Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Martin Horwood: I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman’s support. Is he aware that the Environmental Audit Committee also supports, and indeed recommended, this change?
Gregory Barker: Indeed. That helped to inform our thinking. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the EAC, on taking up its recommendation and tabling it in an amendment. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments about sustainability, except to say that the hon. Gentleman is right that it should be included in the Bill. It is vital that sustainability criteria are included in the planning for mitigation and adaptation policies. Thus it makes eminently good sense to include persons with expertise in sustainable development on the ASC. I support the Liberal Democrat amendment and Government amendments Nos. 11 to 18. Linking the ASC to the reporting requirements on climate change impacts and adaptation in clauses 36, 40 and 41 seems eminently sensible, and it is a necessary joining up of related appropriate powers in the Bill.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Member for Cheltenham has said that we are removing specific competencies. As I said in my opening remarks, however, adaptation is a wide subject. If we were to include all the competencies that might be desirable, the list would be extraordinarily long and in no way adequate, even if we were to accept his amendment and leave the other items on the list in place. Including expertise in international development on the list, for example, would not be appropriate in terms of the ASC, which deals with adaptation in the UK. Furthermore, considering public health, for instance, we could argue that wider public welfare includes much more than public health. There are criticisms of the list as it stands, let alone with the addition of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment.
Martin Horwood: I am astonished by the Minister’s comments about international development. Clearly, the most enormous impacts in terms of adaptation and climate change will affect the poorest countries in the world, which has profound implications for British Government policy through the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Surely, this area of expertise links to the climate science and many other areas on the list, which are vital.
Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman’s argument about impacts is, of course, correct. Through the Department for International Development, the Government are extremely active in supporting developing countries in tackling their adaptation needs. That is quite different from the needs of the membership of the ASC, which deals with adaptation in the UK itself.
My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and I have been at pains in Committee to indicate the way in which sustainable development is embedded across Government and to point out that all Departments have duties in that respect. Any bodies that are set up, such as the adaptation sub-committee, will, of course, be bound by those principles. We have defined exactly what sustainable development means for the Committee, how the Government understands it and where it has been defined. There are sustainable action plans right across Government.
We are clear that although sustainable development is an incredibly important topic, it imbues everything that we do, and it is therefore unnecessary to place it in the list. Even if we have the most extensive list, we are only going to appoint a small number of people at the end of the day. There is therefore no way in which the individuals concerned can be people with a particular expertise in all those things. They need to be able to cover all the topics, and, because science and practice are developing, we will need to consult the person appointed as the sub-chair of the committee regarding the appointment of further members. There is no doubt that we need to proceed in a way other than that proposed by the hon. Gentleman in his amendment.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle rightly said that we cannot choose between adaptation and mitigation. We agree wholeheartedly on that point, which is why we have constructed the sub-committee in a way in which ensures that it is part of the full committee and that the linkage is there. That is the way in which we expect to proceed, and we think that it is the right way.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle has asked why national authorities should appoint the sub-committee chair. That is because we need to work with the devolved Administrations. It is important that the consultation on these appointments is done in conjunction with the devolved Administrations, which is why the decision will involve them. He discussed and welcomed our other amendments, and I am grateful for his support.
Martin Horwood: I am not hugely impressed by the Government’s response to amendment No. 80 and to their own amendments. The Minister has said that the list of competencies for an adaptation sub-committee would be enormously long—well, it would be exactly as long as the list in front of us in the Bill. I do not think their lordships plucked that list out of thin air, and we are seeking only to add one competence.
Joan Ruddock rose—
Martin Horwood: I will not give way because I am drawing my remarks to a close. I accept that we will have difficulty persuading the Government on this point.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 11, in schedule 1, page 48, line 24, at end insert—
‘( ) section [Advice of Committee on Climate Change on impact report] (advice on report on impact of climate change), or
( ) section [Reporting on progress in connection with adaptation] (reporting on progress in connection with adaptation).’.—[Joan Ruddock.]
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 33

Advice on level of 2050 target
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 102, in clause 33, page 17, line 10, leave out ‘December’ and insert ‘November’.
This apparently innocuous amendment is designed to have a profound impact on the process of the Bill.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): One month to save the world.
Steve Webb: One month to save the world is precisely right.
