it is due, and the Government did sign up to Kyoto early and willingly. They have set ambitious targets and they are on course to meet the EU target, if not the 20 per cent. target. It is true that some of that resulted from the switch from coal to gas; nevertheless, our Government are on target, and we should be pleased that they have approached the matter responsibly.

That attitude is in marked contrast to the attitude of our best friends, the United States, which has 7 per cent. of the world's population but accounts for 25 per cent. of all energy use and 36 per cent. of all greenhouse gas emissions each year: they are going up—and going up fast—in the United States.

I feel sorry for the Prime Minister. He took a big political risk in supporting President Bush in his Iraqi strategy, and he is not being well repaid by the American President over Kyoto or indeed very much else. Either the Prime Minister has not pushed Kyoto very hard with the United States President, in which case he is failing in his duty to do so, or he is being completely ignored by the United States President—in which case, so much for the special relationship. I am not sure which explanation is right, but neither is very flattering to either man.

The protocol could still become binding if Russia ratifies it. I hope and believe that the Government are doing all they can to persuade Russia to sign up. We have received assurances from Ministers to that effect, and we have no reason to doubt them. That is the right policy to pursue, and I welcome what the Government are doing in that regard. I very much hope that they will be successful.

I hope that the Government have also made plain their disagreement with the recent noises from Madrid suggesting that Spain may wish to reopen discussions over Kyoto in the European Union. That needs to he firmly squashed; we cannot afford to allow the EU to unravel over Kyoto.

I referred earlier to the report by leading scientists suggesting that up to 37 per cent. of species could become extinct by 2050. I am told that that is about one every 45 minutes. I admit that I cannot prove it, but the prediction is probably more reliable than other recent 45-minute claims. Even if the figure were just 5 per cent., that could have a devastating impact on our world. Everything is connected to everything else, and the disruption of natural chains will have unpredictable and unwelcome consequences. Species will face disruption to habitat and may find it impossible to adjust. Even if they can adapt in climate terms, they may find that there is no food to rely on.

The human race needs to wake up and address the issue. We cannot sit back while a third of all life forms, which have been here for millions of years, vanish in our lifetime, practically overnight in evolutionary terms. That means addressing quickly, not in the very long term, the root causes of this mass extinction, one of which is climate change, which I have mentioned. Another is the inequality in our world and the poverty that drives millions to destroy the land on which they depend as the only way of finding the next meal.

Global problems require global solutions. They can be found; they can work. We have an example in the Montreal protocol, which has worked quite well in stopping the destruction of the ozone layer. That shows that the world can pull together when it needs to.

We need Kyoto to work. It may not be perfect—the Americans say that it is not, and they are right to say that—but it is the only show in town and we need it to work. We also need to make international agreements such as the convention on biological diversity much more effective. That runs in parallel with the World Trade Organisation, but while the WTO has teeth the CBD merely has gums. That imbalance needs to be addressed. As the Minister's predecessor suggested, we also need a world environmental court to deal with these issues on a global basis, so that we have environmental and sustainability justice across the world.

What we do in our own country is important too. In theory, it should be rather easier to achieve. The Government started well in 1997 by creating the right structure—a major Department, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, bringing together the environment and transport. Many of us in the environment field had argued for that for many years, particularly to try to stop the destructive transport policies that had been implemented until then. The Government also introduced a cross-cutting Environmental Audit Committee. That was absolutely the right policy; the Committee has done sterling work. In addition, the Government introduced a cross-cutting team of green Ministers. I am not sure how effective it has been, but the decision was right.

I recognise that the Government look for innovative ways to deal with issues across traditional departmental boundaries, as they should. I give them credit for doing it, even if the price is sometimes more control from No. 10.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the Government for their commitment, but does he not realise that green Ministers were established by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, in 1992? My right hon. and learned Friend also led this country to Rio de Janeiro for the world summit. Does not the hon. Gentleman also realise that the Transport Department and the Environment Department were intentionally co-located in Marsham Towers, and that there was a good deal of discussion between the two?

Norman Baker

I did not realise that green Ministers were present in the Conservative Government, which may suggest that they were less effective than that Government might have wished them to be. It is true that there was Rio, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is not here today, who did some sterling work on the environment. However, I am sorry to say that, according to a number of indicators, the previous Conservative Government did not do very well. For example, they had the most appalling recycling record. They had a road-building programme that was the biggest since the Romans, and they had a joke figure for renewable energy. So I would not concentrate too much on the previous Conservative Government.

I believe that it was a mistake to break up the DETR. I note that the "Greening Government" report stated: Part of the Government's approach to this institutional difficulty"— the division between transport and the environment— has been to eliminate one such divide with the creation of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR). The Deputy Prime Minister described this as 'in itself…a very important step towards achieving the environmental objectives'. If it was a very important step towards achieving environmental objectives, why was it split up and abolished? That seems not to make much sense.

With due respect to the Minister and his colleagues, for whom I have a great deal of time, as he knows, DEFRA is a bit of a throwaway Department. The Minister knows very well that key decisions affecting the environment are nearly always taken elsewhere—at the Department of Trade and Industry, whether on energy policy or trade matters, which are key to environment; the Department of Transport, with regard to aviation or road transport; the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, for planning issues and key issues about the use of greenfield sites and so on; or No.10 or the Treasury, which is very happy to take decisions on behalf of any Department that it can muscle in on.

Perhaps that helps to explain why, despite the commitment of DEFRA Ministers—I include the hon. Gentleman's immediate predecessor, of course—the Government's domestic record on the environment is a bit patchy. Many of us had high hopes with regard to transport, for example. The Government came to power accepting at last that we could not build our way out of congestion. We had tried for 100 years and it had not worked. The Deputy Prime Minister even famously pledged himself to road traffic reduction targets and asked us to hold him to them. I happen to think that the Deputy Prime Minister understands transport, with his history in the National Union of Seamen, and that he was sincere when he made that pledge. But he could not have anticipated that he would have the rug pulled so swiftly from under him by No. 10, which is what happened.

What do we have now? Last week I received a parliamentary answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), who told me that road traffic—already up by nearly 8 per cent. since 1997, by the way— is forecast to grow by between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. in England between 2000 and 2010." —[Official Report, 3 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 824W.] The news that road transport will go up by 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. in this decade comes from a Government who quite recently were committed to road traffic reduction. That is a failure of some magnitude, and it will not help the Government to meet their Kyoto targets. It is not a reduction, as the Deputy Prime Minister promised us. It is not even a reduction in the rate of growth, which is a formula the Conservatives used to use when trying to deal with the issue when they were in government. It is a massive growth and a catastrophic failure of transport and environment policy.

While industry is busy cutting carbon emissions, emissions in the transport sector are going through the roof. It is not simply road transport, of course. There is also aviation, where I was told in answer to another parliamentary question that carbon emissions, which were 20,000 tonnes in 1990, would double to 40,000 tonnes by 2010.

Mr. Bellingham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a dilemma here, because if traffic grinds to a halt there is obviously much more pollution? The Government have got another 1 million passengers on to the railways. Is he advocating the use of other modes of transport, such as aviation, which will create yet more pollution? It is obviously a very complex issue, and he should not try to simplify it in the way that he is.

Norman Baker

I hope that I am not trying to simplify things. I recognise that this is a complex issue to which there are no overnight solutions, which is why the Government were right to produce a 10-year transport plan. That is the sort of period over which improvements can be delivered, but an election intervened and the Government did not see the policy through—they bottled out in an attempt to get through the 2001 election. Transport is now in free fall, or automatic pilot-whatever metaphor is used—and no one is pushing things forward. It seems that the Secretary of State for Transport dare not do anything that would upset anyone, so we have to make the best of things and, in the meantime, market forces take over. Market forces involve lots of people flying on cheap airlines, a massive increase in road transport and an atomised, ineffective rail system. We have not moved on, which is a bitter disappointment for many of us who thought that the Government would do rather better on transport.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con)

There is great concern in Essex about the environmental damage that could result from the proposed extension of Stansted airport. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is possible to achieve 40 million passenger movements a year using the existing runway at Stansted? Does he support the action being taken by Conservative-controlled Essex county council to consider submitting the proposal to judicial review in view of the fact that we believe that the Government are wrong and that the people of Essex are right?

Norman Baker

The people of Essex must make up their own minds about how they wish to take that matter forward. Clearly, there is a strong body of opinion, to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The aviation White Paper relied far too much on predict and provide—a concept that I hoped we had got rid of in transport planning, but it seems not. The Prime Minister did not have very good answers when the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), pressed him on the issue last week. The Government still have to bite the bullet. They cannot please everyone all the time: they must decide on a sustainable strategy and stick to it. They did the first bit; they did not do second bit.

The recent energy White Paper genuinely embraces the concept of a big switch to renewables and the Government rightly view offshore wind as the first easily attainable tranche of that, but there is a mountain to climb: only 2.5 per cent. of our energy currently comes from renewable sources and most of that is hydroelectricity. That is pitifully lower than other developed countries. It is also important that the Government do all that they can to smooth the way for a transition to a renewable future. That involves sympathetic planning guidance and seeing off the nuclear industry's attempts to discredit wind power, in which it is busily engaged at the moment.

I must confess that I find it breathtaking to hear those in the pro-nuclear lobby complain about the effect of wind generators on the countryside, when they are busy generating tons of highly radioactive material with a half-life measured in hundreds if not thousands of years. Having just managed to keep the door open to nuclear power in the energy review, the strategy is to try to demonstrate that renewables cannot deliver and to force Ministers back to "safe, reliable" nuclear power—those adjectives are in ironic quote marks.

Mr. Francois

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way to me a second time. He mentions the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I have the honour to serve. The Committee considered this issue in great detail under the previous chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), who is in his place this afternoon, and we found that one of the greatest impediments to renewable power was planning opposition to the development of wind farms in certain localities. Will the hon. Gentleman assist the House with the great dilemma that we found: Liberal Democrat Members are always in favour of wind farms in general, but they always oppose them specifically whenever they are proposed in their own constituencies?

Norman Baker

That is rather a red herring, an old chestnut and an incorrect challenge. Our policy is to recommend that wind power in general is a good concept. We ought to promote it—most Liberal Democrat councils are doing so—but no one in any party is suggesting that every application for a wind farm should be approved. That is the purpose of the planning process. There is a willingness and a desire to support that concept, which is manifest in Lib Dem councils throughout the country.

Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD)

The House will be interested to hear that the problem affects all parties. Indeed, a Conservative MSP has opposed wind farms at Huntly. The issue is specific not to parties, but to planning problems.

Norman Baker

We must not demolish the planning system in considering these important matters.

Mr. Weir

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. I agree with the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). There are difficulties all over the country with specific wind farms, but does he agree that one thing that has not been properly explored so far is offshore wind farms, which would solve many of the problems about siting?

Norman Baker

I agree, but, having looked at the guidance, I know that it is not that easy for an offshore wind farm proposal to be successful. The Government need to sort out that problem very quickly; otherwise those in the nuclear industry will respond by saying that renewables cannot deliver, and I want to avoid that.

Let me make it clear that a sustainable future has no place for nuclear fission generation. No one who looks back at the past 50 years of nuclear power can do other than conclude that we would have been better off if we had never started down that road. The power that would be "too cheap to meter"—a phrase from the 1950s—has turned out to be fantastically expensive.

Curiously enough, a Conservative privatisation proposal lifted the lid and showed just how uneconomic the industry was, but the DTI is now handing out multimillion pound lifelines to British Energy to stop it imploding financially—and still it continues. I was a little unfair to say that the Queen's Speech included no reference to the environment because it included the nuclear industry bail-out Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords and is designed to hand responsibility for gigantic amounts of nuclear waste firmly to the taxpayer in a desperate attempt to make the nuclear industry's books look better.

Then there are the usual tricks, the latest of which is the racily entitled "Consultation paper on proposals for intermediate level radioactive waste substitution", which was quietly released on the Friday of Hutton week. If that was not an attempt to bury bad news, it was clearly an attempt at least to store it above ground. The thrust of that supposedly independent paper is that we should not necessarily return to the countries whence it came all the waste generated from reprocessing. Why? Presumably it is because that suggestion would enable prices to be cut and business in that doubtful area to be propped up.

The fact is that we have more than 75,000 cu m of intermediate-level waste lying around in this country, with no clear idea or strategy on how to deal with it. Nirex has no solution. Its last suggestion was pulled and it has not come back with another proposal since, but it now seems to want more of the stuff. The projections already suggest that we will have 107,000 cu m of intermediate-level waste by 2010, and 143,000 cu m by 2030. It seems that we want more waste from other countries to add to that stockpile. However, the author of that report—NAC International—makes some of its money by carrying out work for BNFL. A parliamentary answer that I received yesterday confirmed both that that financial arrangement exists and that the DTI was aware of it before it commissioned NAC to write the report. That is simply not acceptable. That paper is discredited and the DTI should now withdraw it.

I am pleased that the Government are making progress with energy efficiency: given that domestic energy consumption is up 7 per cent. since 1997, they need to do so. One useful thing that they could do is to support the private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), who came top of the ballot, as the Minister will know.

Gregory Barker

I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman a question before he leaves the section of his speech that deals with nuclear energy. I share much of his scepticism about the nuclear lobby and agree wholeheartedly that the way in which the Government bungled the latest massive handout to the nuclear industry is very regrettable. but does he want to slam the door on all types of possible research, particularly if in years ahead the prospect of cold fusion could unwrap the potential for new forms of energy, which may be produced without all the hazardous waste that typifies the nuclear industry today?

Norman Baker

I am bound to say that a great deal of money has gone into nuclear fusion already without very much to show for it. If that money had gone into renewables, we might be rather better off than we are. I would not entirely slam the door on nuclear fusion, but I certainly wish to slam it on nuclear fission for the reasons that I have given.

Waste concerns me greatly, and no one could think that the Government have performed very well on the matter. The waste hierarchy, which everyone supports, is applied upside down. There is a perverse incentive to landfill and, if not to landfill, to incinerate and only then to recycle—and reuse and waste minimisation get not even a look in.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con)

Is it not evident that the danger now is that the Government's failure to produce a proper, coherent waste strategy is placing an intolerable burden on local authorities, which simply have no guidance whatsoever to deal with the very difficult planning decisions that they often face?

