On behalf of the Committee, may I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson? You join a lively debate on what we might call the 80/60 issue. Personally, I regret the way in which this issue has been allowed to become totemic in relation to the Bill, because in my view the most important target, and the political prize at the moment, is the 2020 target—the interim target.
If we are serious about meeting the 2° C threshold, my understanding of the science tells me that it is critical that we stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases at around 450 parts per million. Given that we are at 380 ppm and rising at 2 ppm every year, it seems to me that we face an enormous challenge. The only way in which we can achieve that target is through some form of peak and decline framework. On the science that I have seen, we need global emissions to peak in a framework of around 15 to 20 years. Given that we are on a trajectory to fail in that task, the political energy of this Committee should be focused on the 2020 target and the credibility of the policy framework that underpins it. The 2050 target is, of course, important, because it sets a direction of travel and trajectory for carbon budgets, which are the key innovation in this Bill.
The dividing lines of that debate, the importance of which I do not want to understate, are now clear, and amendment No. 2 is supported by two esteemed members of the Environmental Audit Committee, who are clearly extremely sincere in their view. The Liberal Democrats, who carry conviction on this subject, also support the amendment, and I believe that they also see some political advantage in their position. The Conservative party position is that a great deal of sympathy has been expressed for the principles behind the amendment, but, for reasons that have been very adequately expressed by my hon. Friends, we would prefer to see leadership on this issue from the independent Climate Change Committee, and we have placed on record our commitment to uphold the recommendation of any such committee. The Government’s position is broadly in line with that, with one very big caveat: the Minister has placed on record that a Labour Government will not feel under any obligation to follow the recommendation of the independent Climate Change Committee—that was when the Minister’s said no on Second Reading. Those are the key dividing lines in the debate.
For the record, I am an “at least 80 per cent.” man. I placed that view on the record in December 2006 in a paper that I co-authored for the quality of life policy group, which was so ably chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. That report was called “Don’t give up on 2° C”, and it made it clear that we should be thinking about at least 80 per cent. That was the view that guided the work of the quality of life policy group. All the evidence that I have heard in the Environmental Audit Committee and in the Joint Committee that scrutinised this draft Bill has served to reinforce that view.
Good morning to you, Mr. Atkinson. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of the debate so far, but as an 80 per cent. man—I have no doubt about his sincerity on that point—does he accept the inherent risk in the Conservative position? Given what he has said about the Government’s position and an election not happening for another two years, there is the risk that a 60 per cent. target will be used. Why should we risk a 60 per cent. target, given that we are going to ask the Climate Change Committee for its opinion anyway? Why not have 80 per cent. in the Bill as an insurance policy?
The hon. Gentleman and other supporters of 80 per cent. continue to ignore two very important words in the Bill, which are “at least.” I touch on the importance of those two words, because they mean something to me. I would be amazed if the independent Climate Change Committee were to reach any conclusion after examining the evidence other than that 60 per cent. is inadequate. Therefore I have a great deal of confidence that an independent committee will come forward with that view, which, as has been pointed out, goes with the grain of the international movement in California and Germany.
In my view and that of my party, there is a great deal of value in having that position validated and challenged by an independent Climate Change Committee of experts, because the background to the Bill is the damaged credibility of the political process in setting and meeting targets, and we must respect that point. For me, the whole value of the Bill lies in the word “accountability”, which means a much better process for setting and revising targets and for holding the Government of the day accountable for those targets. The lack of accountability has undermined the current process. For me, that is the whole value of the Bill.
In that context, the independent Climate Change Committee is a key innovation. It will be extremely helpful for that committee to be seen to take the lead in proposing a target or a shift in a target, which would—we must be honest about this—have significant economic implications. Because our political process has been devalued, there will be tremendous value in the committee, if it is independent. I spent many months scrutinising the Bill in the Environmental Audit Committee and the Joint Committee, and I could ally myself with the Government’s position, if I felt confident that they genuinely believe in the independence of the committee and that they genuinely believe that the committee should have teeth.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we share two views? First, the figure will have to be 80-plus per cent.; secondly, that figure is best decided by the committee, not least because that will guarantee the way in which we are going to proceed. The problem is that it looks as though the Government cannot give us the assurance that they will treat the committee properly. It is a question of not only that decision, but all decisions. If that decision cannot be left to the committee, then what other decisions could be? I am afraid the Government are pushing me towards the position of saying that in these circumstances it is better to have the 80 per cent. target in the Bill than not at all. I do not want to do that, because the alternative is better. The Government seem to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the most remarkable manner.
I have a great deal of sympathy with my right hon. Friend’s point. We were both reasonably comfortable with the Government’s position when we came to the Committee, if there was a genuine sense that the committee was to have bite. Early signs were encouraging in terms of the appointment of the chairman of the committee. Adair Turner was an extremely good choice, and it is a source of great concern that he has decided to move on so quickly.
Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to look at the oral evidence on the independent Committee on Climate Change given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 26 March? At that time, Adair Turner himself said that
“you cannot have a body for climate change which is given complete independence in pursuing a target”.
I have not seen that evidence, but that is a perfectly sensible remark. There is no dispute that the final decision must rest with Parliament, which is accountable to the people. There are degrees of independence: we need an independent Climate Change Committee that can make life tough for the Government, but that is not to say that it should be ultimately responsible for setting targets. It is a question of the degree to which the committee can make life tough, and the degree to which the Government of the day feel obliged to accept its recommendation. That is where there are gaps between us.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation is different, because the Government said to those who want 80 per cent. that it would be better if the committee decided the target? The Government indicated that that was not in to water down the target, but to get the decision made in a more sensible way.
