Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: I welcome what the Minister is saying, if that is an olive branch that he is holding out. That is a very sensible way forward. I am mindful of the precedents for a purpose clause in the Legal Aid Act 1988 and the Family Law Act 1996. Even though I have not been in Parliament for nearly as long as other Committee members, I have enough experience in Committee to know that blandishments offered in the spirit of consensus somehow melt like spring snow by the time we get to Report or Third Reading. I press the Minister to be more specific on how he anticipates solving the problem, which we have been wrestling with all day.
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman has asked a fair question. I reject the implication that Ministers make statements in Public Bill Committee that are not followed through—it may be that the Opposition fail to push such issues in the future months and years—and I am not aware that I have ever done that. In any event, the Third Reading and Report stages of this Bill will be scrutinised, I suspect, over and above other Bills passed in this place.
The advice that I have received states that there are potential problems in incorporating 2 C in the long title, but it is one suggestion that I am going to take away and look at. Another suggestion is that we have a preamble. I have to tell the Committee that David Renton MP looked at the question of preambles in his influential report on legislation in 1975, so I am not coming up with this off the top of my head and there are precedents. The bottom line is that as much as politicians like to put manifesto commitments and so on in Bills, we make law in Committee. Although I do not rule out the first two suggestions, other suggestions have been made. It is clearly in the interest of the Bill that we find a way of stating clearly that a limit at 2 C is our objective. I just remind the Committee that not everybody in the world is content with that and that there are those who say that that goes too far.
Gregory Barker: The Minister has mentioned the preamble and the long title, but he has made no reference to the precedent of a purpose clause, as I mentioned with reference to the Legal Aid Act 1988 and the Family Law Act 1996. Is he therefore ruling out the possibility of returning with a reworded, reworked purpose clause?
Mr. Woolas: There are always such arguments in Standing Committee. I remember the then Member for Kensington and Chelsea, Michael Portillo, a former Transport Minister with many years’ experience, being appointed to the Transport Bill Committee and pointing out, rather like the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal did, that where civil servants say “better not”, one should be brave and stand up to it. The important point is that the preamble to a Bill must not diminish its legislative coherence.
Martin Horwood rose—
Mr. Woolas: I am going to satisfy the hon. Gentleman, so he does not need to intervene. If I can find a way of meeting the objective without damaging the coherence of the Bill in its legal terms, of course I will do so.
Martin Horwood: Given that his argument is that it is impossible in British legislation to have even the aim of contributing to objectives that are influenced by events outside this country, may I refer him, using my trusty computer—a welcome innovation, in my view—to the International Development Act 2002, which includes statutory duties in part 1, section 9 to carry out agreements for
“improving the welfare of the population of”
countries outside the UK.
Mr. Woolas: I am beginning to wonder why we ever set up the Modernisation Committee, because what has happened is what you warned against, Mr Cook.
The Chairman: Not yet.
Mr. Woolas: I do not think the hon. Member for Cheltenham has made a fair comparison—his example relates to what this country does to influence another country. What I am arguing here is that it is irresponsible to legislate on things over which one does not have control.
I have given a commitment to the Committee, and I must draw my remarks to a close. Amendments Nos. 33, 43 and 44 would not add to the Bill, and I believe, as my right hon. Friend Lord Rooker argued in the other place, that they would create problems.
Miss McIntosh: I want to help the Minister, because I want us to coalesce around a form of words and a way forward. The long title of a Bill has legal status and is legally binding, although that is possibly not the case with the preamble. Is he therefore minded to change the long title rather than the preamble?
Mr. Woolas: A long title of a Bill is a descriptive title as to what the Bill is. It is not there to set out the Bill’s purpose, but I am happy to investigate whether we could do that. One could argue that limiting global temperature increases to 2 is, in common-sense terms, the purpose of the Bill. Common sense is not a bad policy, so I shall continue to consider that.
The arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, North, for Southampton, Test and for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North, are very powerful, and none of us wants to do something that would jeopardise the UK’s ability to implement the Bill. My advice is that clause 1, even if it were amended—I accept the intention behind the amendments—would do that, and I therefore urge the Committee to reject it.
4.45 pm
Gregory Barker: I shall not detain the Committee long. We listened carefully to the Minister and we do not accept that there cannot be a principal aim or a purpose clause in the Bill. We think there is room for that, but we are open-minded about working with the Government to improve the clause further and ensure that it complies with the best legal advice. If there is another way in which the intention in the principal aim can be incorporated, in a preamble or otherwise, we shall consider it constructively. We therefore do not intend to obstruct the Minister.
We shall work constructively with the Government, but we will hold them to their word. They must return with a workable solution that does not water down the intention behind the principal aim. If they cannot, we shall bring forward our own solution on Report. I hope that we will be able to work with the Minister to achieve broad consensus.
Steve Webb: All that talk about bears has been slightly polarising, so I shall try to identify common ground. [Interruption.] Perhaps I should stop there. I think I have lost them.