Norman Baker

The hon. Gentleman is right: local councils are being driven quickly by the Government to meet the targets required by the landfill directive, but they do not have the policy options or necessarily the resources to do other than probably opt for incineration. That is not the solution that they or the people in their areas want, but that is where we are going. We will end up with a chain of incinerators throughout the country if the Government do not do something quickly.

We have had one disaster after another from the Government in the waste field. We had the famous fridge mountain about which my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon warned the Minister and his colleagues months before it appeared, although nothing was done. We now have a nationwide breaker's yard of abandoned cars throughout the country, with 238,000 dumped in England and Wales last year. That happened because the Government caved in to the motor lobby and instead of making the industry responsible for vehicles at the end of their lives, as happens in most of Europe, they put responsibility on to the last owners, who have vehicles at their lowest value. What a nonsensical policy that is. Apart from letting the motor industry off the hook, what kind of value does that give to the taxpayer? We paid £14 million last year to clear up abandoned vehicles because the Government took the wrong decision.

Next, there will be lorries looking for an official site to dispose of hazardous waste. The Government admit that only 37 of the 218 present sites will be available for use for hazardous waste after a EU directive banning co-disposal takes effect in July. However, when my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford raised that matter, the Minister told her that her concerns were premature. There are fewer than six months until the directive kicks in, so I do not call that premature.

Mr. Challen

That is all well and good, but the hon. Gentleman's speech has lasted three times as long as the Queen's Speech and we are yet to hear a single Lib Dem policy. Are there any?

Norman Baker

There are buckets of Lib Dem policies, which I shall be happy to speak about for the rest of the afternoon if hon. Members wish to hear them. They are implicit in the comments that I have made. We propose a waste hierarchy that is actually based on the waste hierarchy and that gives incentives to waste minimisation—we desire a zero waste policy. We have a sound energy policy that has no place for nuclear power, is based on energy conservation and efficiency and would give a much better leg-up to renewables than any policy that we have seen from the Government. We have a transport policy based on an increase in cycling, walking and public transport, a reorganisation of the railways and a proper investment strategy to deliver what people want. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have strategies coming out of our ears.

Paddy Tipping

While we are pursuing solutions rather than problems, will the hon. Gentleman say a little about the phrase "economic instruments" in the motion? Does he believe in the use of economic instruments, will he give us some examples of them, and does he believe in the principle that the polluter should pay through fiscal measures?

Norman Baker

Yes, I do believe that and I shall come on to it shortly, although I should probably take no more interventions given the time. The polluter does not pay, as a matter of fact, because figures from the Environment Agency show that only 0.5 per cent. of landfill pollution incidents last year resulted in a fine, despite the fact that there were 285 major incidents. The 100 or 200 operators who did pay paid an average fine of only £6,000, which is a pittance to a landfill operator. The message from the Government is that the polluter does not pay, but gets away with it scot-free.

Before I address the matter raised by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), let me say a few quick words about ghost ships. I would be grateful if the Minister would set out his position on the four ghost ships at Hartlepool. The ships are strange because they were apparently so decrepit that the US authorities demanded that they were dealt with right away. They then miraculously recovered to undertake a sea voyage across the Atlantic to this country, but they have now suddenly become decrepit again and unable to sail back—they are very curious ships. I understand that the official line was that the ships were due to return to the US when spring arrived and weather conditions permitted, yet a letter sent late last year by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to British MEPs stated: The UK is satisfied that the ships will be dismantled under environmentally sound conditions, in accordance with planning permission and the waste management licence for the site. Has DEFRA now decided that the ships will be dismantled in Hartlepool? How is it possible to pass judgment on the acceptability of the manner of disposal when there are outstanding issues regarding planning permission, the necessary licence and, indeed, the environmental impact? Are the Government pursuing a policy in private that is contrary to the one that they espouse in public?

Will the Minister deal with the issue of genetic modification when he replies? He will have noticed that our colleagues in Wales and Scotland have taken a rather more robust line on GM matters than the Government here in Westminster. They do not wish to co-operate with GM maize Chardon LL, or T25, which is patented by Bayer. In the light of those decisions in Wales and Scotland, what is the Government's strategy to deal with that matter?

I now turn to economic instruments, which the hon. Member for Sherwood rightly raised. If we are to have an environmental policy that is delivered effectively, we must have incentives and disincentives in place so that we generate the right behaviour patterns. I received a parliamentary answer showing that in this country, unfortunately, only 2.5 per cent. of taxes, as classified by the Treasury, are raised on environmental matters, which is lower than the percentage in most countries. We have some way to go. It strikes me as mad that if people build on greenfield sites they pay no value added tax, but if they renovate an inner-city building they pay 17.5 per cent.

We must create a structure that changes those perverse incentives without increasing the overall tax take—the policy is not about increasing taxes, but using different taxes. Energy saving equipment should incur lower VAT, and compensatory changes should be made elsewhere. We should especially consider how to deal with aviation, because as aviation fuel is not taxed there is a perverse incentive to take the plane, although the environmental solution would be to take the train— especially for internal journeys, and also for cross-channel journeys. On 17 April 2002, the Chancellor said: There is also no necessary conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment. There is a huge potential for British firms, small and large, to capture new world markets by investing in environmentally friendly technologies and creating new businesses and jobs as a result."—[Official Report, 17 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 583.] That takes things on a stage, and it is important because we must demonstrate to businesses, which are sometimes sceptical about the environment, that investing in the environment can help them to cut their costs, improve their technologies and get them one step ahead of the opposition.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in the aviation industry. Will he comment on the fact that best estimates suggest that through not having to pay fuel tax and other taxes, the tax that the industry avoids paying aggregates to about £9 billion a year, which would pay for the whole of the United Kingdom's higher education budget? Is that not astonishing?

Norman Baker

Yes, a gigantic amount of tax is not paid by the airline industry. Why should the rest of us be deprived of what we wish to do—on health, education or anything else—because that sector is excluded? That is entirely unfair and the Government must address it. I accept that the situation is difficult because of the international agreements and so on, but we must go further and faster than we have.

People in this country want to help the environment—they have a hunger to do so in many ways. We know how people clamour for recycling facilities in their own patches. The most recent survey on public attitudes on the DEFRA website reveals that 91 per cent. of the population are either fairly or very concerned about environmental issues. Research by WWF says that 8 million people or more are likely to make decisions at the ballot box based on such issues, so they are politically, as well as morally, important, as I have tried to argue.

I do not want to say that the Government have achieved nothing because they have several achievements. They ratified Kyoto, produced a reasonably good energy White Paper and made welcome structural changes. However, they have not gone far enough. Jonathan Porritt, the Prime Minister's adviser, said: Anybody looking at it dispassionately is going to have a hard job proving that Labour has put the environment at the heart of Government, which is what they claimed they would do. Friends of the Earth said: Although the creation of DEFRA has brought environmental concerns to food and farming policy for perhaps the first time, it has also effectively sidelined the environment as a factor in many other crucial political areas, for example transport, trade, business and planning". The Environmental Audit Committee said that the Government are making unsatisfactory progress on environment. The Government has made progress on only two of seven environmental indicators, with progress on the rest being unsatisfactory". We need to go further and faster. We have suggested an annual debate on the environment in Parliament to keep a focus on the topic. We welcome some of the Government's steps, but they need leadership from the top. We do not think that leadership is coming from the Prime Minister because he does not act as though he is interested in the topic at all. Perhaps that is why the best efforts of certain Ministers—the Minister for the Environment and his predecessor especially—do not always bear fruit as they should. The Government must ensure that the environment is at the heart of things, not out on a limb.

1.29 pm
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: applauds the leadership and commitment on the environment shown by the Government domestically and globally; welcomes the UK's climate change programme which has already put the UK on track to overshoot its Kyoto target of a 12.5 per cent. cut in 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012; commends the introduction in the UK of the world's first economy-wide emissions trading scheme; further welcomes the long-term improvement in air quality and steps to improve local environmental quality generally; notes that river and bathing water quality is the highest on record; congratulates the Government on achieving a household recycling rate of 15 per cent. in 2002–03 and being on track for 17 per cent. for 2003–04; further congratulates the Government for playing a key role in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), increasing protection for a number of endangered flora and fauna; recognises that there is still much to do to promote sustainability at all levels; and calls upon the Government to continue to put environmental protection, locally, nationally and globally at the heart of its policies. That was an interesting run through a range of environmental issues and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) took a fair approach, to the extent that he acknowledged that the Government have made a lot of progress with a range of environmental issues. We can be proud of measures that command widespread support. This is not a partisan issue because there is a great deal of commitment and interest from all parts of the House and all sections of public opinion. It is easy to be glib about some of the challenges, and I am the first to acknowledge that while the Government can point to real progress and achievements, there is much still to do.

In principle, I am not against an annual debate on the environment. Why just one debate? The Government, DEFRA and I have all been strong on integrating environmental priorities right across Government strategies and policies. I would not want the environment to be the subject of an annual debate, then for it to be thought that we had "done" the environment, and I am sure that that is not the hon. Gentleman's intention. Given the increased, scrutiny, Select Committees and improved facilities for Adjournment debates that the Government have put in place, there are many opportunities for the House to discuss, debate and scrutinise environmental issues—which also touch on the Treasury, trade and health, and the whole range of government functions.

I must defend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State because no one doubts her commitment to environmental issues or questions her international achievements in negotiations on the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy and with the Doha agreement, which for the first time put environmental and non-trade issues on the agenda. I do not pretend that that solved the problem because reaching agreement in a body such as the World Trade Organisation is difficult, but at least those issues are now on the agenda, when they were not in the past. There is not much evidence either of any attempt to get them on the agenda in the past. My right hon. Friend can take credit for that development.

I do not doubt either the commitment to the environment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which he has demonstrated on many occasions. In his speech to the American Congress, he raised the issue of climate change right to the heart of American government. We have repeatedly said that, as America is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases, it must take climate control seriously. Even though the Americans have not signed up to Kyoto, many American states, institutions and academics do take climate control seriously and have tried to address it unilaterally within the US system.

The US Government are keen to take forward environmental technologies, which have a contribution to make. We do not believe that such technologies are the complete answer to climate change, but we are prepared to work with the Americans. We welcome the large sums of money that the US has committed to environmental technology research and to research and development generally. We have agreed to co-operate with the Americans in the G8 in taking forward environmental technology. The House should not be misled into thinking that there is no US engagement or involvement on climate change. However, we believe that the US ought to ratify Kyoto and ultimately should be part of a global agreement on controlling greenhouse gases.

Sue Doughty

We welcome the fact that the Government are working with the US to secure improvements, but I still have great difficulty identifying the strategic leadership. This is not an anti-American debate. We accept that a lot of good work is being done in the US, but there is a huge gap. Something is needed to tip the Americans into ratifying Kyoto. The US must be made to understand the potential for jobs and other opportunities if it provides leadership.

Mr. Morley

That is also an internal debate within the US. I heard a lecture by a prominent scientist who advises the Bush Administration in which he made it clear that there was no doubt about the impact of climate change and the need to address it. Many voices have been raised in the debate in the US and I am sure that that will continue—as is the case with Russian ratification.

Carbon trading and setting caps are not all negatives in respect of their impact on industry. They encourage energy efficiency, improve competitiveness and offer financial advantages—not least to Russia. We are trying to make the case to Russia that there are economic advantages to ratifying the Kyoto agreement.

Mr. Weir

I was in Russia at the end of last year and one view expressed was that climate change might benefit that country as it might increase agricultural production. That opinion is prevalent in high Government circles in Russia, which is most worrying.

Mr. Morley

That is worrying. I have heard the argument that where a country has a frozen hinterland, increased temperatures might be no bad thing. However, when road vehicles and pipelines start sinking into the melting tundra, climate change might not be thought such a good thing. There are also all the associated problems, not least the impact on biodiversity.

The Hadley centre and the Tindale centre are both world-class institutions and the former has developed a regional model of its climate change programme, Précis. I had the opportunity to meet academics from various institutions in India who are applying the Précis model to the Indian subcontinent in a first-class project that is supported by my Department as part of its commitment to global sustainability and national sustainable development.

Key to our approach is putting sustainable development at the heart of our policies, as we want them to impact positively beyond political time scales. Our key objectives include the sustainable use of natural resources and protecting the rural, urban, marine and global environments. To make changes sustainable, they must be set alongside economic opportunity and social well-being. One cannot separate the three strands.

Structures are also involved. The hon. Member for Lewes referred to the change from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to DEFRA. I acknowledge the arguments for a DETR- type structure because keeping environment, transport and planning together offers certain advantages. But keeping together the environment, all land use policy, all water policy, biodiversity policy, global and national biodiversity, and sustainability in one Department also has advantages. What is key is ensuring that Departments engage with each other. Ministers from my Department have made joint appearances before Select Committees with Ministers from other Departments. The launch of the better building regulations task force involved Secretaries of State from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department of Trade and Industry and DEFRA. We are developing joint strategies and there is a collective approach to decision making. All those initiatives are bringing together Government functions on sustainability.

I accept the point that the hon. Member for Lewes made about the importance of transport, but our society is becoming more affluent and people have the freedom to buy cars if they so choose. That does not mean, however, that we cannot address problems through, for example, the transport plan, which was widely welcomed. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) acknowledged that an additional 1 million people are using rail. We have applied fiscal measures to transport. For example, we have changed company car taxation, which is linked to car emissions rather than engines, as was the case in the past, and have made changes to road tax, which was also linked to engine size. We have introduced a range of measures to address the impact on society of transport, including air travel. We accept that more needs to be done, and that measures on air transport need to be introduced to tackle the issue of pollution and climate change. Air transport is by its very nature a global activity, so we need international agreements and approaches, but that does not mean that we cannot make progress on an EU level, and we are looking at that.

Gregory Barker

When the Secretary of State for Transport appeared before the Environmental Audit Committee to discuss the Government's policy on air travel, we were extremely underwhelmed by the complete lack of a clear environmental policy on airport and airline expansion. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us, and tell us what direct influence he has had on his colleague's transport policy and the future of the airline industry?

