House again in Committee.
10: Before Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Review by the Committee on Climate Change of the percentage specified in section 1(1)
The Prime Minister must—
(a) as soon as possible after the passing of this Bill, consult the Committee on Climate Change as to whether the percentage specified in section 1(1) should be increased as a consequence of developments in scientific knowledge since June 2000 (the date of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 22nd Report, “Energy—the Changing Climate”), and (b) lay before Parliament the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, together with a statement of the Government’s response.”
The noble Earl said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I wish to move Amendment No. 10. In view of what the Minister said on Amendment No. 7 regarding the Prime Minister’s commitment, I hope that he will be able to accept this very straightforward amendment. I beg to move.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 seek to achieve a very similar objective. Amendment No. 11 would set a duty on the committee within six months of its constitution to propose a new 2050 target for approval by Parliament. If it is so approved, the Secretary of State must make an order under Clause 2 to amend the 2050 target.
We believe that setting the target is a scientific problem, or more aptly it is a problem that can be properly assessed only in scientific terms. It should not be a political issue. We discussed setting the target under Amendment No. 7, and what the right answer should be. We have all read about the 80 per cent target and we all know that 60 per cent is not the right answer. As has been mentioned, the Germans have achieved an 80 per cent target. The Norwegians have achieved a 100 per cent target. France has achieved a 75 per cent target. So who is right? I do not have a view on who is right, and I would not even like to stab a guess. I am not a scientist and I have not seen all the evidence. I suspect that some noble Lords might have seen some of it but they certainly will not have seen all the evidence. That is why we think that setting the target is best left to the committee, when it has looked at all the evidence.
When Amendment No. 7 was discussed, the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, who is not in his place, and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, argued that the target ought to be set by the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said that letting the committee set it would give the committee credibility. I go further: it would give credibility not just to the committee but to the percentage chosen through the fact that it was chosen by an independent committee of experts. If the target were set by the committee, there would be no question of this House picking a percentage out of a hat. We certainly could not then be accused of choosing a figure for political expediency.
This is also a question of public confidence. It is important that the public should have confidence in this and not see it as a political issue. In order for the Bill to be effective, the public will have to make a concerted effort; if they are to be compelled into action, they need to be able to trust that the targets are absolutely authoritative. That will be achieved by having an independent expert body setting the targets. Our amendment will give this task to the committee and it will achieve that.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to join in during the Committee stage, albeit having waited until after dinner to do so. I hope that I can follow my noble friend Lord Rooker in his responsive and discursive style.
I start off by saying that we want to think about these amendments. The Government recognise the significant recent advances in scientific understanding since the 60 per cent target was set, as has been discussed at length today. As the Prime Minister has stated, the evidence now suggests that developed countries may have to reduce their emissions by as much as 80 per cent if we are to have an effective international agreement that will tackle climate change. That is why we have announced that we will ask the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the 2050 target should be tightened up to 80 per cent.
The Government are committed to ensuring that that review takes place. We have already begun to put the committee’s shadow secretariat in place and to recruit a chair and members of the shadow committee. That means that the committee’s work on reviewing the target can begin quickly, alongside its consideration of the first three budgets. I assure the noble Earl that matters are moving forward with great commitment and speed. Although I do not consider it necessary to make this review a statutory requirement—as the Prime Minister has already announced it, it will take place—I recognise the strength of the arguments put forward this evening and am therefore willing to consider these amendments.
I have a couple of points to make. First, on the question of timing raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, we are currently discussing a realistic timetable and the resources required for this review with the shadow secretariat to the Committee on Climate Change. We are talking about an independent secretariat so it is important that we understand its needs and concerns before discussing in your Lordships’ House what the timetable would look like.
Secondly, I would like to pick up on the question of who takes the decisions. In later debates in Committee, we will be discussing further whether the responsibility for decisions on targets and budgets should rest with the Committee on Climate Change. I understand the points made by the noble Lords opposite—whether responsibility should be with the committee, the Secretary of State or indeed the Prime Minister. We will come on to that. Putting those points aside, the Government are prepared to consider the question of the target being reviewed as a statutory requirement. With that, I hope that the noble Earl will consider withdrawing his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister; I knew that I was pushing at an open door. As she will recall, this was one of our recommendations from the committee—recommendation 8—to which the Government gave a fairly warm response. I knew that the line would come out that it is not necessary to put it in the Bill because the Prime Minister has already announced it. I seem to remember repeating those words from the Dispatch Box many times. However, on this occasion it is worth putting this in the Bill, so we will come back to it another time. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for taking it away to think about. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]
Clause 2 [Amendment of 2050 target or baseline year]:
[Amendment No. 11A not moved.]
12: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) Those powers may only be exercised—
(a) if a recommendation to make an order under this section is made by the Committee on Climate Change;(b) if the recommendation is approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament;and they must be exercised as soon as practicable after a recommendation is so approved.( ) The Secretary of State must, as soon as practicable after the making of a recommendation by the Committee on Climate Change, lay the order before both Houses of Parliament and table a resolution for its approval.”
