Clause 14

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 1st July 2008.

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Duty to report on proposals and policies for meeting carbon budgets

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 5.

Amendment No. 33, in clause 18, page 10, line 4, leave out ‘Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Prime Minister’.

Amendment No. 76, in clause 36, page 19, line 10, leave out ‘Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Prime Minister’.

Amendment No. 77, in clause 36, page 19, line 13, leave out ‘Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Prime Minister’.

Amendment No. 85, in clause 36, page 19, line 19, leave out ‘Secretary of State’ and insert ‘Prime Minister’.

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

We move on to clause 14. The reason for the clause is that an essential objective of the Bill is to provide transparency about the Government’s plans and actions for tackling climate change. As part of that transparency, the Bill requires the United Kingdom Government to publish their proposals for meeting each carbon budget. The report produced must be laid before Parliament as soon as is reasonably practical after the setting of the budget. By providing a clear indication of the strategy, the Government aim to reinforce business and public confidence that robust plans are in place to ensure that the budget will be met.

The 15-year plans published under clause 14—the three five-year budgets—play an important part in providing the greater predictability that the Bill aims to introduce. Businesses and households that are planning investments will want to know not just the overall level of the UK-wide budget, but the choice of policies that could be implemented to ensure that the budgets are met.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced that the first three carbon budgets and the plans for meeting them will be set out alongside the 2009 Budget. That timing draws an important parallel, also made by  the Chancellor. Just as our public finances must balance over an economic cycle, so we must live within our carbon budgets for the health of the wider world and, therefore, for ourselves. The report will be crucial in bringing together a range of policies and showing how they will combine to meet the carbon budget. That will be a combination of existing measures—those, for example, contained in the energy White Paper—and new measures, to be announced within the report or over the months before its publication.

At present, clause 14 places the duty on the Prime Minister, reflecting a change made to the Bill in the other place. I agree that, to tackle climate change, we need a strong effort, not just across Government, but across society as a whole. All parts of our society will have a role to play. It is also the case that the Prime Minister is personally committed to the fight against climate change.

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

The Minister refers to the Prime Minster who, with the best will in the world, does not have a long tenure left. Speaking about legislation that he hopes will run to 2050, surely the Minister cannot make such a reference and expect the Committee to accept arguments based solely on the current occupant of No. 10? We do not know what the personal commitment of any given incumbent of No. 10 will be in 2020, 2030 or 2040. It does the Minister no good at all to set out a personal conviction about the current, temporary occupant of No. 10 when defending the legislation.

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

I am grateful for the intervention. I was taking the opportunity to make a partisan point. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee do that and the Government have the right to do so as well. I do not argue that we should take direct reference to the Prime Minister of the day out of the Bill because the current Prime Minister is personally committed to the policy goals of the Bill. My argument is based on the definitions of how we make legislation in this country. Bills refer to the duties of the Secretary of State and throughout the years that has clearly been interpreted to mean the Government collectively. That is why actions and instructions are given in that way.

By placing specific duties on the Prime Minister of the day, the wrong interpretation could be given and political mischief could be made. The Daily Mail and TheGuardian might suggest that not putting the words “the Prime Minister” in the Bill could be interpreted as meaning that the individual Prime Minister of the day was not committed to the aims of the Bill, which would not be fair.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee)

Please correct me if I am wrong, but does not Lord Stern continue to report to the Prime Minister on forestry issues? If that is the case, surely it is inconsistent for the clause to refer to the Secretary of State instead.

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

Knowing Lord Stern of Brentford, I do not think that he considers that he reports to anyone. He says what he thinks and he says it robustly. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. Amendment  No. 33 would have the effect of transferring further responsibilities to the Prime Minister as an individual, in this case in relation to the report required under clause 18. Amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 85 would transfer responsibility to the Prime Minister individually for laying before Parliament the Government’s response to the annual report of the committee, as required under clause 36. I have explained why we disagree with the amendments, and I have moved new clauses to give responsibility to the Secretary of State, which, let me make it clear, means the Government collectively.

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

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border makes a good point about Lord Stern, but he is not the only senior policy adviser on climate change issues who reports not to DEFRA but to the Prime Minister. Johan Eliasch, whom the Prime Minister trumpeted with great publicity last year during his brief honeymoon, is another individual who reports directly, privately—I have not seen any of his advice published or any interviews that he has given—and confidentially to the Prime Minister. How are those considerations likely to be elucidated by the Secretary of State for the Environment?

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

We are talking about law. It is the custom and practice in the United Kingdom Houses of Parliament that duties are placed upon the Secretary of State. As I have already explained, that means the Government collectively. The Secretary of State delegates his or her duties to his or her Ministers and we are all appointed by and are accountable to the Prime Minister. That is clearly understood.

