Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Miss McIntosh: It may be appropriate to raise this later, but on the baseline, is the hon. Gentleman also considering setting out and possibly amending targets that we should reach by 2020, so that businesses will know in advance? For the reasons he gave earlier, the early years are just as important as the later years.
Mr. Woolas: I remembered the point as the hon. Lady repeated it. The assurance she needs is in clause 6. The point was made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, and I used the word “symbolic” regarding the 80 per cent. target in the context of the high political debate taking place in this country, not with regard to its scientific importance.
On the trajectory, the carbon budgets are dealt with in clauses 5 and 6, and the potential changes to those are dealt with in clause 7.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Consultation on order amending 2050 target or baseline year
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 56, in clause 4, page 3, line 16, after ‘publish’, insert
‘at the same time as laying before Parliament the relevant order’.
May I seek your clarification, Mr. Atkinson? Should I also speak to amendments Nos. 57 and 70?
The Chairman: No. That is the next group of amendments.
Gregory Barker: Thank you for that clarification.
As we have discovered over the course of our debates, there is some concern that in future the Government may decline to implement the full advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change. Amendments Nos. 57 and 70 deal more fully with that, but this is a largely technical amendment, which would make it clear that the committee’s advice must be published and that, if decisions made by the Minister differ from the recommendation, the reason for the difference must also be specified and published. This is a probing amendment and I shall make my principal remarks on amendments Nos. 57 and 70.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Clause 4 is about transparency, which is a wise provision to have in the Bill given the confusion that we have already witnessed in Committee over the Government’s intentions on the balance of decision-making power between the Committee on Climate Change and the Government and/or Parliament. At an earlier stage of the Bill, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle seemed to suggest that some hypothetical future Government, in which he might be a Minister, would always take the committee’s advice. The logical position for him to take on clause 4 would therefore be to delete it.
Gregory Barker: That is an interesting proposition, and we look to the next general election with increasing confidence. Anticipating that the Administration of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) will run all the way to 2050 would stretch to the limit the confidence of even our most ardent supporters.
Martin Horwood: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I think that he may be missing the point slightly. The amendment to the 2050 target can be made much sooner than that.
Mr. Gummer: Front-Bench and Back-Bench Members may not always be as enthusiastic as each other on various things, but everyone is clear about the fact that there is a specific commitment to accept what the committee suggests to the Government about the target. We take the same view as the Government about it being an advisory committee, but we have said that if the Government are not going to put it in the Bill, they have to make it clear that they will accept what the committee says on the target.
Martin Horwood: As ever, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Amendment No. 56 refers to the subsection in which
“the order makes provision different from that recommended by the committee”.
So we are discussing the Secretary of State disagreeing with the committee’s advice. I will resist the temptation to further debate the party politics, which would not be wise. I accept the good faith of the Conservative spokesman, on this occasion at least.
The debate on other parts of the Bill has also, probably quite accurately, revealed a level of potential distrust about Government intentions in such proceedings. We have heard the phrase, “wriggle room”, and I have worried about the influence of “go-slow Departments” in other parts of Government perhaps trying to influence the process. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal referred to civil servants who might say at some stage in the process, “Better not Minister”. Therefore, it seems right to have amendments that make the process absolutely watertight wherever possible, and in that respect, I happily support amendment No. 56. It is part of the process of making crystal clear what should happen under those circumstances, which is that, if the Government differ from the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on the target, Parliament must know the reasons why at the time at which the order to change the target is being laid. That will enable us to test the methodology suggested, to hold the Government to account and to spot any undue influence by wrigglers, go-slowers or better-nots.
Mr. Gummer: I hope that amendment No. 56 is not seen in anyway as an attack on the Government; it is an attempt to ensure that the Government and any future Government are properly concerned with the issue. It is important because the Minister has shown himself willing to try to meet us. I referred on a radio programme to his willingness to move on the 2 in terms that may be embarrassing to him. I want to make it clear that the measure is there because we all feel that all Governments of any kind should be so constrained because it gives confidence to the public, and, after all, we are looking 40 years ahead—that is a very long time to predict how good future Ministers might be.
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his flattering remarks but I wish that he would stop—there may be a reshuffle or something. Somebody may read the wrong things into his comments.
1.45 pm
Let me try to help the Committee. On amendment No. 56, we know that the Committee on Climate Change has been established to give us expert advice. Clause 4 requires the Government to take the advice of the committee before making any amendment to the long-term target. That is an important part of the process. To reinforce the importance of the committee’s advice further, we accepted an amendment in the other place so that if the target is amended in a way that differs from the committee’s recommendation, the Secretary of State must set out the reasons for doing so. We accepted that point. It is quite possible that the Government would want to publish those reasons at the same time, and as I shall go on to say, it is not only quite possible, it is quite likely. Any Government will be aware of the likely public interest in a change to the long-term target. In addition, clause 3 requires that the order amending the target, as I have said twice already, must be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I think that it is unlikely that any Government would be keen to go into a debate in both Houses without having first made their rationale clear.
