Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:54 pm on 28th October 2008.

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Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 10:54 pm, 28th October 2008

I rise to speak to amendment (a) in my name, but as there seems to be a larger than usual number of hon. Members in the House at 10.54 pm, I wish to make it clear to any who are not here for the purpose of speaking that I have no intention of pressing my amendment to a vote. I am happy to give that guidance. Members who venture outside will apparently encounter snow, which is proof that we are talking not about global warming, but about climate change.

I warmly welcome the establishment of the new Department and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. Like my hon. Friend Peter Luff, I am grateful to him for remaining to listen to the debate. The shadow Secretary of State is also in his place.

I understand the logic of responding to the creation of a new Department by the establishment of a new Select Committee. That preserves the symmetry with which the House scrutinises departmental work, but the pragmatic response might have been, and there were suggestions that this could have been done, with only 19 months to go before a general election, to ask the Environmental Audit Committee to take on the role of scrutinising the new Department.

However, the Government have decided differently and I wish the new Select Committee well. Once it is up and running, I and my colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee will, I am sure, co-operate happily with the Chairman and its members when they have been chosen. We have plenty of experience of working with other Committees in our present function, and I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire and my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack, with whom I have worked particularly closely in the past three years.

I shall make three brief points. The first is to emphasise what the Minister said in his remarks and the intervention from my colleague, Joan Walley. I was going to call her my hon. Friend, as we seem to work so closely together. Climate change issues are, by their nature, cross-cutting issues. Tackling climate change involves tax policy, transport policy, business policy, energy policy—a range of policies. For that reason, the Environmental Audit Committee, with its cross-departmental role, is especially well placed and equipped to consider climate change issues. I am grateful for the tribute that the Deputy Leader of the House paid to the work that my Committee has done over the years. I am well served by members from all sides on the Committee who have considerable expertise.

On certain aspects of climate change, it is clearly true that we are better able to exercise a scrutiny function than a Committee that is confined to a single Department. It was a Labour Government commitment that led to the establishment of the EAC in 1997. Its cross-departmental role is enshrined in Standing Order 152A. The logical interpretation of that role at the start of this Parliament, before I became the Chairman, was to focus on climate change and related issues as the main theme for the current Parliament, and that has been reflected in the expertise of the members, the Clerk and the staff of the Committee.

My second point is that we already have, as a Committee, like any Select Committee, a forward programme of work in hand and already announced, for which the National Audit Office, to which I also pay tribute, has done preparatory work. There is often quite a long lead time—six or nine months or even a year—when the NAO will undertake research at our request, do that study, deliver it to us and publish it before we commence our inquiry. We do not want to be suddenly blown off course in our work because a new Committee has been established.

We already have an inquiry under way into shipping, which will be followed by one on forestry. We will conduct our annual examination of the pre-Budget report and we are committed to an inquiry next year into emissions trading at a time when, I hope, the United States will have a system coming on to the statute book. We want to revisit the work that we did last year on the EU emissions trading scheme. Those are all inquiries that we intend to press on with and they will involve taking evidence from Treasury Ministers, Transport Ministers and Ministers in the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as well as the Secretary of State for the new Department, I hope.

My third point is a practical concern and reflects the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, who is right. Haste in setting up the new Committee will not serve its purposes well and will not help the establishment of a co-operative relationship with other Committees. It would be prudent to wait until the start of a new calendar year.

My own amendment addresses my concern about the size of Select Committees, a point already well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire. I shall not repeat his arguments, but I should say that it is easier to chair a Committee of 11 rather than 16, which is the number of members that my Committee has; it is also easier for members of smaller Committees to make satisfying contributions. I think that the Committee of Selection will struggle at this stage of the Parliament to find 14 keen Members eager to take on the work of a new Select Committee; it will struggle even to find 11 of them. I have no doubt that the Committee of Selection will put forward 11 names, but how regularly some of those Members will attend remains to be seen.

Some months ago, I approached the Leader of the House with a request to reduce the size of the Environmental Audit Committee from 16 to 11. My approach was rebuffed, but I shall be happy to revisit the issue if I am given any encouragement to do so. There are 11 very active members of my Committee and several passengers who would be relieved if they were no longer required to carry out the duties of a Select Committee member.

Let me conclude by simply saying that the Environmental Audit Committee has played a valuable role since its establishment 11 years ago. I believe that it can continue to do so, even with another Committee alongside it that scrutinises the work of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The members of my Committee feel strongly that they would like to continue doing our work. I am confident that if we are given the opportunity, we will work constructively and positively in co-operation with the members of the new Committee, although it would be easier to do so if the Government accepted the two amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire and me.

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