Schedule 1 - None

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:00 pm on 1st July 2008.

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Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 8:00 pm, 1st July 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 58, in schedule 1, page 44, line 5, at end insert—

‘not fewer than seven and not more than 12 members of which—’.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 59, in schedule 1, page 44, leave out lines 6 to 9 and insert—

‘(a) up to six must be nominated by the national authorities, and

(b) up to six must be nominated by the President for the time being of the Royal Society.’.

No. 60, in schedule 1, page 44, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert—

‘(2) The Chairman must be appointed by the Secretary of State.’.

No. 61, in schedule 1, page 44, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) The nominations made under paragraph 1 must be considered by a relevant select committee of the House of Commons and no person shall be appointed unless and until their nomination has been approved by such committee.’.

No. 62, in schedule 1, page 44, line 12, after ‘authorities’, insert

‘and the President of the Royal Society’.

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

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 58, 59 and 62, which would change the nomination procedures and composition of the Committee on Climate Change. The adjustments that we propose would make the committee more independent, more scientific and better equipped to deal with the new responsibilities that have been given to it.

As the Bill stands, the committee seems too small to cope with those extra duties. Amendment No. 58 would increase its membership to ensure that the additional burdens could be covered adequately. We believe that a membership of seven is not quite sufficient. It is important to ensure that the committee is able to give due attention to those matters as well as to nominate people with relevant experience. We therefore believe that it is important to allow the option to increase the committee to no fewer than seven members and no more than 12.

Amendment No. 59 relates to the nomination procedure. To ensure the independence of the committee, we believe that approximately half of the appointments should be made by the Royal Society. That would depoliticise the committee, so that we did not end with a group of people potentially beholden to Ministers, political parties or special interest groups. I expect that there might be some criticism—

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

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

I am delighted to resume proceedings, Mr. Cook. As I was saying, the amendment is an effort to depoliticise the committee and not end up with a group of people who are potentially beholden to Ministers of the day, political parties or special interest groups. There might be some criticism that the Royal Society has its own internal politics. It has been mentioned in previous debates that the world of science is not one of monolithic agreement and unified opinion, but I hope that members of the Committee will agree with the intention behind the amendment.

There needs to be a mechanism to ensure that appropriate experts and scientists are appointed to the committee through a process that is apolitical, independent and credible. What assurance can the Minister give that that will be the case, even if he can explain that nominations and appointments will be carried out with the utmost care and contentiousness? We do not doubt the  Government’s commitment to ensure that members of the committee are indeed appropriate, but we consider that there needs to be a provision under the Bill to ensure that that will continue to happen in future. What mechanisms are in place to ensure that, after the initial appointments, the committee will continue to be truly independent?

I am keen to move on to amendment No. 63, but amendments Nos. 59 to 62 are effectively probing amendments, so I shall confine my remarks.

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

Amendment No. 60 would remove the devolved Administrations from any decision in respect of the appointment of the chair. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he has tabled such an amendment?

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

No, I cannot—off the top of my head. If I were a Minister, I would promise to write to the hon. Gentleman. However, I am not, so I shall have a word with you outside in the corridor later.

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

It is delightful to be resuming our business, even at this slightly late hour. I congratulate all those Labour Members present on their stamina, although I warn them that Liberal Democrats will talk about climate change until Christmas if given half a chance. However, I shall try to be brief in the interests of everyone’s blood pressure.

We are happy to support amendments Nos. 58 and 61. Amendment No. 58 is wise. It would increase the potential for a diverse committee with a range of expertise, while amendment No. 61 quite rightly seems designed to reinforce Select Committee scrutiny. Amendment No. 59 and its derivative, amendment No. 62, would give an interesting role to a charitable body, the Royal Society, which also has within its charitable objects and strategies the remit to influence the Government’s policy, so in a sense it is a logical and appropriate body to be reflected in the Bill as a strong, independent voice.

