Climate Change Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Miss McIntosh: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for drafting and moving the amendment. The Committee will note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle has made sustainable development a priority in his remarks in Committee. He spoke eloquently of its importance in his words on clause 55 and, more specifically, clause 13. Without wishing to pre-empt remarks on clause 60, we consider the topic of local co-operation and consideration in drawing up adaptation policies to be extremely important. That is why we are delighted and happy to support the amendment.
My hon. Friend made the case earlier in his discussion on amendment No. 55. When the Government or local government are drawing up plans for adaptation to climate change, they must be mindful of the need for sustainable development. The long-term view—the big picture—is what we are all looking towards. It is not just a case of “If you don’t like the heat stay out of the kitchen,” or “You can’t make an omelette without smashing eggs.” We believe that that would be a derogation of our responsibility as political leaders and policy makers, so I support my hon. Friend’s remarks on clause 55. When it comes to preparing for local adaptation issues, such as flooding, responses focused wholly on new hard flood defences can damage the environment further and reduce its ability to support human needs in the future and will ultimately cost society more.
I should like to make a personal plea to the Minister. The title of my constituency—Vale of York—suggests that I represent the low-lying areas around and north of York. In fact, it is probably about a 65 per cent. functional and an occasional flood plain. I am sad to say that following the next election, I shall no longer be able to speak for Vale of York. Despite its many mentions on the “Today” programme for its climate and weather conditions, Vale of York will be no more. I hope that she will look favourably on the amendment, because I believe that the way forward has to be local and small alleviation schemes such as the one that I propose. Through the good offices of the Environment Agency, the scheme is preventing Thirsk from flooding again by allowing the land upstream to flood and rewarding the landowner for letting it do so. I conclude by saying that there must be a responsibility on local policy makers to make decisions, while still considering the requirements of sustainable development and the long-term view.
Joan Ruddock: Well, sour voices indeed. The hon. Members try hard to tempt me into accepting the amendment.
Gregory Barker: The lady is not for turning.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the Minister for her reassuring comments, but the purpose of the amendment is not about the Secretary of State or Ministers taking a holistic approach; it is about asking the reporting authorities to take a holistic approach as well. In that sense, it is a purely innocuous amendment, but one that might be useful to Ministers in trying to get the right result from their reporting authorities.
Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that he knows that many of the reporting authorities are guided by the Government’s strategy and are in receipt of considerable funds to carry out their plans, so the connection between the Government and the reporting authorities is important.
As I have repeated ad nauseam, adapting in ways that reinforce and deliver sustainable development is already well covered by the fact that the objectives, proposals and policy of the adaptation programme under clause 56 must contribute to sustainable development. A number of key reporting authorities, such as regional development agencies, Ofwat and Ofgem, are covered by the guidance and already have a duty to have regard to sustainable development.
2.45 pm
I offer my assurances to the Committee that the statutory guidance for public bodies will provide guiding principles on sustainable ways in which to address climate risks. It will help public bodies and statutory undertakers to demonstrate that their adaptation plans consider sustainable development. That was set out in the briefing of my noble Friend Lord Rooker, which gave the key headings that we propose for the guidance. We will develop the guidance following the usual consultation processes so that it will reflect accurately the needs of stakeholders.
Stakeholders who represent a range of sustainable development issues will also be involved in the development of the guidance. When we have a fuller picture of the content of the guidance, we can decide more accurately how sustainable development will be reflected in it. We are also working closely with our statutory advisers—Natural England and the Environment Agency, members of which sit on the working group on developing the guidance—to ensure that we pay full regard to sustainable development. The challenges and opportunities raised by the need to adapt to climate change also encourage people to think about the interaction among the environment, society and the economy.
The forthcoming “adapting to climate change” website, and the summary document that will accompany it, will set out the Government’s adaptation programme and expand on how the five principles of sustainable development are interpreted with respect to adaptation. I must oppose the amendment, but I hope that my explanation has reassured the hon. Members for Vale of York and for Cheltenham.
