Amendment moved (this day): 10, in clause 10, page 6, line 31, at end insert—
“(aa) Are necessary in order to inform the OGA’s role in developing and promoting carbon storage;
(ab) Are necessary to meet the terms of the Climate Change Act 2008 or European or international obligations on climate change”—
This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to give direction to the OGA if the Secretary of State considers that these are necessary to inform the OGA’s role in developing and promoting carbon storage and/or to meet the terms of the Climate Change Act 2008 or any international obligation on climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Before lunch, I had more or less said what I was going to say on amendment 10—news that I realise will be greeted very warmly by all Committee members. I will disappoint everyone only slightly by reiterating the importance of the amendment, particularly in the context of our earlier decisions on the issues to which the Oil and Gas Authority should have regard.
Two of those issues are covered by the amendment, which clarifies the matters on which the Secretary of State may provide directions. The amendment would provide a satisfactory way of bringing the wider issues we discussed this morning properly and collectively into the scope of clauses 9 and 10, which deal with basic working guidance for the OGA. For that reason, I hope the Minister will look kindly on the amendment, even if it is not worded as well as it might be, so that we can make some progress.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Amendment 10 would amend clause 10 in part 1 of the Bill, which deals with directions that the Secretary of State may give the OGA. The clause gives the Secretary of State the power to direct the OGA as to the exercise of its functions if the Secretary of State considers that the direction is in the interests of national security or otherwise in the public interest. The intention is that the power should be used very rarely, in order to give the OGA the independence it requires to fulfil its role.
The amendment would create a specific power to issue directions that are necessary to inform the OGA’s role in developing and promoting carbon storage. That is unnecessary, since the Secretary of State’s powers to give directions to the OGA as to the exercise of its functions already applies to those functions. Similarly, directions that the Secretary of State considers necessary to meet the terms of the Climate Change Act 2008 would clearly be in the public interest, and therefore clause 10 already provides for such directions to be made.
If anything, the amendment limits the scope of the Secretary of State’s ability to issue directions in those areas by limiting them to what is necessary. For example, if the amendment were accepted, it would not be possible to issue a direction that was highly desirable but not necessary for meeting the terms of the 2008 Act.
The OGA is deliberately not an environmental regulator. Environmental regulation will continue to sit within the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which has the expertise and experience in this field. However, there are synergies between the two forms of regulation and the existing strong relationships between the OGA and DECC will continue.
I want to make clear that the OGA’s functions, including its objective to maximise economic recovery, are compatible with our climate change obligations. We are fully committed to delivering on our domestic, EU and international climate change targets. Under this Government, the UK is making good progress towards our EU 2020 renewable energy target, and we have already surpassed our interim targets covering 2013 and 2014. I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test is content with my explanation of why the amendment is unnecessary and will withdraw it.
I am not sure that the Minister has guided us fully as to what clause 10(1) actually says. The amendment would, in effect, add paragraphs (c) and (d) at the end of the subsection. Subsection (1) as it stands states:
(a) are necessary in the interests of national security, or
(b) are otherwise in the public interest.”
Those two considerations then stand by themselves in terms of what powers are given to the Secretary of State to direct the OGA.
The amendment would add some guidance on issues that might otherwise be obscure but would not cut across that wider guidance on things that are necessary in the interests of national security and the public interest, to give greater comprehensivity of functions where it might be unclear what the OGA should look at. Certainly in my reading of how the clause and the amendment work together, the amendment does not cut across subsection (1)(a) and (b); it merely adds to the completeness of subsection (1) in areas that might otherwise be unclear.
I am not sure that the argument that the amendment may cause things that might otherwise be done not to be done has a great deal of substance. Indeed, if that is the defence against this amendment, I feel it is something we ought to press. I would certainly need rather more comprehensive assurances from the Minister that the issues raised in the amendment could be accommodated in subsection (1)(a) and (b) in a way that they are apparently not. If that is not forthcoming, I fear we will have to divide the Committee.
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the powers of direction given to the Secretary of State in the areas of public interest and national security have a very broad definition. By specifying particular examples, we would run the risk of narrowing that very broadly defined set of powers, so I fear that I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman’s amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response, which I am sure was meant in a spirit of conciliation. However, it does not go as far as we would like, so we will divide the Committee.