The only slight worry is that the Royal Society might consider that its freedom of action to criticise the Government’s policy would be compromised by the arrangement. Nevertheless, the amendment is important. We suggested an alternative amendment, which has not been selected. It would have provided the SDC with an independent remit and expertise in a wide range of areas relating to sustainable development. It was an alternative for the Government to reflect on, if they considered that the Royal Society was inappropriate.

I am completely baffled by amendment No. 60, which seems designed to irritate the Scots and the Welsh and to re-impose of central UK authority by the Conservative party. However, since the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle is as baffled by his own amendment as we are, I suggest that we do not spend further time on it.

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) 9:00 pm, 1st July 2008

In rising to support the amendments, I want to press the Minister to confirm that, among the membership under paragraph (3)(b) to schedule 1, those with expertise in climate change policy at national and international level and, in particular, the social aspects of such policy, will have a detailed knowledge of the impact on indigenous peoples in rain forest areas of the world. I also seek his assurance that any other experts in

“climate science, and other branches of environmental science” will have expertise in biodiversity in particular, and also the rain forests.

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

I want to make a number of points about amendments Nos. 58, 59, 60, 61 and 62. First, my answer to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, is yes. That point has been raised throughout the proceedings and on Second Reading by a number of hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) has also raised the point and written to me about it, and I was able to give her the reassurances that she sought. Expertise is also included in the adaptation sub-committee.

The five amendments would increase the size of the Committee on Climate Change and remove the devolved Administrations’ input. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he said that they were probing amendments, so I will not tease him about forgetting the Scots—I will leave that for another occasion. They also aim to ensure that all nominations are considered and approved by a relevant Commons Select Committee. The practical effect of the amendments would be to create a larger committee than currently envisaged of between seven and 12 who have been approved or appointed by a Commons Select Committee. Half the committee would be nominated by national authorities, and half would be nominated by the President of the Royal Society. Amendment No. 60 specifically requires the chair to be appointed only by the Secretary of State, as opposed to national authorities collectively.

I recognise that the intention of the amendments is to create a larger and more scientific body and to bring further transparency and rigour to the process by giving Parliament a role. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman about the method of appointment of the committee. The committee will be first of its kind. It will be a UK-wide body reflecting the nature of the devolution settlements. Identical amendments were discussed in the other place, and the Government’s view has not changed.

We think that between five and eight members plus the chair is a good size. The shadow chair agrees with that point of view, as he stated in his evidence to the EFRA Committee in March. It strikes the right balance between ensuring that the committee contains a good mix of relevant experience and making sure that the committee is focused and dynamic. Amendment No. 58 would increase the number of committee members to between seven and 12, which would be a mistake because the committee would be too large to be focused.

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

Is the Minister saying that the Cabinet is not focused? The Cabinet is twice that size. Maybe that accounts for recent developments.

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

God so loved the world that he sent his only son and not a committee. I believe that there is a balance, given the remit of work to be done. The Committee on Climate Change needs to have a focused agenda, particularly running through to the period of 1 December, which we have discussed. I am mindful of the size and shape of the committee. My noble Friend Lord Rooker gave a commitment in the other place that the Secretary of State and the chair would review the  committee’s size during its first year of operation and increase it using the powers already in the Bill, if necessary. It would be a bit hasty if we were to increase the size significantly now.

I have mentioned the obvious about the devolved Administrations and the impact of amendment No. 60. To reassure the Committee that the committee’s appointments will be independent, the appointment processes will, of course, be conducted in accordance with the Nolan principles and monitored by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. That is to make sure that the committee is not formed of people who are beholden to Ministers, political parties or special interest groups. I hope that gives reassurance.

Amendments Nos. 59 and 62 change the operation of the appointments process so that the Royal Society is responsible for appointing half of the committee members. We are concerned that that would make the appointments process less transparent. Indeed, Lord Rees of Ludlow, a former president of the Royal Society, made his views clear when discussing the amendment. He said that it would not be reasonable to expect a body such as the Royal Society to appoint members. I assure the Committee that we consult the Royal Society on appointments related to scientific matters, which I have recently done with regard to the committee on radioactive processing.

