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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

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Standing Committee C

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Joe Benton

†Barker, Gregory (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
†Clark, Greg (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
†Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
†Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
†Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
†Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
†Lazarowicz, Mark (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)
†Palmer, Dr. Nick (Broxtowe) (Lab)
†Ruddock, Joan (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
†Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
†Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove) (LD)
†Villiers, Mrs. Theresa (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
†Walley, Joan (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab)
†Weir, Mr. Mike (Angus) (SNP)
†Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
†Wicks, Malcolm (Minister for Energy)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

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Wednesday 25 January 2006

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill

2.30 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

    That, if proceedings on the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee do meet on Thursday 9th February at Two o’clock.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I am sure that under your guidance we will have a productive and interesting sitting today, and perhaps on a future day, too. I declare as an interest the support that I have received from the Sustainable Energy Partnership and its constituents, in terms of advice and campaigning for the Bill. I also advise the Committee that I am currently involved in a number of events to do with the possible development of a community energy project in Edinburgh, and I have offers of support for those events from Co-operative Financial Services, Scottish and Southern Energy and Forth Ports; even though the relevant clause of the Bill does not apply to Scotland, I thought it appropriate to draw that to the Committee’s attention.

It appears that, for a number of reasons, which I explained to the Front-Bench representatives, we have acquired a second sitting, and that is why I have moved the sittings motion.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies of the resolution are available in the room. I also remind Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I do not intend to call starred amendments.

I call Mr. Lazarowicz to move the order of consideration motion.

Mark Lazarowicz: I beg to move,

    That the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill be considered in the following order, namely, Clauses 1 to 4, Clauses 6 to 14, new Clauses, new Schedules, Clause 5, remaining proceedings on the Bill.

The purpose of the order of consideration motion is to allow ongoing discussions, particularly on clause 5, to continue, and perhaps to allow an outcome to be reached that might be of benefit to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1


Mark Lazarowicz: I beg to move amendment No. 17, in clause 1, page 1, leave out line 12.

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 1 to 9.

Mark Lazarowicz: As the Committee will be aware, clause 1 sets out the definitions of the persons and bodies who will carry out functions under the Bill, and the factors that they have to take into account. Clauses 2 and 3 place specific duties on the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Hon. Members will be aware that the clauses to which the amendments refer are those that the Government expressed concerns about on Second Reading. There has been considerable discussion between me, the Government and other bodies in light of those concerns. I have accepted that it is necessary to move an amendment today to take account of those concerns.

Clause 1 refers to the Prime Minister, but it is appropriate to remove that reference at this stage. The intention of the Government amendments is to replace reference to the Prime Minister with reference to the Secretary of State—effectively, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I must say that I would have preferred the reference to the Prime Minister to remain, because it would have emphasised that tackling climate change is at the centre of what the Government are doing. However, that is not a reflection on any of the individuals who currently hold the relevant posts. The current Prime Minister is certainly recognised for putting tackling climate change at the centre of Government policy in many ways, but the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has similarly been recognised for the leadership that she has shown both nationally and internationally on those issues. Nevertheless, I should have preferred to retain the reference to the Prime Minister, but I accept the necessity of proceeding co-operatively and recognise the Government’s good intentions in that respect. I am therefore prepared to commend the amendment to the Committee.

During debate on the amendment, there will no doubt be discussion of the specific responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is the subject of clause 3. Indeed, amendment No. 16 would remove reference to the Chancellor from clause 1. Just as I recognise the important role of the Prime Minister in the matter, I recognise the important steps taken by the Government, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing VAT reductions to encourage energy efficiency, enhanced capital allowances and measures such as the landfill tax, climate change levy and renewables obligation.

I do not associate myself with the conclusions in the briefings circulated for the Committee by some outside organisations that have criticised the achievements of the Treasury in those respects. However, in my view, other measures could be utilised. It would be helpful if the Bill mentioned how the Treasury could ensure that it focused every year on measures to tackle climate change. None the less, I understand the Government’s concerns, so I shall accept both the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and Government amendment No. 10, which removes clause 3.

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The Chairman: Order. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that he is anticipating future debates.

Mark Lazarowicz: As you rightly point out, Mr. Benton, that is not a matter that I can discuss at length now. With regard to the amendments before us, I ask again that the Committee support amendment No. 17, as well as amendment No. 16, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test will move in due course.

