One month to save the world is precisely right.
What difference does it make if the month is December or November? During the Bill’s progress through the House, changes have been made to the version seen in the Lords. When this House has completed its deliberations, the Bill will go back to another place and, I speculate, it will return to us. It therefore seems inevitable that the proceedings will not be completed until October or November. Clause 33 currently requires the Committee on Climate Change to report on 1 December, so we could still be debating the Bill, and the target, in early November. The long title says that this Bill is “to set a target”—that is the first thing that it seeks to do.
We have had lengthy debates in Committee about what that target should be and on what basis and, during the course of the debate, it struck me that the comments made by the hon. Member for Bury, North were characteristically profound. If we could arrange to have the benefit of the Committee on Climate Change’s assessment while the Bill is still live, we could address the official Opposition’s legitimate concern that that committee’s standing should not be undermined by our second-guessing it. If the committee had to report by 1 November, while the Bill is still live, we would know what it thought and could decide whether to put the number that it suggests in the Bill.
Suppose that, on 1 November, the Committee on Climate Change comes up with a number—80 per cent., for example, although it could be anything. The official Opposition, who have said that they will abide by the committee’s advice, would be happy to put that figure in the Bill. We would be happy to do so, as we have already indicated, and the position of Government Members who signed the amendment on 80 per cent. that we considered earlier in our proceedings would be strengthened, as they would be able to see the latest scientific assessment agreed by the independent committee. The question is whether the Government will accept the number suggested by the committee. Rather than passing the Bill and taking it on trust that the Government will implement that number, amendment No. 102 would allow us to know the number. In that case, the Government would make a choice, and the House would decide what it thought about that choice.
Clearly, bringing forward this important work by one month is a significant ask for the Climate Change Committee. It is right and proper that, before speaking to the amendment, I spoke to Lord Turner. I did so at the weekend, partly as a courtesy—if we are going to give him a harder task, it is only right to let him know—and partly to see what he thought. We spoke at some length. He was understandably keen not be associated with the views of any political party on such issues, and the views that I express are my own, informed by what he said but not attributable to him.
Suppose that the Committee had to produce a report on 1 December. As we know, in such cases minds are not made up on 30 November. People begin to work out what they think during the work, and they start to get an overall picture. Although the last two, three or four weeks of the committee’s work might be taken up with pretty bar charts, checking scientific references and so on, it is not unreasonable to suppose that by 1 November the committee would be in a position to advise the Government in summary about the direction of travel. On that date, it probably could not meet the requirement in clause 34, which includes a 1 December deadline, to provide detailed advice on carbon budgets, which is the nitty-gritty, because some work might still be outstanding, which is why I have not tabled an amendment to clause 34. However, the committee might be able to perform the single task set out in clause 33, which is to advise on the 2050 target.
I fully accept that these are interconnected issues. It would be naÃ¯ve to say that the committee could advise on the 2050 target without reaching a decision on international effort, aviation and shipping, or greenhouse gas lists. That is a fair point to make. However, it does not seem unreasonable that the committee might be asked to bring its recommendation forward a month. Then, when we finalise our considerations in the House, all of us will know what the committee thinks, and rather than us amateurs—speaking for myself, I am an amateur on the subject—plucking a number from the air, we will have expert opinion. That will be so much more powerful when we finalise the Bill.
There is one small practical problem with that suggestion. If the committee has to report by 1 November, as the amendment suggests, and the Bill does not come into law until later in November, technically it is not binding on the committee to produce the report by 1 November, because there is no law to say that it must do so. There is a slight problem of logic there.
Let us suspend the fiction that the committee on climate change does not exist. The committee is already out there. It does exist. I rang the man on Saturday. I spoke to the chairman of the committee. The committee is doing its work. There are people beavering away. What questions are they answering? The questions in the Bill. The Bill says what the committee has to do.
In a way, therefore, what I am calling for in the amendment is a dirty great hint, let us say, so that the shadow committee on climate change understands that the will of the House is that it reports by 1 November. If the Secretary of State or the Minister wanted to write to the committee to reinforce the dirty great hint that we wanted its opinion by 1 November, I would welcome that. Indeed, if the Minister’s reply was, “Well, forget the Bill, I’ll write to them and tell them to do it anyway”, I would welcome that too.
I will not labour this point, as it is clear what I am trying to do. We all want to make the decision on the basis of the best evidence, and if we can have the best evidence a few weeks earlier, albeit in summary form, that would be good. I note that clause 33(5) states:
“As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice...the Committee must publish that advice”.