If the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton remembers the words that she has just quoted, why on earth did she vote yesterday for Parliament to lose all control over the planning system? It is really two-faced to say what she has said.
I will leave my right hon. Friend and the hon. Lady to sort that out between themselves.
The Minister has picked up the Opposition’s genuine concerns about his reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury on Second Reading. The Opposition have already said that we will accept the recommendation of the independent Climate Change Committee in relation to the key target. We do not think that we should be overly prescriptive about the level at this stage, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal has argued, that would undermine the authority and credibility of the Committee at a crucial stage. The words “at least” are very important. I will listen very carefully to what the Minister says in relation to the Government’s attitude to any recommendation from the committee. If the Minister continues to pursue the no, no, no line, which has not served previous political leaders too well, I suspect that he will have a problem with Opposition Members.
I have been listening very carefully, and I must confess that I am puzzled. On the one hand, it has been suggested that the Committee on Climate Change should not be a wholly freestanding body, with no relation to anybody else, while on the other my hon. Friend the Minister is being berated for suggesting that the committee should have that particular arrangement attached to it. My puzzlement is increased by the fact that in both the draft Bill and the Bill as it came out of the House of Lords, there is a clause—it is clause 20 in the draft Bill—with the heading:
“Advice in connection with carbon budgets”.
The clause states:
“It is the duty of the Committee to advise the Secretary of State”.
That draft clause is clause 34 in the Bill that is before us today. The heading states:
“Advice in connection with carbon budgets”, and the clause states that
“It is the duty of the Committee to advise the Secretary of State”.
In other words, the wording is identical. No one sought to amend the clause during the pre-legislative scrutiny or the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords. I also note that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal has not tabled amendments to clause 34 suggesting that that committee should be other than it was always intended to be, which is an advisory committee.
I have a straightforward, common-sense understanding of the word “advisory”, namely that the committee advises. To enable a committee to command, the wording would have to be different. For the committee to be required metaphorically to make an offer that cannot be refused would not be an appropriate way to legislate as far as Parliament is concerned. It is clear that the committee has an advisory role.
A moment ago, the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood clearly indicated that that is his view of the committee, which is at odds with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who appeared to insist on the idea that the committee should not have that function. When the Minister was asked the question on Second Reading, he gave the only answer he could given where the Bill stood. The Bill was not unformed on Second Reading, because it had already been discussed and scrutinised in the House of Lords before coming to this House on Second Reading.
When the Minister was asked whether there were any circumstances in which he could envisage the considerations of the Committee on Climate Change not being implemented, the only possible answer without doing injustice to this Bill was no. One may say that that was a blunt answer. Although my hon. Friend the Minister is known for his straightforwardness and bluntness, his answer was not only the correct answer but the only one that could have been given. The question could have been phrased differently. For example, if he had been asked about circumstances in which, given the terms of the relationship between the committee and the Government and the committee’s responsibilities, the Government could not easily take the committee’s advice, particularly with regard to whether the target should be at least 60 per cent. or 80 per cent., I suspect that he would have provided an extended response.
It is specious to make a great point about the Minister’s reply on Second Reading when the record states that it was the only thing that could have been said under the circumstances. I hope, therefore, that that avenue will not be followed, as it is not a serious point about a process which I think everybody here agrees will almost certainly result in an increase from at least 60 per cent. to 80 per cent.
I find the hon. Gentleman’s point incomprehensible. I do not want to delay the Committee, but could he please take us through it again? With all due respect, the first point was totally nonsensical. I want to concentrate on what he is saying. Could he take us through the logic of his argument again? It sounded like complete nonsense.
I am somewhat dismayed that my attempt to elucidate matters was not followed in the way that I had hoped. For clarification, clause 20 of the draft Bill, which has the heading,
“Advice in connection with carbon budgets”, describes a function of the Committee on Climate Change:
“It is the duty of the Committee to advise the Secretary of State, in relation to each budgetary period”.
That clause has been transposed in the current Bill to clause 34, which has exactly the same wording. At no stage in the proceedings has anyone sought to amend it, and there is no amendment on the amendment paper today to suggest that that function should be changed.
With respect, no one is disputing that it is the duty of the committee to advise the Government. The Opposition question whether the Government will heed the advice. From what they said, it was always our clear assumption that they would do so, but in the Chamber and in Committee to date there has been some equivocation, which is giving rise to concerns that the Government may not heed the advice in full.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, as it shows progress in understanding the point. It anticipated the second part of my 10-peso version of the explanation, which is that if it were considered that any function other than an advisory function for the committee should to be placed in the Bill, someone at some stage should have tabled an amendment to illustrate that. That has not happened and no such amendment is before the Committee now.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is deliberately obfuscating. What the official Opposition are saying is clear. We are not disputing that the role of the committee should be advisory. We are saying that the Conservative party in government would implement the advice in full. What we have heard from the Government Front Bench to date—I hope the Minister will clarify this—is equivocation as to whether his Government would implement the advice in full. We are looking for a clear promise from those on the Government Front Bench that they will implement the advice in full. We are not trying to change the terms of the Bill.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, which is consistent with what I am about to say. If the committee is, indeed, advisory, it would be an abuse of the English language to say that its advice must be taken under all circumstances. Therefore, on the question whether the Government must under all circumstances take the advice of the committee, the answer logically—not to abuse the English language—must be no.
