Climate Change Bill [Lords]


[back to previous text]

The Chairman: Order. I believe that this is a convenient moment to suspend the Committee. We will resume at 9 pm.
8.1 pm
Sitting suspended.
9 pm
On resuming—
Martin Horwood: I want to pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon. He is probably involved in a particularly vital pudding.
I appreciate the intention behind new clause 10 and, in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, we are trying our best to support those on the Conservative Front Bench when they make sensible suggestions. However, I must say that the new clause is a little ropey. It is not as good as new clause 11, which is to follow. It first commits the sin of loose wording. We have the commitment to publish a carbon impact assessment
“for any new measure, proposal or policy made in any area of administration”.
That is quite a broad spread. Does it mean that, if the Charity Commission wants to revise the public benefit test guidance for public schools, on line and thus not even publish anything, it has to conduct a carbon impact assessment before doing so?
To implement such a change, the Charity Commission will have to send an e-mail to public schools, and probably to the Cabinet Office to prepare it for the flak from outraged Tory MPs, and that will take electricity, which will result in a slight increase in carbon emissions. It will then have to produce not only the carbon impact assessment itself, but set out the measures necessary to ensure that the 2050 target is achieved none the less. That is a big ask, and an expensive ask for the Charity Commission.
Gregory Barker: There is no ask at all. On something so mundane and simple, no action would need to be taken. A whole set of actions cannot be constructed when none is needed. A degree of consent is required when dealing with such matters. Common sense can be applied to the interpretation of such a measure.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I do not see much scope for common sense in the wording before us. The new clause states that the Secretary of State
“must for any new measure...in any area of administration”,
and that sounds much too broad. Furthermore, the new clause seems to go against the spirit of some amendments that we considered earlier, particularly those that sought to bring issues of biodiversity into a broader sense of environmental impact. Instead, it would again narrow issues just to the impact of carbon.
Mr. Woolas: I hope that you managed to get something to eat, Mr. Atkinson, to sustain you through our fascinating deliberations.
A similar new clause was tabled in the other place. It might have been identical. My argument against it is that consideration of the impact of policies on emissions is already a central part of the policy-making process throughout Whitehall, with a system in place to make sure that it happens. Like the hon. Member for Cheltenham, I agree with the intent of the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, which is again urging firm action to be taken. However, as was argued in the Lords, that is already in place.
Detailed requirements and guidance on carbon impact assessments are already on the public websites of DEFRA and the Better Regulation Executive, and are followed by all Departments.
Mr. Gummer: I happen to live and work right next door to the new Ministry of Justice. The Ministry has not entered its building yet, but it is taking possession of it. The lights are on all night, every night. I wonder at what point someone will take note of the carbon footprint involved. I would like someone to, because I could then go to sleep without having the lights burning into my room. I have to declare an interest there. However, I remember that as the Minister responsible for what were called Green Ministers, it was difficult to get people to do what we wanted them to do. Can the Minister help by telling us—if he will not accept the new clause—whether there are ways in which we could help him to do more in this area? This is a serious issue.
Mr. Woolas: That is a good example, and the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is the carbon reduction commitment. When that comes in—all Departments will be covered by it—the Ministry will have to put a price on it. We already have the Sustainable Development Commission report into Whitehall, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ensured was published and circulated. We have taken measures and are moving in the right direction, but the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The CRC will factor into the finances. Once one gets the finance directors involved in such decisions, hearts and minds tend to follow. I think that it was Mario Puzo who said in “The Godfather” that he wanted the meeting of the five families to be held in a bank because there is nothing
“more conducive to pure reason, than the atmosphere of money.”
I take that example.
The detailed requirements and guidance on carbon impact assessments—as I was saying—are published on the websites of DEFRA and the Better Regulation Executive. For each policy, an assessment must be carried out as to whether it could result in a significant increase or decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and where possible—before the CRC—that change must be given a monetary value, including costs and benefits. The use of that impact assessment is now well embedded in Whitehall procedures, and helps to ensure that Departments are fully aware of the carbon impact of their policies. We also require that carbon assessment processes are kept up to date and are responsive to developments in impact assessment procedures and in the measurement of the impact of carbon emissions. So, it is likely that enshrining these measures in legislation could restrict that responsiveness and lead to inflexibility—but that is not my main argument.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed out some of the drafting problems and I will not repeat them. We should also remember the important role that the Committee on Climate Change will play in monitoring progress. Clause 35 requires that committee to look at progress towards the targets, and the committee will do that across the board, looking not just at the proposals and policies set out in the clause 14 report that we agree. So, if the committee is concerned about increasing emissions, I expect hon. Members will point this out. The intention of the new clause is already covered by the new impact assessment and the incoming carbon reduction commitment. My second argument would be to repeat the arguments of the hon. Member for Cheltenham.
Gregory Barker: I will not rehearse the arguments. It is the Prime Minister’s stated aim that every new policy would be examined for its impact on carbon emissions. Although the Minister points to the Government’s record, anyone who looks at that record in earnest would find it hard to believe that that was the case in view of Government policy on such issues as Kingsnorth, airport expansion and the list goes on.
The purpose of the amendment was to try to draw the Government to stick by the Prime Minister’s fine words last November. I take comfort, if not from the Government’s record, from what the Minister said about the future role of the Climate Change Committee and the fact that it will approach this. We would have preferred to find a way to pin down the Government to ensure that this was enshrined right across Whitehall, but in light of the Minister’s words and the lack of support from elsewhere, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 11

