Clause 59

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 3rd July 2008.

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Guidance by Secretary of State to reporting authorities

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

I beg to move amendment No. 72, in clause 59, page 27, line 24, at end insert—

‘( ) ensuring that proposals and policies for adaptation to climate change in the exercise of their functions contribute to sustainable development.’.

The amendment is on a similar theme to some of the other amendments that we have discussed, so I will not trouble the Committee for long. The amendment would make a correction in relation to a pretty clear requirement for the reporting authorities, as well as the Government, to pay attention to the concept of sustainable development. Clause 56(2), which is part of the Secretary of State’s programme for adaptation to climate change, contains a clear and admirable subsection that the Government have not tried to delete:

“The objectives, proposals and policies must be such as to contribute to sustainable development.”

That is admirable, but there is no equivalent obligation on the reporting authorities.

Under the instructions given in clause 59, the Secretary of State will simply ask the reporting authorities to prepare proposals and policies. That may seem somewhat like dancing on the head of a pin, but there are important parallels. As I mentioned before, a good example is flooding. An authority—for instance, one with responsibility for water, such as the Environment Agency with its flood risk analysis role, or water companies—could create a plan that adapted to climate change but not in a sustainable way.

I shall quote the RSPB, which, for example, said in response to droughts and floods:

“To be truly sustainable, responses to droughts and floods must work with, and benefit from, healthy wetland ecosystems and the services they provide, such as flood storage and water purification. Responses focussed wholly on new hard flood defences and increased ‘end of pipe’ treatment will damage the environment further, reduce its ability to support human needs in the future, and cost society more.”

I know from conversations that we have had only this week that the Minister accepts many of the arguments made by the RSPB and the Blueprint for Water coalition that we must take a holistic approach to issues such as  flood defence, flood response and drought. Given that the Minister is not unsympathetic to that point of view and that we have an anomaly in the Bill—the Minister points to his hon. Friend—I hope that both Ministers are therefore equally sympathetic to the point of view advocated by the Blueprint for Water coalition and the RSPB and that they will embrace the amendment with open arms. I am sure that the Minister would not wish to refuse every reasonable amendment that the Opposition move in Committee.

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

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for drafting and moving the amendment. The Committee will note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle has made sustainable development a priority in his remarks in Committee. He spoke eloquently of its importance in his words on clause 55 and, more specifically, clause 13. Without wishing to pre-empt remarks on clause 60, we consider the topic of local co-operation and consideration in drawing up adaptation policies to be extremely important. That is why we are delighted and happy to support the amendment.

My hon. Friend made the case earlier in his discussion on amendment No. 55. When the Government or local government are drawing up plans for adaptation to climate change, they must be mindful of the need for sustainable development. The long-term view—the big picture—is what we are all looking towards. It is not just a case of “If you don’t like the heat stay out of the kitchen,” or “You can’t make an omelette without smashing eggs.” We believe that that would be a derogation of our responsibility as political leaders and policy makers, so I support my hon. Friend’s remarks on clause 55. When it comes to preparing for local adaptation issues, such as flooding, responses focused wholly on new hard flood defences can damage the environment further and reduce its ability to support human needs in the future and will ultimately cost society more.

I should like to make a personal plea to the Minister. The title of my constituencyVale of York—suggests that I represent the low-lying areas around and north of York. In fact, it is probably about a 65 per cent. functional and an occasional flood plane. I am sad to say that following the next election, I shall no longer be able to speak for Vale of York. Despite its many mentions on the “Today” programme for its climate and weather conditions, Vale of York will be no more. I hope that she will look favourably on the amendment, because I believe that the way forward has to be local and small alleviation schemes such as the one that I propose. Through the good offices of the Environment Agency, the scheme is preventing Thirsk from flooding again by allowing the land upstream to flood and rewarding the landowner for letting it do so. I conclude by saying that there must be a responsibility on local policy makers to make decisions, while still considering the requirements of sustainable development and the long-term view.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

Yes. First, let me respond to the good arguments that the hon. Member for Cheltenham made about the fact that we cannot take a simplistic approach  to adaptation and that many forms of adaptation may not be sustainable. One of the important things that we are doing through the Committee on Climate Change is to look at adaptation and mitigation, because a means of adaptation that creates greater quantities of emissions would interfere with our aims on mitigation. We agree with what he has said. It is true to say that, whereas hard defences were perhaps thought to be the only way forward for flood prevention and were often the preferred request of local people, we now know that there are more sophisticated ways in which we can try to protect areas and enable them to adapt to climate change. That means using the natural environment and working with it, rather than trying to resist, as in the case of rising sea levels. We are minded to take a holistic approach, and I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for floods would reiterate that.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for her reassuring comments, but the purpose of the amendment is not about the Secretary of State or Ministers taking a holistic approach; it is about asking the reporting authorities to take a holistic approach as well. In that sense, it is a purely innocuous amendment, but one that might be useful to Ministers in trying to get the right result from their reporting authorities.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that he knows that many of the reporting authorities are guided by the Government’s strategy and are in receipt of considerable funds to carry out their plans, so the connection between the Government and the reporting authorities is important.