The noble Lord said: I am very reassured by the debate that we had on the previous amendment, because this amendment forms part and parcel of the same suite of amendments designed to reinforce the authority of the Committee on Climate Change. We believe in that and we are heartened to find that the Government have a similar objective in mind.
The suite of amendments is designed to limit the power to make an order amending the 2050 target or the baseline year and transfer these powers to the Committee on Climate Change, subject to parliamentary approval. No order could be made without the recommendation of the committee and the approval of both Houses as part of the combination, but it must be made if those conditions are met. If the committee is made subject to the same limitations on the exercise of power, those should be the same as the Secretary of State would enjoy under the Bill. The detailed form of the order would still be left to the Secretary of State, so I hope that noble Lords can see that we are bringing the Committee on Climate Change into the process, with its approval necessary for something to come before us here in Parliament.
This is about transferring power to the committee. A large tenet of our position on the Bill lies in this quarter. All the things that we have mentioned thus far apply to this set of amendments. Additionally, when changes are made to the baseline year or the targets, that would require parliamentary approval. That is a positive addition, because such a proposal would amount to a substantial change to the Bill. We want the Bill to live up to the importance that it deserves and such a change will reflect something dramatic enough to need the scrutiny of Parliament, especially as the outcome of the decision will affect every piece of legislation and policy. It is in the interests of the public and all parliamentarians to have any such change presented openly to both Houses. It is too big a change, with effects that are far too wide-ranging, for it simply to be made through an order.
That reinforces the need for transparency. It is imperative that a change such as this cannot slip by unnoticed. Perhaps it would not, because there is usually an alert Member of this House keeping an eye open for these things. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State could simply amend the heart of the Bill without anyone really knowing. We need parliamentary approval to allow for public scrutiny, as well as scrutiny in Westminster, of the reasons for adjusting the targets and the baseline year. The Bill will affect everyone in its implementation. It needs to have the transparency and authority that will have public support throughout. We need consensus; we have consensus on so much on this Bill and we need consensus to change things in this way. I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.
I promise not to get into targets and trading during this brief intervention. I welcome the spirit of the Conservative amendments, which go a long way towards getting the right balance between meritocracy, parliamentary democracy and government accountability. I welcome the fact that we are not moving towards having something equivalent to the Monetary Policy Committee, where the sages and the wise people make their decision and that is it. There must be a strong element of parliamentary accountability, which I welcome. We on these Benches want to think more about the balance between the committee, Parliament and the Executive’s duty to govern and to lead. Certainly, a number of the committee’s roles need to be strengthened, but we will think further and come back on Report.
Can the noble Lord clarify whether, when these powers are exercised, the order must reflect only what the committee says? The committee might recommend making an order, but the order could vary the burden of the recommendation—the percentage or whatever it happened to be. If, under the amendment, the order could reflect only what the committee recommended, the decision would effectively be made only by the committee, subject to Parliament; the Government would be a rubber stamp. The implications of some recommendations are potentially substantial. It is entirely possible that the Government of the day, notwithstanding a recommendation and following discussion and reflection, might bring forward an order that did not reflect precisely the committee’s recommendation. The amendment is silent about that point, so it would be helpful if the noble Lord could illuminate it.
I am happy to do so. Drafting these amendments is complex and the whole point of this stage of the Bill is to air ideas and to see to what extent we can strengthen the Bill with new ideas. The purpose of the amendment is to establish a triangular relationship between the Secretary of State—the offices of government, which are the delivery agency for policy—Parliament, as the representative of the people’s will, and the committee, as the provider of expertise. On the recommendation of the committee, and not without the recommendation of the committee, the Secretary of State can present an order to Parliament for approval. That is not to say that the order has to be exactly what the recommendation says, because, of those three agencies, in the end Parliament is sovereign.
The process of initiating ideas and recommendations in particularly important fields should be transparent. If the Secretary of State brings forward an order that is not the same as the committee’s recommendation, it should be clear that the Secretary of State is taking that responsibility at variance with the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that it is important to get this right. We believe that this is a reasonable balance. All of us who want this to be effective will want to get the balance right between government responsibility, parliamentary responsibility and the committee’s responsibility. While that might not be explicit in our amendments, we surely should be able to make it so at some future date, or the Government might be able to present their own amendment along those lines.
The last comment of the noble Lord is useful because, if he thinks that that is the effect of the amendment, I should say that it is not. We now know what purpose he wants to effect. As it is drafted, the Government would have no discretion whatever. The only discretion that the Government would have would be not to bring the order to the House. If they brought an order, it would have to be from the recommendation of the committee, so the process would not be triangular. To be triangular, it would need another form of words. The analogy of the Monetary Policy Committee might look fair, but in terms of practicalities it is not a similar organisation; I will come back to that.
I am not nit-picking about the amendments; for the next stage, it is useful for Members to know what I am about to say. The amendments would sub-contract effective, large-scale policy-making over a range of issues—not just the dates, but the consequences—to the climate change committee. The changes would not just be simple. The committee is being set up as an independent expert body—there is no question about that—because we want to manage the framework for emissions in a more transparent fashion that is more likely to deliver results. Clause 3 already requires, before amending the 2050 target or baseline year, that the Secretary of State must consult the committee as well as the devolved Administrations. Clause 2 already requires that any amendment to the target is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which means that it has to have strong parliamentary scrutiny.