Mr. Morley

We are, of course, consulted on issues such as the Government White Paper, strategy on air travel and related developments. It is easy to wrestle with such problems in opposition, but the hon. Gentleman should accept that more people want to travel by air. Plane use and passenger numbers are going up. We cannot ignore that. We must recognise trends in society such as the demand for travel, but we must try to tackle their environmental impact.

Gregory Barker

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for being so generous in giving way. However, he cannot ignore the fact that the real cost of airline travel is falling dramatically. In recent years, the cash cost of air tickets has fallen dramatically, and is set to continue to fall in real terms. The Government, however, are quite unwilling to engage in the argument and simply talk about the generality of people wanting to travel.

Mr. Morley

That argument is under way. However, if I interpret the hon. Gentleman's comments correctly, he seems to be arguing that air travel is getting cheaper, so it should be taxed to make it more expensive. That would not necessarily deal with the issue of emissions and pollution—it may simply mean that people pay more, so there will not be an effect on the environment. We must therefore think carefully about which measures we want to apply. For example, the application of carbon trading to air travel within the EU is being considered as part of the EU debate. The proposal has a great deal of merit and would have genuine results. We need collective agreement on such issues, in this case in the EU, but in other cases on a global basis.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle) (LD)

May I return to the Minister's comments about people being more affluent and using their cars more? The implication was that the Government simply recognise trends and follow them, rather than trying to set them. In a recent consultation about post office closures, my constituents said that they do not have more cars or more opportunities to use them. They want to be able to walk to the local post office. Government policy on post office closures does not help the environment or reduce the amount of car traffic. Where is the Government's leadership?

Mr. Morley

With respect, post offices and small shops are closing because the hon. Lady's constituents are driving to out-of-town department stores. Of course, we must try to influence such trends and change them, but we must not make glib statements. Many shops close down because local people, who all want to keep them, do not use them themselves. Changes in patterns of behaviour and individual responsibility are not easy to bring about, and the Government cannot dictate exactly what people should do. The hon. Lady seems to think that Liberal Democrat policy is about whether people can or cannot buy a car, where they can take it and how they can use it. I did not know that there was a Stalinist element in Liberal Democrat policy on the environment. Sadly, however, life is a bit more complicated.

We must introduce a range of measures to convince people to follow a course of action that is beneficial for their communities and society. That may, for example, involve restrictions on access to city centres, such as parking policies and parking charges. A range of measures can be applied, but a balance must be struck. It is not, however, always easy to do.

Mrs. Calton

I thank the Minister for being generous with his time. However, he has changed the terms of the argument. No matter how much he wags his finger at me, in my constituency, which is considered affluent, there are people who do not have access to cars, buses or other forms of public transport. Forty per cent. of the people who replied to our consultation have mobility problems, and in some areas 20 per cent. have no car. What is the position of those excluded members of society who do not have the opportunities that the Minister is talking about?

Mr. Morley

Of course there is a social exclusion problem, which the Government take seriously. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to have a small wager with me as to whether or not car ownership in her constituency has gone up or down since 1997. I think I know exactly what the trend has been.

Mr. Challen

I should like to return to aviation, as it is an important area. As the last international treaty governing aviation was signed in the 1940s, does my hon. Friend agree that the European Union offers us the best way of trying to make the environmental improvements in aviation that we need? That is one reason—Opposition Members obviously will not accept it—why we should remain fully engaged with the EU.

Does my hon. Friend agree that environmental measures should be built into new EU rules governing our relationship with other countries such as the United States? There is a moratorium on genetically modified food, and we could build in environmental considerations that would have a moratorium effect on air travel if we did not conclude a treaty in the near future.

Mr. Morley

I certainly agree that there is a case for negotiation and discussion to reach an international agreement, both within the EU and globally. My hon. Friend is right—insufficient attention has been paid to the growth of air travel over the past few decades. Times have changed, and we need to address the problem.

I do not think that there is any disagreement in the House about the need to tackle climate change. Our record is strong, given that we have exceeded our Kyoto targets and are pursuing an ambitious goal, as we are committed to reducing CO2 by 60 per cent. by 2050. I am not complacent, but nevertheless we are making progress and have considerable support for our approach. I hope that by leading by example—we are the first EU country to implement the EU carbon-trading scheme and set targets—we can encourage other countries to follow.

Norman Baker

Before the Minister leaves the subject of aviation, what steps are the Government taking to try to ensure that aviation emissions are included in Kyoto targets, as currently they are absent? What will he the impact on aviation sector emissions following the Government's recent announcements on aviation? I think that there will he a big increase.

Mr. Morley

There will be an increase in emissions, and the hon. Gentleman is free to look at our figures. As for Kyoto, ideally, aircraft emissions should have been included from the beginning, but we must be realistic and accept how far and how fast we can go. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are well aware of the problems with the Kyoto agreement, including the difficulty of getting Russia to ratify and the fact that the US has walked away. The inclusion of aircraft emissions would not have made that any easier. The best way to deal with the issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) suggested, is to approach it internationally rather than within the Kyoto process. Perhaps we will be able to do that post-Kyoto, but in the meantime, the main thing is to get Kyoto ratified and up and running.

I strongly believe that environmental sustainability issues should be addressed locally, nationally and globally. The local aspect includes buying from individuals, which involves raising awareness by making these arguments. We recognise that we have a role to play as a Government, as do the local authorities and non-governmental organisations with which we cooperate closely in trying to get the message across. We also need to play our role globally, as we have done on climate change. We are fortunate in this country to have a first-class scientific base with a wide range of institutions and people. We have been active and successful in international bodies such as the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES— and the convention on biological diversity, which I will attend later this year, and where we will press for further changes, including the extension of protected areas to the marine environment. We have worked with our colleagues in the EU and internationally. We have increased the budget of the Darwin scheme—which was originally set up by the Conservative Government; I give credit where it is due, because it has been extremely successful—from £2 million to £7 million a year.

We are making progress on forestry. I am proud of the fact that we were the first G8 Government to make a commitment to procuring timber on our Government estates from legal and sustainable sources. We have set up a point of expertise to advise people about that, and we are working with the forest law enforcement and governance process in Asia, Africa and the EU. We want to agree powers in the EU that will strengthen our power to seize illegal timber. We can, and do, seize timber that is in contravention of CITES regulations, but I want to be able to go further. That must be achieved on an EU-wide basis—we cannot do it unilaterally, because we could not stop timber coming from, say, Rotterdam into this country by rail or through the tunnel. We are actively encouraging that EU-wide approach.

I turn to GM in Wales and Scotland. If the hon. Member for Lewes has a fault, it is that he tends to believe what he reads in the newspapers without any criticism or question. He should be wary about that, because in this case it was inaccurate. We are still discussing GM with the devolved Administrations, with whom we have a friendly and constructive relationship, and we will in due course announce our response to the recommendations of ACRE—the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

Waste is one of the areas where we have lagged behind other countries, although we have a good record on climate, water quality, air quality, and involvement in sustainability and environmental issues. I am pleased, however, that we are making a great deal of progress on waste. We are hitting our targets on recycling, and many more doorstep collections are being introduced by local authorities. Our strategy—the waste implementation programme—is having a big effect. WRAP—the Waste and Resources Action Programme—has been successful in finding markets for recyclates. I am not complacent, because we need to do more, but I am encouraged by the fact that we have made very good progress, which seems to be accelerating.

The hon. Member for Lewes asked about the ghost ships. The bottom line is that people should have the facts about that situation, and I hope that he will join me in condemning the extreme, alarmist and inaccurate descriptions of "toxic time bombs". The fact is that those ships are no better or worse than any other scrap ships of their age. They remain under an injunction and are stored safely in Hartlepool in the facility run by Able UK. In terms of their future, if there are proper green recycling facilities in this country that are legal and have all the required permits, the best option would be to do the job in this country, not tow them all the way back across the Atlantic. That is self-evident, and most green groups regard it as the best option environmentally.

The situation gives rise to wider issues such as our strategy for ship recycling. As many ships, particularly single-hull tankers, will come on to the market in the next few years, we need good facilities in this country to avoid exporting our problems to other countries. We are in the process of developing those facilities.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con)

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is on record as saying that the ships will be sent back. Is the best environmental solution therefore effectively a U-turn?

Mr. Morley

No. The hon. Lady did not listen to what my right hon. Friend said. She made it clear, in the same words as I have used, that we are seeking the best environmental option. If the option of proper green recycling facilities is not available in this country, the US recognises that the ships will have to be returned. There is no change in the present situation. The hon. Lady joined the bandwagon on these ships, but it ran into a ditch when the green groups recognised that the incident had been exaggerated disgracefully. Is she saying that she does not want Able to be developed as a world-class recycling facility?

Mrs. Spelman

Of course I would love to see a world-class facility at Able, but the dry dock has not yet been built and the ships are moored up next to Seal sands in Hartlepool. While I entirely share the Minister's desire for the best environmental solution, we both need to be clear about exactly what was said.

Mr. Morley

Indeed. That is why I have made it clear to interested parties that there are no shortcuts in this process and that there will be no compromise on the environmental assessments that will have to be made in relation to the adjacent special protection area. We do not know whether the dry dock facilities can be put in place, the payments approved and planning permission granted; those are issues to be resolved by the company and the appropriate authorities. At the moment, it is a hypothetical situation, and we shall have to see how it develops.

Norman Baker

The Minister seems to be keeping his options open as regards the best environmental option—as indeed he must, given that there is no planning permission, no dry dock and no licence. How does he square that pragmatic position with the extract that I quoted from the letter that his officials sent to MEPs late last year, which suggests that the decision has already been taken to dispose of the ships in Hartlepool—in other words, that it is a fait accompli?

Mr. Morley

I saw that letter, and I do not give it that interpretation. It is entirely consistent with the position that I spelled out to the House, which is the position at the present time.

Paddy Tipping

Surely it is wrong to focus on these alleged ghost ships, because the bigger issue is that increasing numbers of ships will require decommissioning. Instead of arguing about the specifics, should we not leave that to the courts and work on developing a strategy, in the UK, Europe and internationally, to tackle the problem?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is right. That work is in progress. A review of UK facilities and an assessment of future demand are under way. For example, we calculate that approximately 2,000 single-hull tankers are EU-flagged and they will need to be tackled in proper facilities. Apart from not wishing ships to be exported to countries that do not have proper facilities, health and safety measures or hazardous waste handling equipment, we are considering an environmental business. I see nothing wrong with developing environmental businesses in this country, provided that they fulfil the proper standards. There is a considerable opportunity for businesses in this country in a range of environmental business, not only ship recycling.

I welcome the debate. It is useful to tackle important and serious issues. The whole Government take environmental matters seriously. We try to lead by example in procurement and energy policies. For example, we have exceeded the targets that we set for the share of power from renewables and combined heat and power in Government estates and for the standards that we apply. We have reduced water use and increased recycling, but we want to do a great deal more. We want sustainability to be at the heart of every Government policy, whether on transport, housing or development. We hope that new developments such as Thames gateway, which will be Europe's biggest brownfield development, will set the pace for reducing energy and water use and building in sustainable transport.

I saw an interesting development by BedZed for sustainable zero emission housing that had workshop units underneath homes so that people could work where they live. Such developments are not appropriate in all parts of the country, but they have a role to play. I am pleased by the proposal for up to 2,000 of those units in the Thames gateway. I therefore believe that Thames gateway gives us a chance to demonstrate some cutting-edge technology in sustainable design and planning.

Mr. Francois

I thank the Minister for his courtesy in allowing me to intervene before he concludes. He mentions Thames gateway, where he well knows that there are issues about building on a flood plain. He also knows from discussions that he and I have held about the concerns in Essex about the reorganisation of flood defence committees. In a non-partisan manner, I remind him of that and stress to him that it is important to the people of Essex to be allowed to retain a flood defence committee, not least to provide reassurance about the sort of things that he has just mentioned.

Mr. Morley

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting Essex flood defence committees into a debate on the environment and Thames gateway. He knows that I acknowledge the case for local involvement. We have not taken the final decision about the structure of the new single-tier flood defence committees, but he knows that I am sympathetic to the case that Essex has made and that I invited that committee to present some proposals. I shall consider them in due course.

Flood plain development is important and we have changed the planning policy guidance to reflect that. Indeed, we are reviewing PPG10 on development, energy and a range of sustainable issues. Thames gateway is currently defended to the level of one in 1,000, which is very high. We have long had big urban centres, such as Hull, on flood plains. They can be defended; of course, that entails a cost. That brings me back to where I started: climatic change.

When we present arguments to convince people, we admit that there are costs, through caps, to industry in carbon trading. We understand that that has an impact, but if we do not tackle global warming, there will be huge costs to society. I pay tribute to Professor King, the Government chief scientist, and Professor Dalton, DEFRA chief scientist, who have been active and outspoken. We cannot ignore the matter. If we do not tackle climate change internationally, the results for our country and the world will be catastrophic.

2.4 pm

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con)

I tend to agree that an annual debate on the state of the environment is the very least that the Government should provide. I pressed for at least an annual debate on trade justice when I was working on international development.

There are few tests more exacting than the legacy that we leave future generations and the quality of life that we bequeath our children. When I was a child, the major threat to world security was the prospect of a third world war—a nuclear one at that. Today's children grow up facing not only the threat of international terrorism but the genuine prospect of environmental catastrophe. Although international terrorism is unpredictable, we can predict what will happen if we continue to ignore environmental problems. Furthermore, as part of a league of rich nations, if we have the will, we have the power to do something about it.

The Minister referred to the importance of the Doha round and getting the environment on to the agenda. However, an agenda is useless unless there is a meeting at which to discuss it. As we all know, the round collapsed fatally at the talks in Cancun and it has been difficult to get any agenda back on the table. There is therefore no room for complacency among nations that are as well developed as ours.

We need to be clear about what we mean by the environment. The term literally covers a multitude of sins. The fact that the debate is on the state of the environment underlines the breadth of the subject. For some, "environment" evokes concerns about global warming, ozone depletion or renewable energy. For others, it suggests anxieties about the amount of litter locally, river pollution or fly-tipping. It is important to appreciate the divergence in people's understanding of the environment and to make strenuous efforts to tackle each concern. Whether people's environmental concerns are focused locally or globally, there is general recognition that our lifestyle has an effect on the quality of our environment.