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)

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. My point, which has just occurred to me, relates to a slightly different aspect of what he is discussing. The committee will consist of a chairman and a maximum of eight other people, yet paragraph 1(3) lists nine distinct disciplines on which an expert is needed—that is only one of each. When the Bill says “climate change” and “other branches of...science”, it can only be at most one person. Unless there are more than nine people on the committee, not all the disciplines and skills will be covered. Or am I utterly wrong?

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

No, the right hon. Gentleman is not utterly wrong. I remember asking that very question myself six months ago. I took advice and said that we should review the matter during the course of the year—I have already committed to that.

Let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman further. One of the first appointments to the committee, in its shadow form, was Lord Robert May, who is an expert ecologist. I believe that, through his appointment, we have demonstrated our commitment to ensure that the committee considers the impact of its recommendations on the natural environment. However, Lord May has other expertise. We have really got the best and brightest, as is evident through the chair, who has taken on board a number of skills, experience and expertise. I am confident that we have the stature and status of committee that we require.

However, the first job of the committee is to advise on the setting of budgets, so we will review its composition during the course of the year. I give the reassurance that all the appointments are within the correct procedures of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which, I can assure you, Mr. Cook, are robust and prevent Ministers from interfering unduly while maintaining accountability to Parliament.

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

As I said at the outset, the amendments are probing. To a certain extent, I was reassured by the Minister’s comments about possible future flexibility on the size of the committee, because it seems to us, despite the evident expertise of the existing members, that the committee is nevertheless taking on a huge task. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has pointed out, extraordinary expertise will be called upon if the committee is to do its job properly. Likewise, in an ideal world, we would prefer a more independent appointment process, but at this stage we take the assurances of the Minister. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 63, in schedule 1, page 44, line 36, at end insert

‘and each term of office must be at least six years’.

The amendment proposes a statutory minimum on the term limit of members of the committee. There are a number of reasons for having a statutory minimum. As evidenced by the debate so far, there is support in the House for making the committee independent, scientific and apolitical. I hope that the Minister will appreciate my scepticism when this Government have stuffed so many commissions and quangos with members of their own party. A six-year commitment would mean not only that members outlast a Government, but that they are locked in for the long haul. It would be a shame to see a Government replacing members after a year or two because they did not like the advice that they were receiving.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the meaning of the term “locked in”? If a member of the committee wanted to resign, as Lord Turner intends to do, would they be prevented from doing so?

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

No, a member would not be prevented from resigning, but they would be prevented from reappointing themselves if the term of their appointment were less than that which I propose. The impartiality of the experts is arguably the committee’s greatest source of authority, and a longer term would help to ensure that that is protected. Under the amendment, committee members would sit for longer than a budgetary period, guaranteeing that they would be on the committee when it makes at least one of the reports on the five-year budget periods. Given the number of reports that the committee will be responsible for preparing, continuity is certainly advantageous.

Although six years seems like a reasonable term limit, hon. Members will appreciate that the amendment was motivated by impartiality and continuity. Will the Minister explain what mechanisms are in place in the Bill to ensure that those two vital aspects of the Committee are respected?

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)

I, too, support the amendment. Had I studied it more carefully, I would have suggested the slight refinement of making the limit between four and six years. It is important that members are on the committee for an average of about five years, not so that they can be locked in, but so that there is continuity. We do not want to lose all members after five or six years.  In the case of national park appointments, if there are 14 people in a national park, their appointments do not all come up for renewal at once. Some are on a cycle of four years; some are on a cycle of five years; and some only three years, which is far too short. It would be best if we had assurances from the Minister that there will be a minimum term appointment of say four years with some being appointed for five and some for six with a rolling spread.

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

The amendment was discussed in the other place, so I am in danger of repetition. I will start by explaining for the record that the Government’s intention is that the first committee members should be appointed for a term of five years. For current committee members, the five years will include the time that they have spent working on the shadow body, which will meet the proposals in some respects. That is not stated in the Bill, because it is not normal practice to specify a term of office in primary legislation.