On a serious note, there is far more agreement in the Committee than one might have imagined from listening to the debate for the past three or four hours. In logical sequence, we accept that there is scientific evidence that there is a global figure for emissions consistent with a 2 change; we accept that the UK needs to play its part; and we accept, as the Minister has confirmed that the Government accept, that the UK’s part needs to be more than the global average because of our history, as amendment No. 32 states, and because of the desire for other economies to grow. The debate is therefore about whether the clause helps to establish how we can move from a global to a national figure.
The debate has been constructive. I shall not go through the contributions, but we have benefited hugely from those of two former senior Ministers. I have not heard the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood speak on the subject before, but he made a well informed and well considered contribution. The hon. Members for Bury, North, and for Southampton, Test, raised the matter of whether there is a better way to meet our goal than is provided for in the clause. We appreciate the Minister’s willingness to consider that, whether through the long title of the Bill or another mechanism.
We would like to keep the clause, in case the Minister makes a lot of promises and, shall we say, does not have time to fulfil all of them. However, if there is a better way to achieve what is largely a common goal, we will be happy to work with him to that end. We shall not divide the Committee on the amendments, but we will do so on clause stand part. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 11.
Division No. 1]
Horwood, Martin
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Banks, Gordon
Brown, Mr. Russell
Buck, Ms Karen
Chaytor, Mr. David
Gilroy, Linda
Griffith, Nia
McDonagh, Siobhain
Ruddock, Joan
Snelgrove, Anne
Walley, Joan
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 1 disagreed to.

Clause 2

The target for 2050
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out ‘60%’ and insert ‘80%’.
The amendment is straightforward and short, but that does not necessarily mean that the debate will be short. I thought it was the shortest amendment on the amendment paper, until I discovered that amendment No. 52 to clause 16 reads:
“leave out ‘1%’ and insert ‘0.5%’.”
That amendment is one digit shorter.
The Chairman: We must concentrate on amendment No. 2.
Mr. Chaytor: Of course. The history of the amendment—the debate about 60 per cent. and 80 per cent.—has been well rehearsed. It has been well argued in the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, and I imagine that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has also debated the matter at length. It was debated at enormous length in the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill this time last year, and of course, it was given consideration in another place, so we do not need to go over the arguments in great detail. It is also not necessary to reinforce the urgent need for action and, in the context of the amendment, more stringent action on climate change, because of the damage that it is causing and is increasingly likely to cause. We are all familiar with those effects and predictions.
It is important, first, that as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Government’s decision and the Bill reflect the scientific evidence, and secondly, that it has credibility. I shall come to the different kinds of credibility, if necessary, in due course.
In the debate on the previous clause, the Minister expressed concern that I would undermine his arguments. I am delighted that he was relieved that I did not. I want to reassure him that I do not intend to undermine his arguments in defence of the wording in the Bill. I want to strengthen the case that will underline some of his arguments and may get him to reconsider them, if not today, then before the Bill comes back on Report.
When the Government first expressed their intention to establish a 2050 target, it was framed in terms of 60 per cent.—the wording in the Bill is “at least 60%”—owing to the landmark 2000 report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. That report concentrated the minds of many policy experts and the Government, and helped to generate a wider debate on climate change. The important thing is that the report based its judgment on the scientific evidence presented in the second assessment report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which was published in 1995. We are now in 2008 and the scientific basis for the figure adopted by the Government is therefore 13 years old. It is time that we reviewed the state of the scientific evidence.
Two years ago, the intergovernmental panel on climate change published its fourth assessment report, in which it made it much clearer that the evidence base had changed and that the likely reduction in emissions needed to remain within the 2 had increased. To be precise, the report stated clearly that if annexe 1 countries wish to keep to the guideline carbon concentration of 400 ppm by volume, we need to aim for cuts in the range of 25 to 40 per cent. by 2020, and 80 to 90 per cent. by 2050. Even if we keep to those guidelines, there is no guarantee that the temperature increase will remain below 2. However, they represent our best chance.
If the scientific evidence undermines the Bill’s content, we need to base our judgment on the fourth assessment report. The Government recognised that to some extent by replacing their original formulation of a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050 with a reduction of “at least” 60 per cent. That provides a certain flexibility, but of course it could include 61, 62, or 60.003 per cent., and according to the fourth report that would not be enough.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): As I understand it, the Government’s position is slightly broader than that. Essentially, they are telling the Committee that the decision cannot be taken by MPs, but by the Committee on Climate Change. On Second Reading, the Minister was asked twice whether the Government would accept and implement the Committee’s recommendations. I was concerned, because on both occasions he replied no. Even if the Committee comes up with a recommendation of 80 per cent. or more, we have no guarantee that Ministers will accept it, unless we get a clear undertaking. Surely that raises another issue of credibility.
5 pm
Mr. Chaytor: That is an important point, but the Bill provides opportunities elsewhere to debate the role and significance of the Committee on Climate Change’s advice. I know that that was discussed in another place.