There are two intentions behind placing the duty on the Prime Minister. One is including the Prime Minister’s name as an indication that the Government accept that this is a most important matter—we have described it as the most important matter facing humankind. The argument put by others is, I believe, politically motivated, given that a responsible Minister would take the advice of parliamentary counsel. There are important reasons why, under legal process, the Secretary of State is used. I am advised that it is not possible to take legal action against the Prime Minister individually. It is possible to take action against the Secretary of State only, the meaning of which is the Secretaries of State collectively. There is good motive and bad motive behind this attempt to include the Prime Minister. As ever, I am being honest with the Committee.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 12:00 pm, 1st July 2008

Can the Minister help me on a boring machinery of government point? We all understand how, for example, public spending is worked out. Departmental Secretaries of State have bilaterals with the Chief Secretary and eventually the Budget gets carved up. Clearly, getting the carbon budget sorted out will require a fair amount of negotiation among various Departments as to where the burdens fall. It would help the Committee if we could understand whether a Cabinet Sub-Committee will do this and, if so, whether that will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Given that I suspect that there will be some fairly serious horse trading on this matter, one might imagine that, at some stage, the Prime  Minister—whoever that might be—will have to adjudicate. Can the Minister give us some guidance on the machinery of government process for setting the budget? That is something of a policy wonk question, but the answer will be helpful to the Committee.

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

That is an important question. I bet that neither the Daily Mail nor The Guardian will report the answer, but that is probably because it is an important subject. I shall stop making digs at those two newspapers as it is probably a bad career move.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is, as he will expect, that the Cabinet will take overall responsibility, but there is an existing Sub-Committee on Environment and Energy—the ED(EE). I occasionally get sent to it. The Cabinet Sub-Committee is dedicated to the environment and energy and is chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Its membership includes the Secretaries of State with responsibility for environment, energy, transport and communities and local government, and people from other Departments. That Committee has been established under the authority of the Prime Minister to take collective decisions in this area. We envisage that the Cabinet itself will take the final decision. I hope that that has shed some light on how we intend to proceed.

Several hon. Membersrose

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

Rather than stopping interventions, I have now prompted more, as transparency always does.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister confirm that Prime Minister Blair chaired the energy and climate change Sub-Committee under the previous Administration?

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

I cannot confirm that, but I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman. The Cabinet Sub-Committee structure is much improved in my view. It is much more streamlined, much clearer and more pragmatic. Sofa government has ended and proper decisions are taken in proper places under the new structure, which I welcome. The hon. Member for Banbury asked an important question because behind it is recognition of the importance of the carbon budget-setting process and the policy-setting process that flows from that.

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

One of the Minister’s arguments against including the words “Prime Minister” in the provision was essentially that we do not do that kind of thing in legislation. I am sure that he will have been briefed and will thus be aware that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 places a duty on the Prime Minister to report to Parliament. One reason for that was that there were concerns about the power and it was felt necessary to assure people that the Prime Minister was involved. If it was okay in that instance, is not the present one even more important?

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

Perhaps I may deal first with the point made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood: the previous Prime Minister chaired the previous Committee on energy and the environment, and the Deputy Prime Minister was the deputy Chairman. The Committee is now chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood on his recollection and, perhaps, homework.

To return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Northavon, there is a difference. I have checked out the list of things that the Prime Minister is required by legislation to do, in contexts where my predecessors as Ministers in this situation lost the argument. There are some pretty obscure ones, but the difference is that the very nature of the Bill, as the hon. Gentleman accepts, is to put a legal duty on the Government to meet their carbon budget. It is not possible, I am advised, to take legal action against the Prime Minister. Legal processes relate to the Secretary of State. That should give the hon. Gentleman the reassurances that he needs.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I mean to help the Minister. He says that he does not want the Prime Minister to be mentioned in place of the Secretary of State in the provision because the legal action that might arise could be pursued against only Secretaries of State collectively. However, does he realise that what we want the Prime Minister to do in this instance is report on the policies, not deliver on them? If we consider the percentage of carbon emissions for which DEFRA is responsible, the Minister will know that the bulk of such emissions fall to other Departments. That is an additional reason to agree to including the Prime Minister in the provision—purely with respect to the duty to report to Parliament—rather than the Department, whose duty it will be to deliver.

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

I take the hon. Lady’s point, although I am disappointed that she does not support my efforts to increase the standing of the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in future—the provision would have consequences in that regard. My arguments about breaking with the way we do things remain valid—I do not use the term “break with tradition”, as I am all in favour of that if it makes an improvement, unlike, often, the hon. Lady’s party. The traditionalist wing of the Conservative party argues that we should keep things as they are unless there is a good reason not to. A good reason has not been put forward. Therefore, to be consistent, the traditionalists should support the status quo.