The amendment suggests a term of appointment of six years. I think that that is bit too long, and I will explain why. Public appointments are usually for terms of three years each. Whatever their duration, they are restricted under the Nolan principles and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments rules to two terms. In total, that cannot exceed 10 years. While a five-year term allows the Government of the day to extend an appointment, assuming that the OCPA rules are met, a six-year appointment may not be doubled because of the duration limit.

As my noble Friend Lord Rooker said in the other place, the arrangements satisfy the points made by the amendment. The practical impact of a six-year limit would be to stop somebody from being reappointed for a second term, whatever the merits of their expertise and so on.

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

I thank the Minister for that explanation and I appreciate the points that he has made. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 64, in schedule 1, page 45, line 10, after ‘the’, insert ‘reasonable’.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 65, in schedule 1, page 45, line 10, leave out ‘otherwise’ and insert ‘physically or mentally’.

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

The amendments outline various instances that should prevent somebody from being a member of the Committee on Climate Change. Our intention is to clarify a few of the reasons why a member can be excluded. The amendments would add a few points that we hope will not find too much discord in the Committee. The purpose of the amendments is simply to make the Committee on Climate Change more robust by adding a few more situations that we feel should result in removal or exclusion.

The amendments are designed to clarify what is meant in the Bill by “otherwise unable or unfit” to serve on the committee. We suggest, first, the phrase “reasonable opinion” and, secondly, the phrase “physically or mentally unfit”. We hope that our intention of increasing the  clarity of the provision is welcomed by hon. Members. The proposal would not only provide clarity, but tighten the scope of the removal process so that only those who were truly physically or mentally unfit were excluded, not those whom the national authorities merely deemed unfit to serve. We hope that the Minister will welcome this clarification.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:15 pm, 1st July 2008

I understand the spirit in which amendments Nos. 64 and 65 have been tabled. Perhaps the Conservative party is imagining nefarious goings on in which appointments are made for political reasons and there are then attempts to remove members from the committee for political reasons, so that if control of the national Government in Scotland changed from Scottish National party to Labour or even Liberal Democrat, political affiliations might be sought out and people might be removed at sudden notice.

I suspect that amendment No. 64 would be a sensible tightening of the wording, but I am puzzled by amendment No. 65 because there are other bases on which people might be unfit to serve on a committee of this stature other than being physically or mentally unfit. I appreciate that the amendment is perhaps designed to prevent people from being removed because their opinions are controversial. That would be an unfortunate move, but what if their scientific credibility had been compromised? What if they had been caught out indulging in plagiarism or their professional reputation had been compromised by particular revelations? Those might be unfortunate developments that we would not like to happen, but the wording in amendment No. 65 is much too prescriptive.

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

Again, these amendments were discussed in the other place and consideration was given to them by their lordships. The circumstances in which the national authorities may remove a member are set out in the four sub-paragraphs of paragraph 5 of schedule 1. I want to highlight the fact that this is a standard power in relation to many non-departmental public bodies, which this committee is. We expect that it would be exercised only in exceptional circumstances, but it is important to make certain that the committee can carry out its duties appropriately.

Under amendment No. 64, the national authorities, when forming an opinion of whether a member of the committee was unfit or unable to carry out their duties, would have to reach an opinion that was “reasonable”. The amendment is unnecessary, as their lordships accepted, because the duty for national authorities to act reasonably and, in this case, to form a reasonable opinion is already in place under the well-established general principles of public law, including within the procedures identified in the Nolan report for public appointments. That is therefore already implicit in the schedule, so I see no reason to add it.

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

If there was a change of Administration at national level, would the removal of a member of the committee for political reasons be considered reasonable under the legal terms that the Minister is talking about?

