Climate Change Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Gummer: When those Governments look at the Bill, will they not also look at the Committee stage, and say, “Why the blazes are the Government bringing forward the Bill, and then taking out this very clause?”? Let us not kid ourselves. This is not a private activity that will not be recognised elsewhere. If they have not already done so, many non-governmental organisations will make sure that they notice the change that the Government have made.
Mr. Hurd: I agree with that intervention. The Government are in danger of sending the wrong signal, a damaging signal, because, as members of the Committee have said, as far as we can see, the Government are committed to the 2 C goal. It is stated EU policy.
Ms Buck: The hon. Gentleman made a very important point a moment before taking the last intervention. It was about targets and accountability. Is it not at the heart of the argument that one cannot write into UK legislation a commitment to a target for which one does not have sole responsibility and sole accountability?
Mr. Hurd: That is what we are debating. I take a different view, for reasons that I shall explain. First, there is tremendous value in having the 2 C target as a guiding star, a general duty for the legislation. Critically, the UK target must be linked to something. It cannot just stand as an absolute number.
Martin Horwood: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the basis of the Stern report was to derive UK domestic targets from a perception and an analysis of the global stabilisation targets?
Mr. Hurd: Indeed. That is the key piece that is missing. The original 2050 target of 50 per cent. was a rather arbitrary number, and there has been no analysis linking it to any collective international goal at all. The Bill is an opportunity to make a link between a global collective goal, and our individual contribution.
As far as I can see, the Government’s arguments are about the difficulty of legislating to control global tensions. We know that, and we know that there may be underlying concerns about the vulnerability of Ministers to judicial review. However, it is clear, as Lord Taylor said in the Lords, that
“a general duty not intended to provide a test for individual decisions”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2008; Vol. 699, c. 451.]
is a general duty that can be evaluated, that reinforces the direction of travel at a crucial time, and that puts the targets in some context.
I close with a quote from Lord Rooker in Committee. He stated:
“The UK remains committed to the European Union 2 target, but there is no simple relationship between that target and the UK’s 2050 target, which is why we oppose the amendments.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 December 2007; Vol. 697, c. 130.]
That is wrong. Of course, there is no simple relationship, but we need to understand it. We must make it transparent. We need to make that link, which is why I strongly believe that clause 1 must remain in he Bill.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. I want briefly to discuss the three amendments in the group. I can see the arguments for including the original clause, for withdrawing it and for trying to amend it.
I do not disagree with the general sentiments expressed by all the Opposition Members who have spoken. However, they have perhaps undermined and weakened their argument by exaggerating their case by claiming that the Government have somehow abandoned their sense of the moral significance of climate change as a political issue, suggesting that the Government are not interested in the way in which British efforts relate to international efforts and saying that the Government no longer support the 2 objective.
The central point here is that the 2 objective is a statement of the self-evident. There is no dispute about the importance of 2 in maintaining the volume of emissions in the atmosphere to less than 450 parts per million. In fact, the 2 objective may not succeed in restraining emissions to 450 parts per million as the Stern report and the intergovernmental panel on climate change have made clear.
The real issue is not whether we should be reiterating the importance of the 2 objective and the reason for it, but whether it needs to be in clause 1 of the Bill. There are good reasons for it not to be included in clause 1, because Ministers, including the Prime Minister in a major speech in November last year, and all the scientific advice from the United Kingdom, the European Union and through the whole post-Kyoto process have reiterated the significance of 2. If a reference to 2 is needed, it should be in the long title of the Bill, which would be a more appropriate place specifically to refer to keeping emissions globally within 2. However, we are not here to amend the long title, unfortunately.
As drafted, clause 1 contains a serious limitation. It states:
“The principal aim... is to ensure that UK emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed the level necessary to contribute to limiting the global average temperature”.
What on earth does “contribute” mean? Again, it is absolutely self-evident that whatever the United Kingdom does is going to contribute, which prompts the question of what the level of that contribution should be.
Martin Horwood: Does the hon. Gentleman support amendment No. 44? It would remove the words around “contribute” and replace them with,
“a proportionate share of total global emissions of greenhouse gases compatible with”,
which is much clearer.
12 noon
Mr. Chaytor: I will come to amendment No. 44 in a moment, although my comments about “contribute” apply equally to “proportionate”, which is why I do not support amendment No. 44.
There are problems with the wording, because it prompts the question of the nature of the contribution. The difficulty is that, by maintaining the clause as it stands, we are confusing the political and ethical purpose of Government policy with the precise legislative detail designed to implement that policy. For example, in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, which was a matter of great controversy just a few days ago, was there a purpose provision setting out clearly the objectives of 42-day detention? I would have thought that the objective of extending the current period of detention to 42 days is obvious. The objective was not in the Bill, because it was not necessary, absolutely self-evident, well understood by everyone and reiterated by Ministers on numerous occasions.
Mr. Gummer: I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully, but what is the precise disadvantage of having the provision in the Bill? What would happen that should not happen because it is in the Bill? We would need to know that in order to overcome the obvious disadvantage of removing the statement from the Bill, which would give a signal to the rest of the world. What is the precise disadvantage?