If the question were whether the Minister can easily envisage circumstances in which the committee’s advice relating to a change from a 60 per cent. minimum to 80 per cent. would not be taken, I am certain that a different answer would be given. However, a debating point cannot be made of the fact that, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said, the committee is advisory. Unless Opposition Members wish to change that status, the answer to the general question about the committee’s advice always has to be no. There is no logical escape from that position.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Minister is a very intelligent member of the Government—some of us would say one of the most intelligent? When asked such an important question, he is perfectly capable of saying, “This is an advisory committee. I can assure the Committee that on this point, which lies at the heart of the committee’s remit, we cannot think of circumstances in which we would not accept its advice.” However, he did not say that. He said no. It is insulting to him to suggest that he cannot understand the point made so laboriously by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. If the Minister is now willing to say, “I can conceive of no circumstances in which I would not accept the advice”, I would take that to be as near to a yes as is possible. Unless he can say that, however, his no is a serious no, because he is a serious man.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways—[Interruption.] I accept the conditional validity of that statement about the right hon. Gentleman. If the Minister is asked a straight question, he will give a straight answer, but he was not asked such a question. That is my point. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not try asking him a straight question? He might find the outcome interesting.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can help me. Is this a Whip’s brief, or is he an 80 per cent. man? If the former is the case, I know that I can ignore it, but if the latter, he is working hard to persuade me not to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bury, North, which I was previously minded to support. Will he explain where he is hoping to take us at the end of the argument?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting intervention. I assure him that this is all my own work, based on my understanding of the present Bill, the original Bill, amendments to it and how statements should be interpreted in that context. I trust that he will take that at face value. I invite the Committee to reflect on what the Bill says, as opposed to what people might like it to say about how its provisions will work.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. We have had an interesting debate, and it is getting more interesting.
On clause 2, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle clearly stated our position, which is that we look to a strong and independent Committee on Climate Change. It is empowered to make recommendations on the basis of science, not politics, which is why we argued in another place for the committee to be empowered to review the 2050 target and to report to the Secretary of State before the first five-year carbon budget is set. My hon. Friend said that we would be wedded to the advice handed down by the committee. Of course, nothing in the Bill prevents deeper cuts or more ambitious targets in future.
Will the Minister consider a question that has not been raised so far? Clause 2(2) reads:
“‘The 1990 baseline’ means the amount of net UK emissions of targeted greenhouse gases for the year 1990.”
Would he be minded to seek advice from the Committee on Climate Change on extending the list of recognised greenhouse gases? Will that be one of the first things that the Government ask it to do?
During the debate, there was much discussion about public scepticism. It is important that we carry the public with us. The Minister has been kind enough to correspond with me on a number of constituency cases, to which I shall refer later. This is a good opportunity to thank him for being so assiduous in his work, as it is an enormous help when he responds fully.
Constituents and the public generally want to tackle climate change, but they do not want to do so personally. They believe that someone else will tackle it. With regard to the debate today on wind farms and where they should be placed, our problem in north Yorkshire is that most of the pylons connecting wind farms to the national grid come through our territory, and we would much rather they went through someone else’s. It is often the case that we want to battle climate change in principle, but we would rather someone else took the pain.
I would like to raise with the Minister some of the points that he was good enough to set out in his letter of unspecified date in June, which I received this week, in response to the concerns of my constituent Mr. Colin Inglis about the Bill and in particular early-day motion 736.
I am trying to help the Minister because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle said, we believe that he may be prevaricating. Obviously, the Minister might like some wriggle room, but it is important, particularly in the context of the debate on the amendment and clause 2—the 60 or 80 per cent. debate—to pin him down. He helpfully writes:
“The Prime Minister has already stated that evidence now suggests that developed countries may have to reduce their emissions by up to 80 per cent. if we are to have an effective international agreement to tackle climate change.”
There is no argument there. The Minister continues, equally helpfully:
“The Government is therefore asking the new independent, expert Committee on Climate Change to carry out a review of the 2050 target and, as we announced on 18 February, the Government has proposed making this review a statutory duty under the Bill.”
He goes on:
“Before taking any decision, we need to properly understand the implications, costs and benefits of different options. For example what would be the economic costs and benefits of different levels of the 2050 target?”
I shall focus on the costs and benefits and try to get some information from the Minister about the cost implications.
The Minister continues:
“How would this be affected if the rest of the world was also taking meaningful action to tackle climate change, or if the UK was going it alone?”
To me, this is the key passage and the Government’s commitment:
“This is why we have asked the Committee on Climate Change to review the 2050 target, and advise on whether it should be tightened up to 80 per cent.”
The Minister states:
“I agree on the need for an urgent decision, which is why the review will be one of the Committee's first tasks, alongside its work on advising on the first three carbon budgets.”
The Minister is keen for a decision. Is he saying that the Secretary of State will take a decision on the basis of the advice from the Committee on Climate Change, and that, assuming the advice is in favour of 80 per cent., the Minister will accept it? He has committed himself to taking a decision. I am trying to clarify, on behalf of Mr. Inglis and the Committee, the basis on which the Minister or the Government would not take that advice. Would it be on the basis of alternative scientific evidence? Presumably, if the Government are committing the Committee on Climate Change to undertake the review—the Minister said that that is why they are setting up the Committee—they will have access to the greatest expertise.
The Minister goes on to say:
“We are keen to get the first three budgets in place as quickly as possible in order to ensure that there are binding constraints on UK emissions which inform investment decisions now.”
Going forward, we must recognise those who are going to take the hit, especially in the business community. A York brick company in my constituency has been badly affected by the climate change levy, and I am sure that it will take a big hit, whether there is a 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. reduction. We owe it to businesses in this country to say what we think the target will be and to give them enough time to prepare for alternatives.
Turning to the final impact assessment of April 2008, will the Minister clarify on what basis the Government are proceeding with their thinking about the advice that they will receive from the committee? The impact assessment states:
“The Stern Review concluded that, based on an extensive review of the current literature, the long run costs of global action”, assuming that there were concentrations of 550 ppm carbon dioxide, would be
“around 1 per cent. of GDP by 2050, within a range of +/-3 per cent.”