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I welcome you to the Chair of our proceedings, Mr. Benton, which might last for a sitting or two. Hopefully, in the interest of energy efficiency, they will not last much longer, although that will be for the Committee to determine.

Before I speak to the amendment, I should like to express sincere thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) for his continued hard work on this important Bill, which the Government support in principle, although we seek to amend it in a number of ways. We have held constructive discussions since Second Reading on 11 November last year. My Department and I have enjoyed working with my hon. Friend to get the Bill, we hope, on to the statute book. I am especially grateful for the way in which he has worked closely with several Departments to devise amendments addressing the Government’s concerns about the Bill in its current form.

The purposes of the Bill, as outlined in clause 1, are fully in line with existing Government objectives. The Prime Minister has described climate change as

    “the world’s greatest environmental challenge”.

Although politicians often wax lyrical on their chosen subject, calling it the greatest challenge facing the earth, for once the proposition is not an exaggeration. The Government have made significant strides in achieving the ambitious goals of our energy policy. We are on track to meet the Kyoto targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The renewables obligation and the climate change levy exemption will result in support to renewables of £1 billion a year by 2010. As a result of the renewables obligation, last year saw the largest amount of renewable generation ever installed in the United Kingdom.

During the past 18 months, interest in microgeneration, the subject of the Bill, has grown. Before the Energy Act 2004 took effect, microgeneration was a concept understood by only a few specialists. Now it is almost a household term. Perhaps, by way of declaring an interest not in a parliamentary but a more general sense, I should declare that my family is investigating the possibility of having a micro-wind turbine at our dwelling. I shall bring you up to date, Mr. Benton, as events transpire. Even The Times, I am told—I do not read the tabloids myself—is running stories claiming that domestic wind turbines are the new iPod, although at the moment I lack any interest in having one of those.

Last summer, we held a wide-ranging consultation to gather views on what the Government needed to do to promote microgeneration more effectively. Some
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time before April this year, we shall publish our microgeneration strategy, which will aim to remove the barriers currently preventing the development of a sustainable market in those new technologies.

We are not complacent. On Monday, I launched the consultation phase of our energy review, which will consider what measures are needed by 2020 and beyond to tackle climate change and ensure secure and affordable energy supplies in the UK. No one could argue with the primary purpose behind tackling climate change, nor with the secondary purposes of alleviating fuel poverty and ensuring diverse and viable long-term energy supplies.

On Government amendments Nos. 1 to 9, as I said on Second Reading in November, the Government have led from the front, domestically and internationally, on climate change. We are happy to report to Parliament on the UK’s progress towards its domestic and international greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

If the amendments are agreed to, the Secretary of State will report annually on the steps taken by UK Government Departments during the previous calendar year to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and on the UK’s emissions figures for the same period. That particular period has been selected as it aligns with the UK’s reporting commitments to both the European Union and the United Nations framework convention on climate change.

I accept that some believe that as head of the Government, the Prime Minister should deliver the report. However, I feel that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who leads for the UK on this issue, should give the report. I assure the Committee that all relevant central UK Government Departments, including my own, will work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the production of the report, as they do with the other reports that the UK has to prepare to meet its international reporting obligations.

The amendments also clarify what measures need to be included in the report. By amending the reference to “government”, which becomes “government departments”, amendment No. 3 confirms that clause 2(1)(a) refers only to the steps taken by this Government, and not to those of the devolved Administrations, non-departmental agencies or local councils. That amendment does not affect clause 2(1)(b), which relates to the levels of greenhouse gas emissions; those will still be reported for the UK as a whole.

Amendment No. 8 would delete clauses 2(1)(2) and 2(1)(3), which would require a motion for resolution for approval of the report in both Houses. Both Houses have many opportunities to discuss climate change during the normal course of business, without requiring a specific motion in relation to this report.

Amendment No. 17 removes the Prime Minister from the list of relevant bodies to which the Bill applies. In light of the amendments just discussed, which remove references to the Prime Minister, there
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is no requirement to mention him in this clause. That sounds a bit rude, but I think that Committee members have the drift of my argument.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I am delighted to speak on behalf of the official Opposition on this Bill.