As I have repeated ad nauseam, adapting in ways that reinforce and deliver sustainable development is already well covered by the fact that the objectives, proposals and policy of the adaptation programme under clause 56 must contribute to sustainable development. A number of key reporting authorities, such as regional development agencies, Ofwat and Ofgem, are covered by the guidance and already have a duty to have regard to sustainable development.

I offer my assurances to the Committee that the statutory guidance for public bodies will provide guiding principles on sustainable ways in which to address climate risks. It will help public bodies and statutory undertakers to demonstrate that their adaptation plans consider sustainable development. That was set out in the briefing of my noble Friend Lord Rooker, which gave the key headings that we propose for the guidance. We will develop the guidance following the usual consultation processes so that it will reflect accurately the needs of stakeholders.

Stakeholders who represent a range of sustainable development issues will also be involved in the development of the guidance. When we have a fuller picture of the content of the guidance, we can decide more accurately how sustainable development will be reflected in it. We are also working closely with our statutory advisers—Natural England and the Environment Agency, members of which sit on the working group on developing the guidance—to ensure that we pay full regard to sustainable  development. The challenges and opportunities raised by the need to adapt to climate change also encourage people to think about the interaction among the environment, society and the economy.

The forthcoming “adapting to climate change” website, and the summary document that will accompany it, will set out the Government’s adaptation programme and expand on how the five principles of sustainable development are interpreted with respect to adaptation. I must oppose the amendment, but I hope that my explanation has reassured the hon. Members for Vale of York and for Cheltenham.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45 pm, 3rd July 2008

I am somewhat reassured by the Minister’s words, although I remained mystified about why the Government insist on rejecting a series of Opposition amendments that would strengthen the hand of DEFRA in respect of other authorities. They are apparently so completely in line with the Government’s policy that Ministers think that they are unnecessary. I would have thought that there was no harm, but great advantage, in the Government accepting them. However, on the understanding that they will not support the proposal, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 79, in clause 68, page 31, line 16, leave out paragraph (a).

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

Amendment No. 78 reflects the worry that we have expressed at other stages during the Bill’s passage that the relative importance of DEFRA within the Government as a whole perhaps means that not all agencies and public bodies will have grasped what needs to be done. DEFRA has clearly had to cope with some of the impacts of climate change; arguably, the bluetongue epidemic would not have been possible had the average temperature of the country not been rising, because the infection would not have been able to thrive. Moreover, I am well aware of DEFRA’s role in the Gloucestershire floods last year and the importance of emergency planning on a cross-disciplinary basis, yet some of the agencies listed in the amendment might not have grasped the implications.

The purpose of amendment No. 78 is to put those agencies on notice that change will be required and that the provision will affect their work in a major way. It would make it clear, under the Bill, that they need to start working now on adaptation policy. I suppose that its one weakness compared with some of the other amendments that have been tabled is that the names of agencies tend to change every five minutes, and that many subsidiary amendments might be required each  time the Government reorganise them. Nevertheless, it is important to be specific, and that was why we tabled the amendment.

Amendment No. 79 picks up on something rather peculiar in the Bill. Buried away on page 31, there is a list of bodies that do not count as reporting authorities. Some of those are straightforward: “either House of Parliament”—we can accept that—and devolved authorities and legislatures, which are dealt with in other ways in the Bill and form part of the whole structure. However, the list also exempts Ministers of the Crown, and we would like to remove that exemption. DEFRA is not the whole Government, and it seems reasonable that other Ministers should, from time to time, be asked by the Secretary of State to prepare a report on how they are adapting to climate change.

We have looked at some Departments that govern areas that are responsible for higher emissions than DEFRA. In terms of the impact on people’s well-being, it is again clear that DEFRA will not be responsible for many areas of government that will have to face the main impacts of climate change. The most obvious example is, of course, the Department of Health, where a repetition of the flood events would certainly involve public health issues—I declare a personal interest in that as my wife was the director of public health in Gloucestershire during the floods, and she and her NHS team worked hard to safeguard public health during that emergency. If such emergencies take place much more regularly, that will have a considerable impact on primary care trusts, foundation trusts and other NHS bodies.