My point is that there is a good reason for designating Secretaries of State in law, rather than the Prime Minister or other Ministers. It is not just a matter of tradition, but part of our legal framework. I ask the Committee to accept my explanation. I think that I have answered the question asked by the hon. Member for Banbury by explaining the seriousness that is given to the matter within the machinery of Government. I hope that the matter will not be pressed to a vote.

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

I also want to move amendments Nos. 46 and 47 to 51.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. The amendments being debated with amendment No. 4 are Government amendment No. 5 and amendments Nos. 33, 76, 77 and 85. Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 to 51 are in the next group and are not to be discussed yet.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I feel very strongly about this matter and think the Minister has been ill advised as to why this is so necessary. I remember when we started on this  whole course, when the then Prime Minister set up the first committee that was to report on these matters, under Sir Crispin Tickell. That committee reported directly to the Prime Minister; that was the purpose of it. Sir Crispin had access to the Prime Minister. He reported to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister presented such reports as he made. That was done so that we could say that the issue of climate change was so important that it had to be a central concern of the Government as a whole.

That was in the days in which there was a much stronger Department of the Environment in the simple sense that—and I make no criticism—it had control of local authorities. It spent a quarter of the budget of the nation. It controlled planning, water and other resources. It was a Ministry that had in its own hands the mechanisms of delivery of many of the issues of sustainable development. In particular, it had the mechanisms by which we would meet our carbon budget. Even in those circumstances, and with a Secretary of State whom I think most would admit actually cared about these matters, and was in the same position as the present Secretary of State for EFRA—I am not making a distinction—it was felt by the Government to be far too important not to commit the Prime Minister to that purpose.

In the days when I had to explain that, because the concept of climate change was nothing like as central as it is today, I used to use the example of the Health and Safety Executive’s belief that if one runs a business, even if one has a special health and safety director or officer, health and safety should be the responsibility of the chief operating officer. In every company on whose board I have ever sat, I have always insisted that that should happen. Only by doing that does one say that the most important thing about the business is that people go away at the end of the day as healthy as they can. That is duty No. 1 of any employer. It is a mechanism of showing that a business has chosen to emphasise what is the key issue for its future.

The key issue for the future of the United Kingdom and the world is dealing with climate change. In history, in circumstances when that was much less understood, the Prime Minister took that responsibility. Rather slowly, it has emerged that under the Cabinet arrangements under the previous Prime Minister, he took that view too. I remember the announcement when he said that he had to be chairman of this, and the Deputy Prime Minister had to be his deputy, because it was so important. I did not choose the Deputy Prime Minister; he did, and that is the situation, but if he were the Prime Minister, that was the right thing to do.

The body is now chaired, if I may so, by the one man who appears to know nothing at all about the issue, but who is there because it is accepted that one cannot deal with these matters unless not just the responsibilities of DEFRA, but the energy bit as well, are treated together. As neither of those Secretaries of State could chair it, we have to have somebody else. As happens in all Governments, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is given the job, whether he knows anything about it or cares about it. I think that that is a thoroughly bad way forward.

In the quality of life commission that I had the honour to chair, we proposed that the new Department that we would create would be a much more powerful version of DEFRA and would retain and bring back some of the powers that were sadly removed from it ad hominem, or ad feminem—we all know how DEFRA was created. Our idea was that there would be somebody in that Department who was the equivalent of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury so that it was accepted that the carbon budget would be a tough one and somebody in that Department—the Minister might find himself in that position—would have the power that the Chief Secretary has to say not just to DEFRA, but to all Departments, “You have to meet the budget.” No doubt people would come to that Minister, even though he was a junior in the Cabinet. The one time someone goes to a junior Minister is when they go to the Chief Secretary to argue their case. The Secretary of State for Defence would be there arguing with the Minister about his carbon budget, although the hon. Gentleman would then be a right hon. Gentleman and a very powerful man.

That is the concept that we had. We recognise that it demands a serious change in the structure of Government. If we could have put that in the Bill, that would have been good. It would be non-party political to say that the two Departments created ad hominem and ad feminam have failed because they were each built for a person and not for a purpose. That is one of the problems with the Department for Communities and Local Government, and it is the problem with DEFRA too. I have no doubt that any Government, including the present one, will change the structure of Government given the effluxion of time, so that they face what has to be done, rather than operating on the basis of personalities, of who has to be given what.

If that is the case, we will have a more powerful DEFRA, so the argument could be that DEFRA should have the responsibility. However, that argument does not stand, for a simple reason. It will be an uphill battle for all of us to make people understand that doing the job that we need to do is the central purpose of Government. We need those token statements. I say that as a traditionalist. We should never change things unless we can show that they are broken, but if we can show that they are broken, we should change them rapidly. The present system is broken. The Department is not strong enough. It does not even chair the Committee that it should be dealing with. There is nobody in the Department who has ever shown that he could make other Ministers meet DEFRA’s the demands. I say that with great sadness, because it ought not to be so.

