Before my noble friend sits down, has he read the document in my hand? It states that the cumulative cost of the Climate Change Act up to 2030 would be £3 billion. The document was produced and published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, written by me and drawn entirely from the Government’s published figures, which my noble friend’s committee has never refuted, rebutted or criticised.
I would hate to refute, rebut and criticise my friend at so late a point in my speech, but he has only just returned from asking a question that included all those points while admitting that he had not actually read the Committee on Climate Change report.
My Lords, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as a director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
We are debating the consequences of a departing pledge by the outgoing Prime Minister; it is probably the most expensive leaving present in history. Harold Macmillan said that when both Front Benches are united, they are almost invariably wrong. It is in that context that I rise, with some trepidation, to show that at least some scrutiny is going on. Macmillan’s point was that, where both sides agree, you do not get proper scrutiny and the normal adversarial approach of our Houses of Parliament does not apply—that is, we do not look with enough rigour at what is going on. That is particularly true if, as was the case in the House of Commons, this House eschews any serious consideration of cost on the grounds that the higher the cost, the better—almost—because it shows how virtuous we will be. That was certainly the attitude during the passage of the original Act in 2008.
My principal plea is for a proper impact assessment of the order. I say that with some feeling: I came to this issue because in 2008, when the then Climate Change Bill was before the House, I went to get a copy of the impact assessment and was told by the Vote Office that I was the only person who did. I was the only person who read it and raised the issue of cost throughout the Bill’s proceedings. That is why impact assessments are important. I read the impact assessment and discovered that, at that stage—when the target in the draft Bill was a 60% reduction in emissions—it showed that the potential costs were twice the maximum benefits. If the costs of something exceed the benefits, you do not do it. That does not mean that the target was wrong; it means that you look for more cost-effective ways of achieving that target. But we did not; we ignored it. We ploughed ahead anyway—and went further: we raised the target from 60% to 80%. One would normally expect that to increase the cost disproportionately, because the things you have not done would be costlier than the things you would do to meet the lower target, and the benefits would rise less than proportionately, because you would get the greatest benefits from the early reductions in global warming and fewer benefits from any incremental reductions.
After we passed the Act, the Government did produce an impact assessment—under much goading from me. Sure enough, it showed that the cost of meeting the target was going to double, but it also found that the benefits were going to increase tenfold. They found £1 trillion of benefits previously overlooked and ignored by the people who had produced the original impact assessment. That must surely raise a feeling of unreality in the minds of people considering this. If you can conjure £1 trillion of benefits out of nowhere, we really are dealing in extraordinary detachment from reality and normal accounting.
I want to see a proper impact assessment this time, even if we did not get one originally and the one we eventually got lacked credibility.
In this rewriting of history we are listening to, we need to remember that when the noble Lord talks about receiving the Bill, he was in the Commons. The Bill had undergone four to five months of scrutiny in this place, where it started life. I moved the Second Reading in November 2007. Therefore, all the scrutiny that took place here and all the questions that I and other Ministers were subject to were continually worked on by our officials. We could not answer all the questions to start with, and it was inevitable that changes would be made after it reached the Commons and went on the statute book. I reject entirely the rewriting of history; it is as though the noble Lord suddenly discovered something when the Commons was scrutinising the Bill. It was this place that did the scrutiny on the Bill before it even got to the Commons. I think we spent twice as long on it as the House of Commons.
I am sorry; I obviously have not made my point clear. An impact assessment was produced before the Bill went through either House, and a second was produced after it had been enacted by both Houses. Those two things differed in the dramatic way I have described. I asked my research assistant to go through the entire proceedings of both Houses; he could find no serious scrutiny of the cost either way, but if the noble Lord recalls otherwise, naturally I will change my assessment and realise that he missed something.
My opposition has always been based on the economics of what we previously committed ourselves to, and my concerns today relate to the economics. I recall that when the Third Reading of the 2008 Act finally took place, I and the four others who had decided to vote against it—just as a matter of principle on the economics —retired to the Smoking Room to drown our sorrows and noticed as we did that it was then, in October, snowing outside. I went back to remind the House that we were passing a measure in the belief that the world was getting warmer when it was snowing in London in October for the first time in 74 years.
I was immediately interrupted by people saying, “But surely you realise that extreme cold is a symptom of global warming”. Is that what the noble Baroness was going to say?
I have two points. There is a great difference between weather and climate change, which the noble Lord would, I hope, have understood if he has read any of the reports on this topic. Secondly, the Act commits us to no costs, because it merely has a target and enabling powers. Each individual policy then enacted to reach those targets will have an impact assessment that has a full cost-benefit analysis. The noble Lord was absolutely wrong to oppose this Act on the basis of cost, because it is a target-setting measure with enabling powers. Is the noble Lord aware of that? Could he also comment on the fact that people have repeatedly said that the Act commits us to following EU targets on renewable energy? This is another falsehood; the Act says nothing about the need to do anything through any particular technology. Does he acknowledge that?
Yes. That is not a point I have made, but I acknowledge that the noble Baroness is right to rebuke whoever did make it. I am not opposing this measure; I am demanding an impact assessment, one that covers the aggregate. The Minister’s response is that we will get a cost-benefit analysis of individual measures, as the noble Baroness referred to. I just think we ought to know what the rough total is, as assessed by the Treasury. I am not alone in this; I call in aid my noble friend Lord Deben. He rightly said that I should have read the CCC report in its entirety, rather than just the summary, before I asked my question. Now that I have read it in its entirety—I did so without losing the will to live at any point—I know that it calls for a full impact assessment by Her Majesty’s Treasury. I am endorsing that call.
As it was me who was asked the question, I remind my noble friend that what we said was that the Treasury should look at the distribution of the cost to make sure it was fairly spread. That is a different thing from what my noble friend is asking for.
My recollection is the words, “look at the cost, and in particular the distribution”, which seems sensible. I endorse both aspects of my noble friend’s appeal to the Treasury.
Does my noble friend agree that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee report on this order says:
“It would have been helpful for the Department to provide a summary of the work that is underway to assess the significant costs and wider impacts of the transition, to inform Parliament’s scrutiny of the instrument”?
Absolutely. That is what we ought to do in this House: look closely at these things. That does not mean to say we reject them. Unless we know the cost of this measure, which is potentially enormously costly, we are really buying a pig in a poke. I hope the House will focus on that point: should we go ahead and pass this without an impact assessment, or should we at least demand that the Treasury comes forward with such an impact assessment and a distributional assessment as soon as possible?
That distributional assessment is important, because these measures tend to fall disproportionately on low-income households. We have seen that in any country where the cost of climate change measures has come into political contention, those on modest incomes have tended to vote against them. We saw it in Australia and Canada; we have seen the gilets jaunes in France. We should beware and be aware that we are imposing large costs on ordinary households, and we should not go ahead and do that lightly and without knowledge of the figures.