Statements of compatibility
‘(1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before Second Reading of the Bill—
(a) make a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the principal aim of this Act (“a statement of compatibility”); or
(b) make a statement to the effect that although he is unable to make a statement of compatibility the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.
(2) The statement must be in writing and be published is such a manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.’.—[Gregory Barker.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Gregory Barker: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This new clause goes to the heart of how the Bill will work. It fixes a deficiency in the Bill that is crucial to its working. It would require a ministerial statement of assurance to be placed on all future Bills that the provisions contained in them are compatible with the Climate Change Act, which is what we all hope this Bill will become. This function is similar to the statement regarding compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998, with which hon. Members will be very familiar. It therefore has a precedent.
We do not think that such a statement would be appropriate for other Bills, although they might be important. It does not make sense to require every piece of legislation to be compatible with the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 or the Crossrail Bill or whatever, but given the overarching nature of climate change we believe that it is appropriate for this Bill. This is a ground-breaking piece of legislation that will affect every decision that this and successive Governments make until 2050 and most likely beyond.
If the Government are serious about their commitment to reducing emissions, they should be more than happy to assure both Houses that their legislation is compatible with the principal aim of the UK playing our part in preventing dangerous man-made climate change. The business of reducing emissions must be a comprehensive one or the entire project fails. The aims of the Bill must be seen as a brush that varnishes every policy and colours every proposal. A statement of compatibility will make sure that this is the case. It is not enough just to pass the Bill. Then the real work begins, not ends. We must ensure that the Act gets the job done.
Steve Webb: I suspect that the new clause was drafted when the Bill had a principal aim, which was clause 1. Now there is no clause 1, what does the hon. Gentleman understand to be an assertion? All we have is a target for 2050. What does this mean in the absence of that clause?
Gregory Barker: I think it is the trajectories that will be implicit in the legislation. We have a target. We hope that we will have a revised and more important target. There is a clear policy direction in the Bill, even though it does not have the principal aim that we had intended and which it had when it left the other place. We are hopeful that a compromise that we discussed much earlier in our deliberations on 2 C will be forthcoming on Report. I am hopeful that when the Bill receives Royal Assent it will make more sense than it does now.
I am worried that the Bill will not be implemented as it should be, and new clause 11 would solve any such worries. I expect that the Minister will tell me that once the Bill becomes law, civil servants will be required to give advice within its constraints, but that simply is not enough. It is a negative way of approaching climate change. We do not just want the civil service to be mindful of not being in breach of the Bill. We think that there should be active engagement with climate change issues in all policy areas. The new clause would mean that the Bill teams would have to work hard to ensure that everything that they put into legislation would help to move towards the 2050 target of stopping global warming. That would be an important way of ensuring that we actually meet the target.
9.15 pm
An additional argument, used in another place against a similar measure, is that it would be very difficult to tell if a proposal were incompatible with the Bill. In some respect, I can see the Government’s point: it is a framework Bill that does not prevent any particular policy from coming to fruition, but sets out a schedule and pattern for reducing emissions. Let us imagine that legislation is presented that would require the building of 10 new unabated coal-fired power stations. Although that would make it extremely difficult to reach the 2050 target, it would not be in conflict with any particular part of the Bill—so the argument runs. It would require the Government to rely heavily on mechanisms in the Bill that can contribute to reductions in other areas, but it would not be against the Bill as a whole.
That is a problematic argument for a number of reasons. For a start, it exposes a severe contradiction in the Government’s two reasons for opposing new clause 11, as they did in the other place. There was the argument that civil servants would have to abide by the Bill when making recommendations, and in that manner the Bill would be driven across all Departments. However, the Government then insist that no individual policies would come into conflict with the Bill. How then will the Bill be driven across Whitehall, as the Government claim that it will be, if in their opinion there is no conceivable individual policy that could conflict with it? In that case, there will be nothing to make civil servants consider the Bill for a moment before making recommendations. They could leave it to DEFRA to figure out how to offset their policies elsewhere.
That is a real concern. I have no doubt about the ability of the statement of compatibility to be effective if tethered to a principal aim in the Bill, which we do not have at the moment, and which we discussed in our first sitting. As the hon. Member for Northavon said, the fate of the new clause is also tethered to the fate of the principal aim. In light of the Minister’s helpful indication that a principal aim could be included in the Bill, whether in the form of a preamble or statement of purpose, new clause 11 cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.
 
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 9 July 2008