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Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

Business of the House

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.

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Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

10.15 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): I beg to move,

    Energy and Climate Change

    Department of Energy and Climate Change


Departmental Select Committees are a well-respected, integral and vital part of the House’s scrutiny of Government. Following the 1978 report of the Procedure Committee and their creation in 1979, they took over the role formerly performed, in a rather haphazard way, by the specially appointed investigatory committees of the House and the several topic-based committees that were set up in the 1960s under Richard Crossman as Leader of the House. The creation of departmental Select Committees is one innovation—or, dare I say, modernisation—that everyone has hailed as a resounding success. It has been the convention that each Government Department has a Select Committee to scrutinise its policies, its expenditure and its work. Consequently, whenever a new Department of Government has been created, there has been a consequential change in Select Committees.

As Members will know, on 3 October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister created a new Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Government have wanted to move as swiftly as possible to ensure the proper scrutiny of the new Department. Its role, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained to the House on 16 October, is to ensure that we have energy that is affordable, secure and sustainable, to bring about the transition to a low-carbon Britain and to achieve an international agreement on climate change at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen at the end of next year. Members in all parts of the House welcomed the creation of the new Department, and I hope that they will welcome the Government’s swift action to establish the new Committee.

Part A of the motion creates a new departmental Select Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It will have exactly the same role and powers as other departmental Select Committees. The Government have proposed a membership of 14, but the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo)—who
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is present—supported by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), has tabled amendment (a), which proposes the reduction of the membership from 14 to 11. I look forward to hearing their arguments during the debate.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Can the Deputy Leader of the House acquaint the House with the representations received by the Leader of the House on this matter and with the Government’s reasons for choosing not to respond positively to them, but to present the recommendation that forms the basis of the motion?

Chris Bryant: I am not particularly aware that many representations have been made to the Leader of the House, although I have received quite a few representations myself this evening in the Chamber from Members throughout the House, and I suspect that I am about to receive another in a moment. I am happy to listen to the debate and see where we go from there.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Deputy Leader of the House is right to observe that the Committee is important, and that it is important for all shades of opinion in the House to be represented on it. Will he confirm that the difference between a membership of 14 and one of 11 is that a membership of 11 would effectively mean that minority parties in all parts of the House would not automatically be represented?

Chris Bryant: It depends what the hon. Gentleman means by a minority party. Obviously, the Liberal Democrats are normally included in the concept of a minority party, and I understand that it is normally up to the Committee of Selection to decide precisely who ends up on a committee. In the case of the hon. Gentleman’s party, that would depend on what was advanced by the Liberal Democrats. But, as I said to the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), I am more than happy to listen to the debate and see where we go from there.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for allowing us to question him. He said that Members in all parts of the House welcomed the new Department and that it was therefore vital for all Members to have something to say about the Committee. Surely, given the importance of this issue throughout the United Kingdom, the minority parties should at least be represented on the Committee. Why should the membership be changed from 14 to 11?

Chris Bryant: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have tabled a proposal for a committee of 14. Two Members have already made the point that there are clear representations in favour of having the larger size, rather than a committee of 11.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend assure Members that nothing in the arrangements for the new Select Committee will undermine in any way the cross-cutting function of the Environmental Audit Committee, which the Government set up to look at all aspects of the environment in an integrated, joined-up way?

Chris Bryant: I intend to come on to that point later. My hon. Friend is a very active member of the Environmental Audit Committee. It was set up as a
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result of a manifesto commitment by the Labour party in 1997 and we have no intention of getting rid of it or undermining it.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On a matter of fact, the Business and Enterprise Committee, which I chair, has 11 members, and we have one Liberal Democrat and one extremely valuable Scottish National party member, the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), who makes a fine contribution to the Committee’s work. A committee of 11 members can, therefore, accommodate both the minority groupings: the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am sure he knows his Select Committee far better than I do. As I have said, I am happy to listen to this evening’s debate and see where it takes us.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I, too, am listening to discover the mood of the House. For both size options—for 11 and 14—how many of the places would the Government seek to have for Labour Members?