Martin Horwood: I am somewhat reassured by the Minister’s words, although I remained mystified about why the Government insist on rejecting a series of Opposition amendments that would strengthen the hand of DEFRA in respect of other authorities. They are apparently so completely in line with the Government’s policy that Ministers think that they are unnecessary. I would have thought that there was no harm, but great advantage, in the Government accepting them. However, on the understanding that they will not support the proposal, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Martin Horwood: I beg to move amendment No. 78, in clause 59, page 27, line 25, at end add—
‘(3) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to—
(a) the Health Protection Agency,
(b) the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets,
(c) the Water Services Regulation Authority,
(d) Natural England,
(e) the Marine and Fisheries Agency,
(f) Britishwaterways,
(g) the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment,
(h) the Statistics Board, and
(i) the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 79, in clause 68, page 31, line 16, leave out paragraph (a).
Martin Horwood: Amendment No. 78 reflects the worry that we have expressed at other stages during the Bill’s passage that the relative importance of DEFRA within the Government as a whole perhaps means that not all agencies and public bodies will have grasped what needs to be done. DEFRA has clearly had to cope with some of the impacts of climate change; arguably, the bluetongue epidemic would not have been possible had the average temperature of the country not been rising, because the infection would not have been able to thrive. Moreover, I am well aware of DEFRA’s role in the Gloucestershire floods last year and the importance of emergency planning on a cross-disciplinary basis, yet some of the agencies listed in the amendment might not have grasped the implications.
The purpose of amendment No. 78 is to put those agencies on notice that change will be required and that the provision will affect their work in a major way. It would make it clear, under the Bill, that they need to start working now on adaptation policy. I suppose that its one weakness compared with some of the other amendments that have been tabled is that the names of agencies tend to change every five minutes, and that many subsidiary amendments might be required each time the Government reorganise them. Nevertheless, it is important to be specific, and that was why we tabled the amendment.
Amendment No. 79 picks up on something rather peculiar in the Bill. Buried away on page 31, there is a list of bodies that do not count as reporting authorities. Some of those are straightforward: “either House of Parliament”—we can accept that—and devolved authorities and legislatures, which are dealt with in other ways in the Bill and form part of the whole structure. However, the list also exempts Ministers of the Crown, and we would like to remove that exemption. DEFRA is not the whole Government, and it seems reasonable that other Ministers should, from time to time, be asked by the Secretary of State to prepare a report on how they are adapting to climate change.
We have looked at some Departments that govern areas that are responsible for higher emissions than DEFRA. In terms of the impact on people’s well-being, it is again clear that DEFRA will not be responsible for many areas of government that will have to face the main impacts of climate change. The most obvious example is, of course, the Department of Health, where a repetition of the flood events would certainly involve public health issues—I declare a personal interest in that as my wife was the director of public health in Gloucestershire during the floods, and she and her NHS team worked hard to safeguard public health during that emergency. If such emergencies take place much more regularly, that will have a considerable impact on primary care trusts, foundation trusts and other NHS bodies.
If the model of bluetongue on the agricultural side is repeated for human beings, and what were previously tropical diseases start to invade these shores, the Department of Health will have to start planning for adaptation on a major scale. The Department for Transport will also have a major role to play. It might think that one way of adapting to climate change would be to provide plane flights in and out of Heathrow for people affected by climate change in other countries, but that would not be particularly appropriate. The Department for Communities and Local Government will be affected because of the impact of temperature change on existing housing stock and the necessity for local authorities to manage environmental health. There are major impacts with which other Government Departments will have to deal. Why should the Ministers in those Departments be exempt from the Secretary of State’s instructions to prepare policies and report back to Parliament on adaptation? That is a very strange exemption to have in the Bill, and I would like Ministers to justify it.
Miss McIntosh: It seems sensible for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the impact of climate change to all those authorities that are vital to the national effort to mitigate the effects of, and to adapt to, climate change. In particular, the involvement of the Health Protection Agency is very appropriate. I have a question for the hon. Member for Cheltenham. The amendment does not strike me as exhaustive. For example, why has the Environment Agency been left out? That is the most appropriate agency, as it is the body that would co-ordinate most recovery efforts and cleaning after a flood.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments. I would welcome specific additions to the list, but the Environment Agency already reports to DEFRA.
Miss McIntosh: There are others, such as English Heritage, which is a statutory body that is responsible for many of the most precious and valuable buildings. I was just making a comment.
