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Climate Change Bill [Lords]

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Peter Atkinson, †Frank Cook
Baldry, Tony (Banbury) (Con)
Banks, Gordon (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab)
Barker, Gregory (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Chaytor, Mr. David (Bury, North) (Lab)
Gilroy, Linda (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Gummer, Mr. John (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Maclean, David (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Ruddock, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
Walley, Joan (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab)
Webb, Steve (Northavon) (LD)
Weir, Mr. Mike (Angus) (SNP)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Woolas, Mr. Phil (Minister for the Environment)
John Benger, Sara Howe, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 24 June 2008


[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

Clause 1

Climate Change
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 43, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, after ‘that’, insert ‘between 2008 and 2050 total’.—[Steve Webb.]
4 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing 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.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): I was in mid-stream, having just returned from a 48-hour conference session in Korea, debating with the G8 and G5, and attempting to convince them of the virtues of our policy on a 2 C cap and the mid-term goals to achieve that, only to arrive back in our country to face criticism from the Opposition that I was not committed to that. The ironies of political life are great.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): How did the Minister get on?
Mr. Woolas: The significant breakthrough at the weekend was that the G5 countries tacitly accepted the need for a 50 per cent. cut by 2050. Some of the G8 countries were not happy with that, but as ever, the United Kingdom played a pivotal role. Mr. Cook, you are frowning, so I shall move on.
I was attempting to persuade the Committee, with the greatest integrity, I think, that clause 2, the 50 per cent. obligation, provides the surety that the Committee seeks, through the limit of a 2 C increase in temperature on pre-industrial revolution figures. Therefore, clause 1 is not only unnecessary, but unworkable. The Committee is looking for assurances, so having reflected during the break, I shall answer the questions that were asked of me, and then put my argument.
The hon. Member for Northavon described his amendment as being “as ever” intended to be helpful. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden to make a note of that, so that we can come back to it. The hon. Member for Northavon, displaying terrific research, referred to the purpose clauses that were included in the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 and the Environment Act 1995. It is no coincidence, of course, that I was the Minister during the passage of the former, and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal was the Secretary of State during the passage of the latter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Northavon on his research.
At the time of the Sustainable Communities Bill, I was advised that it was better not to include a purpose clause. When I asked whether it did any harm to the legislation or whether it was just repetitive, I was advised that it did no harm, so I took the bold decision as a Minister to accept one.
On the 1995 Act, I think the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal will back me up—it was his Bill—when I say that the purpose clause was for the Environment Agency. It was not specifically a purpose clause for the legislation. The hon. Member for Northavon will press me and say that the Government have accepted purpose clauses in other Bills. He makes a reasonable point, but I would say in defence that, where legislation places an obligation on the Government of the day to act in a certain way, such as in the fuel poverty legislation, it places that legal obligation for as long as the Act is in existence. In that sense, a purpose clause is beneficial to the judiciary in defining the Act.
That is my explanation why a purpose clause is not appropriate in the Bill. The crucial point is that clause 2 places a legal requirement not just on Ministers, but on civil servants, who can advise on policy decisions only within the law. Given that clause 2(1) is based on a 2 temperature limit at 2050, I urge Opposition Members to consider my intention. My argument is that clause 2(1) does exactly what it says on the tin, exactly what they want to do in clause 1, without the disadvantages of clause 1, which I am trying to explain.
Let me say clearly that the Government and I agree with the points made by hon. Members on both sides about the trajectory—about the mid-term. The point about 60, 80 or 100 per cent.—whatever the long-term target—is that it is not important, compared to the mid-term target. Greenhouse gases accumulate in the air. How one gets to the target is more important than the target itself. With just a long-term target of 60, 80 or 100 per cent. reduction, one could increase emissions for the next period, through to 2049, then decrease them in the last year.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Northavon about historic greenhouse gas emissions. The firm policy of the United Kingdom is to accept the responsibility that comes with that. I repeat that in this important Public Bill Committee. We accept that we are one of the countries with that historical moral responsibility. There is no question about that.
