Climate Change Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 24th June 2008.

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[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North 10:30 am, 24th June 2008

Good morning. Before we begin, I should make one or two comments and preliminary announcements. I choose to foster an easygoing exchange of views and I would hate people to get frustrated with heat, so, it being the summer, members of the Committee may remove their jackets during Committee meetings. I would ask all members at all times to ensure that their mobile phones and pagers are turned off, or at least rigged for silent running during Committee meetings.

There is both a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution with the Bill. Copies are available on the table. I remind members of the Committee that adequate notice ought to be given about amendments. As a general rule, my fellow Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that might be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.

The Committee, as members have been informed several times, has been selected as a pilot for the use of laptops in the Room. I would like to make one or two points at this stage about their use. I have never seen a Committee start so much agog. We have had the room thronged with people since about 10 minutes to 10, and yet there is not a proliferation of laptops. I have to say that I am not displeased about that—you will see that I do not have one, although that is probably because I am too thick to use one.

Laptops may be used only by members of the Committee sitting within the body of the Committee, the Committee Clerks and, of course, Hansard. Members should ensure that all laptops have the sound muted—we do not want signals to be going off across the room. The Chair will not entertain points of order about the operation of laptops or the network. Such items must be retained for moments when the Committee is suspended, if I choose to suspend it. Finally, members are expected to use laptops responsibly—I should remind the Committee that we are here to give the legislative proposals line-by-line scrutiny. I would hope that all hon. Members—we are all honourable Members, I trust—will use the laptop in that venture, to further scrutiny and line-by-line examination.

The Committee will first be asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. Debate is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, which I hope that we can take formally. Without more ado, I call the Minister to move the programme motion.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I beg to move,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 24th June) meet—

(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 24th June;

(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 26th June;

(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 1st July;

(d) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 3rd July;

(e) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 8th July;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 32; Schedule 1; Clauses 33 to 45; Schedule 2; Clauses 46 to 48; Schedule 3; Clause 49; Schedule 4; Clauses 50 to 69; Schedule 5; Clauses 70 to 74; Schedule 6; Clauses 75 to 80; new Clauses; new Schedules; Clauses 81 to 93; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday 8th July.

Thank you, Mr. Cook. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship of this important Public Bill Committee considering the Climate Change Bill. I would like to say how much I am looking forward to the deliberations of the Committee, after one of the most extensive consultations on draft legislation and the consultations and scrutiny in the other place.

I note your remarks about the use of laptops, Mr. Cook. I am in the same camp as you on that. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheltenham on being the first Member, in the history of this place, to have a laptop during the proceedings of the House. No doubt press releases to the Cheltenham papers are on their way out as we speak.

The programme motion is before us. I am pleased to report to the Committee that the usual channels have reached a consensus. There are no knives in the motion. Across the House, we have a consensus on the objectives of the Bill—how do we, in the United Kingdom, help to resist dangerous climate change? The second clause of the programme motion states that the agreed end date is Tuesday 8 July. That gives us sufficient time, so I am happy to move the programme motion.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook, on this important and ground-breaking legislation. The Opposition will do their best to assist the Government in producing the best piece of legislation that we can and to make it fit for the immensely important task of combating global climate change.

The Minister is right that there has been a dialogue between the usual channels, which suggests that the proceedings will be brought to a close on 8 July. However, I sound a note of caution. We do not yet know how the debate will progress. Many important amendments are to be debated and, as the Chairman reminded us, they will be discussed line by line. There are some crucial points to discuss. Although there is broad support for the Bill, there are some sharp points of difference on individual clauses and amendments. The Government propose to delete or remove some of the substantial clauses that were added by Conservative peers in the House of Lords. Those additions made it a much better Bill. We do not want in any way to stifle or cut short debate of those important issues.

When the usual channels made their informal agreement over the time likely to be needed for debate, we had not seen the amendments to the Bill. As we now know that  the Bill will not be ready to receive Royal Assent before the spill-over period, I wonder whether the artificial cut-off on 8 July is necessary. If hon. Members felt that we should continue because there are still important matters to consider, I for one would not favour an artificial date to guillotine proceedings.

I am mindful that we need to expedite matters in Committee, but that needs to be balanced with a proper respect for the views of all Committee members. We have a number of learned and expert Members on both sides of the Committee—members of the Environmental Audit Committee, and hon. Members with a long-term interest in the subject. We have a former Secretary of State who was a key figure in the early stages of the Kyoto agreement. I hesitate to agree to an arbitrary cut-off date of 8 July.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

At this point, I should remind hon. Members that the date of 8 July was set by the House and not by the Committee.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. We will certainly engage constructively on the Bill over the next fortnight or so. As you know, we voted against the programme motion in the House because we thought that two and a half weeks was an absurdly short period in which to discuss the many substantive issues. Now that the Government have indicated that they want to reverse most of the defeats in the House of Lords, we shall have some pretty meaty debates. Therefore, it is disappointing that we have so little time, but so be it.

