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Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend on the Front Bench is as enthusiastic as I am. Whether he or anybody else can explain what it means is another matter, as is the way of bringing it about. It is an aspirationthe sort of thing that increasingly finds its way into legislation but takes us almost nowhere. I know that the matter is of long-standing interest to the hon. Member for Lewes, but he knows from his time in the House of the number of measures that have been passed over the years with fairly modest outcomes.
Such wording makes me feel a little guilty about what we do here. If anybody read the Bill or anyone other than the members of the single-interest groups who drafted it took it remotely seriously, there is a danger of their thinking, "Oh boy, isn't life going to get better!" Inevitably, they will be let down because life will not get better in any measurable way in the foreseeable future as a result of the Bill.
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Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend makes a serious point. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) specifically drew attention to the importance of the issue to younger voters. It does not set a good example to younger voters if expectations are greatly raised by promising all sorts of marvellous eventualities through passing such a Bill, only for them to be dashed, thus creating cynicism about politics and scepticism about positive change.
Mr. Forth: I share my hon. Friend's view and I worry about the propagandisation of our young people by teachers, whether through Make Poverty History or climate change and so on. I worry that teachers appear to be all too willing to express their views to young and impressionable people, get those young people to sign petitions or whatever and thus give them expectations that will inevitably be disappointed, probably leading to the effect that my hon. Friend described. I could not agree with him more.
Clause 2 led to an interesting divergence of view between the promoter and the Minister for Energy. I am rather on the Minister's side. It is not right to imply that any Prime Minister should be so involved in the detail of every Department's work that he has to answer for it. I should declare an interest: in the dim and distant past, I was a junior Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry and I therefore have a sort of affection for and loyalty to it. Partly because of that, I believe that Departments should be prepared to stand up for what they do. Secretaries of State should be responsible for their actions and those of their Departments. They should be the ones to accountif account is necessaryto the House. Attempts to draw in the Prime Minister and, even worse, to give him a sense of omniscience and omnipotence, which he knows that he has but the rest of us now know that he does not possess, are not the right way forward. I am therefore with the Minister on the matter and I hope that the Bill emerges from Committee without that aspect.
Could that be a zero report? Could it simply state, "None", and leave it at that? I am sure that the implication of the provision is that a report can have meaning only if it says something. Worthy officials in Departments are often tasked by Ministers with writing about something that the Department has achieved in the past year. A 10-point action plan usually emergesthat used to be the favourite in my day, although I do not know whether inflation has had an effect over the years. The first one or two points were barely credible and the following eight were almost laughable, but the 10-point action plan was supposed to get the Minister and the Department off the hook. My fear about clause 2 is that it would give rise to that phenomenon all too readily. That would be regrettable.
It is interesting that clause 2(1) has two paragraphs. It provides for the Prime Minister or whichever Minister to report on the steps that have been takenthe inputsand the levels of emissions of greenhouse gases, which constitute the outputs. In most Government policies, Ministers tend to focus on the
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inputs and spend much less time on the genuine outcomes that affect our constituents. Is not the danger that a report of that nature would have lot of content about such activityas my right hon. Friend says from his great experience in government, civil servants are good at making those parts of the report lengthyand would probably say little about the reality that affects our constituents?
Mr. Forth: That is a good point, but the position is more difficult. A mere global report on UK emissions, however measuredabout which I always have some scepticismsays little to my hon. Friend's constituents or mine. Surely we must talk about regional if not local variations. I am sure that emissions in central London are rather different from those in Forest of Dean, for example.
Mr. Forth: As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, he would hope so. Nevertheless, if we want to have the effect that he has described, the reporting, if we are to take it seriously, would have to be much more detailed than that suggested in the Bill. Perhaps a positive amendment can be made to the Bill in Committee to have reporting at a local or "community"which is a much more trendy words these dayslevel, to make it more meaningful to all those people out there who are literally gasping for information on the subject.
Clause 2(2) gets even murkier. Under it, the Prime Minister must lay the report before Parliament and make a motion for a resolution to approve it. I am all for endless reports being laid before Parliamentit gives MPs something to do and to read. I benefited enormously from the report from their lordships to which I referred earlier. Who am I to criticise reports laid before Parliament? I wish that they were all as good as that one.
We get into difficulties, however, if it is suggested that the report should give rise to a motion for a resolution of approval. That implies a number of things. There would have to be a vote on the report. Would that be subject to whipping? A huge advance has been made recently in parliamentary accountability, as we now know that whipping, even on Government Members, is much less effective than it used to be. Therefore, perhaps the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) hopes that if a report of this kind emerged to which he and his hon. Friends did not give much approval, they would feel free to vote against it, even if his hon. Friend the Minister said, "I want you to approve of this report because it indicates my 10-point action plan, which I hope will gain your approval." But if the hon. Gentleman said, "No, I'm not fooled by that, I want to vote against it", would it be a whipped vote? Would there be rebels on the Government Benches? Would it be another occasion for Government embarrassment? I do not know.
The position would be worse than that, however, because the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith wants the report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. He need not hesitate to intervene on my
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speech, as it will not continue until anything close to 2.30, and his Bill is perfectly safe, certainly from meI give him that undertaking now. There will be no Division, and this part of the proceedings will be finished well before 2.30, so if he wants to engage in dialogue, I invite him to do so. What would happen, however, if both Houses voted against the report, or one voted for and one against? I have never seen where that takes us in terms of dealing with climate change, emissions or anything else in a parliamentary sense. I do not see how it would even concentrate the Government's mind much. We might consider the provisions critically in Committee, and examine whether another mechanism can be found, such as a report, by all means, or even referring it to a Select Committee, by all means, but putting such a provision in a Bill that has pretensions to be a statute is not very helpful or productive.
Mr. Harper: Someone of a mischievous turn of mind might even think that a motion for a resolution in both Houses is probably not helpful. Now that Labour forms the largest party in the other place, the Government could arrange for the two Houses to come up with opposite conclusions to provide the Government with some cover in their deliberations.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is right. What he says illustrates that we must not treat parliamentary processes of this kind in a light-hearted way, or assume that they will produce the outcomes that we want. That is really what I am saying. Much closer examination will be needed in Committee.
Clause 2(4) helpfully spells out the meaning of the term "greenhouse gases". It lists carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. My problem is this: are we satisfied that we have sufficiently reliable techniques to measure those gases in a meaningful way that would be helpful to the report? I should like to be reassured, but I have grave doubts. Some of the gases may well be subject to reasonably accurate measurements, whether locally or nationally, but I wonder whether they all are.
There is a danger that we are entering the territory of flaky measurements. I made a passing reference to doubts even about the global scenarios involving the effects of emissions on climate change, and global warming. I have equal doubts, even at this micro-levelthe national or local levelabout the likely accuracy of the measurements, and about what conclusions we shall be able to draw from them.
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