The amendment would require the Government to seek parliamentary approval twice, both in considering the committee’s recommendation and when laying the relevant statutory instrument for the affirmative resolution. That is straightforward duplication. The key question that noble Lords have to ask themselves is whether it should ultimately be the responsibility of the Government, with parliamentary scrutiny, or of the Committee on Climate Change to take decisions on the way forward. Our view is that the decision should ultimately rest with the elected Government of the day, who will transfer over decades, subject to the strong parliamentary scrutiny in the Bill, which may be strengthened as it goes through Parliament. That is where the analogy with the Monetary Policy Committee divides. I am reliably informed—I shall read this out, because I would not have said it if it were not written down—that,
“unlike the clear relationship between interest rates and inflation, CO2 emissions do not respond to one well-understood lever—the rate that reductions will occur depend on many different factors”,
such as changes in technology, processes,
“changes in energy demand, the energy and carbon intensity of the economy, multilateral action, the development of carbon markets”.
In other words, because the relationship between interest rates and inflation is so tied and precise—that seems to be the way it works; I am reliably informed about that, not being an economist—that is a narrow area where the Monetary Policy Committee can have executive authority.
The complexities go far beyond that narrow area of the Monetary Policy Committee. If a Secretary of State, having consulted the climate change committee, came to Parliament with an order that varied from its transparent and open advice, he certainly would have to be accountable and explain in great detail why his decision, with which he is asking Parliament to agree, is different. That is crucial. I am with the noble Lord precisely on that. Frankly, I will be more than happy to look at that aspect of the matter because, judging by his speech, that is what he is searching for, but the amendments do not do that. From that point of view, it would be useful to look at that aspect again.
We will have scientific advice, but, as the generations and decades go by and Parliaments and Governments come and go and international relationships probably change as well, there will be political judgments on this which must be subject to democratic scrutiny. Parliament is the place for that.
It is worth putting it on the record that the Joint Committee looked at the issue. It concluded:
“Overall, the idea that the Climate Change Committee should have analogous powers to the MPC, while attractive, would probably be unworkable … the wide range of the areas that the Committee on Climate Change must address would mean the Government”—
and Parliament in that sense—
“devolving significant policy decisions to an unelected body”.
That does not mean that we are building into this Bill the process for the Government to ignore the Committee on Climate Change; far from it. The Government must be absolutely accountable for what they do, and the committee must be transparent. The committee’s advice will be highly influential and, as I said in an earlier debate, judging from what has been said in earlier debates it would be a brave Secretary of State who would come to Parliament with substantial variations from what the committee had recommended. If that were the case, they would have to explain that situation to Parliament and the court of public opinion, because we would have set up an independent body of world-class people who must be taken seriously. If that gets devalued, there are serious problems for the Government and Parliament.
I need go no further. If the content of the second intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is what he is seeking, this does not accomplish it. I am happy to look at what he seeks to see whether we can bring something forward. In the mean time, he and his advisers can take account of the fact that, as drafted, the amendment does not create a triangular relationship. It creates a two-sided relationship with the Government out of it. It would be Parliament and the climate change committee, and the Government would have no role. It would be terrible if the Government disagreed so much that they brought an order to have it voted down or did not bring an order at all. That would create a stalemate, which would do nobody any good.
I am reassured by the Minister’s comments. It will be worthwhile having a look at this before Report to see how we can build the authority of the committee into this triangular relationship. That is important. As the Bill stands, it does not give the Committee on Climate Change quite the integral role that we would like to see it play in the process. In the light of the Minister’s comments, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 13 to 16 not moved.]
Clause 2 agreed to.
17: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Statements of compatibility with Climate Change Act
(1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before the Second Reading of the Bill—
(a) make a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the principal aim of this Act (“a statement of compatibility”); or(b) make a statement to the effect that although he is unable to make a statement of compatibility, the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.(2) The statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.”
The noble Lord said: I continue on the same theme. This amendment is about the interaction of the Committee on Climate Change with the organs of government, namely parliamentary legislation: both Bills and orders. This idea, to give him credit, came from my noble friend Lord Cathcart, who I am sure was inspired by the fact that everything presented to the House carries the endorsement that the legislation is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. We feel that all legislation should carry an imprimatur about the Climate Change Bill. The one thing that we must be able to drive through government is the notion that everything that government does must bear the obligations of government to the success of the Climate Change Bill in mind.
This is an effort to ensure that it has a real and wide-ranging effect on all policy decisions. We know that our government departments will be bound to have to bear in mind elements of the Bill, but it is not enough simply to pass the Bill. One of the goals of the Bill is to change the attitude towards climate change when Ministers are making decisions. This seems to be in keeping with that. Indeed, it is the only mechanism that assures us that that will be the case. I hope that the Minister will not shy away from something like this. It places the Climate Change Bill—or the Act as it may become—at the heart of government. It puts its position clearly on the face of all legislation. I believe that this is an important step towards establishing the policy of climate change as a priority of government across all departments and throughout all legislative activity.