There is a vast difference between the outward concerns that people may express publicly and the action—or lack of it—that they take personally. My children are a case in point. They are always quick to point out to me when in the supermarket that we should not buy aerosol cans, but they are the worst offenders for leaving the lights on once we get home. However, the fact that more and more people want to be seen to be green is encouraging. Environmental concerns often resemble those about car safety in the way in which they have infiltrated the public consciousness.

Fifteen years ago, accident safety was not such a high priority for car buyers, as shown by the fact that so few car manufacturers focused on safety as a means of marketing. However, today, vehicle safety is a strong influence on consumer choice. The same pattern is emerging with the environment. The material satisfaction that many have experienced since the 1980s has brought in its wake a new set of anxieties and priorities. Parents who are in the fortunate position of being able to provide fully for their children's immediate needs start to consider the longer-term needs of their children's children. The environment is at the heart of that.

The cultural change is not uniform. We need to recognise and tackle the fact that environmental concerns do not figure especially highly in the priorities of people who live in deprived areas. My constituency has four of the most deprived wards in England and Wales, where daily worries about housing, drug abuse and crime render issues such as landfill and climate change almost irrelevant. I say that because it is important that we recognise that although cultural change may be in train throughout what is crudely termed middle England, there remains a vast tract of society for whom the environment is an expensive luxury.

Improving local environments through reduced litter, fly-tipping and graffiti is a vital component in fostering a sense of pride and responsibility in areas where people live. If we do not tackle the quality of life in deprived urban environments, I fear that we shall miss art opportunity to help facilitate the sort of social improvements that we all want. The Conservative party has a proud history on the environment. I should like to correct the false impression that Lady Thatcher somehow thought of the environment as a humdrum issue. As a scientist, she was one of the first party leaders to bring the environment on to the mainstream political agenda, when she said: We do not have a freehold on the earth, only a full repairing lease.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab)

Does the hon. Lady not remember that Margaret Thatcher stopped the very important Salter's duck renewable energy project? That project is now nowhere to be seen, but at the time it was at a production level of 10 per cent., and cheaper than nuclear energy. That was one reason why she closed it.

Mrs. Spelman

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will just wait a little to hear me talk about renewable energy. Technologies have moved on a great deal, even since I wrote my PhD on the subject 20 years ago. Improvements in technology have improved the economic viability of so many renewable technologies, but that was perhaps not the case at the time when Lady Thatcher was leading my party.

Many would seek to demonise centre-right politics, capitalism and business as the arch-enemies of environmental welfare. That simplistic analysis is as flawed as the assertion that because the Conservative party is pro-business, it cannot be pro-environment. However, centre-right politics yielded the end of the cold war and with it, the beginning of the end of some of the world's most environmentally destructive industrial practices. The word conservatism is a derivation of the verb to conserve, meaning to protect or preserve. Conservatism is all about taking responsibility for one's actions, being prudent, safeguarding the future and nurturing a framework of codes and practices that permit the maximum possible freedoms for everyone.

Those four tenets go to the very heart of the protection of our environment, reflected at every level at which my party operates. At global level, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has said, it was the present leader of my party, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who led the negotiations for Britain at the 1992 Rio Earth summit, which gave rise to the Kyoto protocol, of which we remain fully supportive. At European level, the Conservative group negotiated to chair the environment committee in preference to other committees, because we recognised the importance of working with our neighbours to combat environmental threats. At national level, hon. Members on both sides will recognise the role played by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who continues to be dedicated to environmental matters and who led for the Conservatives in the debate on climate change in Westminster Hall two weeks ago.

Hon. Members will observe that, to show our ongoing commitment to the environment and our understanding that it involves cross-cutting concerns, we have again combined transport and the environment in one portfolio, which we are certainly finding beneficial for policy development. At local level, according to the National Audit Office, Conservative councils consistently perform better on environmental issues than their Labour and Liberal Democrat counterparts.

There is broad consensus among all parties on the need to protect the environment. However, although we can agree on that aim, there are bound to be differences in the way in which we would go about attaining it. It is important, especially in a debate such as this, to give credit where it is due, and many of the Government's intentions on the environment are very good. That is why my party can make common cause with the Government on so many environmental objectives, but where we differ is on how those objectives can best be realised. Too often, the underlying problem has been misdiagnosed, and consequently the wrong priorities are chosen in the attempt to devise an effective solution. There has therefore been a system failure in implementation, creating a whole generation of new problems as a consequence.

It is not difficult to understand how that has occurred. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has evolved comparatively recently, and it has become rather centralised and bureaucratic, having difficulties with its lines of responsibility. I do not make that diagnosis of the problem; it was made by the person whom the Government appointed to undertake an analysis of DEFRA's structural problems: Lord Haskins. He described the Department as a dog's dinner of the highest order". Nowhere are the Department's failings clearer than in the context of the environment, and the rural environment in particular. Although we would think that the environment would come first in the list of departmental responsibilities because it is first in the Department's title, all too often—partly through events, including the demands of the crisis in agriculture—it has come last in the Government's departmental priorities. We have only recently discovered, now that the figures have come to light, that it took £500,000 of taxpayers' money to rebrand DEFRA when it was established in 2001, absorbing the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Such is the confusion in DEFRA that when I recently asked a written question, the Minister who replied was unable to supply even the most rudimentary information on staffing levels in the Department. Only during oral questions in the Chamber last week did I finally obtain that information, which should have been readily available.

The practical effect of the organisational problems in DEFRA is manifest to those who have to use its service and those of us who observe it in action. I shall quote Lord Haskins again. He said: Too many organisations are involved in rural delivery, resulting in confusion—the delivery of sustainable land management, for example. is handled by at least six national agencies working with multiple regional and local organisations. The problems are not only of an organisational nature, but concern broader questions of competency. According to DEFRA's municipal waste management survey, England recycles or composts just 13.5 per cent. of its municipal waste. That is one of the lowest rates in Europe and compares with a recycling rate for municipal solid waste of 48 per cent. in Germany and roughly the same rate in Austria. I am yet to understand why DEFRA cannot do more to include home composting in the compilation of its figures. I strongly suspect that a failure to include in the figures the extent to which we, as a nation, compost at home has led to an underestimation of the extent to which we compost in general. If the reduction in the number of black sacks that my family puts out is any indication of the role and value of home composting, there are great savings to be made in that area.

I have been made aware today, by industry sources, of the industry's estimate of the ground that needs to be made up. In its view, we are so massively off target over meeting the requirements of the landfill directive that unless there is a fourfold increase in the amount of composting that we undertake as a nation, we will fall way short of the directive targets by 2010. In response, the Government have set a target for the recycling rate for household waste to rise to 25 per cent. by 2005, to 30 per cent. by 2010 and to 33 per cent. by 2015. However, the Environmental Audit Committee believes that the UK will not come close to meeting any of the national targets set for recycling", and that the 2010 and 2015 targets will be missed by "a wide margin".

Paddy Tipping

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady's points on home composting and the need to compost.

However, will she cast her mind back a few months to the passage of the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill? Her Front-Bench colleague in the other place tabled amendments that would, if accepted, have led to the demise of composting.

Mrs. Spelman

It would take an awful lot, in such a nation of gardeners, to lead to the real demise of composting. Fundamentally, we are a nation not, perhaps, of shopkeepers but very definitely of gardeners, and I think that we all understand the value of composting. If our spokesman in another place is unaware of its benefits, perhaps it is for lack of a garden—who knows? I shall speak to him on the subject.

Mr. Morley

On the figures for recycling and composting, the hon. Lady will be aware that I have said that we have a lot to do in that area. I am not complacent about that. The Environmental Audit Committee report said that the Government would not meet any of their targets, but that is just not true. We are meeting our targets, and the rate is accelerating. Will the hon. Lady also, in a spirit of fairness, acknowledge that in relation to recycling and composting, we are starting from the very low base that we inherited in 1997?

Mrs. Spelman

I do not deny that, as a nation, we have a lot of catching up to do, as anyone who is aware of the cultural and lifestyle differences among certain comparable developed economies, particularly on the continent of Europe, in relation to recycling and segregating household waste before it is passed to the municipal authorities will know. However, I am concerned that we sometimes sign up to directives without having put in place the necessary facilities to implement them, so that even if we want, with the best will in the world, to embrace the changes involved, we are unable to do so. A good illustration of that is the batteries directive, which we have signed up to despite there being no facilities in this country for recycling batteries. In comparable developed economies, it is regarded as a heinous crime to put batteries in the waste paper bin. However, that directive remains the only solution to that problem in this country, and I look forward to the necessary facilities being put in place so that when a safe and environmentally suitable solution exists, we really can take advantage of it.

Recycling rates and landfill rates are two sides of the same coin. It is no surprise, given the slow progress being made on increasing recycling, that aspirations towards the reduction of the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill are also faltering. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) made a fair point when he said that the hierarchy of dealing with waste seemed to have been turned on its head. Much more effort needs to be put into this area, because the more that can be segregated and recycled at household level, the less will be the temptation to justify the easy solution of burying it all in the ground, which we want to move away from.

The amount of landfill increased to 22.3 million tonnes in the last year for which there are figures. That is not only an indictment of this country's inability to get on top of waste disposal as an issue—it also means that Britain is perilously close to missing the requirements of the European landfill directive, which would result in a fine of up to £180 million a year. Perhaps the Government will tell us whether they intend to pass that fine on to local authorities and, ultimately, to council tax payers, should we be faced with such a bill.

Another target that is looking increasingly fallible is that of attaining 10 per cent. of electricity production derived from renewable energy sources. The reality is that the 3 per cent. target for 2002 was missed by a considerable margin. That makes the likelihood of fulfilling the 10 per cent. target in a mere six years look more and more like a costly pipedream. I am of course aware of the recent announcements regarding wind farm investments, which the Government have been keen to cite as examples of progress in meeting those targets. However, there are many concerns about wind farms—particularly onshore wind farms—with regard to their reliability, their efficiency and, ironically, their environmental impact. Wind farms can at best be only part of any sensible programme for generating electricity from renewable energy sources. The Government must certainly look to offshore wind farms and wave farms as ways of harnessing renewable forms of energy in a more environmentally acceptable way.

Among the most interesting and logical sources of renewable energy are biofuels. As the author of a book entitled "Non-Food Uses of Agricultural Raw Materials", perhaps I ought to state a private interest in this particular issue. Biofuels, like wind power, are not in themselves the holy grail of environmentally friendly energy production, but they could well offer part of the solution and they certainly warrant further research.

Sadly, biofuels are another area in which the Government's thinking has appeared muddled and little or no effective progress has been made. In October last year, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a report which confirmed that. It stated: We deplore the fact that the Government has not nominated any one Department to lead on biofuels and consider that this is the prime reason for the slow progress that has been made in this area. The report concluded: The Government's biofuels policy still appears to be muddled and unfocussed: it has expressed support for biofuels but the mechanisms used to promote their use have had little effect so far". It is bad enough that the Government are found wanting when it comes to taking effective action for our medium-term renewable energy commitments, but there are also a number of very worrying failures with regard to their present day implementation of EU environmental measures. Every so often, a snapshot image of the kind used in newspapers and on television screens becomes imprinted on the public consciousness, and I would argue that one such image is that of mountains of decaying fridges piled up throughout the country with no adequate means of disposal for them.

Mr. Challen

The hon. Lady has not really talked about nuclear energy. What are her party's policies on that issue? Its history, when in government, was to support nuclear energy with what I call a nuclear tax of 10 per cent.—otherwise known as the non-fossil fuel levy. That gave our competitors in Germany and Denmark a great opportunity to advance on us in terms of the engineering and technology required to develop wind power, for example. Would the Conservatives go back to such an approach, which would set back our renewable energy prospects? Do they have a policy on nuclear power yet?

Mrs. Spelman

The hon. Gentleman would expect the environmental spokesman for the Conservative party to state the blindingly obvious on this issue, which is that until an adequate environmental solution is found to the problems of waste from nuclear energy, nuclear power is not an option that can enthusiastically be embraced. So far, such a solution has not been found. I think that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

To return to the mountains of fridges, the arguments over whose fault that was—the Government's, for failing to read and understand the implications of the ozone-depleting substances directive, or the European Commission's for not making the implications explicit—have been rehearsed many times. In June 2002, the Commons Environment Sub-Committee concluded that DEFRA and not the European Commission was primarily to blame for the situation. The Committee, of whom eight members out of 10 are Labour MPs, said that clearing up the problem would cost taxpayers £40 million. In particular, the report said: While the European Commission must accept some blame for lack of clarity, the overwhelming responsibility for mishandling the implementation lies with the Government. The report concluded: We find it deeply disturbing that the Government signed up to the regulation whilst still suffering 'knowledge gaps' about its full impact. What this episode serves to highlight is a routine deficiency in the implementation of European environmental legislation, and the spectre of the fridge mountain fiasco looms large as we begin implementing the hazardous waste directive and the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive. I very much fear that, as a country, we are inadequately prepared to deal with the de-manufacturing and recycling of our waste electrical goods, particularly as we feel the effects of the ominous trend towards built-in obsolescence in manufactured goods.

One consequence of this lack of preparation is the increased problem of fly-tipping, which blights urban and rural areas throughout the country. That problem is likely to be exacerbated with the closure of 290 of the 300 landfill sites that currently take hazardous waste, just months before the hazardous waste directive takes effect. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position on that.

Mr. Morley

Yes, I will. The sites will not be closing. The directive ends co-disposal, but they will continue as landfill sites. Some of them, if they so choose, will be able to continue by installing a separate cell for hazardous waste on the site; indeed, a number have already put in a planning application to do so. The vast majority of the sites do not take hazardous waste anyway, so the hon. Lady's figures are really quite misleading.

Mrs. Spelman

I tabled a written question on this subject. It is of the utmost importance to know the pattern of sites to which hazardous waste will be able to be sent. Given the combination of the increase in landfill use and the costs involved, if there are to be restrictions on the type of material that can go to such sites, those who try to avoid those costs will be tempted to deposit certain materials in the countryside.

Fly-tipping presents similar problems to those of litter, graffiti and, to some extent, urban water course pollution, which are also symptoms of ineffective law enforcement. Litter costs local authorities in the region of £342 million each year. I am not convinced that measures contained in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 will reverse the fall in the number of prosecutions and convictions for depositing litter and the fall in the number of fixed penalties issued to offenders. More policing will be a far greater agent for change than more legislation.

