Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Martin Horwood: If there was a change of Administration at national level, would the removal of a member of the committee for political reasons be considered reasonable under the legal terms that the Minister is talking about?
Mr. Woolas: I have just given the reason why we think that it is unnecessary to add the provision. We think that it would be detrimental to add it precisely because of the hon. Gentleman’s point. Let me give a brief explanation. Amendment No. 65 would reduce the scope of the words “unable or unfit” by specifying that members may be removed by national authorities only if they are “physically or mentally” unable or unfit to carry out their duties. Paragraph 5(d) is an important provision that allows the national authorities to remove or exclude a member in a number of very limited circumstances. It is important not to tighten the scope for the removal processes, for obvious reasons. The words “unable or unfit” may cover certain circumstances that impact on a member’s ability to do the job, such as serious illness that prevents attendance at meetings, or it could cover other situations, such as a conflict of interest that was not a problem when the member was originally appointed to the committee. There might be other unforeseen circumstances. It is a standard provision that ensures that the committee can function properly, and that members who cannot fulfil their duties appropriately for whatever reason can be removed. However, I stress that the power is to be exercised only in limited circumstances. It is not a power for the national authorities to use to remove a member without just cause or reasonable consideration. That is outlined in well-established public laws on such matters. We believe that following the well-established procedures and laws will achieve the right balance between what the amendment seeks and what there is a desire to protect against.
Gregory Barker: I listened to the Minister with interest and have I taken on board what was said by the hon. Member for Cheltenham. In light of our discussions, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 66, in schedule 1, page 45, line 34, leave out from ‘executive’ to end of line 35.
As the Bill stands, the appointment of the chief executive by the committee is subject to the approval of the national authorities. We consider that intervention by the national authorities in the make-up of the committee is undesirable. The role of the chief executive is important. The committee should be left to decide the appointment, but although it can choose the chief executive, the appointment must be approved by the national authorities. Will the Minister explain the necessity for political approval regarding a scientific committee from Whitehall or the devolved Administrations? We have said that the committee should be genuinely independent. Having such an approval process will diminish that independence.
Our motivation for having an independent committee is two-fold. Not only will it ensure that the committee can make its decisions without regard to political expediency, but it will ensure that the committee does not appear to be making decisions that could be interpreted—or misinterpreted—as political manoeuvres. That second reason alone should be enough to remove the provision for national authority approval. It should not appear that the choice was made in such a way that it could be considered to be a political appointment. The choice should be made resoundingly on the merits of the person’s ability to fulfil that important job.
Mr. Woolas: Again, I have some sympathy with the amendment. However, I shall explain how far we have moved, and I hope to persuade the hon. Gentleman not to press it to a Division.
To ensure the committee’s independence, we have from the outset given it the power to appoint its own staff. It is a non-departmental public body. The committee must appoint a chief executive, and it may also appoint other employees. I have some sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment, which would further strengthen the independence of the committee.
Indeed, having listened to the recommendations made during pre-legislative scrutiny, we amended the draft Bill to confirm that the committee will appoint all chief executives. Previously, provisions allowed the national authorities to appoint the first chief executive. However, having listened to the views of others, we do not consider it appropriate to remove completely the requirement for the committee’s chosen candidate to be approved by the national authorities, as proposed in the amendment.
That was the view also of the Joint Committee. When it considered the draft Bill last summer, it decided that the committee should appoint the chief executive, but that the national authorities should approve the appointment. The Secretary of State is ultimately accountable to Parliament. It is taxpayers’ money, and Parliament has the right to hold the Secretary of State to account. The chief executive will also be the accounting officer of the Committee on Climate Change. That is a crucial part of the role, just as it is for a permanent secretary in a Department. It is important that the Secretary of State should be confident that the person selected by the committee is suitable.
We have considered the matter, moved towards the point of view proposed in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, and gained the Joint Committee’s support for the position that we have arrived at. We think that it strikes the right balance between independence and accountability while allowing the committee to appoint its own chief executive.
Gregory Barker: I thank the Minister. I appreciate that he has moved some degree towards our position. We think that independence of appointment is of the utmost importance, but in light of the fact that he is coming towards our position and of the importance that we place on consensus where possible, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Siobhain McDonagh.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Nine o’clock till Thursday 3 July at Nine o’clock.
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