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

I have just given the reason why we think that it is unnecessary to add the provision. We think that it would be detrimental to add it precisely because of the hon. Gentleman’s point. Let me give a brief explanation. Amendment No. 65 would reduce the scope  of the words “unable or unfit” by specifying that members may be removed by national authorities only if they are “physically or mentally” unable or unfit to carry out their duties. Paragraph 5(d) is an important provision that allows the national authorities to remove or exclude a member in a number of very limited circumstances. It is important not to tighten the scope for the removal processes, for obvious reasons. The words “unable or unfit” may cover certain circumstances that impact on a member’s ability to do the job, such as serious illness that prevents attendance at meetings, or it could cover other situations, such as a conflict of interest that was not a problem when the member was originally appointed to the committee. There might be other unforeseen circumstances. It is a standard provision that ensures that the committee can function properly, and that members who cannot fulfil their duties appropriately for whatever reason can be removed. However, I stress that the power is to be exercised only in limited circumstances. It is not a power for the national authorities to use to remove a member without just cause or reasonable consideration. That is outlined in well-established public laws on such matters. We believe that following the well-established procedures and laws will achieve the right balance between what the amendment seeks and what there is a desire to protect against.

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

I listened to the Minister with interest and have I taken on board what was said by the hon. Member for Cheltenham. In light of our discussions, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 66, in schedule 1, page 45, line 34, leave out from ‘executive’ to end of line 35.

As the Bill stands, the appointment of the chief executive by the committee is subject to the approval of the national authorities. We consider that intervention by the national authorities in the make-up of the committee is undesirable. The role of the chief executive is important. The committee should be left to decide the appointment, but although it can choose the chief executive, the appointment must be approved by the national authorities. Will the Minister explain the necessity for political approval regarding a scientific committee from Whitehall or the devolved Administrations? We have said that the committee should be genuinely independent. Having such an approval process will diminish that independence.

Our motivation for having an independent committee is two-fold. Not only will it ensure that the committee can make its decisions without regard to political expediency, but it will ensure that the committee does not appear to be making decisions that could be interpreted—or misinterpreted—as political manoeuvres. That second reason alone should be enough to remove the provision  for national authority approval. It should not appear that the choice was made in such a way that it could be considered to be a political appointment. The choice should be made resoundingly on the merits of the person’s ability to fulfil that important job.

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

Again, I have some sympathy with the amendment. However, I shall explain how far we have moved, and I hope to persuade the hon. Gentleman not to press it to a Division.

To ensure the committee’s independence, we have from the outset given it the power to appoint its own staff. It is a non-departmental public body. The committee must appoint a chief executive, and it may also appoint other employees. I have some sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment, which would further strengthen the independence of the committee.

Indeed, having listened to the recommendations made during pre-legislative scrutiny, we amended the draft Bill to confirm that the committee will appoint all chief executives. Previously, provisions allowed the national authorities to appoint the first chief executive. However, having listened to the views of others, we do not consider it appropriate to remove completely the requirement for the committee’s chosen candidate to be approved by the national authorities, as proposed in the amendment.

That was the view also of the Joint Committee. When it considered the draft Bill last summer, it decided that the committee should appoint the chief executive, but that the national authorities should approve the appointment. The Secretary of State is ultimately accountable to Parliament. It is taxpayers’ money, and Parliament has the right to hold the Secretary of State to account. The chief executive will also be the accounting officer of the Committee on Climate Change. That is a crucial part of the role, just as it is for a permanent secretary in a Department. It is important that the Secretary of State should be confident that the person selected by the committee is suitable.

We have considered the matter, moved towards the point of view proposed in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, and gained the Joint Committee’s support for the position that we have arrived at. We think that it strikes the right balance between independence and accountability while allowing the committee to appoint its own chief executive.

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

I thank the Minister. I appreciate that he has moved some degree towards our position. We think that independence of appointment is of the utmost importance, but in light of the fact that he is coming towards our position and of the importance that we place on consensus where possible, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Siobhain McDonough.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Nine o’clock till Thursday 3 July at Nine o’clock.