What difference does it make if the month is December or November? During the Bill’s progress through the House, changes have been made to the version seen in the Lords. When this House has completed its deliberations, the Bill will go back to another place and, I speculate, it will return to us. It therefore seems inevitable that the proceedings will not be completed until October or November. Clause 33 currently requires the Committee on Climate Change to report on 1 December, so we could still be debating the Bill, and the target, in early November. The long title says that this Bill is “to set a target”—that is the first thing that it seeks to do.
We have had lengthy debates in Committee about what that target should be and on what basis and, during the course of the debate, it struck me that the comments made by the hon. Member for Bury, North were characteristically profound. If we could arrange to have the benefit of the Committee on Climate Change’s assessment while the Bill is still live, we could address the official Opposition’s legitimate concern that that committee’s standing should not be undermined by our second-guessing it. If the committee had to report by 1 November, while the Bill is still live, we would know what it thought and could decide whether to put the number that it suggests in the Bill.
Suppose that, on 1 November, the Committee on Climate Change comes up with a number—80 per cent., for example, although it could be anything. The official Opposition, who have said that they will abide by the committee’s advice, would be happy to put that figure in the Bill. We would be happy to do so, as we have already indicated, and the position of Government Members who signed the amendment on 80 per cent. that we considered earlier in our proceedings would be strengthened, as they would be able to see the latest scientific assessment agreed by the independent committee. The question is whether the Government will accept the number suggested by the committee. Rather than passing the Bill and taking it on trust that the Government will implement that number, amendment No. 102 would allow us to know the number. In that case, the Government would make a choice, and the House would decide what it thought about that choice.
Clearly, bringing forward this important work by one month is a significant ask for the Climate Change Committee. It is right and proper that, before speaking to the amendment, I spoke to Lord Turner. I did so at the weekend, partly as a courtesy—if we are going to give him a harder task, it is only right to let him know—and partly to see what he thought. We spoke at some length. He was understandably keen not be associated with the views of any political party on such issues, and the views that I express are my own, informed by what he said but not attributable to him.
Suppose that the Committee had to produce a report on 1 December. As we know, in such cases minds are not made up on 30 November. People begin to work out what they think during the work, and they start to get an overall picture. Although the last two, three or four weeks of the committee’s work might be taken up with pretty bar charts, checking scientific references and so on, it is not unreasonable to suppose that by 1 November the committee would be in a position to advise the Government in summary about the direction of travel. On that date, it probably could not meet the requirement in clause 34, which includes a 1 December deadline, to provide detailed advice on carbon budgets, which is the nitty-gritty, because some work might still be outstanding, which is why I have not tabled an amendment to clause 34. However, the committee might be able to perform the single task set out in clause 33, which is to advise on the 2050 target.
9.30 am
I fully accept that these are interconnected issues. It would be na├»ve to say that the committee could advise on the 2050 target without reaching a decision on international effort, aviation and shipping, or greenhouse gas lists. That is a fair point to make. However, it does not seem unreasonable that the committee might be asked to bring its recommendation forward a month. Then, when we finalise our considerations in the House, all of us will know what the committee thinks, and rather than us amateurs—speaking for myself, I am an amateur on the subject—plucking a number from the air, we will have expert opinion. That will be so much more powerful when we finalise the Bill.
There is one small practical problem with that suggestion. If the committee has to report by 1 November, as the amendment suggests, and the Bill does not come into law until later in November, technically it is not binding on the committee to produce the report by 1 November, because there is no law to say that it must do so. There is a slight problem of logic there.
Let us suspend the fiction that the committee on climate change does not exist. The committee is already out there. It does exist. I rang the man on Saturday. I spoke to the chairman of the committee. The committee is doing its work. There are people beavering away. What questions are they answering? The questions in the Bill. The Bill says what the committee has to do.
In a way, therefore, what I am calling for in the amendment is a dirty great hint, let us say, so that the shadow committee on climate change understands that the will of the House is that it reports by 1 November. If the Secretary of State or the Minister wanted to write to the committee to reinforce the dirty great hint that we wanted its opinion by 1 November, I would welcome that. Indeed, if the Minister’s reply was, “Well, forget the Bill, I’ll write to them and tell them to do it anyway”, I would welcome that too.