There may be some elements of legislation that are not compatible with climate change objectives. In such circumstances, it would be right and proper for anyone proposing such legislation to present a statement saying to what extent it was not compatible, why it was not possible for it to be compatible and what would be the consequences of the legislation on our climate change targets. That is not beyond the powers of government, and it certainly guarantees that all government departments would take this seriously. I beg to move.
Not surprisingly, I fully support the amendment. Kyoto, Bali, Stern, Al Gore, the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and all political parties acknowledge that climate change is the most important issue facing us. If that is the case and we are serious about reducing our emissions, all future legislation should be compatible with this Climate Change Bill. Currently, on the front of all legislation the Minister states that in his view the Bill in question is compatible with the Human Rights Act, and on the front of the Climate Change Bill it states that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has made such a statement.
The amendment would make all Ministers think twice before introducing a new Bill. As my noble friend Lord Taylor has just said, this compatibility clause should cover other policies and proposals as well as Bills. The Prime Minister promised in his recent speech to the World Wildlife Fund that:
“Every new policy will be examined for its impact on carbon emissions—not just those which reduce emissions, but those which increase them”.
I agree with him.
In my extreme youth and later I worked with a series of politically correct local and health authorities. Presenting proposals to them became a bit of a grind, as one had to list the compatibilities: diversity, disability, efficiency, the Welsh language and whether there was an “R” in the month. One ended up with a pile of bland assurances that things were compatible. That might lead me to think that this was not a good amendment, but I think it is a rather fine amendment. I wish that I had thought of it. It would be an extremely useful discipline in this incredibly important subject. Everyone would have to pause for thought before bringing legislation forward to consider whether it would take climate change and carbon reduction forward. In reality, the hill that we have to climb is so big that, unless every measure that we enact for the future takes climate change impacts into account, we will not get there. Despite 30 years of political correctness, I think this is a fine amendment.
I also welcome the amendment. I was going to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, but I obviously have to congratulate the noble Earl instead. We should take this further, and, like the white goods that I buy in Curry’s, we should have a bar at the bottom of each Bill, so that as it goes through it would be red to green—just as we have now in the HIPs, or whatever that is. A little quantification of whether it is an “A” Bill or a “G” Bill in its carbon emissions would be excellent. An amendment in this style would add greatly to our legislative process.
That is probably a good reason why we should not discuss the Finance Bill in this House. This has been an interesting short debate. The package of amendments that we have just heard together requires, as a purpose, that the Minister makes a statement of compatibility on any future Bill on any topic—it is incredibly wide and, as the noble Baroness has just pointed out, it would include finance legislation—before Second Reading.
Obviously, this compatibility practice only came in under the present Administration. It is taken quite seriously; it is not just a question of the statement appearing with my name as though I have done nothing. I get a note from the lawyers, as every Minister would, and I am required to sign a document before the Bill gets printed. In this House, I have not introduced that many Bills and therefore have not done it many times, but this note is still required when they come from the other place. I have known examples over recent years, which I will not go into, where there has been a debate about particular Bills and the Ministers were concerned to seek extra advice about whether they were truly compatible with human rights legislation. In other words, it is taken extremely seriously in government, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, has probably done the House a service in bringing it forward.
That being said, the Government are sympathetic to the overall spirit of the amendment. No doubt, ambitious action will be required. I will give the Committee some reasons why it might not achieve that; I emphasise that it is in the way the amendment is drafted, covering every Bill on any topic. The Bill, as it exists, will help drive behaviour across Whitehall—one of the points on which I rested my case in the earlier debates—and, certainly, put the Government’s ambitions to cut emissions on a statutory footing.
As I have repeatedly said, Ministers in all departments, not just the relevant department, will receive advice from their civil servants about their duty to abide by the law and to do what they can to meet the targets and budgets established under this Bill. In addition, we are required to set out the policy proposals for meeting carbon budgets each year and to respond to the Committee on Climate Change’s annual progress report.
Those requirements are all cross-government and will ensure that the Government are focused on what needs to be done to meet the targets and budgets, whether through primary legislation, regulation, expenditure policies or, indeed, executive action. There are, then, powerful incentives and further safeguards through the impact assessment process that all major policy statements must pass.
Secondly, the relationship between the UK’s targets and the level of global temperatures is highly uncertain. As I said earlier, the direct link between many of the issues is not precise, so it would be difficult to determine the impact of individual pieces of legislation. Because many aspects of society and living will be affected by attempts to meet the targets in the Bill, there will be difficulty for the lawyers in assessing any particular legislation. Everything would be covered by the need to make that kind of statement relating to the climate change targets, including legislation on housing, health, or on individual human relationships that have nothing to do with climate change, such as in marriage legislation. It would be incredibly complicated for lawyers to give advice on that, leaving aside the scientific uncertainty in some areas. I am not knocking that. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is probably not the only person in the Chamber who would have hoped that they would have thought of that. Frankly, it adds to the overall image and perception and the joining-up of government at no cost.
