New Clause 15

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 pm on 8th July 2008.

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Advice on climate change policy from Committee to Secretary of State

‘(1) The Committee may provide the Secretary of State with advice on any policy matters related to climate change.

(2) The Committee must, at the time it gives its advice 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 Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

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

The purpose behind the new clause is once again derived from the Environmental Audit Committee report, and in particular from its comments on the importance of the Committee on Climate Change in being able to provide

“challenge to, and public reporting on, Government forecasting and policy analysis.”

It seems extraordinary to set up that expert body, with enormous authority in the fields of climate science, economics and Government policy making, and to give it huge influence over British Government policy and the future shape of the British economy by being able to advise the Government on the overall targets for carbon budgets and carbon emissions by 2050, and then to deny that extraordinary body the right to comment and advise on the policies that will be required to get to those targets. That is somewhat equivalent to asking Einstein to say that E=mc2, but not allowing him to say how that was achieved. Earlier Government amendments have clouded the issue of whether policies and processes will be a subject for the Committee on Climate Change. Some of their amendments have taken out measures that were put in by our noble Friends in another place, and they have clouded the issue of whether the committee is simply an advisory body looking at a dry analysis, or a body that will be able to advise and comment on Government policy. I would welcome the Minister’s clarification on his latest reading of the current version of the Bill, in response to the new clause.

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

As with any other measure that will enhance the authority of the Committee on Climate Change, we are happy to lend the new clause our support. The content of the new clause echoes a number of our earlier debates, and perhaps the hon. Member for Cheltenham was being assiduous on the back of earlier comments when he tabled it. The duty of the committee is to advise the Secretary of State and report on progress, and the new clause would require the committee to publish that advice in an appropriate manner. It is thus interesting that the new clause does not go on to say that the advice should be debated by  Committees of both Houses. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has considered that as it would enable not only the Secretary of State, but both Houses to consider that advice.

To have a group of such renowned experts as the Committee on Climate Change provide advice on policy matters should be considered not an onus, but rather a privilege for the Secretary of State, and I am sure that the Government will jump at the opportunity. I am mindful of our previous debates, and perhaps the Minister will look favourably on the new clause.

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

We are going back to our debate on clause 35 because the new clause is about the role of the committee. I fear that to hand over policy recommendations on

“any policy matters related to climate change” would effectively franchise the Government to the committee. Let me explain our policy.

Clause 35 requires the committee to lay an annual report on its progress to Parliament. The committee also has duties to provide advice on carbon budgets and carry out a review of the level regarding the 2050 target date. Clause 37 contains further duties to provide advice, and clause 38(1) states:

The Committee may do anything that appears to it necessary or appropriate” in relation to any of its functions.

There is already considerable opportunity for the committee to express its views on progress in tackling climate change, but there are three reasons why I have a problem with the new clause. First, as I set out a moment ago in relation to new clauses 13 and 14, we must ensure that the committee is adequately resourced. The new clause could distract the committee from its key tasks. Secondly, the committee is set up as a UK-wide body that is responsible for the UK Government and devolved Administrations. Finally, the committee’s key role is to provide expert advice on the optimum levels of budgets and to report on the progress made towards that. We do not wish to include provisions in the Bill for the committee to come forward with specific policies.

To clarify the situation, when Lord Turner appeared before the EFRA Committee in March, he said that the role of the committee was to consider the range and effectiveness of the policies in place, because without that, a credible budget could not be recommended. He wishes to have a policy role in that regard. However, perhaps I may quote from the other place, when the Liberal Democrats argued against giving the committee a role on policies in that way. Lord Teverson said:

“I will have a great concern if the Committee on Climate Change starts making major policy recommendations to government...It would not depoliticise the decisions but would utterly politicise the Committee on Climate Change.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 January 2008; Vol. 697, c. 802.]

Looking at the existing policies of the Government of the day and making progress towards the budgets, when backed up with Lord Turner’s explanation, gives scope for what the hon. Gentleman’s new clause rightfully addresses. However, the new clause goes too far because it franchises decisions of policy to what is ultimately an independent committee, not an accountable Government.

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

The Minister has cited some persuasive and authoritative voices in support of his case. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.