We have to find a way through, and I beg the Minister to think again. He is making the situation worse. He knows perfectly well that if we had “Prime Minister” in those places in the Bill, the difficult legal situations would not matter a fig. I remind the Minister what I said about the lawyers in the Department of the Environment when I went there: they are there to deliver what the Government want in a way that makes what the Government want legal. They are not there to explain to the Government why they cannot have what they want. If the Government wanted the words “Prime Minister” in the Bill, they would appear there. That is a fact. The Government would tell the lawyers to go  where they ought to go, to the underground dungeon where they find the legal mechanisms to deliver the policies that the Government decide on.

I do not support the proposition of the interesting argument about who one can sue who for what. I just want to say to the Minister that if he takes the words “Prime Minister” out of the Bill, he will say something very clearly to the public. He may not mean it, but he will say, “The Government do not take the same view of the importance of the Bill as the House of Lords took.” It may have been better for the House of Lords not to put “Prime Minister” in, although I do not happen to think so, but as those words now appear in the Bill, I beg the Minister not to remove them.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 12:15 pm, 1st July 2008

Should not the Committee take notice of the House of Lords on the issue? The House of Lords has a large number of people, such as Lord Wakeham, who have been through the process so often and who have understood at the sharp end how the machinery of government works. The other House collectively put that in because it recognised that the carbon budget will work only with such a mechanism.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I am sure that is right, but I want the Minister to take seriously what he would be doing by taking “Prime Minister” out. First, I do not think it will be out permanently—the House of Lords will put it back in again, because it is so clearly important. The public will see taking it out as the Government resiling from the centrality of the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle was right to point out that the issue is not about the present Prime Minister. Many of us have our doubts about the present Prime Minister and his commitment to climate change, but some people do not have those doubts. That argument is perfectly reasonable and even party political, but I do not mind. The measure relates to any Prime Minister. I want the incoming Prime Minister to know that the issue is his or her responsibility. I want people to recognise that until 2050 that is their responsibility, in a way that nothing else is. That it is not in any other Bill, because the Bill is not the same as other Bills. No other Bill has ever laid such responsibilities on the Government. No other Bill has ever looked forward, specifically, to a point so many years ahead. That is why the Bill is important. If the Minister goes on in this way, I am seriously worried about the impact that it will have.

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

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the argument boils down to a simple issue—leadership? On the issue of climate change, which runs across the economy and society, involving every aspect of our national life, not having the Prime Minister at the helm sends an extraordinarily confusing and weak message to the British electorate. The issue is so important, yet it can be devolved to a Secretary of State whom they may never have heard of.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I hope the Government will show a greater awareness of public feeling about the matter than has sometimes been true of late. The Minister is the sort of Minister who might understand that. I very much hope that he will desist from pressing the amendments.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I oppose Government amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

The Minister has great intellectual powers, but even those are stretched by trying to justify the removal of the words “Prime Minister” from clause 14. He seriously suggested that it was less confusing to have the words “Secretary of State” in the Bill, arguing that that somehow implied responsibility across Government. From our earlier debates, it is clear that the confusion would be far greater if the words “Secretary of State” appeared in the Bill.

As the hon. Member for South Swindon rightly pointed out, we are not talking about the delivery of the policies in detail. We are talking about a duty to report to Parliament. That seems an easy duty to lay, legally, on the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal is exactly right. When I was in business, lawyers were paid to tell us how to do things, not paid to tell us how not to do them or why they are impossible.

It is important for the words to be retained and extended to clause 18 as well, and to clause 36 to take account not only of the initial proposals and policies for meeting carbon budgets, but of the duty to report on compensation for budget excess, if that occurs, and to respond to the committee’s periodic reports on progress. Amendment No. 85 spotted a reference to the Secretary of State that we had not identified, although probably not the most crucial one, in respect of the person who lays the order. However, I am happy to support it, for the sake of consistency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northavon, with uncharacteristic unkindness, once referred to DEFRA as a “piddling little Department”. Let me put it more sympathetically. Staff and Ministers at DEFRA have often proved themselves very committed and very understanding of the issues of climate change. Indeed, its former Ministers have periodically added to the ranks of the greenest Members of Parliament. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal is a case in point, but there are some on the Labour benches as well. If DEFRA is piddling, it is at least piddling in the right direction. The risk is that it is simply outgunned by much more significant Departments.