That is obviously quite a big leverage. Paragraph 2.1.7 of the impact assessment says:
“It is possible to calculate the present value of the cumulative cost of reducing emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050.”
It states that the reduction in GDP would be between 0.3 per cent. and 1.5 per cent. in 2050, which would be
“in the order of £30 to £205 billion.”
Does the Minister still stand by that assessment?
Turning to the costs of the higher target, page 16 of that assessment states:
“Under an 80 per cent. reduction scenario, costs have been estimated to be between 1.1 per cent. to 2.6 per cent. of GDP in 2050, depending on the assumed level of future technological change, fossil fuel prices and availability of particular technologies.”
My understanding is that the actual range of the costs to businesses within the context of the impact assessment, whether we have a 60 per cent. or an 80 per cent. target, is very small. Does not the Minister think that it would be fair to give businesses the longest possible lead-in time that they could have?
I am struggling to understand the logic of the hon. Lady’s position. She seems to be saying that the committee’s advice should be binding on the Government and that they must always take its advice. She seems to be not only contradicting an amendment that she has tabled to clause 4, which is about the mechanism by which the Government can disagree on occasion with the committee, but, by asking the Minister to take a view on the impact assessment, she is asking him to take a view on the circumstances in which different issues might be measured regarding whether to take the committee’s advice. In a sense, is that not irrelevant if the committee’s advice is always to be treated to as binding?
I am trying to understand the Minister’s thought process. It would be helpful if he would refer to the basis on which the Government have reached the decision on 60 per cent., and how they will make their mind up. Will the Minister confirm that they might decide not to accept the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change? If that is the case, in what circumstances would he be prepared to reject its advice? He should be mindful of implications for the business community. The Opposition have made our position extremely clear, and we seek guidance from the Minister on how, in precise circumstances, the Government will react to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on whether to set a target of 60 per cent. or 80 per cent.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. I want to make it clear that I am an “at least 80 per cent.” woman. Given the advice that I am receiving from marine scientists, I might even advocate a higher figure. That is because the complexity of what we are facing is significantly greater than some people might have realised. There might be time at a later point to say more about that.
Incidentally, I am greatly reassured by what Adair Turner said on 26 March. He said that he would be very surprised if he and his committee simply came back and said
“60 per cent. is absolutely fine, end of story.”
He also said: “I do think” a figure
“is a perfectly sensible thing to hand to the Committee to express a point of view on, rather than simply leap into let us not do 60, let us do 80, because...there is a value (even if we do end up simply saying yes, 80 per cent. is the right figure) in setting out the reasoning of why it is and also perhaps exploring a set of alternatives because we do not have to say 60 or 80, we could say 70. We could say 70 per cent. in 2050 but 90 per cent. by 2070; we could say 70 per cent. as a UK unilateral commitment but 85 as part of an international agreement”
Does the hon. Lady accept that amendment No. 2 has no bearing on whether we should ask the Climate Change Committee—because we still will—what sort of answer it might come back with, and what we should then do with that answer? Surely, however, we do not enhance the credibility of the whole process if we hand the committee a Bill that everyone thinks has got the self-evidently wrong number in it?
I want to follow on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test said earlier and to try to follow the logic of where this argument is coming from. I had a lot of sympathy with what some Opposition Members were saying, particularly because of the discussions that I have had with the climate change panel that I have been working with throughout the pre-legislative process.
A lot of debate stems from the question of whether or not there is an analogy with the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Again, I think that the debate that took place in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), when he pressed the chair of the Climate Change Committee very hard, casts very interesting light on the argument that the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle and for Vale of York are trying to put.
I have a lot of sympathy with the idea that this committee should be independent, in the sense of the MPC. Another analogy that I discussed with my committee change panel was the Low Pay Commission. In a way, the Low Pay Commission might be a better analogy, given the complexities with which it must deal.
Adair Turner pointed out the differences. First he said:
On one level, therefore, the MPC is less independent than the Climate Change Committee. However, he also pointed out:
“in relation to inflation policy you can define one specific lever, the interest rate, and you can give that to an independent body to call up or down.”
He also said, and I really plead with Opposition Members not to get into too much of an “angels dancing on the head of a pin” debate about this:
“You cannot really do that for the Committee on Climate Change, because otherwise you would have to give them pretty much the whole of government policy because the levers that we could pull cover building regulations, they cover speed limits, they cover appliance regulation, they cover the design of the EU ETS”— the emissions trading scheme—
“they cover taxation, et cetera.”
He cast a very interesting light on the issue and went on to debate what would happen if the Government disagreed with the committee.
I do not wish to destroy the hon. Lady’s argument, because it has been eloquently put, but I was present at that sitting. I was hugely impressed by Lord Turner’s evidence—amazingly, he gave it without a note or an official by his side—and it will be a great loss when he is no longer permanent chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. However, does not the hon. Lady accept that the MPC’s recommendation to the Bank of England is very different for the reasons that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test eloquently outlined? Clause 20 clearly states that after the carbon budget for the period has been set, it cannot be revoked, so the Committee on Climate Change’s advice and the period that it covers will be completely different from the MPC’s advice.
As I understand it, we are talking about the target and the budget, and as I just set out by citing Adair Turner’s evidence, the complexity is significantly greater. I thought that there was an inherent logic to what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test tried to explain. The Committee on Climate Change is advisory, so the Government could of course disagree.
I shall finish on this point—my brief is very much not a Whips’ brief, so the Whip is probably thinking, “Why don’t you sit down, Linda?” Lord Turner pointed out that when the Government respond to the committee’s recommendation,
“it would be odd if we did not respond back and, therefore, if there were a very major divergence I think we would expect to see and, indeed, Parliament would expect to see and, indeed, I think the legislation requires that there is an explanation to Parliament of why the recommendations of the Government have diverged”.