Gregory Barker: I do not think that anybody would doubt the point that the Minister is making, certainly in respect of the current Government or the next Administration, so far as we can see. However, as has been pointed out, we are dealing with the next 40 years here, and with the best will in the world, it is impossible to try to anticipate the political make-up or dynamics of an Administration 30 or 40 years hence. Is he confident that he can see that far down the road?
Mr. Woolas: I am very confident that I cannot see that far down the road. I am in a slightly difficult position in that the Government do not have a position on the tabling of the amendment. However, I am prepared today to put on record that if this Government propose to amend the long-term target in a way that differs from the committee’s advice, we will publish our reasons at the same time as laying the order for the amendment. I hope that that satisfies the point that the hon. Gentleman is rightly making.
Gregory Barker: That is a very generous offer, but it covers only two of the next 42 years, so it does not really address the substance of the point.
Mr. Woolas: As I do not anticipate a change in Government in the next 42 years, it goes much further than that. I hope that what I have said gives the hon. Gentleman surety. I do not disagree with the point that he has made, and I can go as far as putting that commitment on record. I hope that the Committee will agree that that has been done in good faith. I thank him for his probing amendment.
Gregory Barker: The amendment was tabled initially as a probing amendment, but the arguments that the Minister has advanced have done nothing to reassure me. The key issue is not the good intentions of this Government, or indeed the next one, but establishing a modus operandi that would bind all Governments through the next four decades. We remain somewhat concerned, and although we hear what the Minister says, we will reserve our position for Report. I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 57, in clause 4, page 3, line 17, at end insert—
‘( ) Before laying before Parliament an order making provision different from that recommended by the Committee, the Secretary of State shall consult the Committee on the effect that difference will have on the risks for the United Kingdom of the predicted impact of climate change.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 70, in clause 55, page 26, line 2, at end insert—
Gregory Barker: As we have just heard, amendment No. 56 would have required the Secretary of State, in the event of setting a target that differed from that recommended by the committee, to publish at the same time as resetting the target the reasons why the advice of the committee was not followed. Moreover, in the event of a Government ignoring its advice—we are not anticipating that the Government today, or next year, or the year after would do so, but we are looking at the whole lifetime of the legislation until 2050—amendment No. 57 would require the Secretary of State of the day to consult the committee on what effect that diversion from its scientific advice would have on the risks that the UK would face from the predicted impact of man-made climate change.
Amendment No. 70 would then further require the Secretary of State to consider whether the country was still on course to meet its indicative annual range when making the report on the impact of climate change. In the absence of the amendment, the Government of the day could more easily ignore the good counsel of the independent committee and make a decision based on political challenges or even political expediency.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a point? He is suggesting that if the Minister decides to ignore the committee, he must ask its advice on the implications of doing so. Is the Minister then bound to take notice of that advice? Is there a sanction if he fails to take notice of the committee’s advice on the implications of his ignoring it in the first place?
Gregory Barker: No. The process would inform debate in Parliament, as the matter would be one for Parliament. Debate in Parliament, and indeed in the country, would be better informed about the intended consequences of the Minister’s actions. It is likely that the Minister will wish not to reject out of hand what the committee advises but to trim. It is unlikely to be black or white. The Minister might say, “We’re going to have some difficulty with this. We’re not going to implement the Committee’s recommendations fully.”
On that basis, we will be facing a new scenario. It is thus important that the House of Commons and the public at large have access to the committee’s opinion, rather than leaving the impact of the revised strategy to further interpretation, especially by the Government of the day.
Martin Horwood: I hesitate to differ with the hon. Gentleman on his own amendment, but it actually says:
“the Secretary of State shall consult the Committee”.
It does not mention Parliament.
Gregory Barker: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understands. The Minister would consult the committee, but he would then have to report to Parliament. There would be a debate when he laid his budgets. There would still be five-yearly budgets, and there would still be debates in Parliament, but the Minister would have to consult the committee on the impact of his decision.
Mr. Gummer: Surely my hon. Friend is drawing attention to something that is already a failing of the Environment Agency? There is a worry that when the Environment Agency’s advice is turned into ministerial propositions, it is often not tested against the Environment Agency. He is on to an important point: Parliament must be able to debate such matters with the knowledge of the committee’s judgment of the Government’s proposed changes. Parliament may well say, “It seems that the Government’s got it right,”—I am not suggesting that it will always be on the committee’s side—but we must know from an authoritative source what the effect of that change might be.
Gregory Barker: Absolutely spot on. Once again, my right hon. Friend puts it far more eloquently and articulately than I could hope to do. He has encapsulated the argument. We want to avoid a situation in which the committee has only one opportunity to give its opinion, which may be reinterpreted by the Minister. We argue that if the Government are willing to depart from the committee’s advice, they should have to explain to the public why they are doing so and be told authoritatively by the committee what effect that decision might have on the impact of climate change. We do not perceive this to be a problem in the short term, but as the life of the legislation will extend all the way to 2050, it needs to be foreshadowed in the Bill.
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