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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Climate Change

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

Thursday 26 June 2008


[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

Clause 2

The target for 2050
Amendment proposed [24 June 2008]: No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out ‘60%’ and insert ‘80%’.—[Mr. Chaytor.]
9 am
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): On behalf of the Committee, may I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson? You join a lively debate on what we might call the 80/60 issue. Personally, I regret the way in which this issue has been allowed to become totemic in relation to the Bill, because in my view the most important target, and the political prize at the moment, is the 2020 target—the interim target.
If we are serious about meeting the 2 C threshold, my understanding of the science tells me that it is critical that we stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases at around 450 parts per million. Given that we are at 380 ppm and rising at 2 ppm every year, it seems to me that we face an enormous challenge. The only way in which we can achieve that target is through some form of peak and decline framework. On the science that I have seen, we need global emissions to peak in a framework of around 15 to 20 years. Given that we are on a trajectory to fail in that task, the political energy of this Committee should be focused on the 2020 target and the credibility of the policy framework that underpins it. The 2050 target is, of course, important, because it sets a direction of travel and trajectory for carbon budgets, which are the key innovation in this Bill.
The dividing lines of that debate, the importance of which I do not want to understate, are now clear, and amendment No. 2 is supported by two esteemed members of the Environmental Audit Committee, who are clearly extremely sincere in their view. The Liberal Democrats, who carry conviction on this subject, also support the amendment, and I believe that they also see some political advantage in their position. The Conservative party position is that a great deal of sympathy has been expressed for the principles behind the amendment, but, for reasons that have been very adequately expressed by my hon. Friends, we would prefer to see leadership on this issue from the independent Climate Change Committee, and we have placed on record our commitment to uphold the recommendation of any such committee. The Government’s position is broadly in line with that, with one very big caveat: the Minister has placed on record that a Labour Government will not feel under any obligation to follow the recommendation of the independent Climate Change Committee—that was when the Minister’s said no on Second Reading. Those are the key dividing lines in the debate.
For the record, I am an “at least 80 per cent.” man. I placed that view on the record in December 2006 in a paper that I co-authored for the quality of life policy group, which was so ably chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. That report was called “Don’t give up on 2 C”, and it made it clear that we should be thinking about at least 80 per cent. That was the view that guided the work of the quality of life policy group. All the evidence that I have heard in the Environmental Audit Committee and in the Joint Committee that scrutinised this draft Bill has served to reinforce that view.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Good morning to you, Mr. Atkinson. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of the debate so far, but as an 80 per cent. man—I have no doubt about his sincerity on that point—does he accept the inherent risk in the Conservative position? Given what he has said about the Government’s position and an election not happening for another two years, there is the risk that a 60 per cent. target will be used. Why should we risk a 60 per cent. target, given that we are going to ask the Climate Change Committee for its opinion anyway? Why not have 80 per cent. in the Bill as an insurance policy?
Mr. Hurd: The hon. Gentleman and other supporters of 80 per cent. continue to ignore two very important words in the Bill, which are “at least.” I touch on the importance of those two words, because they mean something to me. I would be amazed if the independent Climate Change Committee were to reach any conclusion after examining the evidence other than that 60 per cent. is inadequate. Therefore I have a great deal of confidence that an independent committee will come forward with that view, which, as has been pointed out, goes with the grain of the international movement in California and Germany.
In my view and that of my party, there is a great deal of value in having that position validated and challenged by an independent Climate Change Committee of experts, because the background to the Bill is the damaged credibility of the political process in setting and meeting targets, and we must respect that point. For me, the whole value of the Bill lies in the word “accountability”, which means a much better process for setting and revising targets and for holding the Government of the day accountable for those targets. The lack of accountability has undermined the current process. For me, that is the whole value of the Bill.
In that context, the independent Climate Change Committee is a key innovation. It will be extremely helpful for that committee to be seen to take the lead in proposing a target or a shift in a target, which would—we must be honest about this—have significant economic implications. Because our political process has been devalued, there will be tremendous value in the committee, if it is independent. I spent many months scrutinising the Bill in the Environmental Audit Committee and the Joint Committee, and I could ally myself with the Government’s position, if I felt confident that they genuinely believe in the independence of the committee and that they genuinely believe that the committee should have teeth.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that we share two views? First, the figure will have to be 80-plus per cent.; secondly, that figure is best decided by the committee, not least because that will guarantee the way in which we are going to proceed. The problem is that it looks as though the Government cannot give us the assurance that they will treat the committee properly. It is a question of not only that decision, but all decisions. If that decision cannot be left to the committee, then what other decisions could be? I am afraid the Government are pushing me towards the position of saying that in these circumstances it is better to have the 80 per cent. target in the Bill than not at all. I do not want to do that, because the alternative is better. The Government seem to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the most remarkable manner.