In other words, the committee can say what it thinks the number is, perhaps with a paragraph or two of explanation.
“As soon as is reasonably practicable”,
it can do the full monty, as it were, in parliamentary terms. That seems to be the best balance that we can achieve.
I shall make one final observation, which comes back to the question, “Why specify 80 per cent. or 60 per cent. in the Bill?” I have spoken to the Minister and to the Secretary of State about the issue and I found myself in a slightly awkward position, because I realised that what I was saying to the Secretary of State sounded as though I was saying, “I don’t trust you”. I thought, “That’s not what I’m saying.” I was trying to work out what I wanted to say, because it is slightly awkward to say to someone, “I don’t trust you to do what the committee says. I don’t trust you to change the Bill.” The reason I realised that that was not what I meant to say was that I thought, “I do trust the DEFRA Ministers to want to do this, but I don’t trust the rest of Government to go along with it.” That is the important point.
So I do trust that the Minister wants the right number in the Bill, but once the climate change committee publishes its report after the passage of the Bill, if it does so, DEFRA may say, “Yes, we want 80 per cent., because it says 80 per cent. in the Bill”, and the Treasury, the Department for Transport, the Ministry responsible for housing or whoever it is may say, “Ah, but...”. That is what we are trying to deal with here.
The amendment will strengthen the hand of DEFRA, which I sincerely believe wants the right number in the Bill. It would give DEFRA a stick to beat the rest of Government with, because it will know on 1 November that the figure is 80 per cent. or whatever it is, and it will say to the rest of Government, “There is no way now that we can stop now. Parliament clearly wants either the advice of the committee or 80 per cent.”, which may coincide—Parliament may want both those things. There will be an overwhelming desire for that to happen. So, if the Minister can give us the date 1 November, or a letter to Adair Turner saying that he wants 1 November, we can achieve what I think the vast majority of us want.
I support the amendment in principle. I take it to be a probing amendment. Along with many colleagues in this place, I supports the move towards at least 80 per cent. In the debate so far, we have heard many contributions about the role of the Environmental Audit Committee and its many inquiries into climate change, in respect of the recommendation of 80 per cent.
With reference to the date and whether we could have an earlier resolution of these matters, it may be helpful to tell the Committee that in the course of its deliberations the Environmental Audit Committee is keen to have a private hearing with Adair Turner, to discuss those very issues. Select Committees have an important role in trying to find a way through difficult decisions on timing and so on. I hope that such initiatives will be helpful in taking the legislation forward.
It is in everyone’s interest that we have the greatest possible consensus on the Bill because it will run for many years under Governments of all persuasions. It must be in the interest of the Government and of business managers for the advice of the Climate Change Committee to be made available before Report and Third Reading, otherwise the remaining stages of the Bill will be incredibly frustrating.
If we are not careful, the Minister’s line to take on Report and Third Reading will be the same as in Committee, and the headline out there, in the The Guardian and other newspapers, will be “Government betray 80 per cent. target”. Every single person who has taken the time and trouble to get in touch with us, to write to us, to send us postcards, such as those involved in “The Big Ask” campaign, will feel betrayed. As an Opposition MP, I will be quite happy if large numbers of people think they are being betrayed by the Government, as that will add to the increasing army of people who are frustrated with this Government’s performance. In practical terms, however, it would be good news if we could carry that constituency with us, thinking that Parliament has achieved something.
It is a matter of the Minister trying to work out with his officials a line to take. It would not be difficult for the Government to say that so far as is possible, they will try to ensure that Report and Third Reading of the Bill take place after the Climate Change Committee has given advice to Ministers. That advice could then be reflected by what the Government say on Report and Third Reading, not least by what they say to the House about how much attention they will pay to the advice of the Climate Change Committee. In that way, we would know what the Climate Change Committee has to say and how much regard the Government will pay to that advice. Otherwise, we will have a frustrating Report and Third Reading and the likely victims of that frustration will be not the Opposition, but the Government and the Government’s supporters.
All the contributors so far have spoken sensibly, and the amendment is well intentioned and reasonable. The hon. Member for Northavon put his finger on it when he said that the Committee does not doubt that the ministerial team would like the amendment to be made, but there is a widespread sneaking suspicion that the enthusiasm and commitment of the DEFRA Ministers to an effective policy is not shared by the rest of the Government. We have a Prime Minister who perhaps does not get it in the same way as his predecessor did. He is more battered by expediency and is inclined to take all matters into consideration and dither when confronted with hard decisions. [Hon. Members: “Ah”] Well, the record of the past 12 months speaks for itself, but this is hardly the place to debate that.