If we are to have credibility, we must stick with the Government’s position, which is that the final judgment on the 2050 target should be based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence. I need to say at this stage—I think I said it on Second Reading, and perhaps this morning, as well—that we have to avoid the assumption that the science is precise. We have to avoid the danger of getting hung up on an absolutely precise percentage, because the world is not like that; the knowledge that we have is not yet sufficiently advanced and may never be so. We are always going to be looking at figures within a range. To set a minimum, when we know that the latest evidence clearly indicates that we need to go significantly beyond that minimum, is the very least we can do. I also do not accept that, if the Climate Change Committee came up with a specific percentage or if a fifth assessment report from the IPCC suggested another percentage of 82 per cent. or 85 per cent., that should be the only factor, because those figures are not absolutely precise; it is not possible to predict what circumstances will be in 2050.
Simply because of the competing interests in any large, industrialised democracy, how the issue can best be managed has to be a matter of political judgment. In one sense, that answers the intervention from the hon. Member for Banbury. It is important that the voice of those who are generating wealth in our economy are listened to. It is important that consumers are listened to and the impact on their standard of living and way of life is reflected. It is crucial that the survival of the planet is at the centre of our considerations. However, it is also important that we listen carefully to those who have the skills and the knowledge to develop the new low-carbon technologies that are going to get us out of this deep problem.
There has to be credibility. There has to be a balance of credibility within those four different competing interest groups, but there also has to be credibility at international level. Again, I shall try to reflect the essence of the argument put by the Opposition on clause 1. If the Government are going to retain international credibility, it would be a contradiction if, having established such a lead internationally and having been the first country in the world to introduce a Climate Change Bill with binding targets, one of those key targets fell well short of what was proposed by the latest scientific evidence. In order to maintain credibility domestically, and internationally, it is crucial that we stick with the science.
Of course, it is not just the IPCC report; the United Nations Development Programme has also been very clear that an 80 per cent. reduction by 2050 from annexe 1 countries is necessary. In addition, on 21 January this year, the Government received a letter from the chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and, I think, two former chairmen. It may be as well for me to read it into the record again just to reinforce its importance. The letter was addressed to party leaders from the former chairman, the former chief executive of the Met Office and the past president of the British Ecological Society and former chairman of the RCEP. The letter said very clearly that the
“UK Climate Change Bill targets are based on out-of-date science. In tackling the global challenge of climate change, governments must follow the latest science that clearly shows the need for the UK to reduce its C02 emissions by at least 80 per cent. by 2050. This will require much more substantial action by 2020 than the Government is currently considering. The UK Climate Change Bill proposes a reduction in C02 emissions of at least 60 per cent. by 2050. This target is based on a report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) from 2000. Since this time, developments in climate change science show that this target is insufficient to avoid the worst impacts of climate change for people, species and habitats.”
I want to argue the case for an increase in the target at this stage from at least 60 per cent. to at least 80 per cent. I also want to deal with some of the objections that the Government have raised when this point has been made previously.
It has been said, rightly, that the target in 2050 is not necessarily the determining factor in whether we avoid a rise in temperature of more than 2 C. The interim targets for 2020 are equally if not more important. The Minister said earlier that it would be possible significantly to increase the stringency of the targets by 2020 and suddenly to decrease the targets in 2050—highlighting the point that 2050 was perhaps a little bit arbitrary. In theory that is so, but in reality that would not happen. We need two sets of targets—interim and longer term—and if the interim target is sufficiently stringent, the technologies deployed to achieve that target will continue to generate emissions reductions as we move to 2050. I recognise that 2020 is crucial. In fact, the IPCC fourth assessment report argued clearly that, in the advanced countries, CO2 emissions need to peak by 2015 and then start on a downward trajectory, so there is no dispute about the urgency of the situation. Of course, that message was reinforced by the Stern report.
The Government have said that the at least 60 per cent. reductions formula is not necessarily the definitive one, because the Climate Change Committee is charged with the task of reviewing the existing science, considering the first carbon budgets and reporting by 1 December. That is true, but, returning to the question of credibility, it would seem contradictory if the Bill completed its progress through the House—perhaps not before the recess; it will probably come back in October on Report and Third Reading—with a target of at least 60 per cent. and the Climate Change Committee published its review four or six weeks later, suggesting a target of at least 70 per cent. or 75 per cent. It would be uniquely embarrassing if the target figure on which the Bill was based were immediately made obsolete by the Climate Change Committee’s report on 1 December.
The power to amend the targets cuts both ways. If the Climate Change Committee came up with a higher figure, it would be easy to amend the existing formula of at least 60 per cent., but if a formula of at least 80 per cent. was included in the Bill now and the Climate Change Committee on recommended a 70 per cent. target, it would be possible to amend the Bill downwards to mention 70 per cent. It is unlikely that the powers proposed under the Bill as it stands would enable us to do that.
A point of crucial significance has not yet received the debate it deserves—not in the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill last year, in the other place, or on Second Reading in this place. Let me quote briefly from the Prime Minister’s statement to the House yesterday, reporting from the European Council meeting in Brussels over the weekend, in which he reminded us that,
“This time last year the price of oil was about $65 a barrel. At the last European Council in March it stood at $107. At the June Council, the oil price had risen further still to more than $135 a barrel.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 23.]
The conclusion that we can draw from the relentless rise in the oil price in the past 12 months is that that may achieve as much if not more than any targets that any Government set, because the price of oil will drive a fundamental change in our use of fossil fuels, our lifestyles and our technologies.
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