Chris Bryant: I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman on that. It is my understanding that the number is usually six, but if I have to correct that statement later after having been more suitably informed, I reserve the right to do so. In the end, it is for the Committee of Selection to decide.

Part B provides that the Chairman of the new Committee shall be a member of the Liaison Committee. Part C provides for European Union documents falling within the Department’s responsibility to be referred by the European Scrutiny Committee to a European General Committee for debate.

All departmental Select Committees operate under the same system. There are, however, two Committees of the House that have rather different functions: the Public Accounts Committee, which dates back to 1861 and is the oldest of the House’s Committees, and the Environmental Audit Committee, which, as I have said, was established as a result of a Labour manifesto commitment in 1997. That Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for South Suffolk, has taken the lead in examining climate change issues across Government and has covered wider topics, for instance through its highly respected annual analysis of the environmental implications of the pre-Budget report and its work on sustainable development. I pay tribute to its members, many of whom have, both personally and from within the Committee, led the debate on these issues, as we have witnessed today in the Chamber.

Clearly, there is the potential for overlap between the Environmental Audit Committee and the new Committee that we hope to set up tonight, but that is nothing new. Both departmental and non-departmental Select Committees have always adopted a flexible approach to their terms of reference, which is a good thing as it allows for joined-up scrutiny free from the sometimes artificial boundaries of departmental responsibilities. Moreover, the Environmental Audit Committee is very much akin to the Public Accounts Committee, whose cross-departmental remit has not been obviated by the existence of the Treasury Committee. We are reluctant to abolish the Environmental Audit Committee, as we believe it still performs an effective and important role
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in monitoring environmental issues at a cross-departmental level. We would, therefore, like to wait and see how the two Committees work together before taking any long-term decisions about the future of the Environmental Audit Committee.

Mr. Jack: Why does the Deputy Leader of the House think that only two Committees have an interest in environmental issues? The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, has the job of scrutinising the Government’s conduct in respect of the Sustainable Development Commission and many other associated environment issues. If the Deputy Leader of the House is to propose the case for monitoring two Committees working together, I entreat him also to include our Committee and thereby to make it three.

Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman has pre-empted exactly what I was about to say. Clearly, there are other Committees that have historically had an interest in the matter, but that is true in many cases. For instance, in the case of the Communications Act 2003, there were two Select Committees that had a prime interest, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and the then Select Committee on Trade and Industry. There is constant interest in the House in ensuring that when there are overlapping interests, Committees work together rather than against one another.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Has not the Minister revealed, maybe inadvertently, that the structure of Government relating to the environment is, as we have always said, entirely out of kilter? This is an opportunity for the Government to think seriously about the situation in which three Departments are responsible for matters that most of us would see as being concerned with the environment. We really ought to reconsider how we deal with the environment. That would be a very useful thing for him and the Leader of the House to raise with the Prime Minister.

Chris Bryant: Tempting as it is for me to raise such matters with the Prime Minister, I do not think that it is a very good idea. Most importantly, every Member who spoke in the House about the creation of the new Department welcomed it.

Mr. Gummer indicated assent.

Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentleman nods sagely, so I think that he was merely trying to set me a trap, into which I have no intention of walking.

I should also mention the work of the Business and Enterprise Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire. I know that he will be sorry to lose his energy brief, as the Committee has recently done valuable work on energy prices and on fuel poverty, matters that are often raised in the House. However, business and enterprise remains a wide-ranging brief, and given the breadth of issues that the Committee has tackled in recent years, I know that it will continue to perform an invaluable service to the House. He has tabled amendment (b), which would delay the creation of the new Committee until January. If he feels that that is necessary to allow his Committee to complete work in
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process and to effect an orderly transition, I am happy to listen to his arguments, should he catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Climate change has also been of interest to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Fylde. I am sorry that it has had to abandon its inquiry into international climate change policy post-2012, not least because I know that he has a long-standing interest in such issues, for which many Members have looked to him. I have no doubt that the Committee’s written evidence, which it has placed in the Library, will be of interest to the Energy and Climate Change Committee when it comes into being.

