New Clause 12

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 pm on 8th July 2008.

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The civil estate

‘(1) The Secretary of State must ensure that the annual emissions of carbon dioxide from each individual government department in 2011 are at least 15.2 per cent. lower than the equivalent emissions of carbon dioxide in the 1990 baseline.

(2) The Secretary of State must ensure that the average energy efficiency per square metre of all property owned by each individual government department in 2010 is at least 15 per cent. higher than the equivalent amount measured as in 1990.

(3) Any property in the control of the QinetiQ Group plc shall not be counted under this section.

(4) The Secretary of State must as soon as reasonably practicable ensure that a reduction is made in the funding of each government department for energy and utilities costs which is in line with the existing Government Sustainable Operations Targets for carbon emissions, waste arisings and water consumption.’.—[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 would place an obligation on the Government to meet targets for carbon reduction and improving energy efficiency in their own estate, within their own Government buildings. The Conservative party has long argued that the Government must be seen to be taking the lead on decarbonising the UK. Politicians cannot ask the public to make the effort without doing the same themselves. Sadly, do as I say, not do as I do, seems to be commonplace these days.

It is paramount that the Government are proactive in their approach to reducing carbon emissions and that they take the lead on tackling carbon emissions in the civil estate. They must also lead the field in promoting energy efficiency and strive for higher levels of energy efficiency on their own patch before pressing others to do the same.

Government figures estimate that if the civil estate reached carbon neutrality, that would save approximately 800,000 tonnes of carbon a year. That figure is the equivalent of filling the Royal Albert hall with carbon dioxide more than 20 times a day.

What is being done to try to move the civil estate towards carbon neutrality? Tony Blair launched “Sustainable Operations on the Government estate” in June 2006, which included a wide variety of targets, such as reversing the upward trend in carbon emissions on the civil estate by April 2007, reducing carbon emissions from offices by 12.5 per cent. by 2010-11 and by 30 per cent. by 2020, and being carbon-neutral by 2012. The Government then established the Sustainable Development Commission to monitor the progress towards these goals.

Progress towards the targets is monitored by the independent SDC. In March, it published its report on the Government’s performance thus far, which was called “Sustainable Development in Government 2007”. I am afraid, however, that that report does not make encouraging reading. It concluded that radical and urgent action was required if the Government were to get anywhere near reaching their targets. It found that

“nearly two-thirds of departments are not on track to meet their own 12.5 per cent. reduction target by 2010/11.”

Furthermore, 15 Departments reported poor progress, or no progress at all.

The report also found that the poor quality of data often provided by Departments made it difficult to arrive at a true and accurate picture. Only one Government Department scored above 90 per cent. of the target points and some Departments did not even submit the data that were required.

The report also noted that there was a dodgy-dossier aspect to the Government figures. It said:

“Pan-government performance...is distorted by the fact that MOD still include data from...QinetiQ”, a defence contractor that has been privatised. The report states:

“The SDC understands that over a third of MOD’s office carbon reductions can be attributed to the privatisation of QinetiQ. If we exclude QinetiQ from MOD’s baseline data the emissions reductions made by MOD between 1999 and 2007 are lower than reported, and as a result carbon emissions from offices across the government estate have only reduced by 0.7 per cent.”

The report also says:

“If we exclude MOD, carbon emissions from the rest of government actually increased by 22 per cent.”

That is a whopping increase.

Jonathon Porritt, the chairman of the SDC, was so disappointed by these findings that he wrote on his blog:

“I find all this so depressing that I now hate having to comment on it. In fact, this year, I opted out of all media work around our report.”

How depressing indeed.

It is time that we challenged the Government on this litany of missed targets and questionable figures. As the Bill is committing this country to future carbon reduction targets, it is only right that the Government are held accountable to the carbon reduction targets that they have set themselves.

In our discussion on indicative annual ranges, we all agreed that it was not acceptable to have one Government passing their unachieved targets on to the next Administration and blaming the new incumbents for not meeting target budgets that they have had little time or opportunity to influence. Neither should we allow the Government to perform as badly on their sustainable operation targets as the SDC has reported that they have, thus allowing them to pass those failed targets on to what I hope will be a new Government in 2010.

New clause 12 would put a requirement on the Secretary of State to ensure that the annual emissions of carbon dioxide from each Department in 2011 are at least 15.2 per cent. lower than the equivalent emissions of carbon dioxide in the 1990 baseline—15.2 per cent. below 1990 levels was the rather arbitrary climate change programme review target set by the Government in 2006. If we are going to ask the nation to meet one target, I suggest that we ask the civil estate to do the same, rather than the existing target of 12.5 per cent. below 1999-2000 levels. Will the Minister please explain where that 12.5 per cent. came from?