The advice issue has many more nuances and dimensions than as under the straightforward confrontational situation that Opposition Members have set out.
It is a pleasure to serve under you on this important Committee, Mr. Atkinson. Let me try to reassure Opposition Members about the Government’s attitude to the advice that they will receive and Labour Members about the Government’s ambition being sufficient in respect of the important international effort. Given our wide-ranging debate, I am taking the liberty of assuming that you will not allow a stand part debate, Mr. Atkinson.
Order. Perhaps I can clarify the situation. The Committee has had an extensive debate about clause 2(1), but not about subsection (2), so if there were to be a clause stand part debate, it would, in my view, have to concentrate on the second half of the clause, not the first. I hope that that is helpful to the Minister.
As ever, you are extremely helpful, Mr. Atkinson. If I mention subsection (2) straight away, I shall have achieved my objective. We want a debate in the round.
The important point is that with all the debates about the targets and the percentage by a certain time in the clause, one can shift the goalposts by moving the baseline year. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that one trick of international negotiations is not to include a base year; we often manage to reach agreement by avoiding that question. Importantly, page 7 of the explanatory notes makes it clear that the target for 2050 is set by reference to a 1990 baseline
“rather than a particular quantum of emissions because the baseline itself is subject to revision as understanding of historic emissions improves.”
That adds a further complication to the situation, and that point answers the second question asked by the hon. Member for Vale of York.
It sounds strange to say that one could revise the emissions from 18 years ago, but we all know that all these matters must be subject to international compatibility and agreement if they are to be meaningful, because this is, as all hon. Members have said, a global effort. We are dealing with the ultimate embodiment of the concept of mutually assured destruction. As science and its methodologies improve our knowledge about our historical emissions going back to the base year of 1990, that may move the goalposts. Why is that important? It is of central importance to the United Nations framework convention on climate change process because of the point, which we accept, that the targets must take account of the historical burden of the developed, industrialised countries. Similarly, countries can use a change in the baseline and in the methodology of calculation to move the goalposts in their favour. I hope I have covered subsection (2) to the Committee’s satisfaction.
The clause is the centrepiece of the Bill. It underpins the emissions-reduction framework that the Bill establishes and puts into law our commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 per cent.—not 60 per cent., but at least 60 per cent—through domestic and international action by 2050. Let me remind the Committee where this figure comes from. The science tells us clearly that in the context of the global effort, developed countries will need to cut their CO2 emissions by more than 50 per cent. if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Action in the UK is, of course, a crucial part of that.
The science in itself does not dictate that the developed countries—the annexe 1 countries; the industrialised countries—must make a greater contribution because of our historical obligation. In our judgment, it will be impossible to reach international agreement unless developed countries accept that point.
If the advice to the committee and the remit of the committee were purely to look at an arithmetic contribution to equal burden sharing based on the best assessment of science, the point that hon. Members make could be accepted. However, as we are talking about a contribution that will take into account other factors, including economic factors, as was made clear by the hon. Member for Vale of York in a well informed intervention on the impact assessment, and as we must take into account other factors, including the social and the international dimensions, we are asking the committee for very important advice that is based on science, but over and above science. That is my first argument.
My second argument is based on parliamentary accountability. My answer on Second Reading was premised on the belief that Parliament would want to be able to assess the recommendations of the Committee and the Government’s response. That is why the scrutiny of the advice and the Government’s reaction is not at all comparable with what we normally debate in Public Bill Committees. This is not a one-off piece of advice and a statutory instrument put out on a Thursday evening. Not only is the Government’s response subject to the affirmative procedure—that is, of course, the case on a matter of such importance—but, more importantly, it is part of the process of the nation’s budget-setting decisions. I urge the Committee to consider that point.
The Chancellor announced that the carbon budgets would be announced in parallel with the financial Budget in March. I have no prior knowledge of the date of the Budget, in case there is a journalist in the room, but I expect it to be in March. When that announcement is made, the scrutiny of the carbon budgets and the policy that follows from that will be of huge importance to this nation. Therefore, I want to convince the Opposition and reassure my hon. Friends that by not necessarily accepting the advice of the committee in advance, I am not trying to wriggle off the advice. We are trying to create a process that is of huge importance to this country. I will deal with the conditions after I have given way.
The Minister is genuinely trying to be helpful, but he must accept that we would not expect the Government to sit on their hands, waiting for the figure to emerge in due course. There must be preparatory work by officials in his Department and right across Government in anticipation of a figure in the region of 80 per cent. that is likely to be accepted. Can he reassure us that there is a working assumption in Whitehall that that figure will be in the region of 80 per cent.?
The hon. Gentleman has cut to the quick. Yes, I can give that reassurance. The Bill’s Second Reading in the other place gave statutory authorisation to the Government—my Department is the lead—to expend public money on the preparation of the Bill. We have the office of climate change, which is a section within the Department with the job of working in such areas, as well as what we call the shadow Committee on Climate Change, which is already working.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton pointed out, Lord Turner’s evidence confirmed the point to the hon. Gentleman’s satisfaction. It is interesting and important to hear Lord Turner. He said to the Committee on 26 March:
“I do think it is a perfectly sensible thing to hand to the Committee to express a point of view on”— he was referring to the stretching of the 60 per cent.—
“rather than simply leap into let us not do 60, let us do 80, because I think there is a value (even if we do end up simply saying yes, 80% is the right figure) in setting out the reasoning of why it is and also perhaps exploring a set of alternatives”.