The Department for Communities and Local Government refuses to accept that housing targets should be amended in a housing downturn, when the growth rate is half the rate anticipated when those targets were set. The Department refuses to accept any arguments about the environmental consequences of ploughing ahead with those high housing numbers without democratic consultation at local level.

When large amounts of land are cleared for development—both greenfield and brownfield, to accommodate extremely high numbers—the result is that, in a downturn, the greenfield sites, having been released for development and being the more profitable, are developed first, so the environmental damage is greater. The argument should be in favour of sustainable development, and the understanding of sustainable development should be promoted in order to change such policies.

The Department for Transport, contrary to what the Minister implied, is giving a green light to the third runway at Heathrow and is responsible for policies relating to the level of investment in our railways. It  seems an opportune moment to mention the Swindon-Kemble line, a crucial part of that investment, where the doubling of capacity needed would help to take people out of their cars in large numbers and stop them travelling from my constituency to Swindon to avoid the terrible rail service that we have at present. Such investment is crucial to the local battle against climate change.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform proudly boasts of its support for renewables, but refuses to accept feed-in tariffs in the passage of the Energy Bill—[Interruption.] The Minister chunters, but we were in the Committee at which feed-in tariffs were specifically rejected by the Minister for Energy. They have been pushed into the long grass, or at least the medium-length grass, for yet more consultation, and could take years to implement. DBERR also endorsed the building of Kingsnorth power station, with CO2 emissions 70 per cent. higher than any alternative.

Mr. Woolasindicated dissent.

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

The Minister shakes his head, but I have been on the Environmental Audit Committee when Energy Ministers defended the building of Kingsnorth without locking in carbon capture and storage technology.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. I remind the Committee that we are engaged in line-by-line scrutiny, which is a very good principle. I ask the Committee to look at the amendment under consideration, which reads:

“leave out ‘Prime Minister’ and insert ‘Secretary of State’.”

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Cook, and of course you are right. I should have been pointing out on each of the examples that DCLG is responsible not to DEFRA, but to the Prime Minister, that the Department for Transport is responsible not to DEFRA, but to the Prime Minister, and that DBERR is responsible to the Prime Minister, as is the Treasury, whose green taxes are such a crucial element of the battle against climate change. We are seeing the potential undermining of public support for green taxation because of the Treasury’s unwillingness to link green taxes explicitly to reductions in other taxes to make it clear that it is revenue-neutral.

The international Departments are similarly responsible to the Prime Minister and not to DEFRA. They are responsible for climate change negotiations at international level and for policies that will influence the way in which Governments all over the world tackle climate change in their own environments.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Is it not also true that all the examples cited by the hon. Gentleman would, under the Bill, be subordinate to the targets that we are setting for CO2 emissions, so the issue of who is responsible is irrelevant?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:30 pm, 1st July 2008

The hon. Lady makes an important point, but it actually supports our argument for having  the Prime Minister’s name on the face of the Bill. It is precisely because all the policies and proposals set out in clause 14 will be implemented by a range of Departments that it is important to make a Minister responsible for them and for laying the report before Parliament. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs simply will not be responsible for most of those policies and their impacts.

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

Further to my hon. Friend’s response, is it not also the case that there is an aggregate target for the whole of Government, rather than individual Departments? If the Prime Minister is not responsible, the Department for Transport might say that it would only do a small bit of the work, although it felt that the Government targets were great, because someone else should have the hassle of doing the rest of it. Only the Prime Minister has the authority to bang heads together.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is exactly correct. We are all familiar with the experience of trying to raise an issue that seems to blur boundaries at ministerial questions and being told by the relevant Minister that it is a matter not for them, but for one of their colleagues.

DEFRA’s website sets out the precise impact of the various areas with regard to carbon emissions. The 2006 figures showed a UK total of 554 million tonnes. Of those, 221 million tonnes came directly from energy supply, which is the responsibility of DBERR and through it the Prime Minister, but not DEFRA. Business contributes 92 million tonnes, which, again, is the responsibility of DBERR and the Prime Minister, but not of DEFRA. Transport contributes 133 million tonnes, which is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, and the residential sector contributes 81 tonnes, which is largely the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Prime Minister, but, again, not of DEFRA.

The only areas that are directly attributable to DEFRA’s responsibility were the 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 from agriculture and 400,000 tonnes of CO2 from waste management. Obviously, the picture on methane is different, but even in that regard a substantial amount comes from non-DEFRA areas of responsibility. Some of the larger sources of emissions, such as transport and energy supply, are still increasing, so it is vitally important not to send the wrong signals on who will take responsibility.

This is both a political and a legal issue. Politically, the rapier-like question from the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood precisely highlighted why we have to worry about a lack of interest from the Prime Minister on the issue. The fact that the Prime Minister has decided to abandon the chairmanship of that vital committee is possibly an indication, which Opposition politicians fear, that he is losing interest. This is a wonderful political opportunity to reinforce the Prime Minister’s personal commitment and ensure that all future Prime Ministers are held similarly accountable.

