Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Hurd rose—
Mr. Woolas: I give way to the hon. Gentleman who, I know, feels strongly on the issue.
Mr. Hurd: The requirement to report the impact on the environment is not the same as the requirement to report greenhouse gas emissions directly. Will the Minister be clear? Do the Government support the mandatory disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions from companies that are required to produce a business review under the Companies Act 2006?
Mr. Woolas: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government, like him, support the idea of cap and trade and of carbon trading. In order to pursue that policy, one has to have common standards of measurement, verification and reporting. It would be irresponsible for the Government to pursue a mandatory system of reporting until there was a clear understanding of what that system should be for those companies that would be taken in by the wider measures. That is why we have set out what we believe to be a sensible pathway forward. Hon. Members are expressing frustration, but they should remember that companies are already required to report on their activities under the environmental requirements of the Companies Act. Those requirements could include the point made by the hon. Gentleman. They cover other matters, as I have explained in the past 60 seconds.
Mr. Hurd: Entirely correctly, the Minister has laboured the point about the need for a consistent system. The debate is more about timing than purpose. However, he is still dodging the question. Do the Government believe that it should be mandatory for companies that are required to produce a business review to report specifically their greenhouse gas emissions, not their impact on the environment?
Mr. Woolas: I am not dodging the question, but the question that would have to be answered would be, “On whom?” Would we be talking about all companies in the United Kingdom, including those many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands for which it might not be practical? That is why I think that this method is a good way forward.
New clause 6 commits the Secretary of State to produce guidance on reporting by 1 October 2009. That is the time scale in which we believe that we shall have a common understanding. It also fits in with the international timetable.
Mr. Gummer: It is clear that the Government require the business review from only companies of a certain size. Is it not fair to come back to the Minister and ask a simple question? Do the Government believe that it is right to have mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from companies of the size for which a business review is required?
Mr. Woolas: I understand why the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood are pressing me on this point. I repeat that we already have a system in place for companies that fall within the cap-and-trade schemes to report. Let me remind the Committee that one half of UK emissions are covered by schemes. That is already the case, and the schemes include the major companies, some of which have been referred to today.
I will not fall into making what I believe to be a tokenistic gesture—given the suggestion that this is somehow an environmental virility test—by saying that I will require all companies under all circumstances to report when I do not know what the methodology of such reporting would be. Frankly, that would be irresponsible. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal seems to shake his head in frustration, but he has not answered my question. What system of reporting does he want me to mandate?
Mr. Gummer: I have often sat in the Minister’s position and I know that it is embarrassing. He knows that he wants to confuse two questions because it is easier to answer one than the other. Let me un-confuse him on the questions, of which there are two.
The first is about the method on which the reporting is based. The Minister has already admitted that half the companies have a method for reporting, so this is not as far removed as he sometimes makes it sound, but let us put that on one side.
We are asking about the principle, not about every company or medium-sized company or anything else. We are talking specifically about the companies that the Government already cover with their business review requirements—the companies that they have said are big enough to make this sort of system work. Will he please tell the Committee whether he thinks that they should report under a mandatory requirement, once a system is designed that fits everyone?
Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman has dissected the question fairly. We would not support a comprehensive mandatory system that involved all companies, irrespective of whether there was a view that such reporting would contribute towards the reduction of emissions. As I expect that he knows, mandating a common reporting standard for companies requires something that is proportionate and that works.
My timetable is responsible, given companies’ reporting periods. It is based on existing powers in the 2006 Act, and, if the Committee accepts the Government’s new clauses, that will be further strengthened by a timetable for the role of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Clause 80 does not require a timetable. It sets out that reporting should be mandatory without expressing—I repeat this—what the definition of the common standard is or what timetable should be put forward. My argument is that the Government’s position has been caricatured. This is not a debate on the difference between saying, “Let’s be bold and let’s be brave; let’s get on with it and do it,” and a Government who are dragging their feet because of a misunderstanding of capitalism, as has been described. Instead, it is a debate between the tokenism of Opposition Members and, as suggested by this side, a sensible way forward that will provide for a reduction in UK emissions and provide the world leadership that I know that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal seek.
Mr. Gummer: If the situation is as the Minister says, why is he not prepared to amend the clause with a date by which the guidance would be laid and to accept the rest of the mandatory arrangements? It is not just a question of whether a company makes a major contribution to meeting our climate change requirements. It is a matter of interest for stakeholders all over the country as to how far a company carries forward its responsibilities for reducing its greenhouse emissions. All of us ought to know about that and make our businesses decisions in respect of it. Why did he not table two amendments so that we could have agreed with them?
Mr. Woolas: If we were to make reporting mandatory at this stage, before reviewing whether the compiling of the information took place across the board—this is the right hon. Gentleman’s PepsiCo example—we would be doing that before we knew whether it improved the situation. We should remember that we are talking about many thousands of companies, especially beyond the existing carbon trading schemes. Perhaps I should have put more emphasis on that point.
I reject the argument that the Government are dragging their feet. We have set out a way forward that is based on an effective strategy that will allow Governments to consider the experience and that fits into the reporting timetable. As I emphasised, we have the power under the Companies Act 2006 to do what hon. Members are urging us to do.
I urge Committee members to reject existing clause 80 and to agree to the Government new clauses.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.
Division No. 12]
Barker, Gregory
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Maclean, rh David
Webb, Steve
Banks, Gordon
Brown, Mr. Russell
Gilroy, Linda
Griffith, Nia
McDonagh, Siobhain
Ruddock, Joan
Snelgrove, Anne
Walley, Joan
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 80 disagreed to.

