House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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General Committee Debates
Climate Change Bill [Lords]
Climate Change Bill [Lords]
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
John Benger, Sara Howe Committee Clerks
attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Thursday 3 July 2008
[Frank Cook in the Chair]
The Chairman: I am very conscious, gentlefolk, of the common aspirations of the Committee in so far as climate change is concerned. With that in mind, I have a serious announcement to make. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this is the last occasion on which members of the Committee will have to suffer somewhat bilious interpretations of Erskine May and the pedantic application of Standing Orders by me. As of today, hon. Members will be left to the tender mercies of Mr. Peter Atkinson for the remainder of our proceedings. The bad aspect is the fact that in my experience in the position of Chairman, which is considerable, members of the Committee will not do justice to the proposals within the time set under the programme motion unless there is a major adjustment in presentation techniques. I offer that advice in the spirit of kindness and in the hope of helping to sort out our climatic problems.
I also want to point out that this is a maiden occasion for Minister Ruddock, so I ask members of the Committee to be gentle.
The Committee on Climate Change
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): I beg to move amendment No. 10, in schedule 1, page 46, line 17, leave out paragraph 16 and insert
The Adaptation Sub-Committee
(1) There shall be a sub-committee of the Committee, to be known as the Adaptation Sub-Committee or, in Welsh, as yr Is-bwyllgor Addsau (referred to in this paragraph as the ASC).
(2) The ASC shall consist of
(a) a person appointed by the national authorities to chair the ASC (the ASC chair), and
(b) not less than five other members appointed by the national authorities.
(3) The national authorities must
(a) consult the chair before appointing the ASC chair, and
(b) consult the ASC chair before appointing the other members of the ASC.
(4) The ASC must provide the Committee with such advice, analysis, information or other assistance as the Committee may require in connection with the exercise of its functions under
(a) section 37(1)(c) (advice etc to national authorities on adaptation to climate change),
(b) section [Advice of Committee on Climate Change on impact report] (advice on report on impact of climate change), or
(c) section [Reporting on progress in connection with adaptation] (reporting on progress in connection with adaptation)..
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 80, in schedule 1, page 46, line 31, at end insert
( ) sustainable development..
Government amendments Nos. 11 and 14 to 18.
Joan Ruddock: It is a pleasure to work in Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. I assure you, at the outset, that no coffee cups are in sight.
Forgive me if my speech seems a little lengthy, but I will certainly shorten what I have to say on future occasions. The amendments are the first of a comprehensive package of Government amendments to clarify the role of the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change. All members of the Committee know that the debate on climate change within and outside the House has focused mainly on mitigation, so I want to stress that the completely new adaptation duties and powers under the Bill show how seriously the Government take the need to adapt to climate change.
The original provisions have been strengthened as a result of the debate in the other place. We have also listened carefully to the arguments put forward about adaptation and agree that expert advice and scrutiny of how the Government assess the risks and implement the programme are important and useful. An adaptation sub-committee of the Climate Change Committee could have a useful role, and we therefore propose to accept the principle of the changes made in the other place to establish the sub-committee on adaptation issues. However, we believe that the committee should have a slightly different role from that set out in the Bill, and we have tabled amendments in that regard. We shall discuss the functions of the Committee on Climate Change when we deal with clauses 34 and 35.
Amendment No. 10 would establish an adaptation sub-committee or, in Welsh, an is-bwyllgor addsau of the Committee on Climate Change. First, it provides that the job of the sub-committee is to offer advice, analysis, information and other assistance to the Climate Change Committee. That reflects the fact that other amendments would give the committee the function of advising the national authorities and reporting to Parliament on adaptation issues. Secondly, the amendment would clarify the appointment processes and provides that not only the Secretary of State, but the national authorities should appoint the chair and members of the adaptation sub-committee. That is in line with the arrangements made for the Climate Change Committee itself and reflects the fact that it is to be a sub-committee of that body. Thirdly, the amendment provides for the sub-committee chair to be appointed from the committees core membership following consultation with its chairman and for at least five other members of the sub-committee to be appointed after consultation with the sub-committee chair. In practice, we expect sub-committee members to be appointed through open competition following Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments rules, and we will ensure that the overall membership will bring together a range of environmental, social and economic expertise.
Amendment No. 10 proposes to delete, and not replace, paragraph 16(3), which sets out a list of relevant criteria for the appointments. We are not making any equivalent provision for a number of reasons. First, adaptation policy is at an early stage of development. It is liable to change as we make further developments in science and as we develop better solutions to adapting sustainably. Putting a list in the Bill would prevent our changing the membership of the committee in coming decades. Secondly, the nature of adaptation and the work of the ASC, as it is currently defined, are broad, and a comprehensive list would be very long. Thirdly, for the first ASC we want to work with stakeholders, such as environmental NGOs and utility companies as well as a range of statutory bodies, to draw up a list of the expertise that is needed. We must also ensure that the ASC does not duplicate existing expert advice so that it provides value for money. The list will be agreed with the chair of the ASC. The ASC must be competent in all the pillars of sustainable developmentthe environment, including biodiversity, the economy and impacts on society. Those need to be grounded in robust science and in expertise in delivering the changes that we require.