In legal terms, my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon briefly mentioned two pieces of legislation that set an important precedent—the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. As GCHQ is located in my constituency, I am particularly pleased with those examples. The point is that they cover an important matter of absolutely vital national interest. It was for that reason that the then  Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), made it clear why the powers in that Bill were being laid on the Prime Minister and not on himself. He said that it would offer public reassurance on the use of powers in that Bill, and the power given to the Prime Minister was to lay before both Houses of Parliament a copy of every annual report made by the interception of communications commissioner under subsection (4), together with a statement on whether any matter had been excluded from that copy in pursuance of subsection (7).

That is an identical kind of reporting requirement to those that we are discussing in relation to the clause. If it was legal for him, why is it not legal under the Bill? That seems to be a powerful legal argument. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made an eloquent plea for the Minister not to wriggle out of the situation on legalistic grounds. That is exactly right, otherwise we might suspect that fiddling is still a more appropriate description.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made an impassioned plea, and I endorse his argument. Throughout our discussions, we have been saying that the United Kingdom is a leader and is making a strong commitment by drafting the first Bill on carbon reductions. A further signal would be to include the Prime Minister in the Bill to show that the reduction of carbon emissions is the greatest issue of our age.

On a more practical level, over the years carbon budgets will perhaps become the most important part of the Government’s business in setting the carbon target to 2050. It will be a cross-departmental process, and it will undoubtedly mean great squabbling between Departments on how the carbon cuts are allocated. As has been pointed out, many carbon-emitting industries are not under the control of DEFRA. At present, 37.4 per cent. of carbon emissions come from the energy industry, and 17.8 per cent. come from other industries—both sets of emissions are under the control of DBERR. In effect, more than 50 per cent. of all carbon emissions come from its departmental portfolio. It might therefore be more appropriate for DBERR to have control of carbon emissions, not DEFRA. The decarbonisation of our energy supplies will be crucial in whether we can reduce carbon emissions in the first place, irrespective of what form of energy we might support in the future.

I ask the Minister to consider a point to which he has referred on several occasions. The reduction of carbon emissions concerns not only the UK Government, but devolved Administrations. There will have to be great contact between the various Administrations to reach agreement on how they tackle their part of carbon reduction. For example, the Scottish Parliament is to have its own climate change Bill, which is due to be published shortly. There will be similar movement in Wales as the Assembly gain more powers, which will happen under the measures currently passing through this place. The same will apply to Northern Ireland, so there will have to be great contact between the First Ministers of the devolved Administrations, along with the Prime Minister, through the Joint Ministerial Committees.

If we are to impose reductions and agreement is to be reached between Departments and the devolved Administrations, the matter must be under the personal  control of the Prime Minister. They must provide leadership to show that we are all working together and demonstrate the importance of such matters throughout the United Kingdom. The clause needs to retain reference to the Prime Minister in order to send out a clear signal.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The most disappointing part of the Minister’s speech was his not accepting the outcome of the debate and the vote in the other place. We are not convinced by his argument why the Prime Minister should not play such a role. As I said earlier, the Prime Minister should report. We are not asking the Prime Minister to deliver, but it is only the Prime Minister—whoever they may be—who has the international status and the domestic gravitas to report on such issues.

As for percentages, the energy industry, which falls to DBERR, is responsible for more than 37 per cent. of carbon emissions. Road transport alone, which falls to the Department for Transport, accounts for more than 21 per cent., and other industries, which presumably include aviation, shipping and others, account for almost 18 per cent. and fall partly to the DBERR and partly to DEFRA. Residential households produce 15 per cent., and the hon. Member for Cheltenham has said that agriculture, farming and waste management constitute the small amount for which DEFRA is responsible. I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument, although I welcome his assurances that he wants to give more certainty to households and businesses.

Mention has been made of the Department’s clout and responsibilities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal referred to the Conservative party’s quality of life policy group and proposals for beefing up the Department, and I believe that his point was much more convincing. How does the Minister respond to that?

Clearly, the Prime Minister should be responsible for reporting to Parliament on the matters before us. Page 18 of the Government’s final impact assessment states:

“Overall costs can be minimised by setting the right policies in place to incentivise the most cost-effective methods of mitigation.”

Surely, that should be a role for the Prime Minister, not individual Secretaries of State—albeit through the Secretary of State with responsibility for the environment.

Paragraph 2.3.10 on page 19 of the impact assessment states:

“The choice of policy instrument is also likely to have a significant distributional effect: regulation, market mechanisms or fiscal measures will have divergent distributional impacts.”