Because of the way that the amendment is drafted, following the pattern of human rights legislation—clearly, in opposition, you take a pattern that works, and this works on all legislation—if we were to do it for every single topic covered by a Bill, we would come up against a real problem. It just cannot be done. As I said, I can think of many Bills—I just thought of one, which is only about individual relationships—where making that kind of statement might be more difficult. However, it ought to be possible for a body of legislation, a range of legislation, to be covered by such a statement. I am happy to take the amendment away to take advice on it; I have no doubt that other colleagues will do so as well.
I do not think that we can go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggests and put a coloured bar coding on it. On the proposal that Ministers in departments other than the lead department should be required on their legislation not just to take into account the legal duty required of government under the Bill but to sign a piece of paper to that effect before the Bill starts on its parliamentary journey, I counsel against being precise about every piece of legislation. How you define legislation, I do not know. There are better brains than mine in the Parliamentary Counsel Office to consider that. The proposal certainly adds positively to the idea of the Bill being cross-government, up front and transparent and with genuine extra accountability. I will be happy to look at it on that basis. That is three in a row—no more tonight.
I am happy to hear what the Minister has to say; it is very encouraging. I have worked with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, on work and pensions legislation, and I understand that there may be some aspects of government activity that have little or no relevance, but that could be clearly stated. There could be a formula of words to deal with those matters.
The Minister has a clear idea of the sort of thing that he believes might be important. The whole purpose of the provision is to ensure that future Secretaries of State have a certain amount of clout across Whitehall. I do not wish to embarrass the Minister by referring to something where he and I have a common interest: public procurement policy as it concerns British agricultural policy. We know how difficult it has been to get that accepted across Whitehall departments. I suspect that there may well be departments in Whitehall that will drag their feet over this Bill, and this is one way of making sure that they do not. That is why we are very much in favour of it.
I am delighted to hear what the Minister has to say. Bearing in mind what he says, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 [Consultation on order amending 2050 target or baseline year]:
18: Clause 3, page 2, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must publish the advice of the Committee on Climate Change not later than one calendar month after receiving it.”
The noble Duke said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 42, 45, 98, 104 and 113.
The Committee on Climate Change is intended to be the principal advisory body guiding the Government through a situation that is increasingly seen as critical to the survival of both the environment and mankind. It is quite reasonable that national authorities will require some time to consider that advice. It is, however, also quite reasonable that the Secretary of State should publish the advice given on aspects pivotal to the overall strategy. Publication means that both parties will present their cases aware that the work they do is open to inspection by all. This is particularly important in circumstances where other national authorities fail to make representations within the time limit set.
The wording of the clause implies that the Government have some idea that other national authorities may not respond in time. Will the Minister explain why, in a matter so important as the alteration of either the baseline year or the 2050 target, a national authority might not make representations even if only to give its approval with reasons? Given that there may be a national authority that does not respond in time, the affirmative resolution procedure surely demands that Members of both Houses are as fully briefed as possible. We do not believe that this will be accomplished if the advice of the committee remains a matter solely for the Secretary of State and the other national authorities.
Amendment No. 42 concerns setting or amending target percentages. Section 3 relates to amending the baseline year or the 2050 targets. The words used there, with the exception of specific section references, are repeated here. It is our opinion that amending the baseline or the end object is slightly more important than the intermediate targets. In both cases, however, we feel that the advice given by the Committee on Climate Change should be made public.
Orders under Clauses 5 or 6 will be subject to affirmative procedure. For that to be effective the Members of both Houses should be in possession of as much information as possible. In order to enrich the debate they should also be in possession of the data, experience and opinion given by the many experts who take such care, in any field of endeavour, to inform their parliamentary representatives of all related matters.
In the case of carbon targets the advice of the Committee on Climate Change will doubtless summarise scientific knowledge and practical experience in many related fields. That distillation must be available to us and to the public in general and it must be made available formally in order to avoid the distasteful business of leaks. This is serious business we are about and we must ensure that it is conducted carefully, with dignity and in a manner that generates confidence rather than ridicule.
The other amendments in this group cover similar aspects of the Bill: that is, Clause 9 on consultation on carbon budgets; Clause 18 on alteration of budgetary periods; Clause 19 on targeted greenhouse gases; and Clause 23 on the procedure for regulations. I beg to move.
I support my noble friend’s amendments, particularly Amendment No. 18. Clearly, when taking Bills through previously, one of the problems has always been the delay between information being gathered and going into the public domain. I hope that the Minister will respond to that. Even if the Government cannot accept one calendar month, perhaps they will look at it in a practical way and, if a month is too short, which I hope it is not, come up with an alternative timing. It is very important to have it defined in the Bill that the Government have a responsibility to publish the advice given to the committee within a reasonable time.
I, too, support the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 18. Perhaps the Minister will clarify one point. Would it be in order for the committee to decide to publish its advice at the time that it gives it or submits it to the Government? I notice that Schedule 1, on page 34, states:
“The Committee must publish the minutes of its meetings in such a manner as it considers appropriate”.