New clause 12 also puts a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the average energy efficiency per square metre of all property owned by each Department in 2010 is at least 15 per cent. higher than the equivalent amount as measured in 1990. That will improve the Government’s sustainable operations target by putting the baseline to 1990, rather than the existing Government baseline of 1999-2000, which will hopefully prevent a recurrence of the current situation. At least seven Departments worsened their energy efficiency against the baseline during 2007, including, I am sorry to say, DEFRA—DEFRA increased its energy use by 32 per  cent. per square metre. After the revelation in the Sustainable Development Commission report about the misuse of data from the MOD, I do not need to explain to the Committee why I feel that any property in control of QinetiQ should not be counted towards meeting those targets.

Finally, new clause 12 legislates for the savings made by improved efficiency, resulting in savings in public expenditure. Surely one of the real benefits of becoming more efficient in our use of resources is not only that it is better for the environment, but that it delivers real cost savings, too. Such cost savings to the public purse should result in better value for money for the taxpayer. It is only right and proper that the public see that those efficiency gains result in better use of their tax money and that going green means saving on money as well as waste. In announcing aims for the Government estate in 2006, the then Secretary of State for DEFRA, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), stated:

“We need to ensure that we show that big improvements are possible and we must deliver real value for money for the public purse.”

The sentiment seems to be there from the Government. Unfortunately, all the evidence shows that the performance is not. New clause 12 will assist the Government in turning such words into practice.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:45 pm, 8th July 2008

There are a few problems with the new clause, but it addresses an important issue. Let us take the example of QinetiQ and that part of the defence estate—although I am not sure how that comes under the heading of “Civil estate”. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood will also recall that the Environmental Audit Committee has questioned the Government over that anomaly within the figures. I think that the Government have already conceded that they will not do that in future and that current counting of carbon emissions does not include QinetiQ.

That highlights the dangers of the new clause—it is rather prescriptive and detailed. Therefore, on such issues, it is likely to become inappropriate rather quickly. The Conservative Front Benchers have spent so long trying to emulate new Labour that they have gone a little native and think that legislating is the answer to everything. In fact, there are important ways to tackle such issues that do not really require legislation. The Minister previously referred to the carbon reduction commitment, which will apply to Departments. However, interestingly, some of the better performance statistics from Departments on sustainability concern sourcing renewable energy. That returns us to the carbon reduction commitment, which the Committee has already discussed. There is also the role of good old-fashioned leadership and management, which involves giving clear objectives to Ministers to reduce the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of their Departments, expecting them to meet those objectives and holding them to account if they do not.

The new clause is welcome in the sense that it raises an important issue. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle is quite right to praise the Sustainable Development Commission and its chair—no more than I would expect from a constituent of mine. Some of the other statistics in the SDC report are truly frightening. Carbon emissions from vehicles increased by 1.5 per cent. against the baseline year. That shows no progress towards achieving  the target of a 15 per cent. reduction by 2010-11 and is an area of serious concern. Energy efficiency per square metre improved by 21.7 per cent. against the 1999-2000 baseline. That sounds good, but once again the anomaly with the MOD has played a part in that. Without the improvements made by the MOD, energy efficiency across the rest of the Government estate worsened by 3.3 per cent. The report said that some limited progress was made towards the target for reducing water consumption, but that was rather generous because the actual result was -0.1 per cent. As the report says, that is

“not enough to be on track to meet the target of a 25 per cent. reduction by 2020.”

There is more in the report on recycling, which, as the Minister mentioned earlier, is an important component of trying to tackle climate change. We have some alarming statistics—so alarming that one almost cannot believe that they are true. If the figures supplied by the Departments are right, the Treasury’s percentage of waste recycled in 2005-06 was 46 per cent., and within one year that dropped to 17.5 per cent., which seems to undermine the credibility of the figures.

The National Audit Office also produced a report last year, containing similarly alarming trends. Its headline finding was

“Performance against the key target for reducing carbon emissions by 12.5 per cent. by 2010-11 is poor.”

Its detailed findings looked across the Government estate and found that

“Only five out of 21 civil departments have met, or are making progress against, the carbon reduction target—though four of these five have done so only because of significant reductions in their estate area. The remaining 16 civil departments, including all the largest, have recorded increases in emissions.”

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

The hon. Gentleman must agree that if a private company had figures like that, which it had to reveal in its corporate responsibility report, it would find itself so embarrassed that it would have to do something about them. Therefore, although it may be overtaken in the future, there is something to be said for forcing the Government to take those figures seriously. The figures are there, yet they do not seem to have made a difference to how the Government act.

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

The right hon. Gentleman has made two important points. First, the fact that we have these statistics and are able to discuss them is an important lesson for the private sector. How good it would be if the Government had accepted the need for this kind of transparency in the private sector. Secondly, he is right that if these were the published results of a private-sector company, investors would be asking questions. As Business in the Community always stresses, the meeting of targets like these is a good indicator of good management, leadership and achievement against strategic objectives. Clearly, the Government are not succeeding on that. The activities of the Government are an important proportion of the economy and send an enormously important message to businesses and individuals to do not just as we in the political class say, but as we aspire to do. In that sense, the new clause is welcome, at least in terms of raising important issues for debate.