The motion contains only the changes to Standing Orders that are necessary to bring the Department of Energy and Climate Change fully within the scope of the House’s scrutiny arrangements. I therefore commend it to the House.

10.27 pm

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Opposition welcome the proposal for a new Select Committee. Select Committees obviously do a very important task of scrutinising both Departments and their Ministers, but, equally important, they have the control to be able to call to account other senior people in their areas.

The Deputy Leader of the House was not very convincing in dealing with the questions asked by the minority parties, with which I have some sympathy. I look forward to hearing more from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who are Chairmen of affected Select Committees. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will provide more suitable answers than we have had so far.

I would also be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House gave a fuller reply to the important question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). It is all very well for the Minister to say that there will be a review of the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, but what are to be the criteria for that review? How long will it be, or will it simply go on and on as has happened in other instances? More precision would be most welcome. Otherwise, the Opposition welcome the proposed new Select Committee.

10.29 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): It is intriguing to come to this debate from outside, where it is snowing, which signifies that something is happening to the climate. Some of us believe that it is right to respond to that legislatively—indeed, most of us agreed to do so just a few minutes ago. I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for the way in which he introduced the debate, which is about the logical proposition that we should set up the appropriate Select Committee.

My Liberal colleagues and I have always said that debates such as this should take place one step earlier, before a new Department is set up, so that this place can scrutinise whether it should happen. That picks up the point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk,
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Coastal (Mr. Gummer). It is a Government tradition that the Prime Minister can decide, either after long thought or little thought, to create a new Department. Departments come and go and their names change, but the reality is that they may not be justified. We have argued for a long time that, if a Government, either at the beginning of their term or at some other stage, wish to set up a new Department, it would be far better if the case for such a proposal had to be made and if this House could scrutinise whether it was made well. It is possible that, on examination, such a proposal would be found not to work well. There is a debate to be had—we have not had it today—as on how the new Department, headed by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whom we welcome to his post, will work with existing Departments. One of those Departments has “environment” in its title and will continue to have environmental responsibilities, as will others.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): May I push the hon. Gentleman back a little in his argument? Surely it is for the Government to determine the structure of government and the structure of Departments, but it is the business of the House to determine how those Departments are scrutinised. My problem with the principle behind tonight’s proposal is that we are being presented with an edict from this Government on the structure of a Committee that is being set up to scrutinise this Department, and, consequently, the three existing departmental Select Committees, chaired vigorously by members of the Opposition parties, are having their powers diluted in favour of the new departmental Select Committee, which will, presumably be chaired by a Government Member.

Simon Hughes: I take a slightly different view from the hon. Gentleman. He argues the conventional position that the Government can create and dissolve Departments at their whim. I argue that it is for the Government to propose, and for Parliament to agree to dispose, in respect of whether the structure is right. The Executive ought to concede power to the legislature. However, when a Department is set up, the logic is that there should be a Select Committee to hold it to account. Given that we do not have the position for which I wish, whereby we have a say in what Departments exist, we have to take what we are given by the Prime Minister of the day and, thus, logically there are departmental Select Committees to deal with those Departments. That is the consequence of the current structure, though I would rather the situation were otherwise.

Given the current situation, it is right that the Deputy Leader of the House has come before the House to propose the setting up of a new Select Committee, and that that Committee should be set up tonight. The options are simple. The first choice is whether the Committee has a membership of 14 or 11—that is why I asked him the question that I did. If the Committee has 11 members, the Government would expect to have six Labour places on it, whereas if it is a Committee of 14, they would expect to have eight places. Understandably, the Government would have a majority in each case.

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