Presumably, it would therefore be perfectly okay for the committee to decide that it would publish its minutes and the advice that it gave to the Government with its minutes.
Taking that point a little further, would the committee be in order if it decided, as was the case with the Food Standards Agency when it was first set up, to hold its meetings and to have its hearings in public, which did a huge amount to encourage and establish its independence and authority?
My noble friend commented at the end of the debate on the previous group of amendments that there had been three in a row—I am not sure he was right, because I think this might make number four. We are interested in considering the issues raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, in his opening remarks. He made a key point that this is a serious business, and we do not want to be in a position where there are leaks. It is essential that the committee operates in a transparent and timely fashion.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked whether it would be in order for the committee to make a decision to publish its own advice. As I understand it, that will be the case. The committee will be able to decide to publish its advice. My noble friend Lord Rooker reminded me that he was very much involved with the enabling powers of the Food Standards Agency to meet in public. He has an interest in ensuring that we learn the lessons from the experience of that agency.
I will quickly pick up on a few points. The Committee on Climate Change and the devolved Administrations will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. The public will be able to request information under those existing legislative provisions, although I understand that noble Lords are not driving at that point. The only exception would be where the information or data were commercially confidential or subject to exemptions, such as to allow for ongoing policy development. In such circumstances, it would be right not to publish the information until the risks of so doing had reduced to an acceptable level. In any case, I do not foresee the committee withholding its analysis where there was not a good reason for doing so.
I fully appreciate the points about the timeliness of information being available, particularly with the devolved Administrations. We will give that further consideration and, bearing in mind the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, we will think carefully about how. We do not want to create an enormous burden on the Committee on Climate Change in sharing absolutely every piece of data and information, for everything it does will be about generating advice. However, we understand the need for transparency and for timeliness, so that the benefits of the enormous expertise and the vital work that the committee will undertake can be shared and made widely available to all those who care about the issues and could benefit further from that work. With those comments, I hope that the noble Duke will consider withdrawing the amendment.
I thank the two noble Lords who contributed to the debate and the noble Baroness for her reply. It was reassuring to hear that the committee would have powers to publish its reports—I suppose we are talking about the final reports, rather than the data and what have you that go towards building them up. If, as the noble Baroness said, there is a fairly good reason for withholding data, who dictates that and what is the fairly good reason? Could there be a set, maximum time between the report being lodged and the information still not being made public? In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 [Carbon budgets]:
[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]
20: Clause 4, page 3, line 4, leave out “five” and insert “three”
The noble Lord said: I also speak to Amendments Nos. 21, 28, 147 and 148. I hope that this will be an opportunity for the Minister to have five pieces of good news in a row but we shall see. This is a very serious point and an important one. The length of budget periods is important to everybody in terms of business and planning. It is important to Government, Parliament and all the stakeholders in the climate change issue. We on these Benches believe that five years is too long. Why is it too long? Nearly all Administrations last four years or less; certainly they do not extend beyond five years. This means that we will not know whether any commitment entered into by a Government has been met until the next Administration or the next Parliament. We do not feel that that is healthy. It is not the right incentive and it will not be seen from the outside as being able to bring accountability.
Much of this Bill concentrates on accountability and it is an area which a number of noble Lords want to strengthen. We believe that this is an area where there is a gap between intention and accountability. Also, psychologically—I mentioned this at Second Reading so I will not go into it at any great length—five years for anybody is a long, long way off; certainly it is for us as individual human beings. I notice that that is not true for all noble Lords but at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, talked about hyperbolic discounting in terms of the future being discounted by individuals at a higher rate than the normal financial rate. We take decisions based on the short term. That is true for organisational planning. In the first year we think five years is a long way off and we normally do not get around to taking it seriously until at least year three. That is very dangerous because, as the Minister has reminded us several times this evening, the earlier and the quicker we take action, the less painful that action is. A five-year time horizon is too far away to concentrate minds and get action that will help carbon emissions and reduce future global warming. We feel that three years is much more suitable. There are other arguments—such as the fact that spending reviews are around that period of time as well—but if there are not interim targets or there are not interim milestones, a three-year period is even more important. Lastly, this is all about the business sector and others believing that there is real intent behind this Bill. I believe that that intent will be better reinforced over a shorter time period than a Government and a Parliament looking at what they want to achieve five years hence, which does not bring the urgency and the action needed by stakeholders in this whole climate change issue. I beg to move.
I suppose that, after Saturday and Arsenal’s unbroken run, this is another occasion on which runs must be broken. I am afraid that we cannot support the amendment. I doubt whether it will find favour with the Minister, although I cannot be certain. Trying to foreshorten the period unnecessarily complicates the effective implementation of the Bill. We see no group of people who support this idea, and we simply do not think that it is a good idea to have too short a period.
