Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Martin Horwood: On the specific issue of the Department of Health—I again refer the Committee to the personal interest that I declared earlier—there are highly developed action and contingency plans in every primary care trust across the country for the human variant of avian flu, which is a potential catastrophe. Whole conferences have been held. Can the Minister give one example of equivalent planning that has been attached to anything to do with adaptation to climate change?
Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment helpfully suggests to me that he believes that our plans on flooding have progressed in that direction. I would also say to the hon. Gentleman that adaptation is something of a new science. To apply it in a sustainable way, which is what we are all concerned about, will require a great deal of research, effort and learning by everyone in government. We cannot expect adaptation to have already been sorted; there would then be no point in having the Bill and all that goes with it. Adaptation is something that we will have to work on consistently over many years into the foreseeable future. It is not something that is done and dusted, and on which we get a report and that is the end of it. The work will continue for many years across the Government. We would not expect to have complete packages at this stage.
We are saying clearly that the adaptation sub-committee of the Climate Change Committee will examine the Government’s progress on delivering adaptation, provide independent and expert advice on what further action the Government need to take, and deliver that advice. As I have said, Departments are already working closely together and will soon be launching the adaptation website to communicate the Government’s overall approach to responding to the impact of climate change, and to provide a useful framework for developing the programme, including a practical toolkit for use by organisations to help them to adapt to climate change. That will include future priorities for each Department. I was reminded that the Department of Health undertook work in response to the heat waves in 2003, which led to about 2,000 deaths. It has carried out a great deal of planning to deal with the health effects of heat waves that might occur.
We shall include future priorities for each Department and demonstrate the joined-up approach that is taken. We will also publish an accompanying document summarising the cross-Government programme. I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for Cheltenham that all Departments will be engaged in the normal way and that there is no need for the amendment.
Martin Horwood: The Minister’s critique of amendment No. 78 was well informed, as I would expect. I accept that the list is not perfect and that it might contain inconsistencies. However, the fact that it is not as comprehensive as it could be is not an argument against having a list. Some complex and diverse organisations in the further reaches of the Government might think that, in some way, this is not their problem.
I am less reassured and convinced by the hon. Lady’s critique of amendment No. 79. We are trying to construct a framework for the Government’s policy that will be resilient to short-term political storms and calculations. She said that the plans for adaptation would encompass actions by other Ministers and that the Secretary of State for EFRA could report on them. However, encompassing other people’s plans is not the same as issuing guidance and using all the expertise and resources at DEFRA’s disposal to encourage, or even to direct, other Ministers to get a move on and develop plans.
The Department of Health provides a salutary lesson in such matters. We are all starting to talk about adaptation on a grand scale. We would assume that everyone had dealt with mitigation long ago and had been thinking about it for many years, yet the Department of Health issued its first consultation on the response of the NHS to climate change mitigation issues only in the past month. That was a slow response.
Tony Baldry: The Minister did not raise the matter, so my understanding might be out of date, but the Crown is indivisible. One Secretary of State cannot prosecute another Secretary of State because they are all part of the Crown. Our constitution is based on the concept of a collective Government. We cannot have a position in which one Secretary of State is trundling off to the High Court to sue another Secretary of State. The proceedings would be struck up as the Crown suing the Crown, but perhaps I have misunderstood the basic principles of constitutional law.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s learned intervention. The clause does not refer to anyone taking legal action against anyone else, but to issuing guidance. If Ministers are not allowed to issue guidance to each other, that must be news to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Tony Baldry: The sanction in any legislation is ultimately judicial review, and that works only if there is a sanction. This would necessitate one Secretary of State seeking a sanction against another Secretary of State if one believes that the other has not issued suitable guidance or complied with the terms of the Act.
Martin Horwood: Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his well-informed intervention. I understand his point, but it is an unduly pessimistic scenario in which one can issue guidance only if it is backed up by a legal sanction. However, given the Minister’s comments and her uncharacteristic reluctance to accept our positive suggestions once again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 60

Directions by Secretary of State to prepare reports
Gregory Barker: I beg to move amendment No. 105, in clause 60, page 27, line 42, at end add—
‘(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations—
(a) make provision requiring reporting authorities to co-operate with other reporting authorities in the provision of information and the preparation of any report under this section.
The amendment would place a duty on local authorities to co-operate on adaptation—
3.10 pm
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
3.53 pm
On resuming—
Gregory Barker: If I may refresh the Committee’s memory, the amendment would place a duty on local authorities to co-operate on adaptation. That is important because there is a gap in the Bill whereby councils may be substantially deficient in their ability to prepare for the effects of climate change if they do not have access to information from other reporting authorities. The amendment seeks to bridge that gap by facilitating the pooling of information between public bodies and ensuring their co-operation with councils so that local areas are adequately prepared for the effects of climate change planning.
Councils are unique in that they have close access to local information on infrastructures and the ability to produce comprehensive, detailed and accurate reports that will be greatly beneficial to central Government. While local government has the capacity to report on its estates and services under its direct control, it is not in a position to chase and collate information from non-council public authorities, by which I mean former public utilities such as water, electricity or gas supply companies.
