Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now come to the debate on climate change. I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I beg to move,
That this House endorses the principle of a cross-party consensus on carbon reduction.
The motion was tabled by my hon. Friends and myself, as well as by Liberal Democrat Members.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): The Minister has been rather hard on the Opposition for failing to come up with a practical policy proposal about which the House could form a consensus tonight. He is being very unfair on my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). None the less, I am going to provide a single policy initiative, which I am sure will meet universal approval among Labour Members and my hon. Friends. It would save money for people on low incomes, cut pointless bureaucracy, reduce the burdens on local councils and, of course, reduce carbon emissions, and in doing so, supply not just hot air but hot water and, indeed, central heating.
We all know that one of the major causes of CO 2 in the atmosphere is household emissions – far bigger than vehicle emissions – and 75 per cent. of those emissions comes from heating and boilers. We now come to a peculiarity, and I want to use the debate to draw it to the Minister’s attention in the hope that he can clear it up tonight. It would be a wonderful thing if he did so. He might like to come with me to the lovely village of Sonning Common – one of the largest villages in south Oxfordshire – and if he would be so kind as to come, he would see a large estate full of semi-detached houses built in the 1960s, with an attractive array of south-facing roofs. Mrs. Ann Anley, who lives in one of those houses, has written to me to explain that she has a plan, which I am sure that the Minister and, indeed, all hon. Members would support.
For an outlay of £3,000, Mrs. Anley can add to her roof a wonderful panel by which she can heat her water. It is a photovoltaic pump. I do not know the exact technical details. The Ministers is nodding sagely; he knows of what I am about to speak. It is a wonderful thing. She assures me – I have no reason to doubt her, since I have taken the trouble to look up her plans on the internet – that she can reduce her carbon emissions by half a tonne of CO 2 a year and that she can supply up to 70 per cent. of her hot water needs in doing so. It is a good thing that the installation is subsidised by the Government – the Minister is nodding again – to the tune of £400. We all support that. The kicker is that she has to get planning permission. I refer back to the very prescient words of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, who pointed to the absurdity of having to get planning permission to install a small windmill on a roof.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): On Friday 11 November, time ran out for the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill precisely because of the determination of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), ably aided and abetted by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), who did their utmost to talk out that Bill. I should like to ask the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) if he can explain that sabotage by two Conservative Members.
Mr. Johnson: Henley.
Nia Griffith: To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I meant the right hon. Member for West Dorset, because he was present for the debate and I assume that he will sum up. Am I right, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady is seeking to catch my eye later. Perhaps she has said enough for the time being, and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) can respond to that.
Mr. Johnson: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. It is precisely to address the point that she makes that I seek to build a cross-party consensus tonight on the very issue in hand. The problem is that this good lady – indeed, anyone who wants to do so – must get planning permission.
Mr. Morley rose –
Mr. Johnson: I think that the Minister is about to intervene to say that the need for planning permission will be revoked on these questions.
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is on to a serious point. I understand that rooftop installations do not necessarily need planning permission, but there is confusion among local authorities about whether or not they do. I am glad to say that my hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry have recently launched a consultation exercise on micro-generation that seeks to look at barriers to those devices. Part of that is intended to address the planning system to ensure that there are no anomalies.
Mr. Johnson: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention because we are inching towards progress. I am tempted to say that he agrees with me, but I want to ram home the case a little further. To convince him, may I point out that the device that Mrs. Anley seeks to install is only 2 ft by 4 ft and only 8 cm thick, but to get planning permission, she must pay a non-negotiable flat fee of £135. She must then get an architectural artist to produce drawings of her house, which, as you will readily appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will push her costs well over £200. Everyone in the House will agree that it is complete madness on one hand to subsidise the project to the tune of £400, and on the other hand to force the good lady to spend more than £200.
It is of no disrespect to the beautiful village of Sonning Common to say that not every house in it is an architectural gem beyond price. The estate in question, which I hope the Minister will visit with me, is not yet deemed to be a critical part of our national heritage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has already pointed out, it is absurd that we allow houses throughout the country to sprout great Murdoch excrescences that pump trash into people’s homes. Indeed, one can build the most extraordinary things with no planning permission whatever – I have done so myself – in the form of tree houses, sheds and heaven knows what, yet this single beneficial improvement to the lady’s house is forbidden without planning permission.
What do we do now? We do not content ourselves with the discussion process that the Minister outlined. I hope that he will tell the councils that he rightly says are in doubt what is allowed and what is not allowed. He should use all the plenipotentiary powers in his possession as Minister for whatever he is to indicate – I will read this out for the benefit of those who need to take it down – that class C under statutory instrument No. 418, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, does not apply to solar panels. If councils remain in doubt, I hope that the Minister will use his good offices and all his influence to ensure that they are in doubt no longer.
I have read some of the correspondence from councils, which are receiving more and more applications for solar panels because they are becoming more popular. I think that we can all agree that we should encourage them. The Minister himself said that this is not just a national or international question, but a question of our own individual actions and of taking our own initiative to reduce our carbon emissions. Addressing the matter would be a perfect way in which he could encourage and assist that. I very much hope that I have succeeded in my brief speech in forging the consensus that the Minister sought earlier on a single, practical policy. I look forward to hearing later that he is going to do a little bit more than set up a committee in the DTI to clarify matters, because this needs to be done urgently, and he is the man to do it.
Mr. Meacher: I will, although I hope that it will be a serious intervention compared with the speech that the hon. Gentleman has just made.
Mr. Johnson: I take it that the right hon. Gentleman does not therefore agree that planning permission should be revoked in the case of solar panels. Is he saying that that is a frivolous suggestion? On the point of air travel, I have had the pleasure of meeting him several times at airports at Cagliari most recently. Is he seriously suggesting that people should give up their pleasure of holiday travel?
Mr. Boris Johnson: I cannot think of anything more serious or more practical that this House could do tonight to alleviate the problems of climate change than to get rid of the ludicrous burden of the £135 charge, in addition to the cost of architectural drawings, that falls upon people who want to install solar panels.
Mr. Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I could not agree more. I hope that the Minister responds on behalf of Sonning Common.
Jim Knight: I will not take any more interventions. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) made a memorable contribution. The whole nation is looking forward to his devoting all his time to politics and making similar practical policy proposals from the Opposition Front Bench. I suggest that he should also talk to his local planning authority – I do not know whether it is Conservative – about planning charges and the process through which people have to go to get planning permissions.
Mr. Boris Johnson: Will the Minister give way?
Jim Knight: I am sorry, but I am not taking any more interventions.