I pay tribute to and congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on his success. It is no mean feat to introduce a private Member’s Bill; first, one has to be lucky and come up in the ballot, then one has to get the Bill off the Floor of the House of Commons and into Committee, sailing through all the obstacles that present themselves. That is a great feat. He is by no means there yet, but the evident skill with which he has dealt with the Opposition parties and the Government—in a constructive and consensual way at all times—is a great credit to him. Given that approach, the Bill stands the best possible chance.

2.45 pm

Climate change is important to everyone in this room, to everyone in the country and, indeed, to the whole world. The Bill is about two major issues that we face—climate change and fuel poverty—and about Government accountability on those issues. It is easy, when confronted with such large issues, to resile from specific actions that one can take personally or for which one can hold the Government to account.

The Bill is good because it is also about solutions: microgeneration, community energy, renewable heat and sustainable energy generally. I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about microgeneration, which is incredibly exciting. I am sorry that, in the terms in which the energy review has been framed, a greater emphasis has not been placed on microgeneration. I therefore greatly welcome the Bill.

At the moment, one sees the possibilities for this country’s future energy supplies based on a perhaps false argument about nuclear versus imported gas, or nuclear versus large-scale, commercially generated renewables. Let us imagine the possibilities if a far greater proportion of our energy requirements were generated by communities, or even by householders or individuals. The possibilities of microgeneration are enormous. It might be the technology of the 21st century just as nuclear was the coming and hopeful technology of the 20th century. I certainly hope so.

All the Bill’s solutions have a theme: they involve people, communities, local authorities and trade associations—in short, they involve people everywhere. That theme flags up another important issue that the Bill is all about. The campaign in support of it has involved people, councils, national and local organisations, advice centres, business leaders throughout the country and, of course, very important work by non-governmental organisations. The campaign has been people-led.

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Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I remind the hon. Gentleman of the contribution of Members of Parliament. Encouraged by the NGOs, 320 MPs signed the early-day motion proposing a requirement for annual reporting. I think that a former Secretary of State for the Environment from the hon. Gentleman’s party contributed to that early-day motion, as did former Ministers from my party.

Gregory Barker: That is absolutely right. This has been a parliamentary movement that has reflected the hopes, aspirations and concerns of the wider public. We must not forget that the Bill is a parliamentary occasion spearheaded by parliamentarians trying to make changes. Given the widespread support for the Bill in and outside Parliament, and given that it has already come so far for a private Member’s Bill, it is perhaps a great shame that at this critical point the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should choose to dissociate themselves—

The Chairman: Order. I have allowed general remarks because the hon. Gentleman is making his first contribution to the debate, but I have to point out that we are debating amendment No. 17 and Government amendments Nos. 1 to 9.

Gregory Barker: You are absolutely right, Mr. Benton. I was endeavouring to make the point that, at this moment, the Prime Minister and Chancellor have chosen to dissociate themselves from the Bill by requiring their names to be removed from the clause under consideration. The Prime Minister has done a great deal of work to put—

Joan Ruddock: I should not like it to go on the record that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had dissociated themselves from the Bill. It has been decided in discussions that it would be more appropriate to include the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman personalises the issue a little too much; I think he will find that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are in favour of the Bill.

Gregory Barker: They have not chosen to dissociate themselves from the Bill, but they have certainly chosen to dissociate the offices that they hold from inclusion in it.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that given that two of the Bill’s functions are to alleviate fuel poverty and to secure a diverse and viable long-term energy supply, both of which are under the control of the DTI, the Bill is cross-departmental and it would therefore be better if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor reported on it from the centre of the Government than let departmental leaders fight over it?

Gregory Barker: I agree entirely. Often the biggest problem is the lack of cross-departmental co-operation. That is not the result any deliberate intent on the part of any Department; it is simply the way in which Whitehall often operates, or fails to operate effectively. It is only when the Prime Minister or the apparatus of No. 10 are personally involved that we
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really get results. The Prime Minister has spoken of global warming and climate change as the greatest threat that the planet faces in the 21st century. I think we all agree on that. Surely he is therefore required to put the weight of his office behind measures to combat climate change.

Greg Clark: Is not my hon. Friend’s point reinforced by the—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. May I ask members of the Committee to ensure that their telephones are switched off?

Greg Clark: The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have not personally dissociated themselves from the Bill, but does not that illustrate the problem? In effect, the amendments before us have been tabled on behalf of the Government. I am sure that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are blissfully unaware of what has been done in their name. The point of mentioning them in the Bill is that, unlike today, when they give their report they will be personally aware of the situation.

