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Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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

Tuesday 1 July 2008


[Frank Cook in the Chair]

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

10.30 am

Clause 12

Duty to provide indicative annual ranges for net UK carbon account
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 53, in clause 12, page 6, line 40, at end insert—
‘( ) Before determining each indicative annual range the Secretary of State must obtain, and take into account, the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.’.
Good morning, Mr. Cook. Clause 12 is important. Conservative Members in the other place did a splendid job in encouraging the Government to introduce indicative annual ranges. The inclusion of the ranges is a significant enhancement of the Bill. Friends of the Earth described the inclusion of the clause as
“one of the most important changes which the Government made to the Bill”,
because it adds political accountability. Members of the Committee will recall that when the Conservative party launched our climate change Bill in advance of the Queen’s Speech in 2007, the inclusion of annual targets was considered an essential part of the primary reason that any five-year carbon budget would stretch across more than one Parliament.
We rightly argued that we should not allow NIMTOism—the new acronym, meaning not in my term of office—to infect carbon budgets. The system is not sufficiently accountable, so a Government could sit through a full term without ever having to report to Parliament on their carbon reduction performance. It is conceivable that a future Government could then dump their failure on a successive Government, who would have to report on the budget in their first year in office, having had little time to do anything about meeting it.
We need no better example of why the annual ranges are necessary than the current Government’s performance on cutting emissions. Despite three manifesto commitments to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010, emissions have, in fact, increased since 1997, and the Government quietly dropped their 20 per cent. target to just more than 15 per cent. in 2006. That is what can happen without year-on-year accountability. The addition of indicative annual ranges under clause 12 is a significant enhancement of the Bill, and it is a testament to the sterling efforts of our colleagues from all parties in the other place.
Indeed, Lord Rooker spoke favourably of annual accountability when he said:
“annual transparency and accountability about progress towards meeting the budgets are crucial for all of us. Some indication of the Government’s expected trajectory for reductions over the budget period would help in providing them. It is important that there is no divide between any sides of the House on that.”
The Government further stated in the other place that
“setting out an indicative range for the net UK carbon account for each year of the budget period combined with greater clarity about the timescales of policies to take effect...will ensure that the Government of the day can be properly held to account for progress during each year of the budget period, not just at the end of the period.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2008; Vol. 699, c. 496-7.]
As we all agree on that substantive point, I hope that we can also agree that a range without definition is of little practical use to anyone.
For example, if a five-year budget period has a total budget of 500 million tonnes of carbon, it is hardly of any value to say that the indicative annual range will be between 1 million tonnes and 150 million tonnes per year, whereas it would be of real value if the indicative ranges were set out year by year along the lines of year 1, which must be between 115 and 125 million tonnes; year 2, which must be between 105 and 115 million tonnes; year 3, which must be between 95 and 105 million tonnes, and so on.
As the clause is worded, there is no obligation on the Secretary of State to provide such an instructive range. He or she could set the range so broadly as to be practically meaningless. That is why, in amendment No. 53, we are proposing that the Secretary of State seeks advice from the Committee on Climate Change before setting those annual ranges. The committee would approach the exercise with not only an expert but an apolitical and dispassionate eye. That should prevent any unnecessary politicisation of the annual range, which could otherwise be back-loaded, for example, so that much of the effort would fall into the final year of a budget, by which time the Government who had set the ranges might well be out of office.
I have further broad comments on the clause, but they relate to amendment No. 54.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am sorry to have been two minutes late this morning, Mr. Cook. I make the single point that, if one had the chance to read this morning’s newspapers, one would see just how cynical the public is about politicians of all kinds. It made pretty miserable reading for any of us who recognise that politicians in all parts of the House come to this place to try and make the world a better place—even though we disagree with each other, that is why we are here. Today’s Daily Mail, for example, is even worse than usual in its refusal to believe the better of anyone, of any kind, in any circumstances, from the Prince of Wales to the humblest Back Bencher.
Why I feel strongly about the amendment is extremely simple. We need to provide the public with a mechanism whereby that cynicism cannot easily be given rein. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, in the 97 per cent. of his speech that I was lucky enough to hear, made that point clearly. We need to ensure that there is clear recourse to the Committee on Climate Change in order that the worst may not be thought of politicians.
I have a self-denying ordinance not to praise the Ministers, because it has been bruited abroad that that does them no good. Therefore, I take it as read that they will behave properly. The Secretary of State, for whom I have considerable respect, would certainly behave properly. However, that is not the issue. We are, unusually, legislating for a long period ahead. It is our purpose to create a framework within which we will be working for a long time, under Governments of different persuasions and Ministers of different enthusiasms.
I take that issue hard. During my time as Secretary of State for the Environment, I took a great interest in the design and quality of architecture, never realising that it was my personal interest that led it to be moved forward along the agenda. Others did not have the same interest in the quality of the built environment, particularly my successor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). He may have had other qualities, but not that one. The result was that that agenda was not taken forward with the enthusiasm and desire that I had wanted.