We are concerned that the Government have not yet tabled their amendments on single-use carrier bags. If I remember rightly—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham will be surfing the net as I speak to correct me—the idea of a levy on single-use carrier bags was raised in the Budget several months ago. I am disappointed that the Committee, which finishes two weeks today, has not even received those amendments. We had been promised that the amendments would be tabled in good time for the Committee to consider. I hope the Minister will ensure that the amendments are tabled expeditiously. These are important issues and we are keen to get on with debating them.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I, too, express my pleasure at working under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. It would be wrong not to remind the Committee of my principled objections to the whole programming system. This is a good example of what a disappointment it is to the House that we have such automatic decisions to programme matters and have end dates voted for or against by the majority in the House of Commons.

When we have a Bill on which there is considerable consensus, as is the case with the Climate Change Bill, it is crucial that we debate it properly, not because we wish to defeat it or make changes for the sake of it, but because it is so important to get it right. There are people outside who dislike the whole concept of climate change, who do not believe in it and do not accept it. I see that TheObserver ran a poll that showed that the majority of people in Britain still do not believe that climate change is caused by human intervention, so we have a real battle there.

Getting the legislation right is a crucial part of our job. I have been in the House a long time and in my experience the most dangerous Bills, the ones that we are most likely to get wrong, are those on which there is a general agreement in principle and we do not take the time to do the detailed work from point to point. I took through a number of agricultural measures where that was the case. Everybody was in favour of the measure but I could cite points on which we did not spend the time properly and therefore found that things were unintentionally wrong. The Daily Mail is ready to explain why we, once again, failed the nation and I am keen that we should not do that.

Without much hope, although hope springs eternal, I trust that the Government will recognise, as I know the Ministers do, that if we find that the debate leads us to want to spend longer on some aspects than we had hoped, it is always open to the Government to go back to the House and say that we need more time. I hope they will take it in good spirit that some of us want to get the Bill right, rather than get through it quickly. I do not want the Bill to go beyond the spill-over season, but I want to get it right because we will have to defend it over a long period. It must last. By its nature, it is a lasting Bill, which is why I am so pleased that the Government have introduced it. It sets the parameters for a long period, and getting it right is as important as enacting it at all.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank hon. Members for their comments. I want to provide some reassurance. First, subsection (2) is a resolution of the House and not of the Programming Sub-Committee. It is the resolution of 9 June, when the House agreed an end date. Secondly, in response to the point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal about knives and guillotines, I reassure hon. Members that there have always been guillotines. The controversy around the introduction of the programming process related to knives. My predilection is against putting knives in Public Bill Committees, because of the point made by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle that we cannot know where the interesting and controversial bits will be in the proceedings.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Just for accuracy, until 1997 there were no guillotines unless a Committee went on so long that it had to be brought back to the House. We used to do these Committees without guillotines, and when it was a non-controversial Bill, such as this one, we got our work done significantly better, because nobody felt that they had to do it in this way. I am very sad that we have decided on this much less British way of doing things since 1997.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:45 am, 24th June 2008

At the time of the review of programming, I was the Minister with responsibility for House proceedings, when I took the right hon. Gentleman’s point very seriously. I researched the past to see how guillotine motions have been used, and I can tell you, Mr. Cook, they were nasty, brutish and short. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, they were debated on the Floor of the House. I point Members to the evidence, which shows that programming has not led to less scrutiny of  Bills. Indeed, the evidence up to 2005—I have not seen the evidence since then—showed that more line-by-line scrutiny had taken place.

I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford and I have open minds on what is a sensible approach. We do not wish to use the Government’s majority to push through this measure, not least because there is a strong consensus on the objectives of this Bill.

There is another reason for reassurance—this Bill is one of the most scrutinised Bills in modern history. It has been through draft pre-legislative scrutiny, which I know that the right hon. Gentleman supports, twice.

The hon. Member for Northavon said that we have rejected most of the House of Lords amendments, but we have accepted a large number of them. If that were the case, Government members of the Committee would have some problems, but we will see as we go through the debate.

The actual resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee has given us suggested timings and the order of debate, as agreed by the usual channels. In my view, having consulted the officials, there is adequate time, but we shall see.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Mr. Woolas.]