Climate Change Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Miss McIntosh: The most disappointing part of the Minister’s speech was his not accepting the outcome of the debate and the vote in the other place. We are not convinced by his argument why the Prime Minister should not play such a role. As I said earlier, the Prime Minister should report. We are not asking the Prime Minister to deliver, but it is only the Prime Minister—whoever they may be—who has the international status and the domestic gravitas to report on such issues.
As for percentages, the energy industry, which falls to DBERR, is responsible for more than 37 per cent. of carbon emissions. Road transport alone, which falls to the Department for Transport, accounts for more than 21 per cent., and other industries, which presumably include aviation, shipping and others, account for almost 18 per cent. and fall partly to the DBERR and partly to DEFRA. Residential households produce 15 per cent., and the hon. Member for Cheltenham has said that agriculture, farming and waste management constitute the small amount for which DEFRA is responsible. I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument, although I welcome his assurances that he wants to give more certainty to households and businesses.
Mention has been made of the Department’s clout and responsibilities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal referred to the Conservative party’s quality of life policy group and proposals for beefing up the Department, and I believe that his point was much more convincing. How does the Minister respond to that?
Clearly, the Prime Minister should be responsible for reporting to Parliament on the matters before us. Page 18 of the Government’s final impact assessment states:
“Overall costs can be minimised by setting the right policies in place to incentivise the most cost-effective methods of mitigation.”
Surely, that should be a role for the Prime Minister, not individual Secretaries of State—albeit through the Secretary of State with responsibility for the environment.
Paragraph 2.3.10 on page 19 of the impact assessment states:
“The choice of policy instrument is also likely to have a significant distributional effect: regulation, market mechanisms or fiscal measures will have divergent distributional impacts.”
That assessment goes on to argue that businesses and households are looking for continuity and determination in the Government’s policy from the outset. However, in moving the amendment, I did not hear from the Minister why he believes that a Secretary of State is better placed to fulfil that responsibility. Under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which was passed by a Conservative Government, the Prime Minister has duties similar to those before us today and must report on national security. The hon. Member for Cheltenham gave a similar example, but there are also less obscure ones. For example, let us bear in mind that a previous chief scientific adviser has said that climate change is the greatest threat facing this country.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) stated:
“The real test of the Bill will be whether it changes the mindset in Whitehall and Westminster to ensure that respect for the environment truly finds a place at the heart of policy making and Government practice.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 56.]
We believe that DEFRA is already collapsing under the weight of its responsibilities for flooding, farming, food, nuclear waste, water supply, fishing, coastal erosion and biodiversity. It has enough on its plate without being asked to do this as well. We are not trying to give the Prime Minister a vast number of new tasks.
When the Prime Minister’s initial reporting duties were first mooted in the other place, the Bill contained more of them than it does now. Most of them dealt with reporting on facts and other historical issues, which would not change as a result of the Prime Minister making the statement and producing the report. Such responsibilities would require the Prime Minister to report only on aspects of the Bill that are truly and inevitably cross-departmental. Those responsibilities are, first, that the Prime Minister must respond in Parliament to the Committee on Climate Change’s annual report on national progress towards meeting out carbon budgets, and, secondly, that the Prime Minister must report on Government strategies for meeting those budgets. The second duty would occur approximately every five years. The Prime Minister would be required, therefore, to produce just one report to Parliament per year on certain matters, plus an additional report on strategy approximately every five years. If the Minister puts the matter to a vote and wins, I hope that he will at some stage—either when he sums up this group of amendments or on another occasion—specify what additional resources will be made available to his Department to draw together those strands. Lord Rooker clearly stated to the EFRA Committee, on which I have the honour to serve, that there will be no further legislation or responsibilities, because the Department has no resources.
12.45 pm
Tony Baldry: Since the Bill was debated on Second Reading, Lord Stern has advised that the cost of tackling global climate change has doubled from his original estimate of 1 per cent. of GDP to 2 per cent. Introducing carbon budgets will not be painless, and there will be a hit on various sections of the economy. We all know that those various sectors will go to their sponsoring Departments and make special pleas as to why they should take less of the hit on carbon budgets than other areas of the economy. That will particularly be the case in a time such as this, when the economy is in some difficulty. One only has to pick up the business section of any national newspaper or look at shares in the house building industry to know that it is having a difficult time. I suspect that many in the house building industry will then go off to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which sponsors the construction sector, and say, “We should not have to take such a great hit because of the impact that this will have on us in a difficult economy.” Therefore, someone within the machinery of government will have to make some fairly difficult decisions on how the carbon budget is allocated.
This is a totemic Bill and a totemic clause. If the present Government wish to remove the clause from the Bill, it is a matter for them, but it will send out a clear political signal. I just hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) makes it clear that when he becomes Prime Minister, he will chair the appropriate Cabinet Committee. He, as Prime Minister, will chair the Committee and every other Secretary of State will know that they answer to the Prime Minister. I have to say that going to a Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister concentrates the minds of Secretaries of State and junior Ministers wondrously. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal were here, he would agree with me, as would my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border.
I am quite sure that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney becomes Prime Minister, he will personally present this report to Parliament. By omission and by their actions, if the present Government and the governing party wish to make that political point, it is up to them. However, without changing the legislation and without having to amend an Act of Parliament, an incoming Prime Minister can achieve what he wishes to achieve by making it very clear that that is how he intends to conduct business in Whitehall. In so doing, he will make a very clear statement that by voting blue, a person goes green.
Mr. Woolas: We have had an important debate on what I thought was a minor amendment. Perhaps, in addition to my previous argument, I should put some arguments in response to Committee members. We have had a number of thoughtful interventions, and I do not think that hon. Members are trying to cause political embarrassment.
