New Clause 10

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:45 pm on 8th July 2008.

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Carbon impact assessments

‘(1) After the publication of proposals and policies for meeting carbon budgets under section 13, the Secretary of State must for any new measure, proposal or policy made in any area of administration carry out an assessment of how that measure, proposal or policy will affect UK emissions and what effect it will have on the achievement of the 2050 target (a “carbon impact assessment”).

(2) If a carbon impact assessment shows that a measure, proposal or policy would increase UK emissions, then it must also set out the measures necessary to ensure that the 2050 target is nonetheless achieved.

(3) A carbon impact assessment must be published at the same time as the measure, proposal or policy to which it relates.’.—[Gregory Barker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is intended to formalise a policy that already exists informally in government. The requirement to assist the carbon impact of any policy is to be adopted across the Administration. The Prime Minister said in a speech last November that every new policy would be examined for its impact on carbon emissions—not just those that reduce emissions, but those that increase them. When emissions rise in one sector, we will have to achieve corresponding falls in another. That does not just mean every new Act of Parliament. It means that all policies, proposals and spending commitments right across Government must be assessed in that way. That  was an ambitious statement from the Prime Minster, and we welcomed it then and we welcome it now. However, we would like to see that policy enshrined in law and linked to the duty on the Secretary of State to report on the proposals and policies for meeting the carbon budget as required under clause 13 of the Bill. If it is not, how can the public be confident that the de facto requirement is being followed? How can they be confident that successive Governments, between 2010 and 2050, will take seriously the word of a weak Prime Minister in 2007?

One only need to have listened to our previous debate on the enormous yet unaccounted carbon pollution from the Export Credit Guarantee Department to see that while an unwritten requirement might exist in the Government to assess the carbon impact of any new policy, that does not stop different Departments from carrying on regardless. DBERR’s support for a new and unabated coal-burning power plant at Kingsnorth also suggests that the writ of the Prime Minister’s words of last December does not currently extend to every reach of his Government, so we must do better. That is why our new clause would require the Secretary of State to order a formal assessment of how any new measure, proposal or policy across any Government Department would affect our carbon budgets and the 2050 targets.

Moreover, if the assessment showed that the new policy would increase UK emissions, the report would have to set out the measures necessary to ensure that the 2050 target was nevertheless achieved. The impact assessment must be published at the same time as the proposed policy to which it relates. That will prevent a situation in which the Government can say that while the impact assessments concludes, the emission levels will increase as a result of the policy. The process has already progressed too far to stop it.

Lord Rooker said in the other place:

“legislation is often made toward the end of policy development, so a test applied only at that stage would not, in itself, achieve much.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2008; Vol. 699, c. 487.]

We believe that our new clause would prevent that situation from arising by requiring the assessment to be published at the same time as the policy proposal to which it relates. It is about enhancing the joined-up nature of government, and the adequacy of our political response to the challenge that we face. Do we want to continue with business as usual, allowing the opening of new airport runways and the building of new coal-powered plants, all without questioning the contributing effect that such decisions will have on our carbon reduction targets; or do we want truly to change the way in which we do government so that we can respond effectively to the climate change agenda, rather than progressing with a patchwork of non-joined-up and all too often contradictory policies?

I conclude by quoting Abraham Lincoln. He said:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present...we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves”.

That is what the new clause challenges us to do: to think anew, and to conduct government in a way that is commensurate with the challenge that we face from  dangerous, man-made climate change. It demands a new, joined-up, big-picture approach from Government. If we are to succeed, that is what we need.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham 8:00 pm, 8th July 2008

Order. I believe that this is a convenient moment to suspend the Committee. We will resume at 9 pm.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

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

I want to pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon. He is probably involved in a particularly vital pudding.

I appreciate the intention behind new clause 10 and, in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, we are trying our best to support those on the Conservative Front Bench when they make sensible suggestions. However, I must say that the new clause is a little ropey. It is not as good as new clause 11, which is to follow. It first commits the sin of loose wording. We have the commitment to publish a carbon impact assessment

“for any new measure, proposal or policy made in any area of administration”.

That is quite a broad spread. Does it mean that, if the Charity Commission wants to revise the public benefit test guidance for public schools, on line and thus not even publish anything, it has to conduct a carbon impact assessment before doing so?

To implement such a change, the Charity Commission will have to send an e-mail to public schools, and probably to the Cabinet Office to prepare it for the flak from outraged Tory MPs, and that will take electricity, which will result in a slight increase in carbon emissions. It will then have to produce not only the carbon impact assessment itself, but set out the measures necessary to ensure that the 2050 target is achieved none the less. That is a big ask, and an expensive ask for the Charity Commission.

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

There is no ask at all. On something so mundane and simple, no action would need to be taken. A whole set of actions cannot be constructed when none is needed. A degree of consent is required when dealing with such matters. Common sense can be applied to the interpretation of such a measure.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I do not see much scope for common sense in the wording before us. The new clause states that the Secretary of State

“must for any new measure...in any area of administration”, and that sounds much too broad. Furthermore, the new clause seems to go against the spirit of some amendments that we considered earlier, particularly those that sought to bring issues of biodiversity into a broader sense of environmental impact. Instead, it would again narrow issues just to the impact of carbon.