Another grave concern among Conservative Members is the inconsistency within the Department. Last Friday, I went to Stansted to meet campaigners opposed to the construction of a new runway. They, like me, are bewildered at the lack of an environmental impact assessment before the Government announced their plans about where to expand. This view is shared by the Environmental Audit Committee, which stated: The opaqueness of the appraisal process means that it is not possible to evaluate … the cumulative impacts at both regional and national levels, and the relative balance of economic, social and environmental benefits and disbenefits. The Committee added: We regard the absence of concise, transparent and strategic integrated appraisals as a major weakness in the consultation documents. The Department's failure in this respect conflicts with its own guidance. The aviation White Paper also brought to light another inconsistency in the Government's approach, to which other Members have alluded in interventions. The ambitious carbon reduction targets that the Government have set will be impossible to meet given the growth in aviation facilitated by the Government's airport expansion plans. Those failings clearly suggest that the environmental implications of airport expansion were of little or less concern when the Government reached their decision.

At each level of environmental awareness that I identified at the outset—global, European, national and local—there are clear failings by DEFRA. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that Britain was alone in being without a joined-up approach to dealing with the environment. I am sure that we can all name one country whose failure to ratify Kyoto should be a cause of grave concern to us all, which the Prime Minister would do well to use his much-vaunted transatlantic influence to remedy.

The point. however, is that there is no good reason why we should not be one of the pioneers of environmental policy and good practice. It is an uncomfortable reality that without many of the EU-originated regulations, Britain would not even now be adopting environmental good practice in many crucial respects. Britain is a bold, entrepreneurial, creative country with a natural instinct for conservation and protection, and it is the Government's duty to harness that instinct. Britain could and should become a beacon of environmental progress among industrialised nations. If we fail in this, we will certainly be in no position to try to influence the environmental practices of the developing countries that otherwise will surely follow in our footsteps.

2.33 pm
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)

I very much welcome this debate. Given the importance that the Liberal Democrats attach to it in their motion, I am surprised that it is only a half-day debate. It seems that the ice caps could melt before we move off the subject of a local income tax, but that is their order of priorities.

The motion calls for an annual debate on this subject, and we should give it a regular slot. Perhaps it could be tied to regular debates on reports from the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I sit. The EAC, as Members on both sides of the House will know, has produced some highly critical reports, to which reference has often been made this afternoon. Its reports deserve a wider audience. The Committee was one of the key creations on the parliamentary environmental scene that arose from the Labour party's 1997 manifesto, and it has firmly established itself as an authoritative voice on the environment and sustainable development.

My main concern with the nature of the political debate on the environment and sustainable development is that it does not engage the public as widely as it should. We know that politicians of all persuasions are reluctant to go too far down the road of radical change because a swift and debilitating electoral consequence would follow. Sustainable development, if we take it seriously, implies that those living in the most developed countries will have to make some sacrifices. Our pattern of consumption is clearly unsustainable, but it is our solemn duty as politicians—in all parties, I hasten to add—to tell voters at election time that we will make their quality of life better, which is always understood to mean their material quality of life. Our whole economic model is based on the presumption that we must pursue economic growth, and that we must emulate countries such as the United States, which has experienced the longest sustained growth rates in the western world. The fact that the US does that by consuming more resources per capita, at a rate that simply could not be replicated around the globe, is the kind of argument that is compartmentalised in discrete packets of worthy thinking labelled "the environment", "climate change" or whatever, which are not allowed as yet to challenge the assumptions of economic growth.

How do we square the circle? It will be very difficult. The first party that dares seriously to challenge those assumptions will be laughed out of court. Unless a major disaster forces our hand, we will inevitably have to take an incremental approach, which runs the risk of not doing enough fast enough to make much difference. I applaud this Government's early and urgent efforts to get the world to agree on the Kyoto protocol, but it is still not yet in force, and, even when it does come into force, it is such a modest measure that some doubt that it will have the desired impact.

Nations will therefore have to take more unilateral action to get things done, but even that will cause howls of protest from those such as the CBI, which would prefer simply that the climate change levy would go away, because it says that it damages our competitiveness. That is the same argument used by George Bush, who wants a purely voluntary approach to climate change, which I am not sure he really believes exists anyway. He wants to prevent the American economy from suffering. He has already caused enough unemployment; he does not want any more.

Such short-term attitudes will ultimately be self-defeating, as the costs of climate change mount. Those costs will hit us with higher insurance premiums, more flooding in some areas, more drought in others, food and water shortages and high levels of human migration causing civil strife. The Government have made some very useful steps in the right direction: the climate change levy, the renewables obligation, and the Energy Bill, which clearly has set some stiff targets in sourcing energy from renewable sources—10 per cent. in only six years' time and 15 per cent. by 2015. Some people say that we do not have the engineering capacity to meet those targets. I hope that we address that criticism by putting more resources into our energy strategy from Government funds, and that we seriously increase our research and development resource in other areas, apart from wind, which is now a fully fledged technology. How is it that we spend less on R and D in wave and tidal energy or other renewables than we use to prop up British Energy and its outdated nuclear technology?

Most of what the Government have done so far has addressed major players in the environmental field. They have addressed corporations' use of energy, for example, and they have introduced market mechanisms, which take a while to filter through, such as the renewables obligation. What we lack is a way of engaging the public in this debate, such as mechanisms that encourage individuals to make pro-environment choices in their lives. That is the real test, because, unlike businesses, individuals have votes, and if, for example, we told individuals that they could not drive their cars our popularity would evaporate faster than a cloud of carbon dioxide. Nor, as we have seen, can we easily introduce more taxes, since the fuel protests put paid to that. No doubt it is the memory of those events that makes the Government reluctant to tax aviation fuel. What, I wonder, is the Liberal Democrat policy on that? I do not think we have had an answer to that important question.

Norman Baker

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be given a very full answer by our shadow Chancellor when he winds up. but in the meantime let me repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping): aviation is currently untaxed, and we need to find ways of dealing with that. The Government have imposed airport passenger duty, which is very low and not terribly focused. There is talk of the Chancellor's doubling it, but I am not sure whether that is the right idea. We would like aviation fuel to be taxed, but we realise that that must happen, if not internationally, at least on a Europe-wide basis, which is not immediately achievable.

The Government's aviation paper mentioned a number of economic instruments, some of which should be investigated carefully. There may, for instance, be a case for taxing aeroplanes—on the assumption that they are full—because that would give airlines an incentive to fill seats rather than running half-empty flights. There are a number of possibilities—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman has said enough for the time being.

Mr. Challen

I was still waiting for the answer, actually. I was not sure where it was in all that. Perhaps we shall hear it at the end of the debate.

I am happy to say, as I said to the Secretary of State for Transport in the Environmental Audit Committee, that I favour a tax on aviation fuel. The £8 billion or £9 billion that is spent on subsidising the airline industry could be better spent on other things.

I have been talking about the individual. I suppose the individual elector might want to punish me for talking so explicitly about what has been described in a local paper as the right to cheap holidays, but I think there are ways in which we can help that individual elector to contribute to a reduction in environmental damage. In that context, I shall now shamelessly promote a meeting that I am hosting in Room 21 at 6 pm, entitled "The carbon consumer". Positive ideas will be presented, some of which originate from the Tyndall Centre, which has already been mentioned. It is a well-respected organisation that has been considering ways of cutting our carbon emissions.

One suggestion is the introduction of domestic tradeable quotas. I have a lot to learn about the subject, but I understand that they would operate rather as international emissions trading schemes do, while in this case applying domestically to individuals. That idea builds on something mentioned yesterday by the Bishop of Leicester in his maiden speech. He referred to contraction and convergence, first proposed by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute. The idea of contraction is to reduce the amount of carbon emissions overall, while convergence is seen as a way of distributing responsibility for the reduction. Those are exciting ideas, and I hope that the Minister will meet me soon to discuss them, as they seem to me to constitute one of the few ways in which individual citizens can become involved in reducing emissions.

At tonight's meeting, I will also promote a scheme called "save as you travel". If it were adopted, people would be given reward cards—a concept that is familiar to the British consumer. They would be rewarded for using public transport more, by means of points, air miles or financial remuneration. The Treasury could support the scheme quite generously if it chose, by taxing aviation fuel.

I want to mention a third proposal that deals with the environment more generally. It is not an original idea, but one that I picked up during a visit to Ontario. There, an environmental bill of rights enables individuals to launch cases or complaints against any Government, corporation or other body, which can then be investigated and pursued vigorously with a remedy possible at the end.

Those are three policies that I think could deal with the problems of which we have heard today. I hope that the Minister will respond positively and seek more information about them, and that we can meet to discuss them.

2.44 pm
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)(LD)

Many Departments have a role to play in the delivery of sustainable development when it comes to energy policy and environmental policy generally. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). We have a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and I know that the Minister wants to give a good account of what it and the Government have done, but I am constantly perplexed at the way in which the Government's responsibilities for delivering sustainability and environmental policy are split between so many different Departments. The Department of Trade and Industry, for instance, is responsible for supervising policy on electricity generation and the generation industry as a whole, while the Minister's Department is responsible for conservation and efficient energy use. The Treasury deals with fiscal regulation and such matters as the climate change levy, and our built environment is regulated largely by legislation from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. As the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) pointed out, a significant proportion of our energy consumption takes place in the transport sector, and is dealt with by the Department for Transport.

As one who does his best to make connections between the various parts of Government policy and to evaluate them—as well as the views of many outside organisations that seek to engage with the whole Kyoto policy process—I feel that that diversity of responsibility, which is a polite way of putting it, often prevents the Government from delivering as effectively as the Minister would no doubt wish. If we are to have a sustainable environment in the future—plenty has been said about the need for that, and what should be done to achieve it—conserving resources and using them efficiently will be just as important as anything we do to generate energy. Conservation and efficiency constitute a more cost-effective way of improving our environment than any substitution of technologies for the generation and use of energy.

I was a member of a deputation attending an environmental conference in Berlin last week to discuss sustainability and the development of policy in both Germany and the United Kingdom. The conference was addressed by Lord Whitty, a member of the Minister's departmental team who, obviously, spoke on behalf of the Government. As ever, he made a well-rounded speech, featuring plenty of explanation of what the Government had done and intended to do. As I listened, I felt rather like repeating a line from a John Cleese sketch—the one in which he goes into the kitchen and says "I think I got away with it that time." The words were fine and the message was good, but the audience was not in a position to apply its critical faculties in order to find out what was actually going on.

A German participant in the conference said later "The difference between your Minister and mine"—the German Energy Minister had also made a speech—"is the difference between a 1 MW and a 12 MW man." Of course, that underlined the fact that our performance falls well short of the words that we use. I hope that the Minister, in responding to the debate, can give some reassurance that the Government are not only talking a good talk but are prepared to walk a good walk.

I cannot sit down without saying something about the small contribution that I am making through my private Member's Bill, the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill. I am happy to report that it has support from both sides of the House—from Government Front Benchers, from Conservative Members and from my own party. It tries to focus the attention of the building industry in particular on the fact that how we save energy is as important and cost-effective as how we generate it. Notwithstanding the rows that we have in this House about the applicability of renewable technologies windmills or waves, for example—compared with nuclear energy, we need to remember that for every £100 that we can invest, we will take a bigger step towards sustainability by investing it in conservation and efficiency than by investing in any of the available generating technologies. My Bill tries to pick up on that point, and to make sure that in future our building stock is more sustainable and efficient.

The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell said that we cannot make progress without everybody having to pay some of the price. However, if we improve the efficiency of our building stock, we will improve our comfort levels, reduce the number of people who die in the winter because their homes are too cold, reduce the bills that people have to pay and reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. I want us to spend more time focusing our political energy on those factors that can produce a win in every dimension: a financial win for the consumer, a health win for our country, and an environmental win in terms of a reduction in greenhouse gases. I thoroughly agreed with 99 per cent. of what the hon. Gentleman said, but his point about progress constituted 0.5 per cent. of what I did not agree with.

The other 0.5 per cent. of what I did not agree with was the hon. Gentleman's proposal—assuming that I understood it properly—that we award public transport points, so that people receive a reward for travelling by bus. That is fine, but giving a reward of air miles would somewhat undermine his initial point.

Mr. Challen

The point is that, as has been argued, putting a tax on aviation fuel would tax working-class and poorer people out of air travel. They are the people who use public transport, so if they were rewarded in the way that I am suggesting, we could balance the risk that such people would be taxed out of the air.

Mr. Stunell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that explanation, which puts the idea into a somewhat different context. Perhaps we could debate on a separate occasion how we might run such a card; however, we are some way from that at the moment. I certainly agree that we need to do all that we can to make people aware of the benefits to them of a healthy public transport system that they actually use. Practically everybody says that they are in favour of a better public transport system—on the basis that others will use it, so that they themselves can drive their cars more rapidly. Some significant work needs to be done to change that situation, and if the hon. Gentleman's proposed card will achieve something, I am certainly prepared to consider it.

We need a broad consensus in this House on what needs to be done in terms of the environment and sustainability. The proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes that there be an annual report, and all that is implied in bringing to the House the key strands of Government policy, are very important. We need a broad consensus because we have to keep going with this project, and not just for one or two Parliaments. For the next eight, nine or 10 Parliaments, and certainly for the next 50 years, this issue will be of fundamental importance. We need that consensus so that we can move matters forward, so that those outside this place can believe with some confidence that they are backing the horse that will come first in the race, and in particular so that we can achieve real results.

If we decide to go for a long-term strategy—the Government have indeed set targets for where they want to be in 2050—the important thing is to ensure that the steps taken between now and 2050 are each of a size that enables them to be taken at the time, but which continue progressively year after year, so that we can reach our goal. For example, we need only a 1 per cent. increase in our renewable generating capacity each year to achieve 50 per cent. by 2050. Admittedly, it will take us another 40-odd years to get there, but that is the time scale and progress that we need to think about.

With that in mind, I want to give credit to the Government for the recent extension of the renewables obligation, beyond 10 per cent. for 2010, to 15 per cent. for 2015. I thoroughly approve of that decision, but I do hope that they will quickly recognise that further progressive increases are needed, because that is the way to lay the foundations of certainty for investment.