Climate change is also an area that can too easily rely on the enthusiasm and commitment of individual Ministers. That is why I support my hon. Friend’s amendment. I do not think there is anything in it that could possibly upset anyone, unless they did not want to meet the parameters that I know the Government, the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists all want to meet. It does not seem to be an unreasonable amendment.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): Two brief comments before I explain the Government’s problem with the amendment, although not with its intent. First, my advice to you, Mr. Cook, and to all members of the Committee is not to read the Daily Mail. The problem goes away. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is responsible for the renovation of St. Pancras station. I must put that on the record.
I always find that it helps to go back to the explanatory notes to put the amendments into context, and the explanatory notes for this Bill are especially good. They explain the purpose of clause 12. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle eloquently outlined, annual accountability was discussed extensively in the other place and we have been over it many times. Clause 12 addresses those concerns by requiring the Secretary of State to produce a report setting out the indicative range for the trajectory of the UK’s net carbon account over the budgetary period. The word net is important. I shall return to the expected range in a moment. Clause 12 is a critical part of the Bill’s framework and will ensure transparency and accountability for progress for every year of the budget period, not just at the end of the five years.
An indicative annual range is superior to earlier proposals for a single-point annual target because emissions can and do fluctuate from year to year for a variety of reasons, some of which are well outside the control of the Government of the day, such as the weather. A particularly bad winter or a mild winter can have a big impact on annual figures. We all agree that we need a system of annual accountability that can deal with real-world fluctuations while still providing clarity about progress to ensure that the Government of the day can be held to account properly.
Amendment No. 53 would require the views of the Committee on Climate Change to be sought and taken into account in respect of the indicative annual ranges before they could be set. That is not consistent with the role envisaged by all of us for the committee. The committee has been established to provide expert advice on the level of the carbon budget. It is for the Secretary of State and Parliament, in consultation with the devolved Administrations, to make decisions on the level of the carbon budget and the policies needed to ensure that the UK remains within that budget, which has been recommended and to all intents and purposes set by the committee.
In formulating its advice, the committee will need to look at existing and planned Government policies and the estimated impacts of those policies in order to understand exactly what measures the Government have in place to meet a given budget. It is then the job of the Government to draw policy conclusions from the committee’s analysis. That will ensure that the Government of the day retain political accountability to Parliament, and through that to the people, for their decisions. We do not want the committee to be seen to be taking a particular policy position, as that could undermine the credibility of the advice that it provides on the carbon budget and its impartiality in performing its scrutiny function.
It will be vital that the committee’s advice is viewed as credible and authoritative. For that to happen, it must be formulated outside the political arena. The committee must therefore refrain from having a role in the choice of policy mechanisms needed to meet a budget. The question of decisions on the indicative annual range is no different. It will be set based on the Secretary of State’s analysis of the policies that the Government intend to implement in order to meet the carbon budget, and when they will take effect. That is why clause 14 requires that the Secretary of State should set out the time scales for the policies and proposals.
The annual ranges will depend on the policies implemented. Decisions on policy matters should be made by the Government, not the Committee on Climate Change, and we fear that amendment No. 53 would jeopardise that position, as it implicitly requires the committee to provide advice on the Government’s policy mix for meeting their overall carbon budget.
10.45 am
I shall now answer the question from the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle about how wide we expect the range to be. Of course, if it is too wide, it will not fulfil its function and will be meaningless. We must look at the main factors that create uncertainties about annual emissions and assess their likely effect on informing how the range is set.
I have already mentioned the weather; records show that exceptionally cold winters, such as those in 1996 and 2001, caused an increase in emissions by 4 per cent. compared with previous and subsequent years. Another factor is the wider European context and the emissions trading scheme, which covers about half of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions and allows companies to make decisions over a five-year horizon as to whether and when they abate their emissions. The actual emissions in any one year would not necessarily be a fifth as those policy decisions kick in.
I remind the Committee that the clause refers to the net carbon accounts, which could fluctuate depending on how things are dealt with under the carbon accounting rules. Other important factors include population growth or shrinkage—the annually revised population forecast by the Office for National Statistics directly affects projected emissions. Put simply, the more households that there are in the UK, the higher the emissions are likely to be, although the goal of our housing policy in new build is to neutralise carbon emissions.
The point of having annual indicative ranges, which are preferable, is so that we do not simply take the five-year carbon budget, divide it by five and declare that to be the annual target. We have some flexibility in meeting the budget advised by the committee, which will give the Government flexibility as well as the desired parliamentary accountability. The intention of the amendment is to give more surety, but we fear that it could inadvertently and unintentionally undermine the committee’s impartiality. That is my argument on amendment No. 53.
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