Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Clause 1

Climate Change
Steve Webb: I beg to move amendment No. 43, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, after ‘that’, insert ‘between 2008 and 2050 total’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 44, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out ‘the level necessary to contribute to’ and insert
‘a proportionate share of total global emissions of greenhouse gases compatible with’.
Amendment No. 32, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end add—
‘(3) The target for the UK contribution to limiting global average temperatures shall be calculated with reference to—
(a) historic levels of emissions of greenhouse gases by the UK;
(b) projected levels of emissions growth among other countries; and
(c) such other factors as the Secretary of State considers relevant.
(4) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament within one year of the coming into force of this Act a report setting out the basis on which the target for the UK contribution has been calculated.’.
Clause stand part.
Steve Webb: In the absence of the hon. Member for Banbury, I was keen to move amendment No. 43 in order to discuss the important matters that it raises, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Cook, for giving me the opportunity to do that.
Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 focus not simply on the destination point—2050— but also on the route map, because, as was discussed on Second Reading, we cannot simply chug along as we are and then suddenly cut emissions in 2049, which is clearly not what we want. My understanding of what the hon. Member for Banbury was driving at is that we need to give much more attention to the profile of our emissions over the next 42 years and not obsess solely on the destination point. Clearly, the more that we save in getting to that destination, the better it will be. Additionally, the earlier that we save, the better it will be in terms of the climate change impact of any given amount of emissions. It is therefore important to discuss the amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham and I tabled amendment No. 32 because we anticipated that the Government would want to take away clause 1. As ever, we wanted to be helpful. We tried to table an amendment that would give the Government what they want. I understand the points that the Minister is likely to make about how the UK cannot change global temperature by acting on its own. We can play our part, but we cannot achieve a specific outcome on our own. I understand that saying that the goal of the Bill is to achieve something for the planet when we are a small percentage of it raises issues.
The purpose of amendment No. 32 is to ask how we move from what we know about what the planet has to do to what we know about what the UK has to do. Amendment No. 32 is our probing attempt to put contraction and convergence, which are jargon, into the legislation. We want to know whether the Government accept that aggregate contraction and convergence on emissions per head should be central to our approach. If they accept that, when do they think that that should take place? The obvious point for that to happen, given the focus on 2050, would be 2050. If we had a formula and reporting obligation, as set out in subsection (4), we would know how the Government have gone from whatever science tells us about the global target to what the UK target should be.
It has been suggested that this Bill should not include a purpose clause, because we do not do that kind of thing in this country. That is essentially what people have said—to quote the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, “It is not British”.
I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, section 1(1) of which states:
“The principal aim of this Act is to promote the sustainability of local communities.”
At the time, which was only last year, the House felt it appropriate to include a purpose clause, so there is good precedent. Likewise, legislation in this country over the years has given principal aims to bodies. For example, the Environment Act 1995 sets out
“the principal aim of the discharging its functions so to protect or enhance the environment.”
Amendment No. 32 addresses how we set the UK contribution to reducing global emissions. If the science tells us that a certain cut in global emissions is needed to avoid the temperature rise that will lead to dangerous climate change, then the UK should not merely achieve the global average but go further. We give two reasons in the amendment why it should. “We”—the United States and some other developed countries—are a big part of the problem, and a lot of the emissions in the system are from us. It is often stated that Britain is responsible for only 2 per cent. of emissions, but in a sense we have moved a lot of our emissions offshore. For example, a UK consumer who buys a consumer durable produced in the far east creates emissions elsewhere, so it is clearly an understatement to say we are only a tiny part of the issue. Not only are we a bigger part of current emissions than that figure suggests, but we are particularly responsible for historic emissions. As we caused a disproportionate part of the problem, we therefore have a responsibility to be a disproportionate part of the solution.
The second part of amendment No. 32 addresses the question whether we can say to the rest of the world, and particularly to rapidly developing countries, that we have had the fun, but they cannot have it? It is clearly morally unacceptable to say that we have had rapid growth and a high standard of living, but they cannot have those things. I have promised not to use the word “moral” too frequently over the next two and a half weeks, but the Bill is about not only science, but—.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Sanctimony.
Steve Webb: It is not about sanctimony, but it is not only about science. I am not sure that I was meant to hear that.
Siobhain McDonagh: I was not supposed to say it.
Steve Webb: Or think it either, hopefully.
Seriously, there is no right answer to British emissions, as the Bill stands. The Bill includes a general purpose clause and a figure, but it does not state how the British figure comes from what global science is telling us, which is the purpose of amendment No. 32. Science will evolve, and it gives us a figure for the required global cut in emissions. The British figure has to be higher than that for the reasons that I have stated, and as the science develops, we want the Government to be transparent about how the two are linked not least because the British number may need to change as the science develops. The next element is setting out how that linkage has been made in a report.
The whole Bill could fail if it does not include a purpose clause stating what the number in the Bill is designed to achieve. We will obviously have a substantive discussion about the right number when we discuss clause 2, so I will not stray into that save to say that without a purpose clause, the number could fail to achieve the objective that we all want for the Bill. We are trying to avoid dangerous climate change, but we know that the number in clause 2 is at best likely to fail to achieve the purpose of the Bill. That is why we think we need to be upfront about where the number comes from and to recognise our international duties.
Drawing those threads together, amendments Nos. 43 and 44 focus on the profile of the emissions, which is entirely right and proper, and I hope the Minister will have something to say about that. Amendment No. 32 tries to introduce the concept of contraction and convergence and deal with the Government’s perfectly reasonable points that the UK is not the world and that putting something in UK legislation about world targets creates problems. If we were to amend clause 1 to say how the UK contribution is calculated and linked to the world problem, however, we would move towards the same objective that the Minister’s rather more direct approach—removing the clause altogether—is designed to achieve. I hope that, rather than removing the clause, we can leave it in and amend it.