That was Lord Turner’s view. My own view—this is a third argument with which to try and convince the Committee—
The Minister is giving a constructive response, but—I am not being facetious—if there is a value in the committee going from 60 to 80 per cent. and explaining why, what is the standing of 60 per cent? Joking apart, why not 3 per cent? Why 60 per cent?
That is an important question. First, as the hon. Gentleman would accept, the figure is “at least 60 per cent.” Secondly, as we all agree, we must base the figure primarily on science. The carbon markets will not invest the trillions of pounds that we want them to if they believe that carbon targets are not based on science. If they believe it is a political fix, it will not work.
However, the figure is not just based on the science. The point that is not understood in the debate in the United Kingdom, which is not the case in other countries, is that whether the target is 60 or 80 per cent. does not really matter. What matters is how we get there. Personally—I hope journalists do not quote me out of context, but now that I have said that, I suppose they will—I am a 100 per cent. man. The debate that we will have on the trajectory is much more important than the debate on the end target. Indeed, unless we specify that the trajectory must be downwards, it would be possible to reach an 80 per cent. reduction by 2050 even after 30 years of increases, by which time we would have dangerous climate change. Although I understand that the 60/80 debate symbolises something important, it is not so important.
Let me continue my argument, before the right hon. Gentleman tempts me or presses me further.
I mentioned that what we do has to be done though co-ordinated global action. We have to give a clear signal to the international community that we are prepared to do our share, plus more. That has to be done within the trajectories that the European Union budgets and targets set out, because our offer as the European Union is to go as far as 30 per cent. by 2020, or 20 per cent. if we do not get the international agreement. That will be the primary pressure upon the level of our mid-term targets.
In that context, I need to see what the committee advises. The committee is more aware of these matters than I am, which is why I say seriously that I cannot envisage circumstances, other than the absurd, in which the Government could not accept the recommendation. Others may disagree, but I do not see circumstances in which Parliament would reject that advice. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test argued that we should say in advance that we would automatically accept the advice. The committee is an advisory committee, the chairman of which does not want us to tie him down in that way.
The Minister is making a thoughtful speech, which I am following with great attention. May I press him a little on the terms of reference for the committee? First, can he make it clear that an explicit term of reference for the committee is the 2º C threshold, and that there will be a requirement on the committee to form a judgment about the compatibility of the target with the 2º C threshold? Secondly, given what he said about the need for the committee to take a view on what we might call equity—the appropriate contribution towards the global effort, based on equity—what terms of reference are the Government considering giving the committee on that extremely important matter?
I am grateful. I should have made clear the point about the 2º C, especially in light of our previous debate. As I said, I personally think the 60/80 debate is rather puerile. The irony is that in international forums, many countries argue that 2º C is not ambitious enough. A Pacific island state would agree with that. Our policy and the remit are based on 2º C because of acceptance of what is realistic.
My hon. Friend is right about the 2º C. World Wide Fund for Nature scientists are giving evidence to the OSPAR commission on the convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic. That will confirm that it is highly likely that, given the feedback in action and the tipping points, 2º C could be too much.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to the WWF, whose advice on these matters, both domestically and internationally, is exceptional.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood asked about the remit. It is a broad remit that takes into account a number of factors. To back up my argument, let me refer to the explanatory notes. As well as the baseline that I mentioned, there is the issue raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York about which greenhouse gases are relevant. That is an extremely important debate.
We talk about carbon dioxide as shorthand for CO2 equivalent, but methane, for example, is 35 times more—[Interruption.]—or 25 times, or something of that order—23, I think. I am confusing it with nitrous oxide. My point is that part of the remit is to look at that and advise. That changes the circumstances. A rigid target—81 per cent., for the sake of argument—to include all greenhouse gases would affect industries that emit methane. They would have something to say about it.
We heard about one industry this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North often reminds the House about the ceramics industry, so these decisions are important. Opposition Members are keen to ensure stability for businesses, but those businesses must have confidence in the targets.
Let me make my third point, so that the Committee has the whole picture.
My third point is about accounting. The net UK carbon account, which is defined in clause 27, is important. For 2050, it is the level of net UK emissions of targeted greenhouse gases, after the number of carbon units have been added and subtracted in accordance with carbon accounting regulations. What does that mean? It means the amount that is accounted for overseas and domestically. The debate is about the balance of domestic effort and international offsetting. The whole debate about the target is premised on an assumption about carbon accounting, so it is important.
I am grateful to the Minister for referring to the broader greenhouse gases. My concern, which I am sure is general to the Committee, and to Stoke-on-Trent and the ceramics industry, is that the Government could introduce measures to increase energy efficiency and other changes of behaviour. Perhaps he will confirm that now or later. I shall be interested in his response. How does he propose not to penalise heavy energy users such as the manufacturing sector, which is subject to international competition?
In areas such as the Vale of York, methane gas is created by the agricultural industry both in its agricultural processes and as an end-user. I hope that certain sectors of the industry will not be penalised if they expand.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman—[Hon. Members: “Hon. Lady!”] I am sorry. I was carried away with the passion of my argument.
I agree with the hon. Lady. Concerns that hon. Members have for the businesses in their constituencies—in this case agriculture—are highly subjective political judgments. The House should not put a burden on Lord Turner and his Committee, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and his hon. Friends are asking me to do.
The Minister is making some important points. He is right to say that the Climate Change Committee is advisory and not directive, and that the baseline target will be based largely but not exclusively on scientific criteria. It is critical that we and the Committee understand why the Bill refers to 60 per cent. I hope the Minister accepts that it is based on, at the latest, early 1990s science, so it could give the message that we are prepared to accept a less equitable percentage. If that is not the case, the question asked by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood must be answered: what is the view of equity of contraction and convergence on which we are basing any brief to the Committee subsequently to amend that number?