Moreover, if councils are required to make a report, they need the power to require relevant, reliable and timely co-operation from non-council public authorities. The prevention of flooding is a key example of an area in which the amendment would be mutually beneficial to both public bodies and local councils.
As was demonstrated by last summer’s floods, a number of public bodies are involved in operations to deal with the consequences of floods and with flood prevention. To achieve that, it is essential that the relevant bodies are able to impart information and collaborate in investigations to root out the causes of the floods. However, to resolve the problem successfully in all cases, it is necessary that they explain their actions and work with local authorities to make improvements.
The ineffectiveness of the current process was demonstrated last summer in Leeds, when the city council was able to access Yorkshire Water’s sewer records only on a stand-alone basis. It was not permitted to superimpose that data against its own information to gain a fuller picture of surface water drainage. Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to investigate drainage problems holistically when the various records can be seen only in isolation. That strikes me as an inefficient use of data, when sharing information at no real expense to either third party would have had distinct benefits for tackling flooding.
It is clear that there is a need for those who have a statutory duty to keep drainage records to also have a duty to share such records with other related organisations. For example, the effective maintenance and upkeep of drainage infrastructure requires those bodies responsible to maintain adequate records to highlight any risks. By sharing and collating that information, all the facts required would be in place to make an accurate assessment of how such infrastructure should be maintained and by whom. The experience of Hull city council, in an area that suffered severely from floods last summer, is a prime example. The draining system was overwhelmed and an independent report investigating the floods subsequently highlighted that the lack of information on the ownership of watercourses and their maintenance regimes resulted in there being no sole agency or combined body in control.
It is not enough simply to assume that non-council reporting authorities, through central guidance, will in all cases take reasonable steps to co-operate and respond effectively with councils. It is thus necessary to underpin effective action with statutory obligations. As we remember the appalling floods that damaged parts of the country so badly on two occasions last year, and we are mindful of the fact that much of the human misery caused was preventable through better co-operation between public bodies and councils, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.
Joan Ruddock: Amendment No. 105 recognises and highlights the importance of co-operation in producing adaptation reports. In that sense, we agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said in support of his amendment. There is a need for co-operation. When it is essential for a successful approach to adapting to climate change, we have already put a number of measures into the Bill to ensure co-operation between relevant reporting authorities. Our approach is measured and proportionate to the task.
The Secretary of State’s and Welsh Ministers’ guidance to reporting authorities will include co-operation, as set out in clause 59(1)(c). Additionally, clause 60(2) already provides for the power to request joint reports from reporting authorities. When considering which public bodies should be subject to directions to prepare adaptation reports, we will consider which other bodies should be subject to similar directions to ensure that each sector is undertaking adequate assessments of climate risk and that particular areas of the country are covered properly in a joined-up way.
I have sought advice on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised about the floods. I am told that the powers in the Bill require reporting authorities to co-operate, and that will specifically include sharing information. It is clear that what I am saying in general would cover the case that he has raised because of the specific requirement to share information. With that duty to co-operate and share information, and the power to direct authorities to produce joint reports, which would require them to bring their information together, I believe that we already have in the Bill a set of measures that provides a strong framework and offers a more proportionate response to ensuring that there is appropriate co-operation between reporting authorities in producing the adaptation report.
I understand that the amendment was well meant and the purpose behind it. I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Gentleman that the Bill provides what he seeks.
4 pm
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 61

Compliance with Secretary of State’s directions
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Miss McIntosh: My questions pertain directly to clause 61 and this part of the Bill, but they also have relevance to other measures in the Bill.
The Government stated in their command paper on the draft Bill that the legislation places a legal duty on the Government to ensure that the UK meets its targets and stays within the limits of its carbon budgets. Clause 61 gives the Secretary of State a duty to
“publish the report in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
Subsection (1) states:
“A reporting authority must comply with any directions under section 60.”
Will the Minister explain how the Government could be required to take remedial action by order of a court? Will the directions of the Secretary of State be justiciable and legally enforceable? Will they be subject to judicial review?
If the Bill—particularly clause 61 and, indeed, the whole part on adaptation—is to have legal effect at all, it is important that there should be a possibility of a challenge. This relates to some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury. In its report on the draft Bill, the Select Committee said that if what the Government seek to achieve is to mean anything at all, there should be legal sanctions and the possibility for a case to be taken before a court of law.
Joan Ruddock: I hope that I can satisfy the hon. Lady by giving her a very direct answer: yes, the directions will be legally enforceable. It may be helpful to the Committee if I say that the clause means that a reporting authority that has been given directions to produce a report by the Secretary of State is under a duty to comply with those directions.
Furthermore, the clause requires that reporting authorities must have regard, as far as is relevant, to the Government’s reports under clause 55, which deals with the national climate change assessment, and under clause 56, which deals with the UK adaptation programme. That will ensure that reporting authorities factor in the latest information about climate impacts in the UK and take into consideration Government priorities and policies on adaptation. I hope that the hon. Lady is satisfied with the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 62 to 68 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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