It would greatly help to inform the debate and the decision-making process later in the year if we had access to the committee’s views. Opposition Front-Bench members hold to the position that the critical decision to set the target should be taken on the basis of the committee’s informed opinion, and it would make eminent sense to move forward by one month the date on which the committee must advise the Secretary of State on the resetting of the 2050 target. I have not spoken to Adair Turner, but there are concerns that by truncating the process, we might limit the scope of the committee’s considerations or place on it an unwanted additional burden.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Northavon, and I am willing to take at face value what he said about his discussion with Lord Turner, without attributing anything directly to the committee chairman. It is important that we take into account the committee’s views, if possible. The inconvenient truth is that the Bill will not have received Royal Assent by 1 November 2008, and we worry about how to legislate for a deadline that will have passed by the time the Bill becomes law. I hope the Minister will clarify today exactly what powers the shadow Committee on Climate Change will have prior to the Bill’s enactment.
The amendment draws our attention to how slow the Government have been in taking the Bill through Parliament. If they had followed the timetable that we all expected, the Bill would have passed through both Houses and become law by the summer recess, or sooner, which would have given the Committee on Climate Change exactly six months in which to produce its report. As it stands, however, the shadow committee will be official for a number of weeks at best before it must report on the 2050 target. That situation is far from ideal, and I commend the Liberal Democrats for tabling the amendment, if for no other reason than to highlight the Government’s procrastination on such a vital piece of legislation.
Allegations of betrayal have been made over the 80 per cent. target, but yesterday both Opposition parties had an opportunity to make an important contribution to the achievement of that target. They could have supported the application of the new variable vehicle excise duty system to the existing vehicle fleet, but refused to do so. In discussing the importance of that target, we must recognise the need to support the mechanisms and policies that will achieve it, and not just make vague gestures endorsing the target itself.
Although I am slightly aggrieved that the Liberal Democrats have stolen my intellectual copyright, the amendment has some merit and I hope the Minister will respond sympathetically. My comments on Tuesday did not refer only to bringing forward the date of the full report, but left open the option of an interim report. Furthermore, I do not think that 1 November is the only date that could be considered for either the full or the interim report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North speaks with characteristic profundity, to quote the hon. Member for Northavon. I will remind him of that on future amendments.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northavon, who has helped the Committee. He talked to the Secretary of State, giving notice of his intention, and credited my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North in that conversation. The hon. Member for Northavon has also talked to the chairman of the shadow committee to see what is possible. Let me try to help the Committee in two ways—to echo you, Mr. Cook, the good news and the bad news. I think that the good news outweighs the bad news, unlike your news, Mr. Cook—we will miss you this afternoon.
That is what it says in the brief.
I shall help the Committee by quoting subsection (3):
“The Committee must give its advice under this section before 1st December 2008.”
When we put the figure in, we were not in the position that we are in now—we did not know when Report and Third Reading would be. Indeed, the suggestion by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle on the alleged delay would have made the problem worse. Pragmatically, we felt that a requirement to provide advice before December gives sufficient time.
As has been said, at the moment the committee is a shadow one. In accordance with the conventions of Parliament, the committee can spend taxpayers’ money, because the Bill has had Second Reading. However, anything that the committee does before it is vested has no legal import. Therefore, the advice itself, and the relationship of the Government and Parliament to that advice, is not based in statute—our Bill—until the committee has been vested, which cannot take place until the Bill has received Royal Assent. I had hoped that I would get credit for what I thought was beautiful tapestry with the date, because 1 December is the day before the Queen’s Speech—I thought that that would be obvious, but it clearly was not. Seriously, the date means before 1 December, and I am more than happy to make that clear to the shadow committee and its chair.
Secondly, advice on the 2° target and what we may be able to do under our Bill is in the interests of Parliament, and I have given a commitment to seek advice and to take a decision on that. Having interim advice on, for example, the long-term target would clearly benefit Parliament and deliberations on Third Reading and Report. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle was cruel to my leader, saying that he has been “battered by expediency”, although I point to last night’s vote for a case of battering with expediency. However, I will keep away from partisan points.