That assessment goes on to argue that businesses and households are looking for continuity and determination in the Government’s policy from the outset. However, in moving the amendment, I did not hear from the Minister why he believes that a Secretary of State is better placed to fulfil that responsibility. Under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which was passed by a Conservative Government, the Prime Minister has duties similar to those before us today and must report on national security. The hon. Member for Cheltenham gave a similar example, but there are also less obscure ones. For example, let us bear in mind that a previous chief scientific adviser has said that climate change is the greatest threat facing this country.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) stated:

“The real test of the Bill will be whether it changes the mindset in Whitehall and Westminster to ensure that respect for the environment truly finds a place at the heart of policy making and Government practice.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 56.]

We believe that DEFRA is already collapsing under the weight of its responsibilities for flooding, farming, food, nuclear waste, water supply, fishing, coastal erosion and biodiversity. It has enough on its plate without being asked to do this as well. We are not trying to give the Prime Minister a vast number of new tasks.

When the Prime Minister’s initial reporting duties were first mooted in the other place, the Bill contained more of them than it does now. Most of them dealt with reporting on facts and other historical issues, which would not change as a result of the Prime Minister making the statement and producing the report. Such responsibilities would require the Prime Minister to report only on aspects of the Bill that are truly and inevitably cross-departmental. Those responsibilities are, first, that the Prime Minister must respond in Parliament to the Committee on Climate Change’s annual report on national progress towards meeting out carbon budgets, and, secondly, that the Prime Minister must report on Government strategies for meeting those budgets. The second duty would occur approximately every five years. The Prime Minister would be required, therefore, to produce just one report to Parliament per year on certain matters, plus an additional report on strategy approximately every five years. If the Minister puts the matter to a vote and wins, I hope that he will at some stage—either when he sums up this group of amendments or on another occasion—specify what additional resources will be made available to his Department to draw together those strands. Lord Rooker clearly stated to the EFRA Committee, on which I have the honour to serve, that there will be no further legislation or responsibilities, because the Department has no resources.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 12:45 pm, 1st July 2008

Since the Bill was debated on Second Reading, Lord Stern has advised that the cost of tackling global climate change has doubled from his original estimate of 1 per cent. of GDP to 2 per cent. Introducing carbon budgets will not be painless, and there will be a hit on various sections of the economy. We all know that those various sectors will go to their sponsoring Departments and make special pleas as to why they should take less of the hit on carbon budgets than other areas of the economy. That will particularly be the case in a time such as this, when the economy is in some difficulty. One only has to pick up the business section of any national newspaper or look at shares in the house building industry to know that it is having a difficult time. I suspect that many in the house building industry will then go off to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which sponsors the construction sector, and say, “We should not have to take such a great hit because of the impact that this will have on us in a difficult economy.” Therefore, someone within the machinery of government will have to make some fairly difficult decisions on how the carbon budget is allocated.

This is a totemic Bill and a totemic clause. If the present Government wish to remove the clause from the Bill, it is a matter for them, but it will send out a clear political signal. I just hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) makes it clear that when he becomes Prime Minister, he will chair the appropriate Cabinet Committee. He, as Prime Minister, will chair the Committee and every other Secretary of State will know that they answer to the Prime Minister. I have to say that going to a Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister concentrates the minds of Secretaries of State and junior Ministers wondrously. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal were here, he would agree with me, as would my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border.

I am quite sure that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney becomes Prime Minister, he will personally present this report to Parliament. By omission and by their actions, if the present Government and the governing party wish to make that political point, it is up to them. However, without changing the legislation and without having to amend an Act of Parliament, an incoming Prime Minister can achieve what he wishes to achieve by making it very clear that that is how he intends to conduct business in Whitehall. In so doing, he will make a very clear statement that by voting blue, a person goes green.

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

We have had an important debate on what I thought was a minor amendment. Perhaps, in addition to my previous argument, I should put some arguments in response to Committee members. We have had a number of thoughtful interventions, and I do not think that hon. Members are trying to cause political embarrassment.

The hon. Member for Banbury has said that it is a matter for the Government and that the Government should live with the consequences, and I understand his point. Let me put the arguments specifically and then generally. Amendments Nos. 33, 76, 77 and 85 relate to later clauses in the Bill and have been tabled by the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Northavon. They relate to subsections (1), (2) and (5) of clause 36, and they create specific duties in relation to specific actions—for example, the Prime Minister, rather than the Secretary of State, may by order extend the period in the Bill and must consult the other national authorities.

Let me repeat, however, that when one uses the phrase “Secretary of State”, it means Secretaries of State collectively. Clearly, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not the only Secretary of State to discuss issues with the devolved Administrations; as we all know, the Transport Secretary, the Defence Secretary and others also do so. Some of the amendments are therefore too prescriptive and do not meet the general point that hon. Members have made, because they do not signal the importance that the Government give those issues.

