Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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David Maclean: In rising to support the amendments, I want to press the Minister to confirm that, among the membership under paragraph (3)(b) to schedule 1, those with expertise in climate change policy at national and international level and, in particular, the social aspects of such policy, will have a detailed knowledge of the impact on indigenous peoples in rain forest areas of the world. I also seek his assurance that any other experts in
“climate science, and other branches of environmental science”
will have expertise in biodiversity in particular, and also the rain forests.
Mr. Woolas: I want to make a number of points about amendments Nos. 58, 59, 60, 61 and 62. First, my answer to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, is yes. That point has been raised throughout the proceedings and on Second Reading by a number of hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) has also raised the point and written to me about it, and I was able to give her the reassurances that she sought. Expertise is also included in the adaptation sub-committee.
The five amendments would increase the size of the Committee on Climate Change and remove the devolved Administrations’ input. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he said that they were probing amendments, so I will not tease him about forgetting the Scots—I will leave that for another occasion. They also aim to ensure that all nominations are considered and approved by a relevant Commons Select Committee. The practical effect of the amendments would be to create a larger committee than currently envisaged of between seven and 12 who have been approved or appointed by a Commons Select Committee. Half the committee would be nominated by national authorities, and half would be nominated by the President of the Royal Society. Amendment No. 60 specifically requires the chair to be appointed only by the Secretary of State, as opposed to national authorities collectively.
I recognise that the intention of the amendments is to create a larger and more scientific body and to bring further transparency and rigour to the process by giving Parliament a role. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman about the method of appointment of the committee. The committee will be first of its kind. It will be a UK-wide body reflecting the nature of the devolution settlements. Identical amendments were discussed in the other place, and the Government’s view has not changed.
We think that between five and eight members plus the chair is a good size. The shadow chair agrees with that point of view, as he stated in his evidence to the EFRA Committee in March. It strikes the right balance between ensuring that the committee contains a good mix of relevant experience and making sure that the committee is focused and dynamic. Amendment No. 58 would increase the number of committee members to between seven and 12, which would be a mistake because the committee would be too large to be focused.
Gregory Barker: Is the Minister saying that the Cabinet is not focused? The Cabinet is twice that size. Maybe that accounts for recent developments.
Mr. Woolas: God so loved the world that he sent his only son and not a committee. I believe that there is a balance, given the remit of work to be done. The Committee on Climate Change needs to have a focused agenda, particularly running through to the period of 1 December, which we have discussed. I am mindful of the size and shape of the committee. My noble Friend Lord Rooker gave a commitment in the other place that the Secretary of State and the chair would review the committee’s size during its first year of operation and increase it using the powers already in the Bill, if necessary. It would be a bit hasty if we were to increase the size significantly now.
I have mentioned the obvious about the devolved Administrations and the impact of amendment No. 60. To reassure the Committee that the committee’s appointments will be independent, the appointment processes will, of course, be conducted in accordance with the Nolan principles and monitored by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. That is to make sure that the committee is not formed of people who are beholden to Ministers, political parties or special interest groups. I hope that gives reassurance.
Amendments Nos. 59 and 62 change the operation of the appointments process so that the Royal Society is responsible for appointing half of the committee members. We are concerned that that would make the appointments process less transparent. Indeed, Lord Rees of Ludlow, a former president of the Royal Society, made his views clear when discussing the amendment. He said that it would not be reasonable to expect a body such as the Royal Society to appoint members. I assure the Committee that we consult the Royal Society on appointments related to scientific matters, which I have recently done with regard to the committee on radioactive processing.
David Maclean: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. My point, which has just occurred to me, relates to a slightly different aspect of what he is discussing. The committee will consist of a chairman and a maximum of eight other people, yet paragraph 1(3) lists nine distinct disciplines on which an expert is needed—that is only one of each. When the Bill says “climate change” and “other branches”, it can only be at most one person. Unless there are more than nine people on the committee, not all the disciplines and skills will be covered. Or am I utterly wrong?
Mr. Woolas: No, the right hon. Gentleman is not utterly wrong. I remember asking that very question myself six months ago. I took advice and said that we should review the matter during the course of the year—I have already committed to that.
Let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman further. One of the first appointments to the committee, in its shadow form, was Lord Robert May, who is an expert ecologist. I believe that, through his appointment, we have demonstrated our commitment to ensure that the committee considers the impact of its recommendations on the natural environment. However, Lord May has other expertise. We have really got the best and brightest, as is evident through the chair, who has taken on board a number of skills, experience and expertise. I am confident that we have the stature and status of committee that we require.
However, the first job of the committee is to advise on the setting of budgets, so we will review its composition during the course of the year. I give the reassurance that all the appointments are within the correct procedures of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which, I can assure you, Mr. Cook, are robust and prevent Ministers from interfering unduly while maintaining accountability to Parliament.
Gregory Barker: As I said at the outset, the amendments are probing. To a certain extent, I was reassured by the Minister’s comments about possible future flexibility on the size of the committee, because it seems to us, despite the evident expertise of the existing members, that the committee is nevertheless taking on a huge task. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has pointed out, extraordinary expertise will be called upon if the committee is to do its job properly. Likewise, in an ideal world, we would prefer a more independent appointment process, but at this stage we take the assurances of the Minister. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 63, in schedule 1, page 44, line 36, at end insert
‘and each term of office must be at least six years’.
