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Clause 35

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 3rd July 2008.

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Reports on Progress

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 21

Government new clause 4—Reporting on progress in connection with adaptation.

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

We have already discussed how the second aspect of the sub-committee’s role would be to provide scrutiny of the implementation of the adaptation programme. We set out that function in new clause 4. I should clarify that the scrutiny of the programme would be for England and reserved matters only, as the devolved Administrations have their own adaptation programmes. That new function of the committee will ensure that Parliament receives regular, independent reports on the progress that is being made on the implementation of the objectives, proposals and policies in the adaptation programme.

The committee will consider how much is being done by the UK Government, their agencies and everyone else involved in ensuring that we are adapting to a changing climate. The committee will report to Parliament every two years, at the same time as every second report on progress on mitigation issues under clause 35.

We have listened carefully to the calls that have been made for annual progress reporting, but we do not think that that is justified in the case of adaptation. Adaptation to a changing climate is a long-term issue. It takes time for many of the benefits of the programme to be realised and to be measured against our assessment of the changing climate. Those assessments are being undertaken on a five-yearly basis.

We will use our annual public service agreement reporting to highlight any significant changes and provide a full report under the Bill every other year. We think that that arrangement is a better use of resources as it allows us to focus more effort on delivery of the programme. However, we have introduced a provision that will allow us to bring forward annual reporting, should that prove to be both practically worth while and necessary at a later time.

Clause 35(3) currently requires the Committee on Climate Change to comment on the Government’s adaptation programme. However, that is now superseded by new clause 4, so Government amendment No. 13 will remove those sections. As we are giving the committee a formal role in providing independent progress reports on the adaptation programme, we propose, through Government amendment No. 21, to remove the Secretary of State’s functions under clause 36(3). As we will discuss later, we have also tabled Government amendment No. 22, which proposes removing clause 57, which requires the Secretary of State to produce regular progress reports on adaptation.

The amendments will remove the requirements for the Government to produce regular reports on adaptation as they are no longer necessary. The Secretary of State will instead respond to the committee’s progress reports on the adaptation programme at the same time as he responds in relation to mitigation, which will be by 15 October in the reporting year.

The existing provisions under clause 36, alongside new clause 4, will ensure that the reports of the Committee on Climate Change include advice on progress on adaptation, and the Government will have a duty to respond to those reports. Government amendment No. 21 thus simply removes duplication from the Bill.

This reporting process will improve existing arrangements and ensure compatibility with the new role of the adaptation sub-committee. It will ensure that Parliament receives regular independent assessments of how well the Government are doing in delivering the adaptation programme, and will require the Government to respond to those. It will also join up reporting on adaptation and mitigation, which is really important, and it will provide flexibility for the future if more frequent reporting is needed.

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

I will be brief. My comments on this set of amendments will be similar to those that I made on the previous group, on which I appreciate that the Minister went some way to assuage our concerns. Although I recognise that some tidying up of the Bill is required, we must be careful and judicious and note what powers we may be diluting in the process.

The Minister has alluded to this in her comments, but will she say whether it is the Government’s wish to remove the requirement for the independent committee to report to Parliament on the Government’s progress on the adaptation programme? Why is it necessary to remove the Secretary of State’s duty to give an assessment to Parliament on the progress that the Government of the day have made towards meeting their adaptation policies specifically? Will the Minister assure the Committee that new clause 4 is in no way inferior in its demands on the Government to the clauses that it will replace? We would appreciate a degree of clarity on that.

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

I have similar concerns about the amendments. Government amendment No. 13 is a rather strange dilution of the reporting requirement on adaptation, in that it will no longer be annual. The Minister argued that mitigation and the associated long-term strategies justify an annual report by the Secretary of State, but that somehow adaptation should be excluded from annual reporting. Adaptation is a matter of current Government policy on flood budgets, health strategies and transport infrastructure, which, as we all know, changes from month to month, let alone from year to year, so I find her argument rather strange. Perhaps she would reiterate exactly why she thinks that adaptation, in particular, is not a matter for immediate annual reporting concern.

The Minister said that Government amendment No. 21 would remove simple duplication, but that is not quite the case. Clause 56(3), which would be removed, refers specifically not only to reporting on adaptation, but

“the progress made towards implementing the objectives, proposals and policies set out in earlier programmes.”

There is no such wording under new clause 4 or any of the other Government amendments so, in a sense, the proposal seems to be yet another wriggly amendment designed to remove the immediate responsibility of the Government to report on something specific. In this case, it would be whether they were actually meeting the targets and objectives that they had set out in previous adaptation programmes. That is important reporting, and it should stay in the Bill.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste) 1:15 pm, 3rd July 2008

I turn first to what was said by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. I need to reiterate that we are in no sense diluting matters. We are removing requirements that existed for the Government before we decided to give the power to the committee. The committee will be asked to make an independent assessment of progress on the Government’s adaptation programme. It will be giving advice on the progress that is made. There is no way in which such action will dilute things. Indeed, we would have expected the hon. Gentleman to understand that an independent committee undertaking such work is likely to strengthen provisions rather than dilute them.

The progress reports will cover all adaptation programmes, past and present. That is shown by the reference under new clause 4 to “programmes”. We believe that adaptation requires more time in respect of the progress that is made. The subject is enormous. It covers every aspect of our society, country, people and economy in their adaptation to climate change. We have non-statutory programmes at present, and we believe that annual reporting is unlikely to give a proper analysis of what is happening and of the Government’s progress.

I am talking about an analysis of the progress made against the programme that the Government have set. The hon. Member for Cheltenham suggested that we should retain clause 56(3), but the issues that it covers are more concerned with policies than progress. I stress that there is no point in duplication. We need the Government to have an adaptation programme and for proper scrutiny to be made of its progress. Amendment agreed to.

Clause 35, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.