Part 2 Lobbying Bill on hold: Early closure of power stations

In October, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab), commented [HL Hansard 14 Oct 2013  Col 264] that

“ . . coalition Peers seem to be flooding in with no apparent upper limit[.] Are there any members of the Liberal Democrat Party who are not in the House of Lords?”

However, the recent influx of 29 new peers (14 Con, 10 LD, 5 Lab) seems unlikely to end government defeats in the Lords, such as Monday’s amendment to the Energy Bill and Tuesday’s back-tracking on Part 2 of the Lobbing Bill.  The BBC’s Mark D’Arcy notes “[w]hen all the new peers have taken their seats, the arithmetic of Their Lordships’ House will be Conservatives 222, Labour 221, Lib Dems 99, Crossbenchers 183 (plus the 23 Bishops, 21 non-affiliated peers, and 14 from “other parties.”)  So while the Coalition parties can comfortably outvote Labour – the “political majority” Labour peers are prone to moan about – there are more than enough Crossbenchers and Others to swing a vote, especially if the government can’t carry all its peers, as often happens.

Both the Energy and the Lobbying Bill are, for different reasons, important aspects of the law and religion agenda.

Energy Bill

The 237 to 193 government defeat was summarized in The Guardian as introducing a requirement

“to bring old coal power stations under new regulations forcing them to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions”.

Anyone who is concerned about global warming will welcome such a move, if it is not subsequently overturned by the “greenest government ever”, but whilst this may be the effect of Baroness Worthington’s Amendment 74 to the Bill, it but the reasoning behind this conclusion is not immediately obvious from the content of the Amendment, which doe not refer to carbon dioxide, viz.

“Schedule 4, page 130, line 3, at end insert—

“(iii) substantial pollution abatement equipment dealing with oxides of sulphur, oxides of nitrogen, heavy metal emissions or particles is fitted to the generating station.”

The detailed explanation is more relevant to my column in Environmental Law and Management, but in essence was captured by Lord Teverson (LD), who said [at 4 Nov 2013 : Column 32]

“Coal plants are effectively excluded from the EPS [Emissions Performance Standard] under this legislation, [i.e. loophole]. However, unabated coal plants are one of the main sources of our nation’s overall emissions of CO2. This is a major challenge in terms of our climate change targets and our desire to bring down carbon emissions in the United Kingdom.

[…]

The Government have rightly made provision in the Bill that if certain major modifications are made to fossil fuel generating stations they have to be re-consented [i.e. granted a permit to operate], and the EPS becomes applicable, thereby making it impossible to run an unabated coal station. I seek to extend that provision to all major changes, including those plants attempting to reinvest to comply with the industrial emissions directive, [Directive 2010/75/EU].

[…]

 We seek to do this because the Government’s trajectory for their carbon plan has always assumed that fossil fuel unabated coal stations will come out of UK generating capacity in an ordered manner after 2016. All that this amendment intends is to make sure that that actually happens.”

Part 2, Lobbying Bill

November 5 was the first day of the Committee Stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill in the House of Lords, and prior to these considerations, Lord Ramsbotham moved a motion, [5 Nov 2013  Col 108]

“[t]hat, in the light of recommendations of the 7th Report from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (HC Paper 601–1), the 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights (HL Paper 61) and the 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee (HL Paper 62), and the report on Non-party campaigning ahead of elections from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, so much of the orders of the House of 22 October and 28 October as relate to Clauses 26 to 35 and Schedules 3 and 4 be vacated, and that those clauses and Schedules be instead committed to a select committee; and that the select committee do report by 13 February 2014.”

Seeking to address these concerns Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) stated, [5 Nov 2013 : Column 109]

Following our conversations [with Lord Ramsbotham], and having taken on board his constructive suggestions, I am glad to say that we seem to have an agreed way forward. I believe that we have come up with a way of delivering a pause in our consideration of Part 2 of the Bill so that there can be wide consultation over the coming weeks and so that the Government can try to address the concerns of those involved and interested in Part 2.

[…]

“we could revise the order of consideration to delay our consideration of Part 2. I can undertake to return to the House tomorrow with a revised order of consideration Motion, to take Parts 1 and 3 first and Part 2 last. I understand from the Chief Whip that I can also undertake that the two days in Committee on Part 2 will not be scheduled before 16 December, on the understanding that we need to finish Committee this side of the Christmas Recess. That effectively gives a near six-week pause in our formal consideration of Part 2.”

Following detailed consideration by their Lordships, Lord Ramsbotham withdrew his motion, having achieved a delay in the formal consideration of Part 2 of the Bill, although the former Bishop of Oxford,  Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) noted with caution, [5 Nov 2013 Col, 112]

The Minister has basically offered a five-week period of consultation. I remind your Lordships that the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee recommended a pause of six months. The commission believes that six months is unnecessary, but five weeks is a very short period indeed.

I can say that the commission will do all it can to help the Government during the consultation period, but if it turns out that five weeks is not long enough to get the kind of agreement that we all want on this crucial issue, I remind the leadership of some new advice which has just come from the Electoral Commission, which states:

“Should Parliament decide that a period of consultation is desirable before the Bill makes further progress, we would recommend that the start of the regulated period for the 2015 general election be delayed by an appropriate period”.

It goes on to say that that would give it good time to draw up its advice and educate the charities. Therefore, if the Minister finds that this five-week period is not long enough, there is an alternative that would still enable the Bill to get through in time for the 2015 election: namely, to heed the advice of the Electoral Commission. “

Their Lordships then proceeded to the 1st Day Committee Stage, and consideration of other aspects of the Bill, [5 Nov 2013 – Col. 117], a summary of which will be published later.

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