Amendment No. 80 would add sustainable development to the list of expertise of the ASC. As I have already said, we do not believe that there should be any such list in the Bill. Therefore, we cannot accept the amendment. That is not to say that we do not support the principles behind the amendment. Let me assure the Committee that we are committed to taking a sustainable approach across our climate change policies and that we will deliver our adaptation programme in the context of sustainable development.
Clearly, the ASC must have a broad understanding of the context in which the Government work. Adapting to the impacts of climate change is itself a good example of actively practising sustainable development. We are working to embed sustainable adaptation across all Government policy areas as part of our adapting to climate change programme. The Bill commits the Government to deliver an adaptation programme that contributes to sustainable development. The environmental aspects of sustainable development and specific policies, such as those on biodiversity, are key to developing a truly sustainable adaptation programme and will be given due consideration in cross-cutting work on adapting to climate change. For example, we are already working with out statutory environment advisers Natural England and the Environment Agency on the risk assessment and the statutory guidance.
Although amendment No. 80 raises the important issue of sustainable development, I do not accept that that issue needs to be put in the Bill. We must maintain flexibility, and any list needs to be developed in consultation with stakeholders and the chair of the sub-committee.
Government amendment No. 14 proposes to amend clause 37 by adding that the Committee on Climate Change, with the sub-committees help, must provide any further advice on adaptation issues that may be requested by the Secretary of State or any of the devolved Administrations. The committee is a UK-wide body and adaptation issues will vary in different countries. It is important that the devolved Administrations make proper use of the expertise that the committee and sub-committee can provide.
Having established an adaptation sub-committee through Government amendment No. 10, we have also tabled a series of amendments, Government amendments Nos. 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18, which tidy up some of the governance arrangements on the provision of information, guidance and directions to the Committee on Climate Change. They mirror the existing provisions around the mitigation functions of the committee.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I suppose that it was inevitable that in accepting the establishment of an adaptation sub-committee, which we welcome, the Government would wish to substitute their own wording for that used by the House of Lords. I am somewhat concerned that the competencies that were detailed by our noble Friends and neighbours have been removed in the Governments wording, and I am not sure that I understand the logic. Once again, the Government have simply transferred something specific in the Bill into a good intention. That seems to be a rather pointless exercise, especially as it removes the wording that our amendment No. 80 seeks to add.
We want to add to the list of competencies for the ASC the concept of sustainable development. That issue has already been discussed in this Committee, but our feeling is that there is a slight risk that a complete list of the various competencies, including ecology, science, public health and risk management, might be rather less than the sum of its parts, and that it is important to impress upon the ASC during its establishment the need to bring the different strands together.
Let me give an example that shows how there might be a temptation, in adaptation in particular, to take a more short-term view than the main committee. Flood risk is something that I, as a Gloucestershire MP, am aware of and consider important. However, in certain circumstances, dealing with it could lead to a large amount of civil engineering and substantial defensive work that is consistent with risk management, which is one of the other competencies on the list, but might be an inappropriate and unsustainable response to an evolving climate patternin fact, it might contribute more carbon emissions than it prevents.
We seek to insert the words sustainable development in the list to ensure that the group as a whole takes a holistic approach, and that the ASC in particular respects Gro Harlem Brundtlands original request that the principles of sustainable development be reflected in policy around the world.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Good morning, Mr. Cook. Adaptation is often seen as the Cinderella of the climate change agenda, and the advocates of a robust and ambitious adaptation strategy often feel that they are crowded out of the debate by those who are concerned only with the threat of climate change and solutions to it. Unfortunately, we cannot choose between a climate change strategy that focuses on the solutions and adaptation. The science tells us that climate change is inevitable; it is just a matter of whether we can hold back the most dangerous consequences of man-made climate change. Therefore, adaptation is vital.
There are those who would argue that adaptation ought to be central to the Climate Change Committees remit and that giving it to a sub-committee somehow makes it a junior, or lesser, part of the agenda. Some would say that we are trying to pigeonhole the adaptation agenda at a rank below that which it ought to occupy.
I understand those concerns, but I do not agree with them. Their lordships in the other place were right to establish the ASC, because it will require a slightly different skills set from the one that may be present on the committee, which will be of a relatively limited size.
We have pushed for an enlarged committee, but the Government did not accept that. Given that there will be a relatively small number of experts on that panel, it is right that the sub-committee should have a clear adaptation focus. As important as a robust, ambitious adaptation strategy is, a clear communication strategy is needed, too, so that it is not sidelined in the public debate.
We Conservatives have no substantive problems with any of the amendments tabled on the ASC. However, it is necessary to ask the Minister just to clarify a couple of points. In respect of the Governments amendment to schedule 1(16), will she explain why the national authorities should appoint the ASC chair, when it is meant to be a non-political appointment? No such requirement existed in the original provision. Why did the Government feel it necessary to make that significant change?
The hon. Member for Cheltenham has made some sensible points about amendment No. 80. I am happy to say that I support the inclusion of the words sustainable development in the required expert criteria for prospective ASC members. We have already had the debate about the importance of sustainable development and the need for an accurate, clear definition.
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