I will come straight to the point. The Government chose 60 per cent., not “at least” 60 per cent., based on the 2000 report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
Absolutely right. The science shows—I am no scientist—that that is out of date and that the problem has got worse, with the accumulation of gases, the growth in emissions from developing economies, and the increasing rate of deforestation as the biggest net contribution to that increase. The Government asked Parliament for its view, and the parliamentary Committee that considered the draft Bill came to the similar conclusion that the UK would need a reduction of at least 60 per cent. in the light of the new scientific evidence, and “at least” became the policy, rather than just 60 per cent. That is what Parliament advised, and it agreed that the Climate Change Committee should be the body to consider it.
Peers in the other place came to the same conclusion. The House of Lords voted against changing the 2050 target at this stage, favouring detailed expert consideration of the issue over a hasty decision by Government or Parliament, which is what I am being pressed to take. The figure of at least 60 per cent. recognises the point that the hon. Gentleman made, and the Prime Minister’s speech confirmed that. Any cursory reading of the science will tell the Committee that a figure of around 80 per cent. is comparable with the previous figure of 60 per cent, recognising our contribution.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood asked about the remit of the committee and the scenarios that it must consider. The range of international scenarios is important. In the major economies process, when the developing countries asked for a commitment of 50 per cent. by 2050, that was based upon an understanding that the developed countries would have medium-term targets of 25 per cent. to 40 per cent. The United States of America would not accept the latter condition, and the developing countries would therefore not accept the long-term goal. Our figure of at least 60 per cent. is the ambitious target that satisfies both of those international blocs.
Martin Horwoodindicated dissent.
The Minister has given a perfectly valid explanation of why 60 per cent. is no longer the scientific basis, but the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood made the original point that if we are to accept a lower number, and if the Minister is to explain why we are not putting “at least 80 per cent.” in the Bill instead of “at least 60 per cent.”, he must explain what the context of those other issues of equity of contraction and convergence would be, and what the brief to the committee must be. He must give some basis for that, and he has not done so.
I thought I had done so, by setting out the criteria of the base year, the accounting of carbon units, the international scenarios and the economics in the impact assessment. The other place came to the conclusion that Parliament should not take a hasty decision, but should wait. I reinforce that point, and ask the hon. Gentleman to take it seriously. This is not a one-off. It is part of a huge process. We have already been going down this road for two years.
My final answer is the chairman’s own compelling argument, which I have already quoted. It is perfectly sensible to ask the committee to look at the range of scenarios, even though it may well come up with 80 per cent. It is a matter of process, not a matter of principle. I know that the amendment tries to pin down our intention, and I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that our intention is honourable.
The Minister has made a valiant effort, but I will press him on one point. It is important, because he argues that the Government require space to disagree with the committee, which will make some very big judgments on the aspects that are not science, such as the issue of equity, which he has rightly cited. The committee will have to make judgments on what constitutes a fair contribution by the UK to the global effort. The royal commission made some judgments on that, and reached the figure of 60 per cent. The trouble is that it was never transparent. We need transparency. Will the committee have a blank sheet of paper in relation to the judgment on equity, which is enormously subjective, with big variables, or will the Government narrow the terms of reference for the committee? Will the Minister be more explicit about the instructions and parameters that the Government will give the committee on that key issue of equity?
I clearly have not satisfied the hon. Gentleman. The answer is yes. The Bill and the guidance, which we will debate later, time allowing, show a range of scenarios within the different criteria that we will be asking the committee to look at. We will not say, “Come up with all the hypothetical international scenarios that you can think of”, but will advise it on where the Bali road map has got with the impact assessment and the economics.
The ranges are not strict and are available on the DEFRA website and in public documents. I was disappointed to hear the hon. Gentleman say that I was trying to give the Government space. That is not the case. I am trying to give the committee space so that it can be genuinely independent, like the Low Pay Commission, where again we were pressed on whether we would accept the recommendation for the minimum wage, whatever the commission said, to which we said no. We were criticised for that, but history shows that we accepted its advice. I see a parallel between that commission and the committee.
But the committee will be in a different position from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which was making an academic judgment on equity and global convergence. For the committee to make such a judgment seems extraordinary without a framework set by the Government. Will the Minister be completely clear about the direction of contraction and convergence that will set that framework?
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. Perhaps he misunderstood my point about the commission. I referred to the Low Pay Commission to demonstrate that we had a similar debate on that, although he was right about the royal commission. Having said that, the commission’s judgment—this is not a popular thing to say—on the international contribution was to stick a finger in the air. We do not have an international agreement, so logically one cannot say what the contribution to it should be. It was simply an aspiration.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, the framework that the committee will use to come to a judgment is clearly and sufficiently laid out to avoid the danger to which he referred. We are talking about clause 2—this is not Second Reading—and many of his points will be covered later in the Committee’s deliberations. However, I think that I can give him the assurance that he seeks.
We have had a debate not on the virtues of 80 per cent. or 60 per cent., but on whether we should accept up front the committee’s recommendation which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test said, will come in our debate on clause 33. I admire the Conservative party’s position in not jumping on the 80 per cent. bandwagon. When we announced the policy change, I said, “If we go for 60 per cent., everyone else will go for 80 per cent.” I am as sure as eggs is eggs that if I announced 80 per cent. today, postcards galore would be flying into the office by Monday morning demanding 90 per cent.