Norman Baker

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the 1980s the then Department of Energy predicted that it would be possible to obtain 40 per cent. of our energy from renewable sources by 2020? Back then, development of renewables was very limited, and such matters were the responsibility of the Atomic Energy Authority, which was not necessarily very keen on developing renewables.

Mr. Stunell

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's underlying point, which is that we have missed several boats over the years. However, we are where we are. We are standing on the quayside, and another boat is available. When we get on it, we must make it go as fast as we can, but the main thing is to ensure that we are on it. It is important to set course in the right direction, and to proceed with all due speed.

I hope that, in responding to the debate, the Minister will pick up on the urgent need to ensure that all Government Departments are focused on this problem and are working together. I hope, too, that he will focus on the need to achieve a broad consensus throughout the House on the need for the environment and sustainability to be at the heart of policy making. I hope that there can be broad, non-partisan, all-party encouragement to the Minister—and to subsequent Ministers—to make progress in future.

2.58 pm
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab)

I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), particularly given that I am a sponsor of his private Member's Bill. It must make sense to have buildings that are more sustainable and efficient, and which will last us in the long term. I want to reinforce his argument—the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) made the same point in opening the debate—that the more we can do to achieve a shared long-term strategy, the better it will be for us all.

I am pleased to be involved in what has been a balanced debate, although it has perhaps been out of synchronisation in certain ways. The discussion has concentrated on problems. It is easy to recognise problems, but it is sometimes hard to develop solutions. The reality is that the more we concentrate on solutions instead of problems, the better off we will be in the long term.

The tenor of the debate has been such that we have tended not to recognise the Government's achievements, but to look instead at some of the failures. It is always easy to look at failures, but there have been achievements. The temptation with achievements is simply to pocket them and move on.

Let me remind the House of one or two of the Government's achievements. We are committed to building 60 per cent. of all new housing on brownfield rather than greenfield sites—something for which we all campaigned. When the Government came into office, they stopped the privatisation and progressive sell-off of woodland across the country. We have taken steps to create two new national parks—the South Downs and the New Forest national parks. Significantly, after years of decline, the number of wild birds is at last beginning to increase again. It is important to me that, after 100 years of campaigning by MPs across the country, we will have legislation in force later this year enshrining the right to roam on wild, open spaces. I believe that those are all significant gains, which should not be denied.

I want to deal with one or two problems and try to move us towards partial solutions. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and the hon. Members for Lewes and for Hazel Grove all touched on energy policy. Let us recognise that it is almost the anniversary of the White Paper. I support its aspirations and believe that it is right to move towards a lower carbon economy, but I have anxieties about whether the targets correctly set out in the White Paper will be met. It has already been mentioned that, at the current 3 per cent. figure, we have a long way to go before reaching the 10 per cent. target by 2010, particularly when we have acknowledged that most of the 3 per cent. is traditional hydro energy and that the current rate of acceleration towards renewables is pretty slow.

We should also recognise, as stated in the White Paper, that wind power is the best method of getting us from 3 per cent. to 10 per cent. and then up to 20 per cent. The language of the White Paper is interesting: it is an aspiration that some people might say is impossible to achieve, but we should strive towards that wind power goal.

I believe that there are some problems with on-land wind power. The Minister will remind me that two-thirds of planning applications for new wind farms are either withdrawn or rejected. The great hope—my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services has campaigned hard for it—is to secure offshore fields. Some important points need to be made about that. Wind power will, by definition, be peripheral and there is a sense in which we need to rewire Britain. We are moving from an energy policy that was dependent on coal and steel to one in which power generation will be more embedded. In those circumstances, that rewiring of Britain will have costs, as will the renewables obligation.

I am anxious about the lack of recognition in the White Paper that energy will cost us more in the future than at present. For the past decade, we have seen low energy prices in relative terms. The White Paper speculates that those prices will, over the next few years, rise by 5 to 15 per cent. I think that it will rise even more and I am very concerned that the social, political and economic consequences have not yet been properly thought through. If energy prices are going to rise more dramatically than predicted in the White Paper, we must reflect carefully on the consequences, particularly for the more disadvantaged members of the community.

I accept the point of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove that we should pursue energy conservation more vigorously. I must confess that, although I am interested in energy policy, I do not understand the whole range of energy conservation measures that are available. I believe that the time has come for us to examine them and review them radically. We need to increase funding, but it is important that we measure outputs and deliver resources to new energy efficiency and conservation programmes according to the amount of carbon that could be saved.

We have acknowledged in the debate that, although carbon emissions are falling, it has been mainly on the back of the coal industry. I believe that the Government are relatively weak on having a coherent policy towards the transport sector. There are few remedies around to tackle the problem. We have an example of congestion charging in London, but it could be the case that, in the short term, the only show in town is to move towards biofuels, by which I mean biodiesel and bioethanol. I am concerned that, although the present duty rates set by the Treasury have been reduced by 20p, that will not be sufficient to encourage the UK biofuel industry.

I believe that biofuels can help us to deliver two policy objectives: to reduce the amount of emissions; and to provide a real lever to help British farmers to bring new investment, and new and different ways of working, into the British rural economy. I am truly concerned about the current Treasury approach of generally accepting in the pre-Budget report that biofuels have a place in our energy policy, because there is a danger of sucking in biofuels from abroad, particularly from Brazil, and failing to encourage our own biofuel industry. I hope that the Minister will pass on my pre-Budget representations to his colleagues in the Treasury. It is

important for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to talk across Government. My main pre-Budget representation is the need for us to be adventurous and imaginative about how we approach biofuels policy.

I am not convinced that a further cut in duty rates is necessarily the right way forward. British Sugar, for example, wants to use its factories to create bioethanol. One means of help could be through capital allowances. Another way of helping the whole industry would be to consider having a biofuels escalator. That would allow us to build on the EU biofuel regulations—stipulating 2 per cent. by 2005, though I worry whether we can achieve that—and set ourselves a longer-term goal. By regulation we could encourage an increasing biofuels mix—starting at 1 per cent. and perhaps increasing to 10 per cent. over a 10-year period. That would provide British producers and British farmers with the opportunity to put down roots and develop their business rather than sucking in from abroad. As I said, that is a real danger because biofuels are taking off not only in Europe, but across the world. We need the opportunity to develop our own industry.

Norman Baker

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Treasury could provide some long-term stability so that people had some knowledge of how matters would stand in five or 10 years' time. One current problem is the uncertainty about whether the Treasury is going to chop and change its view on what is desirable.

Paddy Tipping

That is exactly the point. We need to set long-term goals with appropriate fiscal mechanisms so that producers can operate in a market that they understand.

The energy White Paper will have consequences for carbon emissions, as will biofuels. I accept that global warming is taking place, although one can argue about its scale. I want DEFRA to work across Government, and internationally, to compile a report on the consequences of global warming for people in the UK. It is clear that summers here will be drier and winters wetter, and that there will be real consequences for sewers. Storm sewers will overflow as a result of flash floods, and real damage will be caused.

This debate is about the state of the environment. This morning, I was talking to the Minister about private sewers. Most hon. Members will be aware of that issue as a result of their constituency work. We are making important progress, but we must keep one foot on the pedal. I look forward to the Government announcing the future direction of policy in the spring. We should look at how private sewers could be adopted, and at how to fund the work that needs to be done on them.

We also need to look at water. It is a scarce resource, and global warming will cause problems with its provision. I hope that the Government will consider that problem, and devote to it part of a larger report on the consequences of global warming. Flooding is a big issue, and we need to have a discussion about managed coastal retreat.

Important though these issues are, they must not be taken in isolation. If we can deal with issues of the countryside and landscape in a more careful and thoughtful way, we may be able to find some solutions.

The Government have achieved an enormous success with the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy. Only 12 months ago, people said in this Chamber that it would never happen, but the biggest change ever in the CAP has been secured. We should not throw that achievement away lightly.

Shortly, the Government will announce how subsidy support to farmers will be paid in 2005. I hope that we will break with the past on that, in the same way that we have changed the CAP. I know that the Minister and his colleagues will listen to claims for historical payments, but I hope that they will recognise that a hybrid approach based on area payments will have better consequences for the environment. There may be difficulties in terms of management, but I advise my hon. Friend the Minister, firmly, that we should not throw away the gains that CAP reform offers.

The reform of the CAP would allow us, in the longer term, to pay landowners to let their land be flooded Lots of other possibilities would open up as well, especially when it comes to protecting the environment. Diffuse pollution is a real problem. Farmers will not want me to me say so, but the farming communities are the biggest polluters at present. We must link CAP reform—which deals with how farmers are paid—with how we inspect and regulate the farm sector. It might be possible to adopt a single, whole-farm approach, and in that way bring about changes in behaviour.

In my speech, I have considered various problems and suggested partial solutions. As other hon. Members have noted, to achieve big gains in the environment we must work from the local level to the national level, and from there to the international level. We must recognise that the changes will not happen overnight: these are long-term issues, requiring policies that are sustainable in their own right. As far as possible, policies need the all-party support that will mean that they can be delivered, not in one Parliament but over several decades. As many speakers noted, it will become increasingly vital to take seriously environmental concerns—such as enhancing the environment and improving the landscape—and make them the cornerstone of Government policy in the future.

3.16 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

In my capacity as an Opposition Whip, I confess that I was slightly disappointed with the Liberal Democrat motion for this debate, as I could find nothing in it to disagree with.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) made a thoughtful introduction. Not long ago, the Minister was present for a very interesting debate in Westminster Hall on climate change. I shall not recycle the speech that I made then, even though the same people tend to take part in these discussions and there is a great temptation to use renewable sources of information.

There is a danger that some hon. Members will be seen to be banging on about this subject continuously, but it is so important that there is sometimes no other way to deal with it. My own interest is biodiversity. Many people wonder whether that is really so important, given all the other things that are going on, but I advise them to think of the miner's canary: if animal species are—almost literally—dropping off their perches, should we not worry about what might happen to us?

There has been an interesting discussion about forests this afternoon. I spent most of my life before I entered the House selling furniture, so I am acutely aware of timber, and of the great joy that wood products give many people. However, I also know how difficult it is for our manufacturers to find timber that comes from sustainable sources. Nearly all British manufacturers want that, but my experience was that they did not always get it, despite the assurances that they were given. The suspicion was that some of the money put aside for replanting in fact ended up in a Swiss bank account.

As many hon. Members know, I have a special interest in the marine environment. I urge the Government again to see what can be done about implementing legislation that will give the marine environment real protection. I have gone through the agonies and ecstasies that a private Member's Bill involves. In my case, the ecstasy came first: the agony followed when my Bill foundered on the rocks of the House of Lords. I am aware of how complicated marine environment legislation is. The marine environment is not like the land and the legal competences seem extremely complex; we do not have the same protection for something that is just as valuable as the terrestrial environment. I hope that the Government, my party and the Liberal Democrats will work together to try to implement such protection—I know that the Minister takes a keen interest in the matter. It is not always easy to raise a priority with a Government who have many other priorities in mind—although I may not agree with many of their priorities and certainly not with the way they carry them out—but environmental matters are important.

I have a particular interest in genetically modified crops. During my first year as a Member, the hon. Members for Lewes and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) and I took the Government to court over genetically modified seeds. I was a bit concerned that I might have to foot the bill. The action was about the process and the Government acknowledged that they might have cut a corner, so things were put right.

The results of the Government's farm-scale evaluations of three genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant crops—spring oilseed rape, beet and maize—were published in January. Each crop had been genetically modified to allow it to withstand a particular broad-spectrum herbicide. The trials examined the effect of growing GM varieties of those crops on the abundance and diversity of wildlife, and compared those effects with what happened in conventionally grown fields of the same crop types. The results for the beet and spring oilseed rape showed significant environmental harm and I believe, with many others, that the Government should thus rule out growing them commercially.

The maize results were better for many types of wildlife than those for conventional maize; there were more weeds and weed seeds in and around the crops and more insects at certain times of the year. However, those results cannot be attributed directly to the way in which the maize was genetically modified; rather, they were a consequence of crop management, as the broad-

spectrum herbicide applied to the GM maize was less effective in reducing weeds than the herbicide regime used on conventional maize.

In many of the conventional trials, the herbicide used was atrazine—a chemical that has recently been banned in the European Union, owing to its damaging environmental profile. Given those uncertainties, I hope that the Minister will agree that it would be premature to approve commercial growing of GM maize before the Government have tested the crop's performance by comparison with conventional maize that has not been treated with atrazine. The need for caution is paramount, because the public have not yet been persuaded. If GM technology is to be used, it is vital that the public are behind it, and we are a long way from that.

We have already heard about aviation, and tomorrow there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on the aviation White Paper during which I hope to catch the eye of the Chair, but I want to touch briefly on the subject. Those of us who live near Heathrow already know about air pollution and the effects of aviation on our environment. There is a dichotomy, however, because aviation is part of our local economy. Many Members have alluded to similar problems. We can all talk about what we want to happen, but we do not want it to impinge on our own lives.

The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) said that he might get into trouble for talking about the possibility of charging higher air fares. My constituency may be a bit more marginal than his, but as I have already said in this place, we have to accept that cheap air travel is not a human right. We might want it, but not at the cost of our environment. I was interested to hear his idea for a travel card; I appreciate the point that he was making.

There are ongoing problems at Heathrow and we need to discuss them. Most of our discussions have been with the Department for Transport, but DEFRA has an important role, too, as it will—I hope—monitor the results of air pollution around Heathrow. If the levels cannot be reduced, the third runway will not go ahead. I am not sure what existing data we can use for comparison to determine whether pollution is going down, nor am I sure how independent the results will be.

I regret to tell the House that as I get older not only do I get grumpier, but also more cynical; I may be unwise to go down this path, but sometimes I think that results are determined by the requirements of certain Departments rather than by the facts—one can get what one wants if one asks the right questions.

