New Clause 13

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 pm on 8th July 2008.

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Modelling used by government to forecast impact of policies on climate change

‘(1) The Committee shall provide the Secretary of State with advice on the modelling used by Government to forecast future emissions and the impact of individual policies on climate change.

(2) The Committee must, at the time it give its advice under this section to the Secretary of State, send a copy to the other national authorities.

(3) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice to the Secretary of State, the Committee must publish that advice in such a manner as it considers appropriate.’.—[Martin Horwood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 14—Committee’s power to audit emissions statistics—

‘(1) The Committee shall comment on the accuracy of the Government’s statistics on emissions and provide the Secretary of State with advice on them.

(2) The Committee must, at the time it gives its advice under this section to the Secretary of State, send a copy to the other national authorities.

(3) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice to the Secretary of State, the Committee must publish that advice in such a manner as it considers appropriate.’.

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

We all know the hoary old saying, “Lies, damn lies and statistics.” It is true that statistics can be controversial. There is a website concerned with offsetting called cheatneutral.com. It allows people to offset their cheating. Honest people can log on to the site and buy credits for being honest and cheats can offset their cheating. The website claims:

“This neutralises the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”

Rather alarmingly, they have found only 9,000 people who are prepared to log on and be honest, but 65,768 who are prepared to log on as cheats. I think that it is aimed at people with partners who have indiscretions rather than at the kind of Government statistics that those of us in the political world might try to use and abuse.

My point is that the website suggests a high level of public cynicism. I am afraid that when it comes to Government statistics and the use of statistics by politicians, the public’s threshold of cynicism is very low. The intergovernmental panel on climate change took an important step when it committed to having the broadest possible consensus over its use of statistics, which was specifically intended as a defence against mischievous opponents and those who are sceptical about the statistics.

When the Environmental Audit Committee considered the Climate Change Bill, it had a similar idea in mind when it made recommendation No. 34 in its report, with which I am sure the Ministers are completely familiar:

“One particularly valuable aspect of the Committee’s work would be in providing challenge to, and public reporting on, Government forecasting and policy analysis.”

Policy analysis is the subject of new clause 15, which I shall discuss later.

The Environmental Audit Committee also recommended that the committee

“should be given a duty to audit the Government’s publication of emissions statistics to ensure these are transparent, differentiating between emissions reductions made in this country and those funded abroad. It should also have a duty to comment annually  on the assumptions and modelling used by the Government to forecast future emissions and estimate the impact of individual policies.”

The issue of offsetting was uppermost in the Committee’s mind when it made that recommendation, but there are other variations on the statistics that can be used and abused. We only have to think about the various trends in CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions that Front Benchers have traded in Committee. If we look at the figures since 1990, we will see that the Government can quote their oft-used line that we are on track to meet our Kyoto commitments and are reducing CO2 emissions, because with regard to millions of tonnes of CO2, there has been a 5.6 per cent. drop since 1990.

Of course, others would suggest that that is entirely down to the dash for gas and that the statistics since 1995 actually show a 1.5 per cent. increase. That would mean that there had also been a 1.5 per cent. increase since 2000, since the two figures between 1995 and 2000 are exactly the same. Since 2003, there has still been an increase of the much smaller amount of 0.2 per cent. That all depends on where the baselines are and how one interprets the statistics.

In an earlier Committee sitting, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle claimed that the last Conservative Government’s record on greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2, was rather better than that of the current Government, but that was more to do with economic recession than conscious policies to reduce carbon emissions. Were this country one day lucky enough to have a Liberal Democrat Government, I am sure that we might also be tempted to interpret the statistics to our advantage.

In order to remove the temptation of getting into that kind of party political debate from any future Liberal Democrat Administration and to get the statistics as much as possible out of the political arena and on to an impartial footing, it is important that the Environmental Audit Committee’s advice is followed and that the Committee on Climate Change is given that explicit role with regard to the statistics, assumptions and modelling used by the Government.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

As the hon. Gentleman thinks that is so important, I wonder whether he would be prepared to have a parallel system for Liberal Democrat by-election literature, which certainly needs that kind of independence, as it is, without doubt, the least truthful stuff anyone has ever heard.

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

I cannot think what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. Only the other week in Henley I was picking up some fine magazines—

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

Order. The hon. Gentleman should return to the substance of new clause 13.

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

I stand corrected—I should not rise to these things.

It is important, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal has said, to keep as much as possible out of the arena of party political football and move such important statistics into an area where there can be greater consensus  and an objective view. The Committee on Climate Change must be constituted so as to provide that kind of authoritative and independent advice and have the right resources at its disposal.

