Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hurd: I have no doubt about the Minister’s sincerity on this issue, as I have heard her talk about it before, but let me put it to her that as far as this is concerned, her advice is duff. Clause 11 says quite categorically that we put, as a society, a value on material prosperity and the economy because we have to take into account economic circumstances and the impact on the economy. However, when we are being presented with an opportunity to send a strong signal that we put a value on the natural resources on which that economy depends, we duck it.
Joan Ruddock: On the contrary. The case that I make is that the phrase that we have in the Bill about science entirely covers those points. All the science acknowledges these points. I have to return the hon. Gentleman to the nature of the amendments—this is a technical point—which are specifically asking us when setting budgets, which are just numbers, to take account of the effect that that might have on the world’s biodiversity and the world’s temperature rises. Clearly, I am sorry to say, I could use the same word—“duff”—about the amendments, but I shall say that they at least do not work.
4 pm
David Maclean: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the kind and courteous way in which she is dealing with my amendments. While I accept that they might legally and technically be duff, given that in the places I have tried to insert the phrases “biodiversity” and “rain forest”, they may not actually work, will she accept the vision thing? She kindly said that in my speech I was making “a vision thing”. Does she not accept that somewhere in the Bill, with the Government’s excellent lawyers and civil service, they could put a bit of the vision thing in, using appropriate phraseology and at the appropriate place, to highlight the importance of rain forests and biodiversity?
Joan Ruddock: I think the right hon. Gentleman has enough parliamentary experience to know that we do not put such visions into Bills. We debated a preamble in a previous sitting. When great speeches come to be made, as they will as a consequence of the Bill becoming an Act of Parliament and all that will flow from that, including the reports that come in to Parliament, people will undoubtedly surround whatever they have to say of a technical nature with that vision, because nobody can doubt that that vision is why we are doing this. Why have the Government brought a Bill of this nature to Parliament? Because we understand that our whole planet is in great danger and we must make our contribution to dealing with it. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has had to say on several occasions, we deal with only what we have the possibility to control, and that is our own carbon emissions and the way in which we decide on them and report on them.
I shall dealing now with the new reporting requirement that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border would like to place upon us. We are in the business of reporting on UK biodiversity and I assure the Committee that there are regular reports. If hon. Members have not seen them, they should look for them, because they are comprehensive. The hon. Member for Cheltenham congratulated us on our UK biodiversity action plan. That is entirely transparent and a way in which people can follow the efforts that are being made to conserve UK biodiversity.
Regular reporting occurs and, in particular, DEFRA leads on the natural environment public service agreement, which includes targets for the Government’s approach to action on biodiversity. Progress against the PSA is, of course, published annually in the departmental annual report to Parliament. I suggest that any additional reporting requirement would be unnecessary in any case, but clearly would not work for this Bill.
To summarise, the Government’s view of the group of amendments is that scientific knowledge about climate change is wide enough to ensure that the matters raised by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border are taken into account in relation to carbon budgets, in so far as that is possible. The Government are deeply committed to promoting biodiversity in the UK and overseas. I meant to mention, but forgot, that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal referred to the need to link indigenous lifestyles with the conservation of biodiversity. I refer him to the Darwin initiative, for which he can take some credit, which has funded hundreds of projects in developing countries where we are doing precisely that. I am glad to say that I recently launched a new round of funding for that so that we can help developing countries with our scientific expertise, particularly on climate change and the way in which lifestyles need not threaten biodiversity and we can all work together.
I do not believe that the amendments would add value to the Government’s existing reporting to Parliament on biodiversity and I do not believe there is a meaningful causal relationship between the UK’s carbon budgets, or our policies to meet them, and the level of global temperatures and loss of international biodiversity. I tell the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border that I therefore cannot accept the amendment.
David Maclean: I am grateful to the Minister for her kind and courteous reply. She said at a couple of points in her response that of course it is implicit in considering “scientific knowledge” that loss of biodiversity, the rain forest and other matters will be taken into account. She said that it would be inconceivable to consider new scientific knowledge without considering those matters. I accept that, but she said towards the end that, as far as was possible, the Government would take loss of biodiversity into account. She says, and I accept, that the Government would not wish to set a target for the United Kingdom based on what was happening in the Amazonian rain forest or in Papua New Guinea.
I had no intention of seeking to tie British policy to things of which the Government are not in charge. It would be utterly wrong to attempt in any way to tie the Government’s hands by including a legal obligation in respect of rain forests and biodiversity, and therefore requiring a carbon target to be set for the United Kingdom on matters that are way outside the Government’s control. I was seeking to incorporate a little bit of vision in the Bill because I think that it lacks it.
One of the reasons why we are here is because people have a vision of the disastrous consequences of climate change if it goes unchecked. I was merely seeking—in a technically inadequate way, I know—to introduce some concepts that the Minister says are already implicit in the reporting mechanism. I would merely wish the Minister and her civil servants to think again. Are there ways to flag up the two phrases, perhaps in a reporting mechanism—possibly not a reporting mechanism on carbon budgets, but elsewhere in the Bill—in addition to all the current reporting that the Government may do, and in addition to any other report laid before Parliament? Is it possible to include somewhere in this Bill—the most important one for a generation—on climate change and saving the planet phrases about the loss of biodiversity and rain forests, or preservation of biodiversity and rain forests?
The Minister is right. No doubt when politicians make great speeches in the future, they will talk about biodiversity and rain forests, not just 60 and 80 per cent. targets. However, I am afraid that when my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle is sitting in the Department as the Minister of State, possibly in a couple of years’ time, and he goes off to make a major speech, he will want to talk about biodiversity and rain forests but his officials will say, “No, Minister. You must stick to the terms of the Bill, which is all about climate change. We have a very exciting speech here for the UN about 20 per cent. targets,” or 80 or 60 per cent. targets. That might be fanciful and it might not happen—it is fanciful that my hon. Friend would accept the advice, because I am sure that he would not.
The Minister and hon. Members sitting with her can tell from what I have been saying that I have no intention of putting wrecking provisions into the Bill, or of including provisions that are impossible to achieve, or meaningless legally or technically. I do not wish to press the amendment to a Division because that would be against the spirit of consensus—we are almost in agreement on this—but I hope that the Minister will think again and try to find a way of coming back on Report with a proposal to include in the Bill an obligation to talk about the things that she says are implicit in it.
I am sorry if my colleagues are disappointed that I will not press the amendment to a Division, but I suspect that I would not win and I would not win for the wrong reasons. I might anger the Minister such that she does not come back on another occasion with an amendment that is not duff, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Siobhain McDonagh.]
Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes past Four o’clock till Tuesday 1 July at half-past Ten o’clock.
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