If the model of bluetongue on the agricultural side is repeated for human beings, and what were previously tropical diseases start to invade these shores, the Department of Health will have to start planning for adaptation on a major scale. The Department for Transport will also have a major role to play. It might think that one way of adapting to climate change would be to provide plane flights in and out of Heathrow for people affected by climate change in other countries, but that would not be particularly appropriate. The Department for Communities and Local Government will be affected because of the impact of temperature change on existing housing stock and the necessity for local authorities to manage environmental health. There are major impacts with which other Government Departments will have to deal. Why should the Ministers in those Departments be exempt from the Secretary of State’s instructions to prepare policies and report back to Parliament on adaptation? That is a very strange exemption to have in the Bill, and I would like Ministers to justify it.

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

It seems sensible for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the impact of climate change to all those authorities that are vital to the national effort to mitigate the effects of, and to adapt to, climate change. In particular, the involvement of the Health Protection Agency is very appropriate. I have a question for the hon. Member for Cheltenham. The amendment does not strike me as exhaustive. For example, why has the Environment Agency been left out? That is the most appropriate agency, as it is the body that would co-ordinate most recovery efforts and cleaning after a flood.

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

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments. I would welcome specific additions to the list, but the Environment Agency already reports to DEFRA.

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

There are others, such as English Heritage, which is a statutory body that is responsible for many of the most precious and valuable buildings. I was just making a comment.

Climate change would significantly affect human health, and hotter summers will particularly badly afflict the elderly and infirm. The Committee will recall that the 2003 summer heat wave caused an estimated 35,000 deaths across Europe. Thankfully, we do not have too many heat waves in northern Britain, but if such incidents become more frequent, we must ensure that there is optimum communication between our health authorities and the Government. Clearly, Natural England, the Marine and Fisheries Agency, the Water Services Regulation Authority and the other agencies listed in the amendment have a vital role to play in our efforts to mitigate and adapt.

On amendment No. 79, I would like to ask why a Minister of the Crown should be exempt from being considered a reporting authority for the purposes of clauses 59 to 67? Although I agree that the Secretary of State should not be empowered to issue guidance to or give direction to any reporting authorities that are devolved, or to Parliament as a whole, there does not appear to be any reason why the Secretary of State should not be able to issue advice or give direction to a fellow Government Minister. Will the Minister explain why she wishes to retain such a requirement in the Bill?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I have already explained that the statutory guidance on adaptation will help reporting authorities to understand how to assess the risks of climate change and plan any related action.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham offers us a list, but makes a rather good argument for why there should not be a list, given the changing names. That goes to the heart of the issue: there can be a problem whenever there are lists in legislation. He needs to be assured that all reporting authorities will be covered. There was a short exchange about why the Environment Agency was not included, and the reason that he gave was that it reports to DEFRA. However, Natural England and British Waterways also report to DEFRA and they have been included. That illustrates the difficulties. We understand perfectly well the good reasons behind the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but the difficulties of drawing up such lists have also been illustrated.

We propose issuing guidance to all reporting authorities, and any other organisation should be able to access that guidance freely. That will help to ensure greater consistency and robustness in the approach taken by reporting authorities. The guidance will also be publicly available, which we hope will mean that other organisations will have some interest in the guidance, even those that are not required and are not reporting authorities. That makes a specific list of organisations completely unnecessary.

Furthermore, specifying such a list in the Bill would send out the wrong signal to other crucial bodies that are not involved in adaptation by suggesting that they might not be as important as others in our efforts to try  to become a well adapted United Kingdom. In trying to identify key bodies for adaptation, amendment No. 78 misses out important organisations, such as other parts of the health service, local authorities, infrastructure providers and so on. The amendment also includes some organisations that, although not unimportant—they are very important—do not have responsibility for delivering adaptation. I cite the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in that context.

We are committed to producing a strategy for the use of the reporting power in clause 60 within a year of Royal Assent, and will set out what we think are the priority bodies at that time. That will be done in consultation with those bodies and through a study of the existing capacity and tools to address adaptation. We believe that that is a better approach than simply listing bodies. We plan to consult on the guidance, alongside our strategy for use of the adaptation reporting power, early next year. Perhaps those comments make it clear why we need to resist that particular listing.

Let me turn to amendment No. 79. As we discussed on earlier clauses, climate change is an issue for not just DEFRA, but the whole of Government, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said and as has been echoed elsewhere in the Committee. That is even more the case with adaptation, because all sectors of the economy and society are likely to be affected to some degree by the physical impacts of climate change. The definition of reporting authorities that we have adopted in the Bill is therefore intentionally wide to capture all relevant bodies that need to take action. Both hon. Gentlemen referred to the question of Ministers of the Crown not being included in the definition of reporting authorities. Amendment No. 79 suggests altering the Bill so that they are included, so I must look at what that would do.