The amendment proposes a statutory minimum on the term limit of members of the committee. There are a number of reasons for having a statutory minimum. As evidenced by the debate so far, there is support in the House for making the committee independent, scientific and apolitical. I hope that the Minister will appreciate my scepticism when this Government have stuffed so many commissions and quangos with members of their own party. A six-year commitment would mean not only that members outlast a Government, but that they are locked in for the long haul. It would be a shame to see a Government replacing members after a year or two because they did not like the advice that they were receiving.
Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman explain the meaning of the term “locked in”? If a member of the committee wanted to resign, as Lord Turner intends to do, would they be prevented from doing so?
Gregory Barker: No, a member would not be prevented from resigning, but they would be prevented from reappointing themselves if the term of their appointment were less than that which I propose. The impartiality of the experts is arguably the committee’s greatest source of authority, and a longer term would help to ensure that that is protected. Under the amendment, committee members would sit for longer than a budgetary period, guaranteeing that they would be on the committee when it makes at least one of the reports on the five-year budget periods. Given the number of reports that the committee will be responsible for preparing, continuity is certainly advantageous.
Although six years seems like a reasonable term limit, hon. Members will appreciate that the amendment was motivated by impartiality and continuity. Will the Minister explain what mechanisms are in place in the Bill to ensure that those two vital aspects of the Committee are respected?
David Maclean: I, too, support the amendment. Had I studied it more carefully, I would have suggested the slight refinement of making the limit between four and six years. It is important that members are on the committee for an average of about five years, not so that they can be locked in, but so that there is continuity. We do not want to lose all members after five or six years. In the case of national park appointments, if there are 14 people in a national park, their appointments do not all come up for renewal at once. Some are on a cycle of four years; some are on a cycle of five years; and some only three years, which is far too short. It would be best if we had assurances from the Minister that there will be a minimum term appointment of say four years with some being appointed for five and some for six with a rolling spread.
Mr. Woolas: The amendment was discussed in the other place, so I am in danger of repetition. I will start by explaining for the record that the Government’s intention is that the first committee members should be appointed for a term of five years. For current committee members, the five years will include the time that they have spent working on the shadow body, which will meet the proposals in some respects. That is not stated in the Bill, because it is not normal practice to specify a term of office in primary legislation.
The amendment suggests a term of appointment of six years. I think that that is bit too long, and I will explain why. Public appointments are usually for terms of three years each. Whatever their duration, they are restricted under the Nolan principles and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments rules to two terms. In total, that cannot exceed 10 years. While a five-year term allows the Government of the day to extend an appointment, assuming that the OCPA rules are met, a six-year appointment may not be doubled because of the duration limit.
As my noble Friend Lord Rooker said in the other place, the arrangements satisfy the points made by the amendment. The practical impact of a six-year limit would be to stop somebody from being reappointed for a second term, whatever the merits of their expertise and so on.
Gregory Barker: I thank the Minister for that explanation and I appreciate the points that he has made. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 64, in schedule 1, page 45, line 10, after ‘the’, insert ‘reasonable’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 65, in schedule 1, page 45, line 10, leave out ‘otherwise’ and insert ‘physically or mentally’.
Gregory Barker: The amendments outline various instances that should prevent somebody from being a member of the Committee on Climate Change. Our intention is to clarify a few of the reasons why a member can be excluded. The amendments would add a few points that we hope will not find too much discord in the Committee. The purpose of the amendments is simply to make the Committee on Climate Change more robust by adding a few more situations that we feel should result in removal or exclusion.
9.15 pm
The amendments are designed to clarify what is meant in the Bill by “otherwise unable or unfit” to serve on the committee. We suggest, first, the phrase “reasonable opinion” and, secondly, the phrase “physically or mentally unfit”. We hope that our intention of increasing the clarity of the provision is welcomed by hon. Members. The proposal would not only provide clarity, but tighten the scope of the removal process so that only those who were truly physically or mentally unfit were excluded, not those whom the national authorities merely deemed unfit to serve. We hope that the Minister will welcome this clarification.
Martin Horwood: I understand the spirit in which amendments Nos. 64 and 65 have been tabled. Perhaps the Conservative party is imagining nefarious goings on in which appointments are made for political reasons and there are then attempts to remove members from the committee for political reasons, so that if control of the national Government in Scotland changed from Scottish National party to Labour or even Liberal Democrat, political affiliations might be sought out and people might be removed at sudden notice.
I suspect that amendment No. 64 would be a sensible tightening of the wording, but I am puzzled by amendment No. 65 because there are other bases on which people might be unfit to serve on a committee of this stature other than being physically or mentally unfit. I appreciate that the amendment is perhaps designed to prevent people from being removed because their opinions are controversial. That would be an unfortunate move, but what if their scientific credibility had been compromised? What if they had been caught out indulging in plagiarism or their professional reputation had been compromised by particular revelations? Those might be unfortunate developments that we would not like to happen, but the wording in amendment No. 65 is much too prescriptive.
Mr. Woolas: Again, these amendments were discussed in the other place and consideration was given to them by their lordships. The circumstances in which the national authorities may remove a member are set out in the four sub-paragraphs of paragraph 5 of schedule 1. I want to highlight the fact that this is a standard power in relation to many non-departmental public bodies, which this committee is. We expect that it would be exercised only in exceptional circumstances, but it is important to make certain that the committee can carry out its duties appropriately.
Under amendment No. 64, the national authorities, when forming an opinion of whether a member of the committee was unfit or unable to carry out their duties, would have to reach an opinion that was “reasonable”. The amendment is unnecessary, as their lordships accepted, because the duty for national authorities to act reasonably and, in this case, to form a reasonable opinion is already in place under the well-established general principles of public law, including within the procedures identified in the Nolan report for public appointments. That is therefore already implicit in the schedule, so I see no reason to add it.
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