Improvements in Energy Efficiency

Orders of the Day — Housing Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 8th November 2004.

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Votes in this debate

Lords amendment: No. 191.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 5:51 pm, 8th November 2004

I beg to move, That this House
disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

This amendment would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps to ensure an increase of at least 20 per cent. in residential energy efficiency by 2010. I assure the House that the Government have absolutely no difficulty with the idea that residential energy efficiency should be increased. In debates on this issue in the other place, the Government were accused of weakening their position on that commitment, but I hope to be able to demonstrate the fallacy of that argument. I will also show that the amendment is unnecessary because existing legislation already provides the basis for setting and—just as important—reviewing energy efficiency aims.

The 2003 White Paper referred to savings of around 5 megatonnes of carbon as an indication of what we thought we could achieve at that time. With the benefit of further analysis, we have been honest enough to publicise a slightly lower figure. The energy efficiency plan of action, published last April by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, details measures that will deliver savings of 4.2, rather than 5, megatonnes of carbon in the residential sector.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend knows that I am a big fan, but I would like to be allowed to develop my argument a little before I yield to him.

That figure is based on detailed analysis carried out following publication of the White Paper and reflects changes in economic and technical assumptions that came to light as a result of further work undertaken by DEFRA. So the Government have not sought to pull the wool over people's eyes on this issue. Indeed, the beauty of the figure of 4.2 megatonnes is that, at about 19 per cent., it is very close to the 20 per cent. improvement that this amendment seeks. Achieving 4.2 million tonnes of savings is in fact roughly equivalent to doubling the historic 1990s rate of energy efficiency improvement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has declared an energy efficiency aim of 3.5 megatonnes of savings in England, under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, as a contribution to the UK target of 4.2 megatonnes. The Act enables us to keep our aims under review, and improve on them where we can. DEFRA will consult shortly on the climate change programme review and we will also review our energy efficiency aim in 2007, as well as setting the target for the next phase of the energy efficiency commitment beginning in 2008. In other words, this is a constantly developing scene.

Savings of 4.2 megatonnes of carbon are not to be sniffed at, and they are not the whole story. The difference of 0.8 megatonnes between the White Paper and action plan figures will be more than compensated for by an increase in projected savings from the business and public sector. We estimate that the measures set out in the action plan will achieve carbon savings of around 12 million tonnes per annum by 2010 across all sectors. That is 20 per cent. greater than the original White Paper figure of 10 million tonnes and by 2010 is expected to save households and businesses more than £3 billion a year on their energy bills.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

There is much in what my right hon. Friend says, but is he aware that any saving in energy not only saves carbon emissions, but potentially depresses the need for nuclear energy as part of our energy sources? I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend addressed that issue and not simply that of carbon emissions, important though it is.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I take my hon. Friend's thoughtful point, but I am the Minister for Housing and Planning and I am addressing the issue in the context of housing. Wider issues of energy policy are not for me. I guarantee, however, that his observation will be reported to the Department for Trade and Industry, which has responsibilities in that area.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

The Minister has tried to claim that savings on carbon emissions from the industrial sector will offset the 16 per cent. cut—it is not a small cut—in the Government's initial target. However, that does not address the issue of fuel poverty and the warm homes initiative. If a 5 megatonnes saving had been the target, it would have provided the opportunity to deliver energy efficiency in the domestic sector with corresponding savings for some of the most deprived in our communities. I would not like the Government to lose sight of that aim.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observation. I assure him that there is no danger of the relationship between energy efficiency and fuel poverty being ignored in the course of our deliberations. In fact, it is my expectation that we will be able to discuss those issues at some length and in detail in consideration of the third group of amendments, which includes proposals on the decent homes programme. He will be aware that we have to make a distinction between issues of energy use and energy loss and issues of income. There is not necessarily a direct and obvious relationship between the two, as I will seek to argue later.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

In Committee, it was pointed out that there was a discrepancy in the way in which the figure of 4.2 megatonnes was calculated and the Minister who replied agreed to look at it again. What action has been taken to review the figure?

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I am certain that when Ministers make such undertakings they are followed up. I know that my hon. Friend has a deep interest in this issue—as is demonstrated by his legislative attempts—but the picture is shifting and evolving. As the technology changes, the opportunity for delivery occurs. I take his point, however, and I shall seek to ensure that those undertakings were properly pursued. I am sure that they were.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

The picture is indeed shifting, but it is important for the House to be clear about it. In the other place, Lord Bassam said that the decent homes programme would reduce carbon emissions by at least 2 megatonnes. The Government's energy efficiency plan for action, however, claims that the decent homes programme will be responsible for 0.05 megatonnes. The position has shifted, but has it really shifted that much?

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 6:00 pm, 8th November 2004

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me two things: to develop the argument in my speech, which is primarily about energy efficiency; and to revert to the decent homes programme in our later exchanges. I am, however, grateful to him for putting the issue on the record. At an appropriate point, I might be better placed to answer it.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

A number of Members are obviously concerned about the amendment. I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to further review, but in the light both of debates on the Energy Bill and of the Environmental Audit Committee's recommendations to the Government, will he give the House an assurance that he will find some mechanism in the review to consider what his Department, DEFRA and the DTI are doing so that we can be certain that we have the best possible standards for dealing with energy efficiency as the cheapest, cleanest and safest way to reduce CO 2 emissions?

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I do not do so in a facile fashion. This is an aspect of genuine joined-up government—to use that familiar and slightly cod phrase. Indeed, I recently met DEFRA Ministers precisely to discuss such issues. Other Ministers were present, as well as representatives from other Departments, so the issues are genuinely being addressed across the board, and I hope that my hon. Friend finds that, at least, reassuring.