Mr. Hurd: I have a great deal of sympathy with my right hon. Friend’s point. We were both reasonably comfortable with the Government’s position when we came to the Committee, if there was a genuine sense that the committee was to have bite. Early signs were encouraging in terms of the appointment of the chairman of the committee. Adair Turner was an extremely good choice, and it is a source of great concern that he has decided to move on so quickly.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to look at the oral evidence on the independent Committee on Climate Change given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 26 March? At that time, Adair Turner himself said that
“you cannot have a body for climate change which is given complete independence in pursuing a target”.
Mr. Hurd: I have not seen that evidence, but that is a perfectly sensible remark. There is no dispute that the final decision must rest with Parliament, which is accountable to the people. There are degrees of independence: we need an independent Climate Change Committee that can make life tough for the Government, but that is not to say that it should be ultimately responsible for setting targets. It is a question of the degree to which the committee can make life tough, and the degree to which the Government of the day feel obliged to accept its recommendation. That is where there are gaps between us.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation is different, because the Government said to those who want 80 per cent. that it would be better if the committee decided the target? The Government indicated that that was not in to water down the target, but to get the decision made in a more sensible way.
If the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton remembers the words that she has just quoted, why on earth did she vote yesterday for Parliament to lose all control over the planning system? It is really two-faced to say what she has said.
Mr. Hurd: I will leave my right hon. Friend and the hon. Lady to sort that out between themselves.
The Minister has picked up the Opposition’s genuine concerns about his reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury on Second Reading. The Opposition have already said that we will accept the recommendation of the independent Climate Change Committee in relation to the key target. We do not think that we should be overly prescriptive about the level at this stage, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal has argued, that would undermine the authority and credibility of the Committee at a crucial stage. The words “at least” are very important. I will listen very carefully to what the Minister says in relation to the Government’s attitude to any recommendation from the committee. If the Minister continues to pursue the no, no, no line, which has not served previous political leaders too well, I suspect that he will have a problem with Opposition Members.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I have been listening very carefully, and I must confess that I am puzzled. On the one hand, it has been suggested that the Committee on Climate Change should not be a wholly freestanding body, with no relation to anybody else, while on the other my hon. Friend the Minister is being berated for suggesting that the committee should have that particular arrangement attached to it. My puzzlement is increased by the fact that in both the draft Bill and the Bill as it came out of the House of Lords, there is a clause—it is clause 20 in the draft Bill—with the heading:
“Advice in connection with carbon budgets”.
The clause states:
“It is the duty of the Committee to advise the Secretary of State”.
That draft clause is clause 34 in the Bill that is before us today. The heading states:
“Advice in connection with carbon budgets”,
and the clause states that
“It is the duty of the Committee to advise the Secretary of State”.
In other words, the wording is identical. No one sought to amend the clause during the pre-legislative scrutiny or the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords. I also note that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal has not tabled amendments to clause 34 suggesting that that committee should be other than it was always intended to be, which is an advisory committee.
I have a straightforward, common-sense understanding of the word “advisory”, namely that the committee advises. To enable a committee to command, the wording would have to be different. For the committee to be required metaphorically to make an offer that cannot be refused would not be an appropriate way to legislate as far as Parliament is concerned. It is clear that the committee has an advisory role.
A moment ago, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood clearly indicated that that is his view of the committee, which is at odds with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who appeared to insist on the idea that the committee should not have that function. When the Minister was asked the question on Second Reading, he gave the only answer he could given where the Bill stood. The Bill was not unformed on Second Reading, because it had already been discussed and scrutinised in the House of Lords before coming to this House on Second Reading.
When the Minister was asked whether there were any circumstances in which he could envisage the considerations of the Committee on Climate Change not being implemented, the only possible answer without doing injustice to this Bill was no. One may say that that was a blunt answer. Although my hon. Friend the Minister is known for his straightforwardness and bluntness, his answer was not only the correct answer but the only one that could have been given. The question could have been phrased differently. For example, if he had been asked about circumstances in which, given the terms of the relationship between the committee and the Government and the committee’s responsibilities, the Government could not easily take the committee’s advice, particularly with regard to whether the target should be at least 60 per cent. or 80 per cent., I suspect that he would have provided an extended response.
9.15 am
It is specious to make a great point about the Minister’s reply on Second Reading when the record states that it was the only thing that could have been said under the circumstances. I hope, therefore, that that avenue will not be followed, as it is not a serious point about a process which I think everybody here agrees will almost certainly result in an increase from at least 60 per cent. to 80 per cent.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I find the hon. Gentleman’s point incomprehensible. I do not want to delay the Committee, but could he please take us through it again? With all due respect, the first point was totally nonsensical. I want to concentrate on what he is saying. Could he take us through the logic of his argument again? It sounded like complete nonsense.
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Prepared 27 June 2008