In contrast to the example that I cited, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle rightly highlighted major issues, such as Kingsnorth or Heathrow, but an  environmental impact assessment was conducted in respect of the Heathrow consultation. There were assessments of carbon emissions, the impact on carbon emissions and certainly the economic cost of carbon. The Heathrow consultation went the wrong way because the shadow price of carbon was set at the wrong level, so the environmental impact was not sufficiently strongly weighted in that consultation. We ought to be wresting with those sorts of issues in respect of major projects, and I am not sure that the new clause would achieve that end. It is well intentioned, but not well designed.

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

I hope that you managed to get something to eat, Mr. Atkinson, to sustain you through our fascinating deliberations.

A similar new clause was tabled in the other place. It might have been identical. My argument against it is that consideration of the impact of policies on emissions is already a central part of the policy-making process throughout Whitehall, with a system in place to make sure that it happens. Like the hon. Member for Cheltenham, I agree with the intent of the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, which is again urging firm action to be taken. However, as was argued in the Lords, that is already in place.

Detailed requirements and guidance on carbon impact assessments are already on the public websites of DEFRA and the Better Regulation Executive, and are followed by all Departments.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I happen to live and work right next door to the new Ministry of Justice. The Ministry has not entered its building yet, but it is taking possession of it. The lights are on all night, every night. I wonder at what point someone will take note of the carbon footprint involved. I would like someone to, because I could then go to sleep without having the lights burning into my room. I have to declare an interest there. However, I remember that as the Minister responsible for what were called Green Ministers, it was difficult to get people to do what we wanted them to do. Can the Minister help by telling us—if he will not accept the new clause—whether there are ways in which we could help him to do more in this area? This is a serious issue.

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

That is a good example, and the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is the carbon reduction commitment. When that comes in—all Departments will be covered by it—the Ministry will have to put a price on it. We already have the Sustainable Development Commission report into Whitehall, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ensured was published and circulated. We have taken measures and are moving in the right direction, but the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The CRC will factor into the finances. Once one gets the finance directors involved in such decisions, hearts and minds tend to follow. I think that it was Mario Puzo who said in “The Godfather” that he wanted the meeting of the five families to be held in a bank because there is nothing

“more conducive to pure reason, than the atmosphere of money.”

I take that example.

My point before that helpful intervention was about the new procedures for impact assessments. Members may wish to recall that in May 2007 a new format for impact assessments was introduced to replace the then regulatory impact assessments, and in November of  that year it became the compulsory format for all impact assessments. That format includes a requirement that the impact of policies on both carbon and the wider environment is considered and quantified. If one looks at impact assessments for Government Bills, one sees that taken into account. That approach ensures that each Department is required to consider fully the impact on carbon of its policies, and to make that clear in its impact assessments. One of the jobs of Ministers nowadays is to sign those off. The current impact assessment process requires policy makers to take carbon into account throughout the policy development process.

The detailed requirements and guidance on carbon impact assessments—as I was saying—are published on the websites of DEFRA and the Better Regulation Executive. For each policy, an assessment must be carried out as to whether it could result in a significant increase or decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and where possible—before the CRC—that change must be given a monetary value, including costs and benefits. The use of that impact assessment is now well embedded in Whitehall procedures, and helps to ensure that Departments are fully aware of the carbon impact of their policies. We also require that carbon assessment processes are kept up to date and are responsive to developments in impact assessment procedures and in the measurement of the impact of carbon emissions. So, it is likely that enshrining these measures in legislation could restrict that responsiveness and lead to inflexibility—but that is not my main argument.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed out some of the drafting problems and I will not repeat them. We should also remember the important role that the Committee on Climate Change will play in monitoring progress. Clause 35 requires that committee to look at progress towards the targets, and the committee will do that across the board, looking not just at the proposals and policies set out in the clause 14 report that we agree. So, if the committee is concerned about increasing emissions, I expect hon. Members will point this out. The intention of the new clause is already covered by the new impact assessment and the incoming carbon reduction commitment. My second argument would be to repeat the arguments of the hon. Member for Cheltenham.

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

I will not rehearse the arguments. It is the Prime Minister’s stated aim that every new policy would be examined for its impact on carbon emissions. Although the Minister points to the Government’s record, anyone who looks at that record in earnest would find it hard to believe that that was the case in view of Government policy on such issues as Kingsnorth, airport expansion and the list goes on.

The purpose of the amendment was to try to draw the Government to stick by the Prime Minister’s fine words last November. I take comfort, if not from the Government’s record, from what the Minister said about the future role of the Climate Change Committee and the fact that it will approach this. We would have preferred to find a way to pin down the Government to ensure that this was enshrined right across Whitehall, but in light of the Minister’s words and the lack of support from elsewhere, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.