If we were simply acting expediently, we would accept the point of the hon. Member for Banbury and agree with the amendment. The person whose life would be easiest as a result would be my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—or mine and my hon. Friend’s. Seriously, if we were to pass the amendment as it stands at the moment, the committee would still not be based on statute, because of the lack of Royal Assent. We have to remember that the committee does not legally exist.
Is anyone really saying that they will not accept the advice of the committee, if the committee does not legally exist? Surely what we want in Parliament, and what the public wants, is the advice of the committee. We do not want some technical, legal assurance that the committee exists in statute. We want to know the advice of those wise men—[Interruption.]—and women. It is not the legal definition, but the opinion of that group of experts that we seek.
I understand the political point that is being made—of course I do—but I am seeking to defend the status of law. Opposition Members have said that it is not DEFRA Ministers whom they do not trust, but the rest of the Government. One cannot knowingly table an amendment to instruct a committee that does not exist, because it would have no status in law. Clearly, if the committee were able to make public its views and its interim advice, if we can use that phrase, it would have a huge policy import. However, all the debates that we had on Tuesday about the relationships between the committee and the Government, and the Government and Parliament, would mean nothing. It would be a Del Boy clause.
As the Minister probably gathered, no one particularly wants this amendment, but we want an undertaking from the Minister that he will write an elegant letter to the chair of the shadow Committee explaining that we would like this advice before Report and Third Reading. It is very simple. What we really want to hear from the Minister is how he gets off the hook. The most shocking thing that I have heard today is the idea of a Liberal spokesman rampaging across the machinery of government speaking to chairs of shadow committees. The Minister should get a grip on this, and we will not have the Liberals interfering in the machinery of government, which they have absolutely no place to do. That is the most shocking thing about all this. If the Minister can get a grip on the matter, and ensure that by the time that we come to Report and Third Reading, we can elegantly deal with without anyone feeling betrayed, it would be really wonderful.
I will take the hon. Gentleman’s sound advice. I have tried to answer him and give him the undertaking that he needs by pointing out the clause’s reference to “before 1 December”, and I undertake formally to bring that to the attention of the chairman of the shadow Committee.
Large numbers of hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that we should do what is being said. I do not see this as a partisan point. I am sure that there will be those who say that if we are able to do this, the Government are caving in under pressure. There is a range of views on this, and it is wrong to say that it is the members of the Government who are looking for a way out of this. It was the Prime Minister in his speech in November who put the question before us.
I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s argument, which appears to be rooted exclusively in issues of law. He has not mentioned to the Committee any concerns about practicality or pressure. Can we take it that his understanding is that the November deadline will not create practical problems?
The hon. Gentleman is astute. I have not used those arguments, because the answer is that I do not know. When we looked at the timing, we judged that before 1 December, which is a Monday, was reasonable. I do not know the answer, and I do not know for sure the view of the chairman on the question whether making an interim report, or some such advice, public would separate the long-term goals from the medium-tern goals. In my view, is possible to do that, but I do not know whether that is the chairman’s view.
If the Minister’s position is rooted in honest ignorance, may I make a suggestion? One of my concerns about practicalities is that the committee will have another extremely important job to do by 1 December, which is to pass comment on not one but three carbon budgets. Those are incredibly important judgments to make, so I am a little puzzled why there is such a hard line on 1 December. Is there room for some flexibility?
The answer concerns the relationship between that advice and the Chancellor’s Budget in March, if one sees the beautiful tapestry. There will be the pre-Budget report, the advice and then, of course, the Budget. Remembering that the pre-Budget report is a consultation, the committee’s advice will dovetail with those events. The key words are “before 1st December”.
To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, the Bill creates the committee. The Secretary of State will make a commencement order to bring the committee into existence before its advice is given, but, obviously, that can happen only after Royal Assent. Ahead of that date, the committee cannot legally exercise any of the legal functions that the Bill grants it, which is the formal legal position.
I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for Northavon. His point is helpful to the good sense of the debate in Parliament and consequently to the Government —I nearly said “for once”, but that would be unfair.
Let me state my understanding of what the Minister has said. He has emphasised that the law requires the matter to be dealt with before 1 December, which does not necessarily mean that date, and he has undertaken to write to the chair of the committee and to publish that letter. I understand and hope that that letter will make explicit reference to the parliamentary timetable and the advantage to Parliament of receiving an interim indication of the committee’s thinking prior to our further deliberations.
My emphasis was on drawing attention to the words “before 1st December” in clause 33(3), and on pointing out the parliamentary timetable.