The hon. Member for Banbury has said that it is a matter for the Government and that the Government should live with the consequences, and I understand his point. Let me put the arguments specifically and then generally. Amendments Nos. 33, 76, 77 and 85 relate to later clauses in the Bill and have been tabled by the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Northavon. They relate to subsections (1), (2) and (5) of clause 36, and they create specific duties in relation to specific actions—for example, the Prime Minister, rather than the Secretary of State, may by order extend the period in the Bill and must consult the other national authorities.
Let me repeat, however, that when one uses the phrase “Secretary of State”, it means Secretaries of State collectively. Clearly, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not the only Secretary of State to discuss issues with the devolved Administrations; as we all know, the Transport Secretary, the Defence Secretary and others also do so. Some of the amendments are therefore too prescriptive and do not meet the general point that hon. Members have made, because they do not signal the importance that the Government give those issues.
We gave a great deal of thought to our reasons for not supporting these amendments and for resisting the amendments in the other place. We want to create machinery of government that makes the Bill work precisely because of the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury. We are talking about important decisions, and there will inevitably be disagreements and conflicts in government.
The hon. Member for Vale of York talked about the respective sponsored emissions by transport and business. Again, I can answer her point technically by saying that the phrase “Secretary of State” refers to Secretaries of State collectively. However, let me draw a parallel with finance, because Opposition Members’ arguments on carbon budgets and reporting duties also apply to finance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reports the finance Budget, but one does not hear the argument that the Prime Minister should do so or, by implication, that the Budget is not an important document. We decided against naming the Prime Minister, because we thought that that was tokenistic. We deem the carbon budget to be important, so we want it to work within the machinery of government.
I will not respond to the teasing of the hon. Member for Cheltenham, who implied that I was a piddling Minister. I will not tease him in return about his support for GCHQ, although I thought that he was against surveillance and things of that nature.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the Minister for trying to assure us that it is less confusing to have the Bill refer to the Secretary of State than the Prime Minister. Will he explain precisely how clause 18 would work? If we went over the carbon budget, and Secretaries of State—plural—had to lay reports before Parliament, would the Chancellor be the first one to do so because of the taxation issues, and would he then be followed by the Secretary of State for Transport, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and so on? Alternatively, would the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs somehow include their reports in his? How could that possibly work in practice?
Mr. Woolas: It is a fair question. It would be the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. What I am trying to get across, however, is that when the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary makes such a report to Parliament, it will be cleared across Government, as is the case with all written and oral statements and with reports that are required by statute. That is how the Secretary of State represents the Government collectively. The question of which individual lays the report is not as important as the machinery of government behind it, which entails a collective decision. I will follow that line of argument.
Martin Horwood: If the carbon budget was missed overwhelmingly because of the contribution of transport—let us say that aviation emissions had got out of control and that that was the key political issue—would the Secretary of State for DEFRA answer questions about emissions and defend aviation policy on behalf of the Department for Transport?
Mr. Woolas: That is how government works. I have already been quizzed about Heathrow this morning. Transport Ministers often have to answer for policies that are not directly within their remit, which is the point. We believe that including the individual title “Prime Minister” in the amendments is a token—let me put it that way—if not tokenism, which is not the best way for the Government to work. That is why we urge the Committee to resist the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham amendments and return to this clause what was taken out in the other place.
Gregory Barker: The Minister bases his case on procedures and mechanisms in the machinery of government, but does it not boil down simply to political clout? He has made a comparison with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Chancellor lives at No. 11 Downing street, immediately adjacent to the Prime Minister, and occupies a great and historic office of state that sits at the very top of Cabinet precedent. With respect, unless the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary has a unique personal relationship with the Prime Minister, they will not have that standing in government. We know that, because that position is usually somewhere in the middle or right at the bottom of the list of Cabinet appointments. It is simply not living in the real world to compare the punch and political authority of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary with that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, let alone the Prime Minister.
Mr. Woolas: I do not accept that that reflects an understanding of how government works. First, policies need to be cleared across government. Secondly, the introduction of carbon budgets greatly enhances the importance of the policy decisions that flow from them. If the hon. Gentleman accepts that—I think that he does, because he has said so—I am grateful to him for his view. The hon. Member for Banbury has also referred specifically to that point, and he must also accept that the machinery of government has to be able to cope. Just as finance decisions are addressed across Departments and the ring is held by the Treasury, so carbon budgets must be spread across government and the ring must be held by both the Treasury and DEFRA. We are not arguing about that. We are arguing whether the Prime Minister should be mentioned in the Bill, but the very nature of our system of government is that Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister, which is implicit.
Steve Webb: Does not the analogy with the Chancellor break down, because the Chancellor has one thing that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary does not have? The Chancellor raises money and allocates it to Departments, whereas the Environment Secretary does not have a pot of carbon to hand out between Departments and simply has to hit a target. If the Department for Transport or another Department were to say, “No; we want a bigger share of the carbon budget,” the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary would not have the clout to arbitrate and would have to go through the Prime Minister, which is why the Prime Minister should be accountable.
Mr. Woolas: We are all accountable to the Prime Minister for everything. We are appointed by the Prime Minister and we are sacked by the Prime Minister. That is the way in which we run this Government. The Committee on Climate Change advises the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, and in that analogy they have a carbon pot.
We are approaching lunch time, so I commend Government amendments Nos. 4 and 5 to the Committee and urge it to resist amendments Nos. 33, 76, 77 and 85.
Question put, that the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 8.
Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 2 July 2008