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Thames Watermen

36. Mr. Efford: What representations he has received on behalf of Thames watermen regarding unlicensed individuals employed on the Thames. [19431]

Ms Glenda Jackson: I have not received any representations about the use of unlicensed watermen on the Thames. The licensing of watermen on the Thames is a matter for the Port of London authority.

Mr. Efford: I thank my hon. Friend for the answer. Is she aware that Thames watermen undergo a five-year apprenticeship to qualify to pilot boats on the Thames? Does she accept that safety on the Thames should be a central part of any regeneration in that aspect of London? Will she therefore accept that Thames watermen who are licensed and qualified to pilot boats on the Thames and who are currently unemployed have a legitimate argument in asking the Port of London authority to address the fact that unlicensed individuals are taking their work away from them? Will she bear that in mind in any future discussions with the authority?

Ms Jackson: I have no information that the jobs of licensed watermen are being taken away by unlicensed individuals, which I understand would contravene the byelaws that govern the Port of London authority. If my hon. Friend would care to furnish precise details, I shall be happy to examine the position.

Mr. Robathan: I know that the Minister and the Secretary of State are keen to encourage the use of the Thames. Will she therefore resist the plea to perpetuate that most extraordinary closed shop,

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the five-year training scheme, and try to introduce training schemes that mean that people can pilot boats on the Thames safely but much more quickly than by taking part in the five-year training scheme--the old closed shop from old Labour?

Ms Jackson: I find it quite extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should propose an expansion of use of the Thames, be it for pleasure or for transport, without ensuring that those responsible for carrying people on the river are properly trained and that safety standards are in no wise eroded. That is a further demonstration of what the Government have long argued--that the Conservative party had no commitment whatever to education and training to ensure this country's competitive edge in an international market.

Rail Freight

37. Sir Robert Smith: What action he is taking to increase the proportion of freight transported by rail. [19432]

Dr. Strang: We aim to increase the amount of freight carried by rail. We have already taken action to boost the take-up of freight grants and we are working to get a better deal for Railfreight through the channel tunnel.

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The House may like to know that tomorrow I shall be opening a new freight spur to Manchester airport which will mean that the bulk of the materials for the new runway will be carried by rail.

Sir Robert Smith: In trying to encourage more freight on to the railways, is the Minister concerned that brand new class 92 locomotives are lying idle in sidings because they do not have a safety case to travel north of Wembley? What action are the Government taking to try to ensure that that does not persist and that the class 92 locomotives go north of Wembley?

Dr. Strang: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am sure that he is not suggesting, however, that safety is not an overriding priority. In terms of his constituency, the prospects for increased rail freight are most exciting. The distance to the channel tunnel and the investment that is taking place mean that we can look forward to a significant increase in the amount of material that is taken by rail, particularly from northern Scotland.

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Kyoto Summit

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the outcome of the United Nations conference on climate change, which I attended last week in Kyoto, Japan, along with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment.

Man-made climate change is the greatest environmental threat facing the world today. In the United Kingdom, we have suffered record drought for the past two and a half years. This year, the world experienced the highest average temperatures that have ever been recorded. Terrible floods have engulfed central Europe, and droughts and storms have followed this year's El Nino. Forest fires have caused deadly pollution in south-east Asia and Australia. Our polar ice caps are melting, and only this weekend Mexico was hit by freak snowstorms.

Already, our sea levels are rising as ocean temperatures increase and the waters expand. If that continues, some island communities will disappear into the sea. A third of the world's population lives within 40 miles of the coast. Whole swathes of Britain's east coast could fall victim to rising sea levels.

The human race risks playing havoc with the world's weather systems. Unless we act now, we shall be condemning our children to a world of drought and crop failures, rising seas, mass migration and spreading disease. Nature is no respecter of boundaries. This is a global problem demanding a global solution, and the very justification for the Kyoto conference.

The main purpose of the Kyoto conference was for the developed countries to set legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2010. Success was by no means certain. Consensus had to be achieved among 160 different nations, and the conference started with the major players poles apart. The European Union proposed a 15 per cent. cut; Japan a 2.5 per cent. cut; and the United States proposal was for a zero cut.

After long and gruelling negotiations, the protocol was agreed on Thursday morning, and will be open for signature in March. For the first time, developed countries, which account for over half the world's greenhouse gas emissions, will commit themselves to legally binding targets. The agreement will produce a cut of more than 5 per cent. in their emissions below 1990 levels by 2010.