I am disappointed that we will be deprived of your tender stewardship for the remaining stages of the Committee, Mr. Cook.
Let me press the Minister for clarification on three points. I do not want this to turn into the war of the Select Committees, but the excellent report of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the draft Bill raised certain points about the committee’s powers under clause 33, the resources available to it, its independence and the duty on the Government to accept its advice. The Select Committee clearly stated in paragraph 85:
“The Committee on Climate Change should not be a policy-making or delivery body. It should be focussed on the provision of advice...but it must not be prevented from advising the Government on any policy matters that may come to its attention while carrying out its duties.”
Paragraph 86 states:
“In order to establish the independence of the Committee on Climate Change, the Secretary of State should be required to accept its recommendations without further debate.”
The Committee concluded that that would place
“the Committee’s advice alongside that of the Monetary Policy Committee whose interest rate decisions are not challengeable by the Chancellor of the Exchequer except under very extreme circumstances.”
In paragraph 88, the Committee stated:
“We do not see that the Bill prevents the Committee on Climate Change from recommending the mid- and long-term targets, but it is not clear that the Committee will have this power. We recommend that by 2009 the Committee should review and recommend to the Secretary of State what the 2020 and 2050 target should be... In addition, the Committee should have the power and responsibility to make recommendations to the Secretary of State at any time regarding the mid- and long-term targets.”
The Committee went on to consider what resources there should be. In response to the earlier amendment, the Minister said that, legally, the committee does not exist. However, it is currently being resourced in shadow form and the resources will go up incrementally as the committee takes legal effect.
In paragraph 101, the Select Committee states:
“It is imperative that the staff and information resources available to the Committee on Climate Change are completely independent of Government. We recommend that independent consultants be asked by the Government to recommend the correct level of resources available to the Committee in order to establish that it is properly resourced.”
I do not see any opportunity in the later stages of the Bill to discuss the important matter of resources. Usually such discussion takes place in one of the debates on the schedules, but I see no reference to resources in schedule 1. Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State will be obliged to follow the advice? We have established that the advice will be published and debated. Will the Secretary of State be obliged to follow that advice? Are we satisfied that the committee will be independent of Government, and can the Minister convince us that the resources available to the committee to perform its functions are adequate for its task?
I thank the hon. Lady, who was reporting the findings of the Select Committee, some of which go beyond clause 33. If I may, Mr. Cook, I will respond accordingly, in the spirit of the Select Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Cook.
As the committee is a NDPB, the rules governing it are covered by those governing NDPBs. That is why schedule 1, which relates to some of the administrative matters pertaining to the committee, is not as comprehensive as it might be. The committee draws its accountability rules from NDPBs.
I refer to the Government’s response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the Command Paper published last October, “Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill: The Government Response to Pre-Legislative Scrutiny and Public Consultation”. That is why the relationship between the committee, its advice and the Government is as it was laid out in our debate on clauses 1 and 2. It is advice that can be rejected, and that is how an NDPB operates. The advice is public. The transparency that the Committee also recommended is important in meeting some of its objections.
Lord Turner appeared before the Select Committee in March. He stated:
“It is the role of our Committee certainly to consider the range of policies which are in place and the effectiveness of those policies because without that we cannot recommend what is a credible budget. There is no point in us simply saying we think the budget by 2020 should be X,Y and Z without being able to tell a story of a credible path from here to there.”
I hope that helps.
On resources, I am certainly not the most experienced Minister, but I am experienced enough to know that whatever is granted is never enough. Please do not quote that out of context. However, Lord Turner, who is the chairman of the Climate Change Committee, told the EFRA Committee that he thought that the resources were adequate for the job in hand. Of course, that will have to be reviewed.
The size of the secretariat is important. Again, Lord Turner confirmed when he gave evidence to the Select Committee in March that he was satisfied with the arrangements. However, I am mindful that the size and shape of the secretariat will need to be regularly reviewed as the work of the committee progresses.
Further to what I described as a beautiful tapestry, I draw the attention of the Committee to the work of the UK climate impact programme, which will have a significant bearing on the debate. If it creates surprises and projections that cause us to readdress the science, I may need to review the resources that are available to the committee. That is far outside the remit of clause 33, but it might be helpful.
I cannot go into detail on all the questions, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for Vale of York for reporting for the Select Committee. We have representation on the Public Bill Committee from both the main Select Committees. That was a wise decision on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden. I point out that DEFRA is currently subject to 28 different Select Committee inquiries.