I have every sympathy for DEFRA and for some of its excellent personnel because they face problems of interdepartmental conflict. During the course of my private Member's Bill, soundings were taken by various Departments—for example, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury, which of course always rears its head. I understand that, but we must take serious note of the fact that the environment is not a luxury; we must take it very seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) wisely pointed out the danger that care and concern for the environment can be seen as "middle England"—although perhaps that reflects her constituency, as it is in the middle of England. Many people think that they have greater concerns in their everyday life than worrying about which products to use and whether they are environmentally friendly and so forth. If that is true in this country, we can understand why certain other countries, with incredible problems, feel that environmental concerns are not for them. However, we cannot take such things lightly.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con)

My hon. Friend always speaks well on these subjects. Does he agree that part of the problem that has dogged environmental policy for generations is that the Treasury seems to think that the environment is part of the economy, whereas of course the reverse is true?

Mr. Randall

My hon. Friend puts the point admirably, as befits his position as Chairman of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit. I congratulate him and the other members of the Committee on doing such an excellent job.

I have lived in Uxbridge all my life—I still regard it as Middlesex. I can still walk out of my house and go bird-watching, but I have noticed, despite the comments of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), that the number of species is declining. It may be part of the grumpy old man syndrome, but the environment around me is changing, and not for the better. My constituents, my family and I feel the effects of environmental pollution on our health every day. We should not take that lightly.

We all experience contradictions in our lives. Before I became a Member of this place and could speak on these matters, I used to walk to work, but now I travel to work by public transport and, yes, I drive here on many occasions because the public transport system is so bad. However, I shall try to make an effort, because of what I want for my children.

The environment is a wide subject—it can cover everything from litter to climate change, as has been pointed out. We must take it seriously and I hope that the debate has awakened some people's thoughts on the subject.

3.30 pm
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

It is clear from the contributions that have been made that this subject does not arouse enormous ideological division and passion, and there has been an extraordinary degree of consensus. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was generous in his introduction and acknowledged the many things that the Government are doing with which we agree. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), the Conservative spokesman, used language such as "common cause" and "credit where it is due", and any doubts that she might have had that she was speaking off message were assuaged by the contribution from the Conservative Whips Office. The Minister reciprocated by acknowledging Government failings in areas such as waste management in an open-minded spirit. In a particularly thoughtful contribution, the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) discussed the need for a balanced approach.

People on the free market, libertarian right would regard the debate as wet and woolly, and people at the deep green end of the argument would regard all of us as hopeless consumerists, but none the less there is a fair degree of agreement on the way we should head. However, this is not an Adjournment debate; it is an Opposition day debate, and perhaps I can focus on some of the areas of criticism.

My criticisms are not of strategy, objectives or philosophy; they are criticisms of effectiveness. I shall quote the previous Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who spoke openly about his position not with the freedom of the Back Benches, but shortly before he resigned from the Government. He said that he felt like a lone voice in the wilderness and that the Government had failed to grasp the magnitude of the environmental challenge. His point was that there was a lack of leadership on environmental issues. When we discuss that lack of leadership, we are talking about the top of the Government.

A few weeks ago, there was a revealing exchange in the Liaison Committee where the Prime Minister was being particularly articulate and effective. However, his exchange with the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) contained a weak passage about what is being done at No. 10 Downing street about environmental strategy. He was asked, "Are you taking an active role?" He replied, "Yes, in two ways. First of all in the discussions that we have had about so-called liveability at local level, and then most particularly in relation to issues to do with sustainable development at an international level like Kyoto." On the first part of the reply, perhaps I am not fully in the loop on environmental jargon these days. Can the Minister explain what the Prime Minister means when he discusses his role in relation to "liveability at a local level"? What does that mean and what is No. 10 Downing street doing?

The other issue is more substantial. Labour Members were correct to say that the Government have adopted ambitious targets in relation to Kyoto. We have accepted a commitment to a big reduction, and although it is not quite as big as that accepted by countries such as Germany, we have accepted it and a positive lead is being taken.

I confess to not having been a great fan of many things that Baroness Thatcher did, but in the late 1980s I worked on one of the first big intergovernmental reports on climate change, which was submitted to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1989 when concern first surfaced about sea level rises. The report was pitched at Mrs. Thatcher—as she then was—in particular. Although she may have had a blind spot over many other issues such as renewable energy and recycling, she was at least aware of the importance of global environmental problems. She took a leadership role on issues such as the Montreal protocol and even persuaded Ronald Reagan, whose environmentalism was best captured in his campaigning slogan about trees being the world's biggest source of pollution, to sign up to it.

That is in marked contrast to the current Prime Minister, who has staked much of his reputation on his close relationship with the President of the United States. Despite the advocacy and speeches in Congress, however, he has been totally unable to make any serious inroads into US policy on Kyoto.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

I am flattered that the hon. Gentleman should refer to my brief exchange with the Prime Minister. When I asked that question, it occurred to me that it was the only moment in the lengthy exchange between the Prime Minister and the Liaison Committee where his eyes went blank and his body language went pear-shaped. The hon. Gentleman is on to the right issue.

Dr. Cable

That is first-hand evidence to support my suggestion.

One very important Department, the Treasury, provides leadership and interest in environmental policy, and I am speaking in this debate because I shadow the Treasury. A lot of thought is going on, and the pre-Budget report contains 20 densely argued pages on the matter, and last year there were 100 pages. Many relevant tax instruments and economic instruments are going through the system such as the climate change levy, taxation on landfill and aggregates and the measures on biofuels, which we have discussed today. Innovation is taking place in those areas and, as a broad development in principle, I favour the introduction of economic instruments into environmental policies, which is positive from many different points of view. The introduction of economic instruments sends clear market signals to producers and consumers, it reconciles the environment and the market economy and it encourages the quantification of the economic costs of environmental damage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes has recently tabled a series of parliamentary questions to which he has received helpful answers from Ministers. The answers suggest that in major areas such as road congestion and nuclear liabilities the aggregate economic cost of current policy is some £65 billion a year, and that is a superficial measure. My hon. Friend's questions help us in another way because they quantify the costs of regulation, which is desirable in itself. The regulation of the environment is, as with other matters, not desirable in itself, and there are often considerable costs associated with it.

David Taylor

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that under the removal of hazardous substances regulations, lead must be removed by July 2006, but there has been relatively little negotiation and discussion with the electronics industry, which is a major lead user in, for example, solder? Although the Government have a good environmental track record, they should take on board at a much earlier stage the concerns that industries put to them—the aggregate industry and the restriction of hazardous substances directive are two examples of that.

Dr. Cable

That is absolutely true. One of the advantages of economic instruments is that they enforce discipline in thinking about the problems and costs of regulation. Before I entered this House, I worked in the energy industry and saw at first hand the billions of pounds that often had to be spent across Europe in order to comply with requirements that had minimal environmental benefit. One of the advantages of using economic instruments is that they address that problem.

Having said flattering things about the Treasury and its approach, there is the major criticism about the basic lack of coherence at the heart of its actions. I make that point as the Opposition spokesman, but the all-party Environmental Audit Committee—I think that this occurred before the hon. Member for East Surrey became its Chairman—produced a critique of the Treasury paper "Tax and the environment: using economic instruments", which is worth quoting. It said: This document, for all its elegance as an economic and policy development treatise, certainly does not amount to an environmental tax and fiscal strategy. It is unclear to us in what way either the review or this document will help the Treasury develop its approach and implement its strategic objective of shifting the burden of tax from goods to bads. There are some specific areas in which that lack of coherence is all too apparent. I shall give several examples that came up in the debate.

The first example is climate change. It has been pointed out already that this country will pioneer a traded permits system, which is positive and I welcome it. However, it will be difficult, because there is no liquid market in permits at present. It will also be difficult to trade across national frontiers, and the scheme will not cover most small and medium-sized businesses. The major instrument at present is taxation, and the Government had the option of introducing a sensible, across-the-board system of carbon taxation that would tax carbon according to its role as a natural raw material. The carbon tax system could have been applied upstream on primary fuels, with minimal administrative costs, and would have spread throughout the economy. The Government did not take that route because they wanted to exempt households and the transport sector. As a consequence, the climate change levy fell almost exclusively on manufacturing industry, at a time when it was already suffering from all the problems of an over-valued exchange rate. The Government then exempted much of the most energy-intensive manufacturing and replaced taxation with voluntary negotiated agreements. That produced a system that is horrendously complicated. Even the most committed environmentalists in the green movement now want that system to be phased out and replaced by a proper system of carbon taxation. That is a good example of adopting the right principle—using a market instrument—but introducing a tax system that was over-complicated, discriminatory and ineffective.

A second example was mentioned by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), and that is the imbalance between the taxation of motorists and of aviation. At the moment, motorists face extremely high rates of taxation—in theory for good environmental reasons, but in practice driven largely by revenue considerations. The Government manage demand for road use through queueing and congestion. That is in marked contrast to their approach to aviation, which is lightly taxed and enjoys a permissive approach to airport expansion, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—a fellow Heathrow neighbour—reminded us.

That problem can be dealt with in several ways. The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) advocated the introduction of aviation fuel taxation, and I support that in principle, although it would be difficult in practice because of treaty obligations. There are other ways to deal with the problem at national level. We have a system of regulation of airports—the so- called single till system—which means that we have ludicrously low landing charges. We have a system of allocating permits for landing, in which they are handed out free of charge on what is called the grandfathering principle. There is no reflection of the scarcity or congestion involved. Both of those systems could be reformed at a national level if we were more aware of the environmental costs.

The Chancellor has introduced some aircraft taxation—the passenger fuel duty—but it is only obliquely related to environmental costs, because it relates to the number of passengers, not the number of flights. Again, the broad principle of using economic instruments is understood and accepted by the Government, but it is applied incoherently.

The third example is in energy policy. Other hon. Members mentioned broad agreement with many aspects of the Government's energy policy. When I was my party's spokesman on the Department of Trade and Industry, I spoke on several occasions about the energy White Paper and I broadly agree with the Government's approach. Many of us would sign up to the renewable energy obligation and the commitment to carbon reduction, but the incoherence arises—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) specifically highlighted—between the role of the DTI in energy production and the role of DEFRA in energy conservation. One of the issues that the Minister must explain is why his Department has been so weak in its dealings with the rest of Government on the key issue of the Warm Front programme. That is a small area of Government expenditure, but it is important, because it is one of the ways in which the Government can influence energy conservation and simultaneously address issues of fuel poverty—at relatively low cost. The cut of a third in the Warm Front programme sent a powerful signal that the Government were either uninterested in energy conservation or that DEFRA did not have the clout to deliver it.

The last example that I want to give is another issue that I dealt with extensively as the shadow DTI spokesman: the Government's approach to car recycling, where we have a European obligation. Again, the broad policy is right and I do not think that any of us have any problems with that. However, it seems that the Government were effectively nobbled by the motor car industry.

The Government were told that they could not introduce, as they should have done, a sensible environmental tax on the sale of the first car, but that the levy to pay for recycling had to be borne by the last owner. As we know, the last owner is generally at the bottom end of the income scale. Estimates of the recycling cost vary from £40 to £100, so there is a strong incentive for people simply to dump their vehicles, and the evidence that that is happening is already emerging. The total number of abandoned cars was, I think, 295,000 in 2001–02. It rose by 27 per cent. last year. The figure is growing rapidly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes was unduly flattering when he said that the disposal cost was £40 million; it is probably 10 times that magnitude, for the simple reason that many vehicles are torched and then the fire brigade and the police have to be involved, at a cost of several thousand pounds per vehicle. There are enormous associated costs, and the problem has been aggravated by had policy produced by tension between different Government Departments and the wrong side winning the argument.

There is a lack of coherence. Where we ultimately come together—and the intervention about the relationship between the environment and the economy was helpful—is in accepting that there is a very sensible principle underlying policy: the whole idea of sustainable development. I worked with Mrs. Brundtland when the original report on sustainable development went to the United Nations Secretary-General and so brought the idea into common use. There was then—and I think it has been accepted since—a powerful insight that, contrary to what many environmentalists had been claiming, there is no fundamental conflict between economic progress and the environment. Indeed, economic progress is vital to remove poverty, which in itself is the major source of environmental pollution. I think that we can all sign up to that.

For that concept to become really embedded in government, it must be taken seriously and given priority. Our main criticism of the Government is that although the words are right, the actions are often ineffective.

3.47 pm
Mr. Morley

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the debate.

Some very interesting contributions have been made—by the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker), for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), and by my hon. Friends the Members for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) and for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping).

I can agree with much that was said, but some of the comments, especially those of the hon. Member for Meriden, were a little ungenerous about the role that DEFRA has established and is establishing, bearing in mind the fact that it was formed in 2001 and has come a long way since. The progress that we have made must be recognised.

In 1997, the waste recycling rate was 7 per cent. We are confident that we shall hit our target of 17 per cent. in 2003–04, and we are on target for 25 per cent. in 2005–06. It is a very challenging target, but we are moving forward. In 1997, the percentage of energy from renewables was 0.7 per cent. We are aiming for 10 per cent. and are extending the target to 15 per cent. This is considerable progress.

The hon. Member for Lewes quoted Jonathan Porritt. Jonathan Porritt's role in government is to be outspoken; he is there to push us on, and he is very good at it. However, he said of the 2002 Budget that it brought about a series of positive sustainability measures. They include such matters as excluding combined heat and power from the climate change levy, and abolishing stamp duty on the most deprived neighbourhoods. We are dealing with an issue of environmental quality of life. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was talking about when he mentioned liveability. It is a very important issue, and I shall return to it. There was also a commitment to look at other matters, such as road wear charges based on distances covered by lorries.

A number of hon. Members mentioned airport expansion and other aspects of aviation. The hon. Member for Meriden said that she had had a meeting at Stansted. On that basis, I take it that she does not support the proposal for another runway at Stansted.

Mrs. Spelman

I should make it perfectly clear that, as an environment spokesman, I was not performing the role of transport spokesman; I was specifically talking about the lack of an environmental impact assessment at any airport in the context of the very prescriptive proposals in the White Paper.

Mr. Morley

That is very helpful—we understand that the Conservatives are in favour of a second runway at Stansted—but what the hon. Lady says about environmental assessment is not correct. Let us be absolutely clear that detailed environmental assessments must be conducted as part of the evaluation of extra runways. The third runway at Heathrow cannot go ahead until the airport reduces NOx levels, which will, of course, take a great deal of time and investment.

David Taylor

Does the Minister agree that environmental impact assessments must consider not just extra or longer runways, but significant expansion in use, such as that at East Midlands airport, where stringent noise controls are what the Secretary of State for Transport referred to and what are desperately needed?