These emissions vary from year to year, and five years is a sufficiently long period in which to get the feel of things without it being too short a period to be blown off track by seasonal variations that may occur. It is no way to set up an alibi for failing to meet commitments. Having a shorter timeframe, while keeping it within one Government’s term in office, might have a negative effect. If there were a boost in the shorter term of three years because of warmer weather, airline strikes or a power station closing, there could be a risk of thinking that improvements were being made when actually nothing was being done to tackle climate change. There is a mathematical reason why a short period can give much more unreliable data than a longer one. We therefore want five-year targets, which provide an opportunity to see success, combined with annual milestones, which we will discuss shortly, to track shorter-term progress.
In practice, Ministers will soon start to recognise the variations throughout a budget period, which will be contained in one Government’s time in office. It could therefore be dangerous if one allowed a shorter period. It is much more to our advantage to maintain the present five-year period, so I am afraid that we cannot support the amendment.
I do not suppose that the Minister needs any further urging to resist the amendment, but I would encourage him to do so, because the science of climate change is difficult and imprecise and is always subject to short-term fixes. Experts are always saying, “Goodness, the evidence shows that we suddenly have anomalies”, and a three-year database will quite clearly create further uncertainty. I therefore believe that my noble friend is right to say on this occasion that a five-year period is reasonable. It also, incidentally, chimes quite well with international agreements. The Kyoto agreement is on a five-year budget, and so for that matter is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, so a five-year period makes perfect sense.
I, too, support what my noble friends Lord Taylor and Lord Selborne have said, for the slightly different reason that it is fundamental to the Bill that we take it outside the scope of the normal political timescale, which is electorally driven. Five years just about does it. It takes us beyond the normal time for which a Government will survive. Very few Governments survive to the last day when they must be elected; they normally go to three and a half, or to four and a half, years. I know we had one that did—I shall say nothing about that—but this will escape from that normal political cycle. That will be an immense strength, because Governments standing for election will have to recognise that there is a commitment for the future that must be met. There will be no excuse for attempting to argue that, because we have had an election, we can do something different. It might be possible to make adjustments in the following five-year cycle, but they will have to recognise in any election that commitments have been made with a view to the 42-year or 43-year timescale that we are working to. That is very important.
May I agree with many of the recent comments of Members of the Committee and add one or two reasons? First, for many businesses, the idea that five years is a long time and three is appropriate is far from the truth. The overall targets that the committee will introduce will, I assume, be the result of building up a number of sectoral targets. In some sectors, to break down targets into three-year as opposed to five-year periods would be impossible. In the power-generating industry, to break down into a succession of three-year periods what will happen over 15 years is pie in the sky. The result would be that the committee would become discredited. The committee would set not only the overall target but a number of sectoral proposals. They are as important as the overall target because what does the target mean for different sectors and consumers—the people who actually buy the product? If time and again the three-year figure is not remotely met, very quickly, the series of three-year targets would be discredited. If when the committee is established it is asked whether it would prefer three five-year periods or five three-year periods, I have no doubt what the answer would be. The noble Lord should consider that point.
I note from many of the remarks that the CBI briefing has been effectively referred to. We have to take industry and business with us and the advice of industry and business is in no doubt about this. I hope that, on this occasion, we can agree this on an all-party basis.
Finally, on the question of three-year or five-year periods of the political cycle, the objective is to have all-party agreement and consensus. To build an argument around suggesting that if a Government change everything might change or that someone will apportion blame is not helpful. In any case, even with three-year periods and four-year Governments—that has tended to be the case—it is perfectly possible that a new Government could come in and inherit a three-year cycle at the end of its first year and then, blow me, set another one in its second year and be out of office before the period ends. It is not a simple matter. To try to set the requirements of the Committee on Climate Change based on where it may fit into an electoral cycle is hopeless. If you were to ask the committee, it would say that the best thing to do is to ignore electoral cycles. There is food for thought there and I hope that the noble Lord will consider that, although this has been a useful debate, he will withdraw the amendment.
I have a couple of brief points. I can see the importance of the budgetary periods, but it is hard to talk about this in terms of figures and numbers when it is so clear visually. When you look at the trajectory on a graph or a diagram, it is the pattern that the trajectory follows that is so interesting, not how long the period is. The provision will obviously have to be in the Bill, but we should not lose sight of what we are trying to realise in those budgetary periods and what line that trajectory is following.
While I completely buy into the reason for having an independent committee on climate change, beyond the independence of the advice we should not get too carried away with this independence myth. It will be one political party or another that has to put into place the policies that achieved this. The decisions they make will be highly political and there will be some very hard choices to make. This happy land your Lordships sometimes talk about, where everything is independent and non-political, simply is not going to happen. That is a reality we have to face and the sooner we face it, the better.
Although it seems that the three-year targets would be onerous on business, it is not as if the clock is reset every time you go back to the start of the budgetary period. In the sectorial targets that were mentioned you would be building on those things that have come before, especially in the energy industry. It would have to meet this. We should not underestimate the job that the Government are setting out. The task ahead is to make a 2 per cent cut, year on year, for the next 40 years, which is not a small amount to propose. My problem with a five-year period is the very real opportunity to put back the difficult decisions to the end of the period, especially for any Government who had just come in and were making up the policies.