I said before negotiations began that political will would be needed to deliver a successful agreement. The outcome of hard negotiations was that America moved from zero to a cut of 7 per cent.; Japan moved from a cut of 2.5 per cent. to 6 per cent.; and the European Union set the top standard with a cut of 8 per cent., a standard which was adopted by a total of 26 countries. The outcome demonstrated beyond doubt that genuine political will did exist in all those countries, and a political breakthrough was achieved. I have placed in the Library a full copy of the Kyoto protocol, which lists the figures for each country.

In four to five years' time, there will be a chance to review and, if possible, to improve the targets. The targets will cover the six main greenhouse gases, not only carbon

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dioxide. The protocol also provides a number of measures that will help countries to achieve their targets. The measures include the possibility of trading in permits for greenhouse gas emissions; limited allowances for absorption of carbon dioxide by forests, which act as so-called "carbon sinks"; and provision for developed countries to gain credit by helping developing countries curb their emissions.

Fears--genuine fears--were expressed that those provisions might amount to loopholes in the agreement. That is why we, the United Kingdom, proposed the concept of a "window of credibility" for countries to demonstrate their firm commitment to the agreement; and it is why the European Union insisted that clear rules for all the provisions must be developed over the next two years or so.

The conference fully recognised that the developed world must take the lead in curbing global warming. It is now necessary to discuss how developing countries can become more involved in the commitment to that process. That is necessary for long-term success in tackling global warming.

The United Kingdom played a major role in ensuring that Kyoto was successful. I pay tribute to my predecessor as Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), for the part that he played in agreeing the Berlin mandate in 1995, which set the parameters for Kyoto. He was, indeed, a member of the United Kingdom delegation.

The Government have demonstrated at the highest levels their commitment to environmental issues. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister highlighted climate change at the G8 summit in Denver, at the Earth summit in New York, and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has put the environment at the heart of his foreign policy and worked for the successful conclusion at Kyoto. At the request of the Japanese hosts, I myself chaired the meeting of the developed countries that was held last month in Tokyo. In the run-up to Kyoto, I met the leaders of a number of developed and developing countries.

I should like to praise the efforts of the Prime Minister himself, who was in telephone contact with other world leaders to secure the final agreement. I should like also to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who played a key role with our European partners. Finally, the agreement would not have been achieved without the sheer professionalism and commitment of British civil servants. It was a really strong British team effort within a powerful European contribution.

We must turn our minds now to implementation. The United Kingdom will assume the European Union presidency at a crucial stage. Over the next six months, we need to agree how the European target of an 8 per cent. reduction will be shared out among member states; policies and measures at a European level to help achieve those targets; and the European position on rules for the various issues that I mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is today discussing those very matters at the Environment Council in Brussels.

Previously, the European Union had agreed proposals to achieve an average 10 per cent. cut in emissions. There were different contributions from different member states.

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Germany, for example, agreed a minus 25 per cent. target, whereas Portugal agreed a 40 per cent. increase. We need to renegotiate those figures in the light of the outcome of Kyoto. We shall not be certain of the legal target applying to the United Kingdom until that share-out has been determined. We shall, of course, accept our legal obligation as our first priority, but shall still work for our aim of 20 per cent., as set out in our manifesto.

We are already working on plans to achieve our targets, taking into account the outcome of Kyoto. Next year, we shall publish a consultation document. In setting out our programme, we shall consult widely--particularly industry, local authorities and environmental groups, which will all have key roles to play in delivering the reductions. I reassure industry--as the Prime Minister did at our business summit--that we shall not take any unilateral measures that will unduly damage UK competitiveness.

Tackling climate change is about opportunity and gain, not pain. It goes hand in hand with building a better, more modern and affluent Britain. It is about improving transport systems in a way that will give us a better quality of life and cleaner cities; improving the housing stock, which will give us warmer, more comfortable homes and tackle fuel poverty; using less energy in a way that will make our industries more efficient; and ensuring that the UK is at the forefront of the world environmental technology market so that we can create new jobs and business opportunities. It is good for the environment, good for the economy, good for people and good for jobs.

I believe that Kyoto will be remembered as the place where the world, in a United Nations forum, faced a crucial decision and made the right choice. Failure, which many had predicted, would have condemned future generations to untold misery and disaster. We have taken the first, but only the first, crucial step to curbing climate change. There is still much to be done, but I am certainly proud of the role that the United Kingdom has played in this achievement.

We do not own this world; we hold it in trust, to hand on to our children's children. We owe it to them to build on the Kyoto agreement to safeguard their future.

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