Climate change would significantly affect human health, and hotter summers will particularly badly afflict the elderly and infirm. The Committee will recall that the 2003 summer heat wave caused an estimated 35,000 deaths across Europe. Thankfully, we do not have too many heat waves in northern Britain, but if such incidents become more frequent, we must ensure that there is optimum communication between our health authorities and the Government. Clearly, Natural England, the Marine and Fisheries Agency, the Water Services Regulation Authority and the other agencies listed in the amendment have a vital role to play in our efforts to mitigate and adapt.
On amendment No. 79, I would like to ask why a Minister of the Crown should be exempt from being considered a reporting authority for the purposes of clauses 59 to 67? Although I agree that the Secretary of State should not be empowered to issue guidance to or give direction to any reporting authorities that are devolved, or to Parliament as a whole, there does not appear to be any reason why the Secretary of State should not be able to issue advice or give direction to a fellow Government Minister. Will the Minister explain why she wishes to retain such a requirement in the Bill?
Joan Ruddock: I have already explained that the statutory guidance on adaptation will help reporting authorities to understand how to assess the risks of climate change and plan any related action.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham offers us a list, but makes a rather good argument for why there should not be a list, given the changing names. That goes to the heart of the issue: there can be a problem whenever there are lists in legislation. He needs to be assured that all reporting authorities will be covered. There was a short exchange about why the Environment Agency was not included, and the reason that he gave was that it reports to DEFRA. However, Natural England and British Waterways also report to DEFRA and they have been included. That illustrates the difficulties. We understand perfectly well the good reasons behind the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but the difficulties of drawing up such lists have also been illustrated.
We propose issuing guidance to all reporting authorities, and any other organisation should be able to access that guidance freely. That will help to ensure greater consistency and robustness in the approach taken by reporting authorities. The guidance will also be publicly available, which we hope will mean that other organisations will have some interest in the guidance, even those that are not required and are not reporting authorities. That makes a specific list of organisations completely unnecessary.
We are committed to producing a strategy for the use of the reporting power in clause 60 within a year of Royal Assent, and will set out what we think are the priority bodies at that time. That will be done in consultation with those bodies and through a study of the existing capacity and tools to address adaptation. We believe that that is a better approach than simply listing bodies. We plan to consult on the guidance, alongside our strategy for use of the adaptation reporting power, early next year. Perhaps those comments make it clear why we need to resist that particular listing.
3 pm
Let me turn to amendment No. 79. As we discussed on earlier clauses, climate change is an issue for not just DEFRA, but the whole of Government, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said and as has been echoed elsewhere in the Committee. That is even more the case with adaptation, because all sectors of the economy and society are likely to be affected to some degree by the physical impacts of climate change. The definition of reporting authorities that we have adopted in the Bill is therefore intentionally wide to capture all relevant bodies that need to take action. Both hon. Gentlemen referred to the question of Ministers of the Crown not being included in the definition of reporting authorities. Amendment No. 79 suggests altering the Bill so that they are included, so I must look at what that would do.
We believe that the amendment is both unnecessary and constitutionally peculiar. It is unnecessary because the Government already have express duties under clauses 55 and 56 to assess the risks from climate change and to draw up programmes of action, which would encompass action across all areas of central UK Government activity. The amendment simply duplicates those fundamental requirements of the Bill. Frankly, there is little point in giving the Secretary of State a power to ask himself to do what he is already required to do. We will resist the amendments, which would ensure that all Ministers and Departments across Government were listed as the hon. Gentleman suggests, because we believe that we have the working mechanisms within Cabinet government to deliver what is required. Cabinet government is an effective way of ensuring that such policy issues are addressed in a joined-up manner and that decisions can be taken collectively.
Just for the information of the Committee, all Departments already work on adapting to climate change—we are not waiting for the Bill to provide for that. Ministers in every Department are doing such work. I am the Minister with responsibility for adaptation in DEFRA and I have bilaterals with my colleagues. I can assure the Committee that the Department of Health, the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government—I think that that Department was mentioned—are working on that issue. They have much to tell us, not least of their proposals, which I can assure hon. Members are sustainable.
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 4 July 2008