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

The subject we are debating is important, not least because of the exemplar role that the Government take and the leadership role that all hon. Members accept. My problem with the proposal is that it goes in a  different direction to the overall architecture of the Bill and the changes that it is making. The Sustainable Development Commission report, and the embarrassment that it caused us, have served to improve decision making across Whitehall. Indeed, without giving too many secrets away, its timing had an impact on the force of the carbon reduction commitment in this Bill. I do not wish to duck the responsibility, so let me explain our policy in that regard.

The Bill itself puts a framework in place which supports the most cost-effective approach to reducing emissions. That is an important point from the whole philosophy that the Stern report and others have outlined, both in reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. New clause 12 would introduce several targets for the Government to put in the Bill, which would cherry-pick the Bill’s overall framework as the hon. Member for Cheltenham described in his opening remarks. I accept that several of the targets set out in the new clause are similar to some of the Government’s existing, non-binding targets. However, that is not my central argument.

The central point is that the Bill sets overall targets for carbon emissions across the UK economy. We will need action by business consumers and the Government to meet our budgets. We have all sorts of targets in all sorts of fields in government. Indeed, we are often criticised for that. They undoubtedly play an important part in helping to meet the targets set under the Bill. Making certain targets legally binding, by enshrining them in the Bill as the new clause does, would raise the question why we did not choose other targets. That could lead to a proliferation of targets.

If we take the Ministry of Defence as an example of the activity of Government, the estate—the headquarters—is important but so are the activities of the defence forces. By concentrating on the estate, we may be cutting off our nose to spite our face. The hon. Member for Cheltenham made a point about the MOD’s figures. The way the figures were skewed because of the way in which they were reported has now been taken into account—I accept that point, which shows the value of the exercise. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal talked about disclosure of figures. That is another example, and I do not disagree with him. As I explained in the previous debate, we have a different way of getting to that.

There is a particular problem with the new clause which is this point about using the matrix of energy use per square metre. That needs to be explored, because Departments rationalise their use of space so as to address the research that indicates that on average Government offices are occupied about 25 per cent. less efficiently than the private sector. If the same number of people are put in a smaller area, using that measurement produces a perverse incentive. That point was highlighted in the Sustainable Development Commission report, which recommended a review of the sustainable operations on the Government estate energy efficiency target

“as it causes a conflict between office rationalisation and the reduction of energy consumption.”

So we can cut off our nose to spite our face.

As with the previous new clauses, my argument is not to duck the responsibility of this and future Governments. The right approach is to maintain the framework in the legislation, taking full account of sector-specific issues when setting the budgets. For example, the advice of the  Committee on Climate Change in connection with the budget under clause 34 must include consideration of the sectors of the economy in which there are particular opportunities for meeting the carbon budget.

In its reports on proposals for meeting the budget under clause 14, the Government must specify how the proposals will affect particular sectors of the economy, including them. The carbon reduction commitment and the carbon budget includes the Government estate and the wider public sector estate. For example, that includes not only the headquarters of the Department of Health, but hospitals and health clinics. We therefore believe that we will meet the point that the hon. Gentleman is striving to make with the new clause.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:00 pm, 8th July 2008

If the Government address the point that we are struggling to make, it will be a triumph of hope over experience. They have had 10 years to get to grips with efficiency, and they have had three years to get to grips with the recommendations that I mentioned. Their progress has been abysmal despite all of the mechanisms that the Minister referred to effectively already being in place.

I was therefore disappointed, but not surprised, that the Minister failed to embrace an ambitious target that would have held his Administration to account for their performance up to 2010. I was rather more surprised than disappointed by the response from the Liberal Democrats, who have had a nasty outbreak of not-invented-here syndrome. I was surprised that they failed to support a practical measure that would have added a more robust element to the Bill to help the Government give the leadership that every citizen should rightly be asking for in the drive towards energy efficiency.

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

I am sorry about the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment. I simply think that the impact of the NAO and SDC reports, which we are all quoting already, will inevitably be greater than the impact of the new clause. It is so prescriptive that it is unlikely to have the intended results.

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

I would love to share the hon. Gentleman’s optimism that quoting reports in Committee late at night in a Corridor in Westminster will make a jot of difference to the activities and outcomes of Whitehall Departments. I think that, by and large, such reports simply gather dust and act as rhetoric fodder for politicians desperately trying to make speeches. We want action and leadership in Departments and a complete change from the unambitious culture and the failure that to get to grips with the efficiency agenda over the past 10 years. What lies behind the Government’s resistance is a reluctance to embrace targets that they will be expected to reach by the next general election. They know that they would be setting themselves up to fail. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.