Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Gummer: I have listened carefully to the Minister, and I respect his argument. However, he has pushed me into a position that is slightly different from the one that I thought I would be in. The difficulty now is that he has admitted—I mean “admitted” not in the newspaper sense, but in the sense that he has stated something—that the work in his Department is based on the assumption that we are, whether we like it or not, in the area of 80 per cent., if one takes a reasonable view of the responsibilities of the rich countries.
The Minister also said that the figure in the Bill is based on a mechanism that is similar to the one used in his Department. I am loth to have a Bill in which all the other figures are based on the up-to-date situation, but that figure is based on a much earlier scenario.
The Minister has explained his difficulties, but nobody is asking him to say that he will accept everything that the Climate Change Committee recommends. This situation is different from the Low Pay Commission, for example, because the Government did not have a minimum wage to start with. They did not say, “We will have a minimum wage of £4.02.” They said, “Give us a recommendation.” I know that the parallel is not exact, but we have a minimum wage in this case. Will the Minister be kind enough to explain whether it is really sensible to leave in a figure from 15 years ago?
Mr. Woolas: I point the right hon. Gentleman to the phrase “at least 60 per cent.”, which includes everything above 60 per cent.—the process does not stop at 100 per cent. I disagree with him in one respect. If he thinks that no one had a minimum wage in mind, he is wrong. I seem to remember the Transport and General Workers Union lobby, which was for £7.50, was it not? I jest.
The parallel with the Low Pay Commission does work in that parliamentarians pressed us to commit up front to accepting whatever was recommended. The argument at the time was that it would give the country greater confidence if it could see that the figure had been arrived at by an independent process that was then subject to the due process of Government decision making, including, incidentally, the devolved Administrations, which have not been mentioned in this case. Such a process would give stability.
As I have said, I have exhausted my arguments. I hope that I have persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, who moved the amendment, of the virtue of my case. I repeat, I find it very difficult to conceive of circumstances in which both the Government and Parliament would not accept the advice.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for responding to the debate so carefully and painstakingly. I want to reply as briefly as possible to the key arguments. Essentially, this single digit amendment has triggered the best part of three and a half hours of debate. The only benefit is that that may reduce the time needed to debate part 2 of the Bill, because the majority of the debate related to clause 32, which is in part 2.
Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman’s point about taking out the figure is valid. The Conservatives considered that proposal very seriously. The problem is that while it is intellectually coherent, it is a very difficult message to convey and is capable of being misconstrued in the outside world. One has to be practical and accept that people who take an interest in such matters are looking for a lead. It is much easier to communicate and carry with us support from outside with the 60 per cent. figure, with the understanding that we are looking for a higher figure from the Climate Change Committee.
Mr. Chaytor: I appreciate that point, and I do not propose to table a further amendment to delete “at least 60 per cent.” All hon. Members, including the Minister, accept that the science has moved on and that the matter involves not only science, but economics, political judgment and our negotiating position in the post-Kyoto negotiations to reach a settlement for beyond 2012. Taking into account all those factors, “at least 80 per cent.” is the more realistic figure at this stage.
I want to reiterate a point that I made in my opening remarks, because I may not have made myself clear—following the advice of the hon. Member for Banbury to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test earlier, I am tempted to repeat the whole argument. Essentially, the issue is here regardless of climate change. Because of the finite nature of fossil fuels, it makes absolute sense to set a higher target to send the right signals now to business, industry and the population of all western industrialised countries as a whole that our way of life, technologies and expectations must change. The sooner that we prepare for that, the better and less painful it will be.
In respect of the target date, the Minister made the important point that the interim target of 2020 is more important than the target of 2050, because of the trajectory. However, we need two dates in order to have a trajectory, and we cannot have a trajectory on the basis of a starting point. I want to challenge the notion that 2050 is less relevant or not relevant. We need a starting point, a mid-point and an end point. Having said that, I do not accept that there is overwhelming significance in the choice of a target or a date.
It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.
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