I will not labour this point, as it is clear what I am trying to do. We all want to make the decision on the basis of the best evidence, and if we can have the best evidence a few weeks earlier, albeit in summary form, that would be good. I note that clause 33(5) states:
“As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice...the Committee must publish that advice”.
In other words, the committee can say what it thinks the number is, perhaps with a paragraph or two of explanation.
“As soon as is reasonably practicable”,
it can do the full monty, as it were, in parliamentary terms. That seems to be the best balance that we can achieve.
I shall make one final observation, which comes back to the question, “Why specify 80 per cent. or 60 per cent. in the Bill?” I have spoken to the Minister and to the Secretary of State about the issue and I found myself in a slightly awkward position, because I realised that what I was saying to the Secretary of State sounded as though I was saying, “I don’t trust you”. I thought, “That’s not what I’m saying.” I was trying to work out what I wanted to say, because it is slightly awkward to say to someone, “I don’t trust you to do what the committee says. I don’t trust you to change the Bill.” The reason I realised that that was not what I meant to say was that I thought, “I do trust the DEFRA Ministers to want to do this, but I don’t trust the rest of Government to go along with it.” That is the important point.
So I do trust that the Minister wants the right number in the Bill, but once the climate change committee publishes its report after the passage of the Bill, if it does so, DEFRA may say, “Yes, we want 80 per cent., because it says 80 per cent. in the Bill”, and the Treasury, the Department for Transport, the Ministry responsible for housing or whoever it is may say, “Ah, but...”. That is what we are trying to deal with here.
The amendment will strengthen the hand of DEFRA, which I sincerely believe wants the right number in the Bill. It would give DEFRA a stick to beat the rest of Government with, because it will know on 1 November that the figure is 80 per cent. or whatever it is, and it will say to the rest of Government, “There is no way now that we can stop now. Parliament clearly wants either the advice of the committee or 80 per cent.”, which may coincide—Parliament may want both those things. There will be an overwhelming desire for that to happen. So, if the Minister can give us the date 1 November, or a letter to Adair Turner saying that he wants 1 November, we can achieve what I think the vast majority of us want.
Joan Walley: I support the amendment in principle. I take it to be a probing amendment. Along with many colleagues in this place, I supports the move towards at least 80 per cent. In the debate so far, we have heard many contributions about the role of the Environmental Audit Committee and its many inquiries into climate change, in respect of the recommendation of 80 per cent.
With reference to the date and whether we could have an earlier resolution of these matters, it may be helpful to tell the Committee that in the course of its deliberations the Environmental Audit Committee is keen to have a private hearing with Adair Turner, to discuss those very issues. Select Committees have an important role in trying to find a way through difficult decisions on timing and so on. I hope that such initiatives will be helpful in taking the legislation forward.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): It is in everyone’s interest that we have the greatest possible consensus on the Bill because it will run for many years under Governments of all persuasions. It must be in the interest of the Government and of business managers for the advice of the Climate Change Committee to be made available before Report and Third Reading, otherwise the remaining stages of the Bill will be incredibly frustrating.
If we are not careful, the Minister’s line to take on Report and Third Reading will be the same as in Committee, and the headline out there, in the The Guardian and other newspapers, will be “Government betray 80 per cent. target”. Every single person who has taken the time and trouble to get in touch with us, to write to us, to send us postcards, such as those involved in “The Big Ask” campaign, will feel betrayed. As an Opposition MP, I will be quite happy if large numbers of people think they are being betrayed by the Government, as that will add to the increasing army of people who are frustrated with this Government’s performance. In practical terms, however, it would be good news if we could carry that constituency with us, thinking that Parliament has achieved something.
It is a matter of the Minister trying to work out with his officials a line to take. It would not be difficult for the Government to say that so far as is possible, they will try to ensure that Report and Third Reading of the Bill take place after the Climate Change Committee has given advice to Ministers. That advice could then be reflected by what the Government say on Report and Third Reading, not least by what they say to the House about how much attention they will pay to the advice of the Climate Change Committee. In that way, we would know what the Climate Change Committee has to say and how much regard the Government will pay to that advice. Otherwise, we will have a frustrating Report and Third Reading and the likely victims of that frustration will be not the Opposition, but the Government and the Government’s supporters.
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