11 am
Mr. Gummer: I support amendment No. 43 simply because it clarifies what most of us already understood, which leads me to why I am particularly keen to discuss clause stand part and why clause 1 is crucially important. Clause 1 is important for the same reason that the Government want to get rid of it—we either put Britain’s responsibilities in the context of the world or we do not understand what we are talking about. Such responsibilities are inevitable in the world context. Right from the beginning, we must accept that if the whole world goes down the route of “After you, Claude”—if I may use an old-fashioned phrase, which the hon. Member for Northavon thinks that I am keen on using—we will continue as we have done since Kyoto, and even before that, by actually not doing anything at all.
The nature of this Bill is in clause 1. The nature of this Bill—this is why the Government should be congratulated—is to say to the world that we, at least, are a country that takes the matter seriously and that we will act in a way that is incumbent not only on the Government but on the Opposition. It is interesting that the commentators have not noticed that the Bill has a real effect on the Opposition as well as on the Government, because it will not be possible for an Opposition of any kind merely to oppose things that the Government want to do in order to fulfil the purposes of the Bill without providing a practical and real alternative. That makes the Bill very valuable: for the next two years, it will have that effect on this Government and this Opposition, and when we change round in two years’ time, it will be very important when the situation is the other way round. It is crucial that we are all caught by the Bill. If that is the case, I want to be caught by the truth, and clause 1 is an important part of the truth, which is that we have to commit ourselves to act, whatever anybody else does. Unless we do, and thereby inspire others to do it as well, we will not achieve the necessary change sufficiently quickly.
I cannot say that I am overwhelmed by amendment No. 32, but some aspects of it are worth repeating. It refers to
“historic levels of emissions of greenhouse gases by the UK.”
It is an unfortunate fact that most of the greenhouse gas effects and climate change that we are experiencing today is the responsibility of European nations, and the biggest section of that is the responsibility of the British. It takes such a long time for such effects to work through, so our industrial revolution in particular is having an effect that we can see today. So those who say, “Oh, we only cause 2 per cent. of the emissions. We don’t need to worry. Others should do it first,” are wrong not only in a moral sense—I am not ashamed of using the world moral, because there is a lot of morality in this matter, which is needed in a practical sense—but because we caused the problem and should therefore clean it up.
Historic levels of emissions created our wealth. We are rich because we have polluted and therefore we have a responsibility, historically, to pay the price. Paying the price means that we must recognise that as we led the world into the industrial revolution, we must now lead the world into the low-carbon economy. I have absolutely no doubt about that, which is what we are here for. If I may use another word for which I shall no doubt be attacked, we have a vocation to do that. There is no doubt in my mind that that is what we have to do, which is why I appeal to the Minister not to get rid of clause 1. I do not think that he really wants to get rid of clause 1—I think that this case involves the things that civil servants do to Ministers. I was a Minister in similar circumstances, and I know what civil servants say. They have a two-word phrase, “Better not, Minister.” They cannot quite tell you what might go wrong, but “better not”. Charming though the civil servants no doubt are on this Bill, Ministers must never let themselves be led astray by “better not”, because “better not” is a defence against some untoward happening.
I have read the clause again and again, and I cannot see anything untoward. It says clearly that Britain recognises that our actions should be seen in the light of what the world ought to do, whether the world does it or not, unless there is a grossly disproportionate economic cost in doing that. I think that is rubbish. We gain by being ahead. We will alter the economics by taking forward the green revolution, as we need to do. I cannot see what the problem is, unless one still holds the Lawsonite view that that is damaging to the economy.
The proposition is the right thing to do, the right thing to do for Britain, irrespective of what other people do. If that is the case, the principal aim does not harm us. Instead, it enables us to pin a notice on the door stating clearly, “Here we stand, this is what we believe.” And the reason we are doing it, with the first such Bill in the world, is that we intend to stand here until we are joined by the rest of the world when it sees that its own future depends upon doing these things.
I am passionate about debating the clause because I do not want the Government not to live up to their highest aspirations. I have not always been polite to the Government about a range of things. I cannot say that I am entirely happy with their performance to date, but on this issue I do not want them to fall below the standards they have set themselves. This is the moment for the Government to come up to the bar. We are doing something groundbreaking, and we are doing it with the overwhelming support of the whole House of Commons.
Mr. Woolas: Not all.
Mr. Gummer: I said overwhelming. I have no doubt that we could find five dissenters, and I bet there are one or two people skulking away in other parts of the House who did not happen to be there at the time. But the Bill is a remarkable achievement, and the Government must be given credit for it, as must the Opposition. That means that we must excel ourselves, and not suddenly draw back with an intake of breath and listen to the “better nots” of this world.
I remind the Committee of the wonderful London Eye on the other side of the river. When I gave temporary planning permission for that, every single official opposed it. I had more visits from the “better not” brigade than any previous Minister. I said there was no point in being Secretary of State if I could not occasionally back something I thought was right. Now the Eye is the most popular memory of the millennium, and nobody will ever take it down.
This is the moment for the Minister to do that on a much more important matter. It is not a moment for “better not”. It is the moment to say, “Yes, we are going to nail our colours to the mast, nail that notice to the door, as happened in Wittenberg. Here we stand”. If the Minister makes the change by the use of his majority, he will be belittling the Bill from the beginning. That would be a pity.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that if the Government are seen to be going out of their way to remove any reference in the Bill to an existing UK target and EU policy of 2C, it sends the most damaging signal to the international community at an extraordinarily delicate time of international negotiation?
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Prepared 25 June 2008