Logically, we should go for 100 per cent, and without an international agreement, we had better go for 200 per cent. to avoid dangerous climate change—seriously. As a net contributor to emissions reductions, we could forest over the Vale of York. That would be a start It would probably avoid flooding as well. The debate has been about whether we should accept the recommendation up front. That would deny Parliament, never mind the Government, the right to say no. I admire the Conservative party’s position. It is actually trying to satisfy one lobby arguing for 80 per cent., and another arguing for consideration. I accept that. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal admitted from a sedentary position that having one’s cake and eating it is often satisfactory.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important thing is the starting point in the Bill? Given that we should be at 100 per cent. come the low-carbon economy, will he try to align the timing of the Bill with the scientific evidence, before Parliament resumes at the end of the summer, so that “at least 80 per cent.” can be put in the Bill?
I can give the reassurance, based on the previous debate, that 2° C is our policy, and I am looking for a way to satisfy the Committee on that point.
I can also give the assurance that what matters is the mid-term goal and the trajectory. The most important consideration for the United Kingdom in respect of that mid-term trajectory is our signing up and adhering to the European Union policy. Clause 6, which we will come to, deals with our targets for 2020 and the EU offer. It means that the carbon budgets that the Climate Change Committee will be advising on in mid-term will be much more important than the end target. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.
I have exhausted my arguments. I hope that I have convinced the Committee of the virtues of giving the independent committee a bit of space to look at the matter.
I have listened carefully to the Minister, and I respect his argument. However, he has pushed me into a position that is slightly different from the one that I thought I would be in. The difficulty now is that he has admitted—I mean “admitted” not in the newspaper sense, but in the sense that he has stated something—that the work in his Department is based on the assumption that we are, whether we like it or not, in the area of 80 per cent., if one takes a reasonable view of the responsibilities of the rich countries.
The Minister also said that the figure in the Bill is based on a mechanism that is similar to the one used in his Department. I am loth to have a Bill in which all the other figures are based on the up-to-date situation, but that figure is based on a much earlier scenario.
The Minister has explained his difficulties, but nobody is asking him to say that he will accept everything that the Climate Change Committee recommends. This situation is different from the Low Pay Commission, for example, because the Government did not have a minimum wage to start with. They did not say, “We will have a minimum wage of £4.02.” They said, “Give us a recommendation.” I know that the parallel is not exact, but we have a minimum wage in this case. Will the Minister be kind enough to explain whether it is really sensible to leave in a figure from 15 years ago?
I point the right hon. Gentleman to the phrase “at least 60 per cent.”, which includes everything above 60 per cent.—the process does not stop at 100 per cent. I disagree with him in one respect. If he thinks that no one had a minimum wage in mind, he is wrong. I seem to remember the Transport and General Workers Union lobby, which was for £7.50, was it not? I jest.
The parallel with the Low Pay Commission does work in that parliamentarians pressed us to commit up front to accepting whatever was recommended. The argument at the time was that it would give the country greater confidence if it could see that the figure had been arrived at by an independent process that was then subject to the due process of Government decision making, including, incidentally, the devolved Administrations, which have not been mentioned in this case. Such a process would give stability.
As I have said, I have exhausted my arguments. I hope that I have persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, who moved the amendment, of the virtue of my case. I repeat, I find it very difficult to conceive of circumstances in which both the Government and Parliament would not accept the advice.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for responding to the debate so carefully and painstakingly. I want to reply as briefly as possible to the key arguments. Essentially, this single digit amendment has triggered the best part of three and a half hours of debate. The only benefit is that that may reduce the time needed to debate part 2 of the Bill, because the majority of the debate related to clause 32, which is in part 2.
I want to reiterate the three arguments in favour of the Bill containing the “at least 80 per cent.” formula. I entirely understand the case presented by my hon. Friend the Minister, but it seems to me that if we accept—I think that the whole Committee does—that the Climate Change Committee will have an advisory responsibility later this year, we cannot simultaneously argue that there should be a figure in the Bill, because it is for the Committee to advise us on what that figure should be. To follow the logic of arguing that the matter is for the Climate Change Committee, there should be no figure at all and the reference to “at least 60 per cent.” should be deleted. However, if that is not the case—it is not—and the Government’s position is that “at least 60 per cent.” should be included, it logically follows that if “at least 60 per cent.” is obsolete, we should go for something higher.
The hon. Gentleman’s point about taking out the figure is valid. The Conservatives considered that proposal very seriously. The problem is that while it is intellectually coherent, it is a very difficult message to convey and is capable of being misconstrued in the outside world. One has to be practical and accept that people who take an interest in such matters are looking for a lead. It is much easier to communicate and carry with us support from outside with the 60 per cent. figure, with the understanding that we are looking for a higher figure from the Climate Change Committee.
I appreciate that point, and I do not propose to table a further amendment to delete “at least 60 per cent.” All hon. Members, including the Minister, accept that the science has moved on and that the matter involves not only science, but economics, political judgment and our negotiating position in the post-Kyoto negotiations to reach a settlement for beyond 2012. Taking into account all those factors, “at least 80 per cent.” is the more realistic figure at this stage.
I want to reiterate a point that I made in my opening remarks, because I may not have made myself clear—following the advice of the hon. Member for Banbury to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test earlier, I am tempted to repeat the whole argument. Essentially, the issue is here regardless of climate change. Because of the finite nature of fossil fuels, it makes absolute sense to set a higher target to send the right signals now to business, industry and the population of all western industrialised countries as a whole that our way of life, technologies and expectations must change. The sooner that we prepare for that, the better and less painful it will be.
In respect of the target date, the Minister made the important point that the interim target of 2020 is more important than the target of 2050, because of the trajectory. However, we need two dates in order to have a trajectory, and we cannot have a trajectory on the basis of a starting point. I want to challenge the notion that 2050 is less relevant or not relevant. We need a starting point, a mid-point and an end point. Having said that, I do not accept that there is overwhelming significance in the choice of a target or a date.