Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Tony Baldry: Should not the Committee take notice of the House of Lords on the issue? The House of Lords has a large number of people, such as Lord Wakeham, who have been through the process so often and who have understood at the sharp end how the machinery of government works. The other House collectively put that in because it recognised that the carbon budget will work only with such a mechanism.
Mr. Gummer: I am sure that is right, but I want the Minister to take seriously what he would be doing by taking “Prime Minister” out. First, I do not think it will be out permanently—the House of Lords will put it back in again, because it is so clearly important. The public will see taking it out as the Government resiling from the centrality of the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle was right to point out that the issue is not about the present Prime Minister. Many of us have our doubts about the present Prime Minister and his commitment to climate change, but some people do not have those doubts. That argument is perfectly reasonable and even party political, but I do not mind. The measure relates to any Prime Minister. I want the incoming Prime Minister to know that the issue is his or her responsibility. I want people to recognise that until 2050 that is their responsibility, in a way that nothing else is. That it is not in any other Bill, because the Bill is not the same as other Bills. No other Bill has ever laid such responsibilities on the Government. No other Bill has ever looked forward, specifically, to a point so many years ahead. That is why the Bill is important. If the Minister goes on in this way, I am seriously worried about the impact that it will have.
Gregory Barker: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the argument boils down to a simple issue—leadership? On the issue of climate change, which runs across the economy and society, involving every aspect of our national life, not having the Prime Minister at the helm sends an extraordinarily confusing and weak message to the British electorate. The issue is so important, yet it can be devolved to a Secretary of State whom they may never have heard of.
Mr. Gummer: I hope the Government will show a greater awareness of public feeling about the matter than has sometimes been true of late. The Minister is the sort of Minister who might understand that. I very much hope that he will desist from pressing the amendments.
Martin Horwood: I oppose Government amendments Nos. 4 and 5.
The Minister has great intellectual powers, but even those are stretched by trying to justify the removal of the words “Prime Minister” from clause 14. He seriously suggested that it was less confusing to have the words “Secretary of State” in the Bill, arguing that that somehow implied responsibility across Government. From our earlier debates, it is clear that the confusion would be far greater if the words “Secretary of State” appeared in the Bill.
As the hon. Member for South Swindon rightly pointed out, we are not talking about the delivery of the policies in detail. We are talking about a duty to report to Parliament. That seems an easy duty to lay, legally, on the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal is exactly right. When I was in business, lawyers were paid to tell us how to do things, not paid to tell us how not to do them or why they are impossible.
It is important for the words to be retained and extended to clause 18 as well, and to clause 36 to take account not only of the initial proposals and policies for meeting carbon budgets, but of the duty to report on compensation for budget excess, if that occurs, and to respond to the committee’s periodic reports on progress. Amendment No. 85 spotted a reference to the Secretary of State that we had not identified, although probably not the most crucial one, in respect of the person who lays the order. However, I am happy to support it, for the sake of consistency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northavon, with uncharacteristic unkindness, once referred to DEFRA as a “piddling little Department”. Let me put it more sympathetically. Staff and Ministers at DEFRA have often proved themselves very committed and very understanding of the issues of climate change. Indeed, its former Ministers have periodically added to the ranks of the greenest Members of Parliament. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal is a case in point, but there are some on the Labour benches as well. If DEFRA is piddling, it is at least piddling in the right direction. The risk is that it is simply outgunned by much more significant Departments.
The Department for Communities and Local Government refuses to accept that housing targets should be amended in a housing downturn, when the growth rate is half the rate anticipated when those targets were set. The Department refuses to accept any arguments about the environmental consequences of ploughing ahead with those high housing numbers without democratic consultation at local level.
When large amounts of land are cleared for development—both greenfield and brownfield, to accommodate extremely high numbers—the result is that, in a downturn, the greenfield sites, having been released for development and being the more profitable, are developed first, so the environmental damage is greater. The argument should be in favour of sustainable development, and the understanding of sustainable development should be promoted in order to change such policies.
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform proudly boasts of its support for renewables, but refuses to accept feed-in tariffs in the passage of the Energy Bill—[Interruption.] The Minister chunters, but we were in the Committee at which feed-in tariffs were specifically rejected by the Minister for Energy. They have been pushed into the long grass, or at least the medium-length grass, for yet more consultation, and could take years to implement. DBERR also endorsed the building of Kingsnorth power station, with CO2 emissions 70 per cent. higher than any alternative.
Mr. Woolas indicated dissent.
Steve Webb: The Minister shakes his head, but I have been on the Environmental Audit Committee when Energy Ministers defended the building of Kingsnorth without locking in carbon capture and storage technology.
The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are engaged in line-by-line scrutiny, which is a very good principle. I ask the Committee to look at the amendment under consideration, which reads:
“leave out ‘Prime Minister’ and insert ‘Secretary of State’.”
Martin Horwood: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Cook, and of course you are right. I should have been pointing out on each of the examples that DCLG is responsible not to DEFRA, but to the Prime Minister, that the Department for Transport is responsible not to DEFRA, but to the Prime Minister, and that DBERR is responsible to the Prime Minister, as is the Treasury, whose green taxes are such a crucial element of the battle against climate change. We are seeing the potential undermining of public support for green taxation because of the Treasury’s unwillingness to link green taxes explicitly to reductions in other taxes to make it clear that it is revenue-neutral.