I also accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the progress of developing countries in increasing their prosperity. It would not be tenable politically, economically or morally to say that developing countries cannot develop because we have discovered that greenhouse gases are damaging. My argument is that, in the long term, developing countries will increase prosperity through a low-carbon economy, which is in our mutual interest. It follows that the amount of overseas offsetting of carbon emissions must take into account not only the benefits that accrue to our country, but the benefits that can accrue to developing countries. However, we will come to that debate on other clauses and amendments.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal placed me in a difficult position. He has enormous experience. When I saw his name on the Committee, I admit that I worried. Not only does the right hon. Gentleman have great experience—he had more experience in Cabinet than virtually anyone else—but he is an environmentalist. Therefore, the charge he makes against the Government has to be taken very seriously indeed. He said that we cannot adopt an “After you, Claude” policy, and he is right—we cannot do that.
Of course, we are ahead of other countries, and the Bill, particularly clause 2, underlines that. Basing our target for a reduction in carbon emissions on the premise of a 2o increase and making that obligatory on the Secretary of State—which means the Government—further enhances the policy in legislation and means that we are not in an “After you, Claude” situation.
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point that not accepting clause 1 puts me into that category. I can see that, presentationally, it will do so, and I have to find an answer to that, but I hope he accepts that the United Kingdom is not in an “After you, Claude” scenario.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I totally accept that the Minister and the Government have produced a Bill that is designed to put us ahead of other countries, not behind them. There is no question about that. However, there is a difficulty if we start by removing from the Bill something that people see as adding to it, even though the Minister explained that there are those who believe that it involves a legal obligation. I still find that difficult to accept. I do not believe it to be the case, but that is the advice that he was given. I am not a lawyer and I do not want to be one.
Mr. Woolas: I hope that Labour Members support my saying that the right hon. Gentleman has just shown that his motive is not party political—I am grateful to him.
Before I go through the answers to the questions, with your permission, Mr. Cook, I would like to enter a cul-de-sac and read out the advice that I was given on a preamble, because it is worth reading:
“Preambles are a rarity in modern Acts of Parliament. We are not aware of any for many decades, although they were more common back in the 19th Century. I understand the desire of politicians to make clear statements of principle, but I must remind the Committee that Bills are about making laws”.
That is good advice. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has seen it before—he will have seen it during his 17 years in ministerial office—but I am teasing him. Let me return to the argument.
I emphasise that European Union policy, to which the UK is a signatory, does not put clause 1 into European law, although it is well known around the world that the EU is the strongest advocate of the 2 increase. It does not put it into law for the same reason that I have advocated that we should not put it into law. That does not deny the objective of capping at 2, but it does deny that clause 1 is the best way to do it.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Is not the underlying problem that the European Union objective of 2, strongly stated by all leaders, has been around since 1996? I believe that that was when it was first adopted. The problem is that we are not making any progress towards it, yet each year it costs us a great deal. Is not the underlying problem the lack of political accountability for the goal? It is easy to talk about it, but there is no accountability on delivering it.
4.15 pm
Mr. Woolas: I do not accept that point entirely. The EU is well placed internationally, because a number of EU countries, including the UK, are on course to meet the Kyoto targets. Indeed, it is interesting that in the international debate the objection to 2 C is sometimes that some European countries are on course to do better in their contribution. The EU policy is a 20 per cent. reduction in the medium term. A 30 per cent. reduction is on offer to the international community, if we can achieve an international agreement premised on 50 per cent. by 2050, which is the 2 C target we are talking about. As one of the few countries within the EU—bearing in mind that we have one of the biggest economies and are therefore one of the biggest emitters—the UK is committed to the point that hon. Members from both sides have urged the Government to put in the Bill.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the London Eye, a comment which is, of course, within our remit because the south bank is part of the defence against floods, and is therefore part of adaptation to climate change. I understand that it is also British Airways’ only profitable cost centre.
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