The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) replies to that intervention, I shall say that I think we ought to be getting back to the amendment. Debate on the Prime Minister’s or Chancellor’s attitude has very little to do with amendment No. 17. I shall allow a reply, but then we must get back to the amendments.

Gregory Barker: I entirely agree. The issue is not one of personalities; nobody doubts the Prime Minister’s intent. We are trying to find the most effective mechanism—the right way to implement the Bill, make it effective and make the Government accountable for its implementation. There is a strong feeling that that will happen only if accountability spans more than one Department and stems from the highest level of government.

Opposition Members do not wish to strike a discordant note. We welcome the Bill’s progress and do not wish to hold it up unnecessarily. If the Government are firm on the matter, we will, with reservations, not press it.

Malcolm Wicks: I should like to make two small points. First, the fact that I, a DTI Minister, am proposing that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs take the lead on the matter shows how joined-up we are. Secondly, although it is a good debating point, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Prime Minister cannot lead with reports or whatever on every one of the vital issues facing our nation? Our departmental system is such that one Department must take the lead.

Gregory Barker: I think that that is right, but with regard to the Prime Minister’s involvement, climate change is either the greatest threat facing the planet in the 21st century or it is not. Perhaps the Minister would like to tell the Committee what other greatest threats there are. If the Government are serious about
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climate change, which I believe they are, they should commit themselves at the highest levels—that would send a clear message—rather than shuffle the issue down the hierarchy.

Malcolm Wicks: I do not want to tease too much, but if that point about responsibility is true, why is the Leader of the Opposition not leading in Committee?

Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend may not be leading, but he has put his A team in the Committee. As the Minister well knows, the Leader of the Opposition raised the matter at his first Prime Minister’s questions and it was the subject of the first Opposition day debate. It is something that we take seriously. I do not want to get into that sort of game. We are simply talking about the most effective way of implementing a worthwhile Bill. With those remarks, I shall sit down.

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith on steering the Bill to its present stage and I look forward to our discussions. I wish the Bill a fair wind and hope for a successful outcome without too much delay.

If I may, Mr. Benton, under your firm chairmanship, I shall refer briefly to the Minister’s paper “Our Energy Challenge”, which is my text for today. On page 5 he says:

    “Increased energy efficiency is a central public policy goal, but the pace of efficiency improvements has been slower than needed”.

We regard the Bill as a way to speed up that pace, so when we read amendment No. 17, to which I know you want me to speak, Mr. Benton, it is a pity to see that the first time we get the foot near the accelerator, the Government immediately take it off and say “No, not the Prime Minister. Let’s leave it to the Secretary of State.” I give credit to the Minister for his urbane and disarming manner—he certainly disarmed the Conservative spokesman.

Malcolm Wicks: I should not say this, but we fully understand why the Leader of the Liberal Democrats cannot be here today.

Andrew Stunell: I certainly appreciate the Minister’s understanding. If I had the understanding of others, it would be even better.

The problem with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith in response to Government pressure and with the Government’s substitute amendments is that they lower the degree of accountability for progress on an important subject. To take out the Prime Minister is to accord the issue lower priority and less accountability. The Government amendment—I think that I am in order if I talk about that, too—not only lowers accountability but lowers the level of discussion, because it makes the matter one for press releases and subsequent reviews rather than for debate on the Floor of the House.

In supporting this string of amendments, the Minister said that the Government were handing over responsibility for the Bill to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and that
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was the proper approach. I put it to him, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle has done, that his own Department has an important role to play, as he acknowledged; the Treasury has an important role to play—that is the subject of the next string of amendments; and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has an important role to play. My own private Member’s Bill on a similar subject, the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill, which received Royal Assent in September 2004 and falls within the purview of the ODPM, is stalled because of the lack of action in the ODPM.

Unless we have oversight of this whole issue, with the Prime Minister not simply wishing other people well, but taking a lead role, getting on with it himself, taking oversight and pulling people up when things are going short, I fear that this Bill, like mine, will languish, with the powers in existence but no exercise of them in sight. I hope that the Minister will take note of his own comment that

    “the pace of efficiency improvements has been slower than needed”.

It is disappointing to find that, with amendment No. 17 and the associated amendments, that pace is slowed down, when it could be accelerated.

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