The international Departments are similarly responsible to the Prime Minister and not to DEFRA. They are responsible for climate change negotiations at international level and for policies that will influence the way in which Governments all over the world tackle climate change in their own environments.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Is it not also true that all the examples cited by the hon. Gentleman would, under the Bill, be subordinate to the targets that we are setting for CO2 emissions, so the issue of who is responsible is irrelevant?
12.30 pm
Steve Webb: Further to my hon. Friend’s response, is it not also the case that there is an aggregate target for the whole of Government, rather than individual Departments? If the Prime Minister is not responsible, the Department for Transport might say that it would only do a small bit of the work, although it felt that the Government targets were great, because someone else should have the hassle of doing the rest of it. Only the Prime Minister has the authority to bang heads together.
Martin Horwood: My hon. Friend is exactly correct. We are all familiar with the experience of trying to raise an issue that seems to blur boundaries at ministerial questions and being told by the relevant Minister that it is a matter not for them, but for one of their colleagues.
DEFRA’s website sets out the precise impact of the various areas with regard to carbon emissions. The 2006 figures showed a UK total of 554 million tonnes. Of those, 221 million tonnes came directly from energy supply, which is the responsibility of DBERR and through it the Prime Minister, but not DEFRA. Business contributes 92 million tonnes, which, again, is the responsibility of DBERR and the Prime Minister, but not of DEFRA. Transport contributes 133 million tonnes, which is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, and the residential sector contributes 81 tonnes, which is largely the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Prime Minister, but, again, not of DEFRA.
The only areas that are directly attributable to DEFRA’s responsibility were the 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 from agriculture and 400,000 tonnes of CO2 from waste management. Obviously, the picture on methane is different, but even in that regard a substantial amount comes from non-DEFRA areas of responsibility. Some of the larger sources of emissions, such as transport and energy supply, are still increasing, so it is vitally important not to send the wrong signals on who will take responsibility.
This is both a political and a legal issue. Politically, the rapier-like question from the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood precisely highlighted why we have to worry about a lack of interest from the Prime Minister on the issue. The fact that the Prime Minister has decided to abandon the chairmanship of that vital committee is possibly an indication, which Opposition politicians fear, that he is losing interest. This is a wonderful political opportunity to reinforce the Prime Minister’s personal commitment and ensure that all future Prime Ministers are held similarly accountable.
In legal terms, my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon briefly mentioned two pieces of legislation that set an important precedent—the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. As GCHQ is located in my constituency, I am particularly pleased with those examples. The point is that they cover an important matter of absolutely vital national interest. It was for that reason that the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), made it clear why the powers in that Bill were being laid on the Prime Minister and not on himself. He said that it would offer public reassurance on the use of powers in that Bill, and the power given to the Prime Minister was to lay before both Houses of Parliament a copy of every annual report made by the interception of communications commissioner under subsection (4), together with a statement on whether any matter had been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (7).
That is an identical kind of reporting requirement to those that we are discussing in relation to the clause. If it was legal for him, why is it not legal under the Bill? That seems to be a powerful legal argument. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made an eloquent plea for the Minister not to wriggle out of the situation on legalistic grounds. That is exactly right, otherwise we might suspect that fiddling is still a more appropriate description.
Mr. Weir: The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made an impassioned plea, and I endorse his argument. Throughout our discussions, we have been saying that the United Kingdom is a leader and is making a strong commitment by drafting the first Bill on carbon reductions. A further signal would be to include the Prime Minister in the Bill to show that the reduction of carbon emissions is the greatest issue of our age.
On a more practical level, over the years carbon budgets will perhaps become the most important part of the Government’s business in setting the carbon target to 2050. It will be a cross-departmental process, and it will undoubtedly mean great squabbling between Departments on how the carbon cuts are allocated. As has been pointed out, many carbon-emitting industries are not under the control of DEFRA. At present, 37.4 per cent. of carbon emissions come from the energy industry, and 17.8 per cent. come from other industries—both sets of emissions are under the control of DBERR. In effect, more than 50 per cent. of all carbon emissions come from its departmental portfolio. It might therefore be more appropriate for DBERR to have control of carbon emissions, not DEFRA. The decarbonisation of our energy supplies will be crucial in whether we can reduce carbon emissions in the first place, irrespective of what form of energy we might support in the future.
I ask the Minister to consider a point to which he has referred on several occasions. The reduction of carbon emissions concerns not only the UK Government, but devolved Administrations. There will have to be great contact between the various Administrations to reach agreement on how they tackle their part of carbon reduction. For example, the Scottish Parliament is to have its own climate change Bill, which is due to be published shortly. There will be similar movement in Wales as the Assembly gain more powers, which will happen under the measures currently passing through this place. The same will apply to Northern Ireland, so there will have to be great contact between the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations, along with the Prime Minister, through the Joint Ministerial Committees.
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