Mr. Morley

That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend makes the point very well that all those issues will be examined, and I fully agree that they need to be examined.

The hon. Member for Meriden mentioned pioneering good environmental practice. I believe that the Government have pioneered good environmental practice, especially in carbon trading—the UK is the only country in Europe to introduce its own scheme—and in the other work that we have done. I gently remind her that we inherited a number of directives that had never been fully implemented—for example, the bathing water directive, the nitrates directive and the freshwater fish directive. Indeed, some parts of the waste directive were overdue. Those issues have had to be addressed, and we are applying the various environmental directives properly and effectively, as they should be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell rightly referred to consumption and production. Again, the Government have produced a strategy on consumption and production—another pioneering approach that is important for sustainability. He talked about the need to change attitudes towards the approach to sustainability at every level. He is right about that. He also talked about carbon management and renewable energy sources. I am aware of his interest in those issues, and he has some very interesting ideas. I assure him that his views are always welcome, and my door is open to him if he wants to come and talk about them.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove talked about structures. Indeed, there is always an argument about the structures of government, but I served in the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food before it became DEFRA and I have seen the structures change for the better. People in government can always argue about where Departments should go, but the problem is that every issue cannot be dealt with in one Department. Of course people can say that it is good to put planning with the environment or to put transport with the environment—that is all very true—but a balance must be struck about what is effective and what works.

I believe that the DEFRA structure is very effective. I remind the hon. Member for Meriden that DEFRA brought in Lord Haskins to look at how our agencies work. He concluded not that DEFRA was in any way ineffective but that there should be a clearer split between policy and delivery, as well as more devolution to the regions in relation to delivery, and we do not disagree. Indeed, we will respond to his recommendations in due course.

Mr. Stunell

I appreciate the line of argument that the Minister is developing, but will he say something about improving co-operation between Departments so that they deliver a coherent objective in the way that he describes?

Mr. Morley

Absolutely. I mentioned in my opening remarks the joint approach taken by Departments and co-operation across Government structures, such as the green Ministers structure—the ENV committee—but the fact is that there is common working in areas of common interest. That has been established; it is being developed, and it is becoming more effective all the time. DEFRA is establishing itself as an effective Department, both nationally and internationally. There is a lot of interest in DEFRA internationally. A lot of people come to see its structures and how it works. There is a lot of experience in DEFRA—able civil servants, able officials and excellent scientists. People have been attracted to work for DEFRA and have joined in recent years because of the new structures, and we should be proud of the expertise in the Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood was right to talk about the need to address the whole issue of renewables—not only wind, but other important renewables. He mentioned biofuels, in which I know he has an interest. Biofuel production in this country has had an enormous boost under the policies that have been put in place. The last figures that I saw showed that some 2 million litres of biodiesel are produced a week, which is not only due to the 20p reduction in duty, but because it can be grown on set-aside land, which attracts specific subsidies. There is a whole package of measures to encourage the production of biofuels. He was also right to say that there is potential for a range of non-food industrial crops in addition to biofuels. The Government are providing a great deal of support for the research and development of crops such as hemp for clothing and vehicle parts, and bio-oils. There is a great deal of potential for non-food crops, so we are giving that the attention that it deserves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood mentioned water. I know that he has a particular interest in sewers, which we talked about during our useful meeting earlier today. There is no doubt that water will be a major political issue not only in this country, but internationally. Although our country has always been considered to be not exactly short of water, water resource management will become more pressing and something that we cannot take for granted. We must recognise that the changes in our weather patterns, with milder and wetter winters and hotter and drier summers, will have a range of implications. Water resource management at every level—drinking water management, and flood and coastal management—will be important.

Norman Baker

Is the Minister worried that the Deputy Prime Minister is concentrating housing development in the south-east, which is where water resources are under the most stress?

Mr. Morley

That gives us an example of the integration about which hon. Members talk. Water management and supply is one of the strategies for housing development in the south-east. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no development unless the water supply is secure because that must feature in planning from its initial stages. We are actually going further than that. I mentioned new developments in which one has the opportunity to build in sustainability at the beginning. We are setting a target for new houses in the Thames gateway to reduce water use by 30 per cent., which can be achieved through modest investment in water-saving devices. In fact, we can go further with technology depending on what people are prepared to pay.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge, who has a long-standing interest in the environment and biodiversity, especially, made several important and sensible points. I agree that sometimes, especially on the international stage, people talk about the environment and biodiversity as two separate issues. That is a mistake, because biodiversity is certainly an environmental indicator. Where there is strong and healthy biodiversity, there is a strong and healthy environment—the two go hand in glove. He will be aware that the Government use several important biodiversity indicators as part of our strategy to measure sustainability and quality of life.

The hon. Member for Twickenham mentioned leadership. We have put in place a range of measures on liveability. We are addressing fly-tipping, urban life and the quality of life. Our tough targets on climate change are important and require political leadership from the very top. Otherwise, we would not be able to set targets. That emphasises the Prime Minister's commitment to measures such as the landfill escalator, climate change levy and aggregate levy. The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the financial instruments from the Treasury, which come from the top in terms of the lead given by the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Cabinet in the priority given to the World Trade Organisation, reform of the CAP and the emphasis on private and commercial sustainable production and consumption.

The hon. Gentleman was wrong in respect of end-of-life vehicles. We have reached agreement that they will be the responsibility of the makers of the marques. That scheme will be put in place, along with other directives demonstrating the Government's commitments to sustainability—many of which are admired internationally, most of which are effective and others of which have still to be developed. But no one should doubt the commitment at every level of the Government, right to the top.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 183, Noes 306.

Division No. 50] [4:00 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Fox, Dr. Liam
Allan, Richard Francois, Mark
Ancram, rh Michael Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Arbuthnot, rh James Garnier, Edward
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Bacon, Richard Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Baker, Norman Gidley, Sandra
Baldry, Tony Goodman, Paul
Barker, Gregory Gray, James (N Wilts)
Baron, John (Billericay) Grayling, Chris
Barrett, John Green, Damian (Ashford)
Beith, rh A. J. Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Bellingham, Henry Grieve, Dominic
Bercow, John Gummer, rh John
Beresford, Sir Paul Hague, rh William
Boswell, Tim Hammond, Philip
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hancock, Mike
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Hawkins, Nick
Browning, Mrs Angela Hayes, John (S Holland)
Bruce, Malcolm Heald, Oliver
Burnett, John Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Burnside, David Hendry, Charles
Burt, Alistair Hogg, rh Douglas
Butterfill, Sir John Horam, John (Orpington)
Cable, Dr. Vincent Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Calton, Mrs Patsy Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y) Jack, rh Michael
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Carmichael, Alistair Keetch, Paul
Cash, William Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Chope, Christopher Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Clappison, James Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Collins, Tim Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Conway, Derek Lamb, Norman
Cormack, Sir Patrick Laws, David (Yeovil)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Leigh, Edward
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford) Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden) Lilley, rh Peter
Llwyd, Elfyn
Djanogly, Jonathan Loughton, Tim
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Dorrell, rh Stephen McIntosh, Miss Anne
Doughty, Sue Mackay, rh Andrew
Duncan, Alan (Rutland) Maclean, rh David
Duncan, Peter (Galloway) McLoughlin, Patrick
Duncan Smith, rh lain Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Evans, Nigel
Ewing, Annabelle Maude, rh Francis
Fabricant, Michael Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster) May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Flight, Howard Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric Moss, Malcolm
Foster, Don (Bath) Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Oaten, Mark (Winchester) Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Syms, Robert
Öpik. Lembit Tapsell, Sir Peter
Osborne, George (Tatton) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Page, Richard Taylor, John (Solihull)
Paice, James Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pickles, Eric Taylor, Sir Teddy
Portillo, rh Michael Teather, Sarah
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Prisk, Mark (Hertford) Tredinnick, David
Randall, John Trend, Michael
Redwood, rh John Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Rendel, David Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Robathan, Andrew Tyrie, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Viggers, Peter
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent) Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson. Angela
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford) Weir, Michael
Rosindell, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wiggin, Bill
Salmond, Alex Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Sanders Adrian Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Selous, Andrew Willis, Phil
Shepherd, Richard Wilshire, David
Simmonds, Mark Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk) Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Wishart, Pete
Spicer, Sir Michael Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Young, rh Sir George
Spring, Richard Younger-Ross, Richard
Streeter, Gary Tellers for the Ayes:

Sir Robert Smith and

Mr. Alan Reid

Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Abbott, Ms Diane Burnham, Andy
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Byers, rh Stephen
Ainger, Nick Caborn, rh Richard
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Cairns, David
Alexander, Douglas Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Allen, Graham Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Atherton, Ms Candy Casale, Roger
Atkins, Charlotte Caton, Martin
Baird, Vera Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Banks, Tony Challen, Colin
Barron, rh Kevin Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Battle, John Chaytor, David
Bayley, Hugh Clapham, Michael
Beard, Nigel Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Beckett, rh Margaret Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Begg, Miss Anne
Bennett, Andrew Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold Clelland, David
Betts, Clive Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Blears, Ms Hazel Coaker, Vernon
Blizzard, Bob Coffey, Ms Ann
Borrow, David Cohen, Harry
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Coleman, Iain
Bradshaw, Ben Connarty, Michael
Brennan, Kevin Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Corston, Jean
Browne, Desmond Cousins, Jim
Bryant, Chris Cranston, Ross
Buck, Ms Karen Cruddas, Jon
Burden, Richard Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Burgon, Colin Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John Irranca-Davies, Huw
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland) Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Jamieson, David
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jenkins, Brian
Dalyell, Tam Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Darling, rh Alistair Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
David, Wayne Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Kaufman, rh Gerald
Dean, Mrs Janet Keeble, Ms Sally
Denham, rh John Keen. Alan (Feltham)
Dhanda, Parmjit Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Dismore, Andrew Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood) Kemp, Fraser
Dobson, rh Frank Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Donohoe, Brian H. Kidney, David
Doran, Frank Kilfoyle, Peter
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) King, Andy (Rugby)
Drew, David (Stroud) Knight Jim (S Dorset)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Edwards, Huw Lammy, David
Efford, Clive Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Lazarowicz, Mark
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Lepper, David
Farrelly, Paul Leslie, Christopher
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Linton, Martin
Flint, Caroline Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flynn, Paul (Newport W) Love, Andrew
Follett, Barbara Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Foster, rh Derek Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Foster, Michael (Worcester) McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye) McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Chris
Francis, Dr. Hywel McCartney, rh Ian
Gardiner, Barry MacDonald, Calum
Gerrard, Neil McDonnell, John
Gibson, Dr. Ian MacDougall, John
Gilroy, Linda McFall, John
Godsiff, Roger McGuire, Mrs Anne
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McKechin, Ann
Grogan, John McKenna, Rosemary
Hain, rh Peter McNamara, Kevin
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McNulty, Tony
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mactaggart, Fiona
Hamilton. David (Midlothian) McWalter, Tony
Hanson, David Mahmood, Khalid
Harman, rh Ms Harriet Mahon, Mrs Alice
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Mandelson, rh Peter
Healey, John Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hendrick, Mark Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hepburn, Stephen Martlew, Eric
Hermon, Lady Merron, Gillian
Hesford, Stephen Michael, rh Alun
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia Miliband, David
Heyes, David Miller, Andrew
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Mole, Chris
Hope, Phil (Corby) Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Hopkins, Kelvin Morley, Elliot
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E) Morris, rh Estelle
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E) Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Hoyle, Lindsay Mullin, Chris
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Munn, Ms Meg
Hurst, Alan (Braintree) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Iddon, Dr. Brian Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Ingram, rh Adam Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
O'Neill, Martin Soley, Clive
Owen, Albert Steinberg, Gerry
Palmer, Dr. Nick Stevenson, George
Pearson, Ian Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pickthall, Colin Stinchcombe, Paul
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Stoate, Dr. Howard
Plaskitt, James Stringer, Graham
Pollard, Kerry Stuart, Ms Gisela
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Prosser, Gwyn Timms, Stephen
Purchase, Ken Tipping, Paddy
Purnell, James Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Quinn, Lawrie Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N) Trickett, Jon
Raynsford rh, Nick Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Reed Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill) Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg Derek (Halton)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW) Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Walley, Ms Joan
Roche, Mrs Barbara Ward, Claire
Rooney, Terry Wareing, Robert N.
Roy, Frank (Motherwell) Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Ruane, Chris Watts, David
Ruddock, Joan White, Brian
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N) Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Salter, Martin Wicks, Malcolm
Sarwar, Mohammad Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Savidge, Malcolm Wills, Michael
Sawford, Phil Wilson, Brian
Sedgemore, Brian Winnick, David
Shaw, Jonathan Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim Worthington, Tony
Shipley, Ms Debra Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Short, rh Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Skinner, Dennis Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Tellers for the Noes:

Margaret Moran and

Mr. John Heppell

Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House applauds the leadership and commitment on the environment shown by the Government domestically and globally; welcomes the UK's climate change programme which has already put the UK on track to overshoot its Kyoto target of a 12.5 per cent. cut in 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012; commends the introduction in the UK of the world's first economy-wide emissions trading scheme; further welcomes the long-term improvement in air quality and steps to improve local environmental quality generally; notes that river and bathing water quality is the highest on record; congratulates the Government on achieving a household recycling rate of 15 per cent. in 2002–03 and being on track for 17 per cent. for 2003–04; further congratulates the Government for playing a key role in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), increasing protection for a number of endangered flora and fauna; recognises that there is still much to do to promote sustainability at all levels; and calls upon the Government to continue to put environmental protection, locally, nationally and globally at the heart of its policies.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Are you aware that an hon. Member said today that he had been gagged by Government Whips, who removed him from the Standing Committee that is considering the Higher Education Bill? As the defender of Back-Bench rights, do you share my view that it is scandalous that because the hon. Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) refused to give an undertaking about the way in which he would vote in Committee, he has been denied the chance to explain why he broke his election promises through voting for Second Reading?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

I remind hon. Members that last week Mr. Deputy Speaker said that "Erskine May" makes it clear that the Speaker cannot interfere in the work of the Committee of Selection, which is responsible for nominations to the Standing Committee. I can add nothing further to that ruling.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Is it on the same point.

Mr. Mitchell

It is on a related point.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I have already ruled on that and there is nothing further that the occupant of the Chair can add.