New Clause 2

Duty to have regard to need for UK domestic action on climate change
‘(1) In exercising functions under this Part involving consideration of how to meet—
(a) the target in section 2(1) (the target for 2050), or
(b) the carbon budget for any period,
the Secretary of State must have regard to the need for UK domestic action on climate change.
(2) “UK domestic action on climate change” means reductions in UK emissions of targeted greenhouse gases or increases in UK removals of such gases (or both).’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

Advice of Committee on Climate Change on impact report
‘(1) It is the duty of the Committee on Climate Change to advise the Secretary of State on the preparation of each of the Secretary of State’s reports under section 55.
(2) The Committee must give its advice under this section in relation to a report not later than six months before the last date for laying the report before Parliament (see subsections (2) to (4) of section 55).
(3) The Committee must, at the time it gives its advice under this section to the Secretary of State, send a copy to the other national authorities.
(4) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice under this section the Committee must publish that advice in such manner as it considers appropriate.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 4

Reporting on progress in connection with adaptation
‘(1) Each report of the Committee on Climate Change under section 35 to which this section applies must contain an assessment of the progress made towards implementing the objectives, proposals and policies set out in the programmes laid before Parliament under section 56 (adaptation to climate change).
(2) This section applies to the report in the second year after that in which the Secretary of State lays the first programme under section 56 before Parliament.
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 5

Collection of household waste
‘In section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43) (receptacles for household waste), after subsection (10) insert—
“(11) A waste collection authority is not obliged to collect household waste that is placed for collection in contravention of a requirement under this section.”.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
6.15 pm

New Clause 6

Guidance on reporting
‘(1) The Secretary of State must publish guidance on the measurement or calculation of greenhouse gas emissions to assist the reporting by persons on such emissions from activities for which they are responsible.
(2) The guidance must be published not later than 1st October 2009.
(3) The Secretary of State may from time to time publish revisions to guidance under this section or revised guidance.
(4) Before publishing guidance under this section or revisions to it, the Secretary of State must consult the other national authorities.
(5) Guidance under this section and revisions to it may be published in such manner as the Secretary of State thinks fit.’.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 4.
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