We have a major issue here. If we are to keep within the graph, we have the issue that there might be a particularly warm winter. We might have the same situation as last winter, when the spot price on gas meant that coal-fired power stations were pulled back on-line. There is nothing to say that, although we have had this great dash to gas, in a few years’ time, with the nuclear stations coming off-line and gas prices going up because of external factors, coal-fired power stations will not be brought on-line to meet that need, and we would go into reverse on these targets. Therefore, to look at a five-year graph might be a problem. If we are talking about 40 years, in five years we are talking only about meeting eight targets. If we are talking about three years, there are 12 targets to meet, which can be met on an incremental basis.
I quite understand the political aspect of the argument that “perhaps we should leave it”. In a number of Bills that I have dealt with, whenever anybody talked about something being on a five-year basis, in parliamentary terms, it was always on the understanding that it was never going to happen. If it was Lords reform for the next Parliament, it would be put into the next Parliament because it was never going to happen. Perhaps that is a cynical way of looking at it, but it is a very definite political way of looking at it.
I have a question for the Minister. Has any analysis been done on how long the average Secretary of State has lasted in office over the past 40 years? If we are talking about the next 40 years it is quite possible that a Secretary of State will, in their period of office, see only one of these targets met on a three-year basis, if they are lucky. If you did the analysis, you would find that, even on a three-year basis, most Secretaries of State would not see even one. In some cases, they move on to greater things; in other cases, obviously, they just get fired or end up in your Lordships’ House.
Five years seems a short period of time, but it is based on building on the building blocks. Three years has merit. I am sure that this is an issue to come back to, because there is a political argument. If you think that another Government are going to have to pick up the pieces, will that make the difficult decisions easier or harder to take?
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has provoked me into rising a second time, which is unusable—I should have said unusual, but it is probably unusable too—but permissible in Committee. He implied that all we had to achieve was a target of 2 per cent per annum for 40 years and, bingo, we would be there. But it will not work like that. The climate change committee will have an enormously complex task.
I suspect we shall find that initially the progress will be slow because so many things will have to be put in place. We are where we are and we have a difficult economy to control and seasonal and market factors come into play. However, I am fairly confident that the faster we go, the faster we will be able to go. Possibly, for the first year or two, the target ought to be 1 per cent only, or something of that order. If you look at the record of our energy consumption for the past 30 years, you will see that our energy efficiency has increased enormously, as has our output, and that our actual energy consumption has floated along more or less on a flat line graph. It is a very interesting graph which we need to consider much more deeply. Once we begin to change technology, which we shall have to do, the initial steps will be slow. However, once they begin to build, we will go quicker and quicker and in the later stages of our progress I suspect that we may well find that the climate change committee will say, “Okay, we can go at 5 per cent per annum”. That will be perfectly acceptable because the changes will be in motion. It certainly will not be a straight line graph and if anybody thinks that it will be, they are daydreaming.
As Members on all sides of the Committee suspected, I can confirm that the Government resist these amendments. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, answered his own questions about the length of service of Secretaries of State, so I do not have to. However, I am sure that there is a website somewhere that would tell you that.
As we heard, these amendments introduce annual targets within the budget system framework, which we do not consider is the right approach to take. It is worth recalling that each of the parliamentary committees that scrutinised the Bill agreed that binding annual targets were not suitable. We agree with this view and reiterate that—
The noble Lord is absolutely right. I am terribly sorry. It was still a good speech though. I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, when he talked about annual reporting and accountability. He said that it would be possible for us to be completely unaware of the progress that was being made. That was one of his arguments for having shorter time periods.
Within the Bill there are very strong annual reporting duties. Annual accountability through the committee’s progress report to Parliament, and the Government’s response to it, is an important part of this. This will help to ensure that there is a well informed public and parliamentary debate about the UK’s progress towards the 2050 target and will help to create that visual trajectory which is important for people’s understanding. We should not underestimate the strength of the reporting provisions in Clauses 28 and 29, which we shall debate later.
It is extremely important that the budget setting period not only chimes with the needs of industry but chimes very much with the international environment. We are not just talking about achieving results on our own. We aim to achieve results in an international context.
I shall read the debate and pick up any points that I have not responded to as, initially, I used the wrong note. However, Members on all sides of the Committee were very clear that the climate committee should advise on progress. We are not looking at three-year budget periods because of all the reasons that we have discussed. The five-year period is a good one. With that, I hope that noble Lords will consider withdrawing their amendments.
I thank the Minister for all that information. Briefly, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, about the timeframe. Clearly for many industries, particularly those where we are looking for carbon savings, five years is no time at all. He was right to take me up on that. However, we are clearly saying that there should still be a 15-year setting of budgets, even though they are in smaller segments.
The international argument does not actually work because there will almost certainly no longer be five-year periods post-2012. The intention, post-Kyoto, is for longer periods and therefore the five-year argument does not really work. Having said that, the carbon committee’s accountability and strength in making reports, and Parliament’s role in bringing the Government to account, are important parts of the equation. Within that total package, together with possible indicative targets and milestones, we will think about this area again. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]