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

We are happy to support the new clause on the grounds that it would enhance the authority of the Committee on Climate Change, and improve the transparency of how the Government assess the country’s future emissions, and how individual policies will affect those emissions. One wonders how the hon. Gentleman found the website to which he referred and whether one must admit to cheating to find it, because other right hon. and hon. Members will perhaps be less inclined to use it.

The new clause is similar in many ways to new clause 10, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle spoke this evening. New clause 10 called for carbon impact assessments on all Government policies and how they would affect our emissions reductions ambitions. It gives pause for thought. There are some imponderables and unpredictables, such as weather conditions and the ability to forecast. The Government announced that the Met Office will be able to give more accurate forecasting, which we shall obviously wait to see.

New clause 14 would lend the Bill greater transparency, and enhance the role of the committee as an independent auditor of the Government’s work. It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friends to hear that we are in favour of such an initiative. At this late stage, however, it is not necessary to repeat what I said earlier. I simply wish to record our support for the two new clauses and to say that we look forward to the Minister’s response and seeing whether he is familiar with the website.

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

I confirm that I have never heard of the website. I can only assume that the hon. Member for Cheltenham was logging on while he wrote a by-election leaflet, but perhaps that is unkind.

As for the general emissions picture, it is not fair to suggest that the dash to gas is the only contribution. Energy efficiency and the work that much of our industry has done in the past few years is a major contributor towards the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. For the record, the important point is that the United Kingdom has broken the link between economic growth and the growth in emissions. Between 1997 and 2006, the economy grew by 47 per cent., while greenhouse gas emissions fell by just under 7 per cent., but I suspect that I will not be allowed to go any further.

I turn to the specifics of the new clause. We want to avoid duplicating at public expense work that has already been done in Departments. For that reason, when formulating analysis, we already allow the Committee on Climate Change free access to use Government modelling and statistics. That is supplemented by further independent research as the committee judges appropriate, which includes commissioning runs of various Government models, including energy and transport, for example.

In addition to giving access to the Government models, we fully expect that the committee will wish to comment on them. In fact, in some cases, the committee is already helping to develop and enhance some models. Indeed, it is the intention that the committee’s secretariat and the  Government’s analysts will have a dialogue to ensure that the modelling is as robust and as accurate as it can be. For example, a forum has already been set up through the Government’s interdepartmental analyst group to ensure that that happens effectively.

New clause 13 would place a duty on the committee to advise the Secretary of State on the modelling used by the Government

“to forecast future emissions and the impact of individual policies on climate change.”

We are already putting in place measures to ensure that the committee is encouraged to provide feedback on the Government’s modelling, and vice versa. It would not be helpful for that to be a duty. It is vitally important that we ensure that the committee is resourced adequately to carry out its task, and we concentrated on that earlier in our proceedings. On an operational level, I believe that the new clause would distract the committee from its key tasks, because it is disproportionate and could overburden the committee.

There is, of course, considerable interest in the Government’s figures on emissions, and I can reassure the hon. Member for Cheltenham. Those statistics are produced by independent consultants on the Government’s behalf, and they have to be produced in line with United Nations guidance. We are part of a global effort, and that auditing of emissions has to satisfy rigorous international crosschecking, quality assurance and quality control procedures, including verification of the figures and external peer review, before the figures are finalised. The United Kingdom’s inventory has never been adjusted by that process. Stepping back from the specifics of the new clause, that global effort requires us to have that independent auditing already. I do not wish to overburden the committee, and neither do I wish to call into question—I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman did—the independence of our scientists, who are among the best in the world.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:15 pm, 8th July 2008

When the Government and the scientists measure the emissions, what instrument do they use? Do they use the greenhouse gas protocol?

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

Yes. That good question reinforces my point. Part of our strategy is that the United Kingdom should be the home of the auditing industry, so this is a tremendously important issue for all the reasons that I have given. While I accept the intention of the new clause, I hope that that important point about verification and the need to avoid duplication is accepted.

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

I do not entirely buy everything that the Minister said, since he is in some respects trying to have it both ways. On the one hand he argues that the Government are doing much of this anyway and will be consulting and exchanging information with the committee, and on the other he argues that it will overburden the committee and that it therefore cannot do such a thing. I still think that this would be wise advice to take to make the process more robust. That would discourage inadvertent cheating—let us call it that—in the presentation of statistics. In the light of the Government’s unwillingness to accept the Environmental Audit Committee’s advice—  [Interruption.] I understand the Minister’s points, and I welcome and appreciate many of the things that he said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.