Gregory Barker: That was a rather flippant answer to a serious question. What is the precise disadvantage to the Bill of the clause being there? Leaving aside the party political point scoring, what is the precise disadvantage to the Bill?
Mr. Chaytor: I was coming to that point, had the hon. Gentleman not intervened. The disadvantage is that the clause prompts the question of the level and nature of the contribution. The precise disadvantage would be for a future Government in a future Parliament with a future climate change (amendment) Bill, when hundreds and thousands of hours would be spent by hon. and right hon. Members, civil servants, lawyers, the public at large, the media and non-governmental organisations in trying to define what “contribute” means
Mr. Gummer: Can the hon. Gentleman conceive of circumstances in which people would not discuss the contribution? How will the clause make it more likely that we will discuss it? We will always discuss it, so I find it difficult to see a disadvantage. We will discuss that whether in this House or elsewhere, but taking out that commitment would make a clear statement.
Mr. Chaytor: That is not the case, because the provision was not in the Bill in the first place—it was inserted for the purpose that I described earlier. The precise disadvantage is that there is no advantage in making the wording of the legislation less precise than it needs to be.
If clause 1 were to stay in the Bill, amendment No. 43 would be helpful because it would improve the wording and make it more precise. Amendment No. 44 would weaken the clause, because it introduces the issue of “proportionate share”, which prompts the question of what that is.
A similar objection applies to amendment No. 32, which refers to “historic levels of emissions”. I am not sure whether there is, has ever been or is ever likely to be exact methodology for calculating historic levels of emissions. Therefore, there is no point in referring in legislation to something that cannot be calculated. The same argument applies to
“projected levels of emissions growth among other countries.”
What on earth does that mean? How many other countries project such levels and over what period of time? The key objection to amendment No. 32 is the imprecision of the language and the fact that it introduces concepts that are subject to vastly different interpretations and, in many respects, do not have a solid statistical base.
Our Government have one key way in which to influence the situation, which is by putting forward legislation that is precise, workable, and backed up by policy that is designed to give effect to the objectives described in the legislation and that provides a model for other countries to follow. It is far more important that we get a piece of legislation that is precise and workable, that Parliament supports the policies that are necessary to implement it, that we achieve the emissions reductions so that we provide a model for other countries to adopt, if they choose to do so, and that we engage enthusiastically in international negotiations to try to persuade other countries to adopt that model rather than resorting to what can only be described as gesture politics by trying to make a reference to 2 in clause 1 the be all and end all of the Bill.
Steve Webb: I do not for a second doubt the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to tackling climate change. This afternoon, he will move an amendment to put an 80 per cent. target in the Bill. If the Bill is not amended and retains the reference to 60 per cent, we will have a target that does not achieve the goal that he and I share and we will have no statement of purpose. We will emerge with a Bill that does not achieve the goal that we share and does not say what the Bill is for. Surely that cannot be acceptable.
Mr. Chaytor: We must remember that the phrase “at least 60 per cent.” could include 80 per cent. or even 95 per cent. I do not think that that is a fundamental point of importance. The “at least 60 per cent.” target will be revised by the Climate Change Committee when it produces its report on 1 December. However, when we get to clause 2, I may put a slightly different argument.
Finally, a reference has been made to contraction and convergence. The Liberal Democrats attempted to challenge the Government on whether they support the principle of contraction and convergence as the basis for international negotiations. I support the principle, but not because it absolutely relies on specifying 2 C, or 450 ppm, as the ultimate objective; I support it because that is what is happening now. The consequence of the Kyoto protocol gave targets to annexe 1 countries and not to non-annexe 1 countries. It is the general objective of even the most recalcitrant countries, such as the United States and, until quite recently, Australia. So, my response to the Liberal Democrat challenge on contraction and convergence is that frankly, there is no alternative. That is what is happening now, and what will happen over the next 50 years and perhaps beyond. That does not mean that the precise model of contraction and convergence put forward by the Global Commons Institute is going to be followed to the letter—I suspect that it will not be—but the general drift to the richer countries contracting their emissions and the developing countries increasing their emissions, and therefore securing convergence, will obviously happen.
Mr. Hurd: The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech, but he has mentioned 450 ppm as an agreed target on two occasions. He knows that the Government, whom he supports, has a target range for stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions, which is 450 to 550 ppm. Will he join me in urging his Government to drop their outlying rider of 550 ppm, because analysis has shown it to be increasingly incompatible with the 2 target?
Mr. Chaytor: I have not said at any point that 450 parts per million is the target. I referred to the fact that the scientific advice suggests that above 450 ppm the likelihood of dangerous climate change increasing is even greater. We need to set the matter in context.
For the reasons that I have outlined, there is a solid argument for withdrawing clause 1, when we come to the Question on clause stand part, but even though the Opposition have made important points on the underlying principles, because of the lack of precision in clause 1 and the nature of the Opposition amendments, I am not convinced that they have successfully made their case.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 25 June 2008