We gave a great deal of thought to our reasons for not supporting these amendments and for resisting the amendments in the other place. We want to create machinery of government that makes the Bill work precisely because of the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury. We are talking about important decisions, and there will inevitably be disagreements and conflicts in government.

The hon. Member for Vale of York talked about the respective sponsored emissions by transport and business. Again, I can answer her point technically by saying that the phrase “Secretary of State” refers to Secretaries of State collectively. However, let me draw a parallel with finance, because Opposition Members’ arguments on carbon budgets and reporting duties also apply to finance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reports the finance Budget, but one does not hear the argument that the Prime Minister should do so or, by implication, that the Budget is not an important document. We decided against naming the Prime Minister, because we thought that that was tokenistic. We deem the carbon budget to be important, so we want it to work within the machinery of government.

I will not respond to the teasing of the hon. Member for Cheltenham, who implied that I was a piddling Minister. I will not tease him in return about his support for GCHQ, although I thought that he was against surveillance and things of that nature.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for trying to assure us that it is less confusing to have the Bill refer to the Secretary of State than the Prime Minister. Will he explain precisely how clause 18 would work? If we went over the carbon budget, and Secretaries of State—plural—had to lay reports before Parliament, would the Chancellor be the first one to do so because of the taxation issues, and would he then be followed by the Secretary of State for Transport, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and so on? Alternatively, would the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs somehow include their reports in his? How could that possibly work in practice?

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

It is a fair question. It would be the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. What I am trying to get across, however, is that when the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary makes such a report to Parliament, it will be cleared across Government, as is the case with all written and oral statements and with reports that are required by statute. That is how the Secretary of State represents the Government collectively. The question of which individual lays the report is not as important as the machinery of government behind it, which entails a collective decision. I will follow that line of argument.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If the carbon budget was missed overwhelmingly because of the contribution of transport—let us say that aviation emissions had got out of control and that that was the key political issue—would the Secretary of State for DEFRA answer questions about emissions and defend aviation policy on behalf of the Department for Transport?

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

That is how government works. I have already been quizzed about Heathrow this morning. Transport Ministers often have to answer for policies that are not directly within their remit, which is the point. We believe that including the individual title “Prime Minister” in the amendments is a token—let me put it that way—if not tokenism, which is not the best way for the Government to work. That is why we urge the Committee to resist the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham amendments and return to this clause what was taken out in the other place.

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

The Minister bases his case on procedures and mechanisms in the machinery of government, but does it not boil down simply to political clout? He has made a comparison with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Chancellor lives at No. 11 Downing street, immediately adjacent to the Prime Minister, and occupies a great and historic office of state that sits at the very top of Cabinet precedent. With respect, unless the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary has a unique personal relationship with the Prime Minister, they will not have that standing in government. We know that, because that position is usually somewhere in the middle or right at the bottom of the list of Cabinet appointments. It is simply not living in the real world to compare the punch and political authority of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary with that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, let alone the Prime Minister.

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

I do not accept that that reflects an understanding of how government works. First, policies need to be cleared across government. Secondly, the introduction of carbon budgets greatly enhances the importance of the policy decisions that flow from them. If the hon. Gentleman accepts that—I think that he does, because he has said so—I am grateful to him for his view. The hon. Member for Banbury has also referred specifically to that point, and he must also accept that the machinery of government has to be able to cope. Just as finance decisions are addressed across Departments and the ring is held by the Treasury, so carbon budgets must be spread across government and the ring must be held by both the Treasury and DEFRA. We are not arguing about that. We are arguing whether the Prime Minister should be mentioned in the Bill, but the very nature of our system of government is that Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister, which is implicit.

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

Does not the analogy with the Chancellor break down, because the Chancellor has one thing that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary does not have? The Chancellor raises money and allocates it to Departments, whereas the Environment Secretary does not have a pot of carbon to hand out between Departments and simply has to hit a target. If the Department for Transport or another Department were to say, “No; we want a bigger share of the carbon budget,” the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary would not have the clout to arbitrate and would have to go through the Prime Minister, which is why the Prime Minister should be accountable.

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

We are all accountable to the Prime Minister for everything. We are appointed by the Prime Minister and we are sacked by the Prime Minister. That is the way in which we run this Government. The Committee on Climate Change advises the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, and in that analogy they have a carbon pot.

We are approaching lunch time, so I commend Government amendments Nos. 4 and 5 to the Committee and urge it to resist amendments Nos. 33, 76, 77 and 85.

Question put, that the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 8.

Division number 3 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 14

Aye: 11 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

It being after One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.