We believe that the amendment is both unnecessary and constitutionally peculiar. It is unnecessary because the Government already have express duties under clauses 55 and 56 to assess the risks from climate change and to draw up programmes of action, which would encompass action across all areas of central UK Government activity. The amendment simply duplicates those fundamental requirements of the Bill. Frankly, there is little point in giving the Secretary of State a power to ask himself to do what he is already required to do. We will resist the amendments, which would ensure that all Ministers and Departments across Government were listed as the hon. Gentleman suggests, because we believe that we have the working mechanisms within Cabinet government to deliver what is required. Cabinet government is an effective way of ensuring that such policy issues are addressed in a joined-up manner and that decisions can be taken collectively.

Just for the information of the Committee, all Departments already work on adapting to climate change—we are not waiting for the Bill to provide for that. Ministers in every Department are doing such work. I am the Minister with responsibility for adaptation in DEFRA and I have bilaterals with my colleagues. I can assure the Committee that the Department of Health, the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government—I think that that  Department was mentioned—are working on that issue. They have much to tell us, not least of their proposals, which I can assure hon. Members are sustainable.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:00 pm, 3rd July 2008

On the specific issue of the Department of Health—I again refer the Committee to the personal interest that I declared earlier—there are highly developed action and contingency plans in every primary care trust across the country for the human variant of avian flu, which is a potential catastrophe. Whole conferences have been held. Can the Minister give one example of equivalent planning that has been attached to anything to do with adaptation to climate change?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment helpfully suggests to me that he believes that our plans on flooding have progressed in that direction. I would also say to the hon. Gentleman that adaptation is something of a new science. To apply it in a sustainable way, which is what we are all concerned about, will require a great deal of research, effort and learning by everyone in government. We cannot expect adaptation to have already been sorted; there would then be no point in having the Bill and all that goes with it. Adaptation is something that we will have to work on consistently over many years into the foreseeable future. It is not something that is done and dusted, and on which we get a report and that is the end of it. The work will continue for many years across the Government. We would not expect to have complete packages at this stage.

We are saying clearly that the adaptation sub-committee of the Climate Change Committee will examine the Government’s progress on delivering adaptation, provide independent and expert advice on what further action the Government need to take, and deliver that advice. As I have said, Departments are already working closely together and will soon be launching the adaptation website to communicate the Government’s overall approach to responding to the impact of climate change, and to provide a useful framework for developing the programme, including a practical toolkit for use by organisations to help them to adapt to climate change. That will include future priorities for each Department. I was reminded that the Department of Health undertook work in response to the heat waves in 2003, which led to about 2,000 deaths. It has carried out a great deal of planning to deal with the health effects of heat waves that might occur.

We shall include future priorities for each Department and demonstrate the joined-up approach that is taken. We will also publish an accompanying document summarising the cross-Government programme. I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for Cheltenham that all Departments will be engaged in the normal way and that there is no need for the amendment.

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

The Minister’s critique of amendment No. 78 was well informed, as I would expect. I accept that the list is not perfect and that it might contain inconsistencies. However, the fact that it is not as comprehensive as it could be is not an argument against having a list. Some complex and diverse organisations in the further reaches of the Government might think that, in some way, this is not their problem.

I am less reassured and convinced by the hon. Lady’s critique of amendment No. 79. We are trying to construct a framework for the Government’s policy that will be resilient to short-term political storms and calculations. She said that the plans for adaptation would encompass actions by other Ministers and that the Secretary of State for EFRA could report on them. However, encompassing other people’s plans is not the same as issuing guidance and using all the expertise and resources at DEFRA’s disposal to encourage, or even to direct, other Ministers to get a move on and develop plans.

The Department of Health provides a salutary lesson in such matters. We are all starting to talk about adaptation on a grand scale. We would assume that everyone had dealt with mitigation long ago and had been thinking about it for many years, yet the Department of Health issued its first consultation on the response of the NHS to climate change mitigation issues only in the past month. That was a slow response.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

The Minister did not raise the matter, so my understanding might be out of date, but the Crown is indivisible. One Secretary of State cannot prosecute another Secretary of State because they are all part of the Crown. Our constitution is based on the concept of a collective Government. We cannot have a position in which one Secretary of State is trundling off to the High Court to sue another Secretary of State. The proceedings would be struck up as the Crown suing the Crown, but perhaps I have misunderstood the basic principles of constitutional law.

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

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s learned intervention. The clause does not refer to anyone taking legal action against anyone else, but to issuing guidance. If Ministers are not allowed to issue guidance to each other, that must be news to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

The sanction in any legislation is ultimately judicial review, and that works only if there is a sanction. This would necessitate one Secretary of State seeking a sanction against another Secretary of State if one believes that the other has not issued suitable guidance or complied with the terms of the Act.

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

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his well-informed intervention. I understand his point, but it is an unduly pessimistic scenario in which one can issue guidance only if it is backed up by a legal sanction. However, given the Minister’s comments and her uncharacteristic reluctance to accept our positive suggestions once again, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.