I was setting out certain points about the progress that we have already made on the action plan and the objectives for energy and carbon savings, which go beyond those originally identified in the 2003 White Paper. It is important that those points are put on the record. They have certainly been raised in previous debates, but it does no harm to reiterate them. That is not all. More energy efficiency measures are being backed by firm policy commitments than ever before. I highlight two key measures: we expect condensing boilers to be installed faster under the 2005 building regulations than anticipated in the energy White Paper, and we expect installations of cavity wall insulation to more than double under the next phase of the energy efficiency commitment, which puts obligations on energy suppliers to achieve energy efficiency gains.

I regard the amendment as well intentioned but unnecessary and inflexible. We are already working towards its objective. Setting a numerical target in primary legislation will not help us to pursue an open, technically sound, evolving approach to the setting of objectives and targets.

Although I recognise the genuine interest in the issue shown by hon. Members on both sides of the House and have listened to debates in this place and read those that took place elsewhere, I have been struck by the approach of some Opposition Members. Their zeal for the amendment has not been matched by their approach to other provisions in the Bill that would in fact help their case. I am thinking particularly of the home condition reports that will form part of the home information packs under part 5. The EU directive on energy performance of buildings will make it compulsory for home sellers to provide energy efficiency information on their home to potential buyers. That is entirely reasonable. We know that most improvements to homes take place when keen new owners take over.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I apologise for not being in the Chamber for the beginning of his remarks.

Does not the EU directive require certification of energy efficiency to be given only when the house is sold and not when the property is marketed? Is not that key to the Minister's proposals for home condition reports?

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

We will have an opportunity to discuss those matters and, in due course, I want to go into a little more detail about the inter-relationship of the energy and home condition reports. The EU directive will require an energy report at every point of sale and that will be part and parcel of the home information pack.

Although the Opposition favour compulsory energy efficiency reports—at least, the Liberal Democrats favour them—they do not support the very means whereby they will be delivered cost-effectively: compulsory home condition reports as part of a compulsory home information pack. Those reports will contain information about the energy efficiency of homes when they are marketed. Compulsory home information packs, with data about the energy efficiency of a property and what a new owner can do to improve it, will capture that moment. Voluntary packs risk frittering that opportunity. We will return to the issue when we debate the next group of amendments.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the mechanisms to improve energy efficiency, but what I cannot quite understand is why he thinks that the 20 per cent. target would be inflexible. If we overshot it and did better, that would be fine, but is not it good to have the target, to fix the Government's mind and to ensure that we reach the minimum necessary to achieve our overall goals? After all, let us not forget that our overall goal is a 60 per cent. reduction in CO 2 emissions by 2050.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

But we are already almost at that 20 per cent. point—achieved by mechanisms that may not have been anticipated even two years ago. When we are moving towards the target, with which my hon. Friend is properly concerned, it seems unnecessary to add this provision to the Bill and set a numerical target, which may be overshot or outdated but none the less adds a degree of inflexibility. Indeed, it might even encourage a degree of complacency. Let us have neither suspicion of the Government's intentions nor encouragement to complacency. Let us not make an unnecessary amendment to the Bill.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

It has been a fair time since we debated these issues in Committee, and one could have predicted that they would come back at this point. The upper House has done us a favour by bringing the matter back to our attention.

The amendment is not unreasonable. It is not unreasonable that

"the Secretary of State shall take reasonable steps to ensure an increase in residential energy efficiency of at least 20% by 2010 based upon 2000 levels."

The Government included that commitment in their manifesto, so it could not have seemed too inflexible then. They said that they would decrease CO 2 emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 based on 1990 levels. From 1990 to 1997, carbon emissions decreased by 13.1 million tonnes. Since the Government were elected in 1997, such emissions remained almost static, but in three of the past four years they have increased.

In August, the Environmental Audit Committee reported that the Government's latest forecasts indicated that by 2010 carbon emissions would be 8 million cubic tonnes more than the target—a 25 per cent. shortfall. That target is the Government's target; they have assured the public no fewer than 15 times that it would be the energy efficiency aim set under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. Some members of the Government have promoted that target. On 17 August, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry wrote to Mr. J. Card of Hereford:

"I hope the above helps to convince you that the Government has put in place measures to deliver the expected 5 million tonnes of carbon from household energy efficiency savings."

The Government's sustainable energy policy network website lists as an objective delivery by 2010 of

"additional emissions reductions in households of around 3.5 million cubic tonnes . . . beyond those envisaged"— that is, 1.5 million cubic tonnes—

"in the UK Climate Change Programme".

That equals 5 million cubic tonnes, or the 20 per cent. specified in the amendment. The site also states that it is a Government "commitment" to deliver

"improvements in household energy efficiency of 5 million cubic tonnes by 2010", which is exactly what the amendment says.

The DEFRA website lists the target under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 as a 30 per cent. improvement in 10 to 15 years, using the baseline of 1 April 1996. Taking that as its lowest—30 per cent. over 15 years, based on 1996 levels—it is virtually the same as 20 per cent. over 10 years, as in the Lords amendment. Indeed, the Energy Saving Trust—the Government's own adviser—does not know why the target has been changed to 16 per cent. It has been completely surprised by the sudden decrease and has said so publicly, as it has worked on the policies to achieve the higher figure of 20 per cent. In evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on 19 May, it said:

"We were involved in developing the Plan" but

"we have to say that we did not have the final decision" in respect of the reduction

"and we do not agree with it."

As support for the 20 per cent. target will come from Opposition and Government Members, the real issue is why the Government have decided to change the target. After all, the Lords amendment uses the phrase "reasonable steps". I have served on enough Committees to know that "reasonable" is not an unreasonable word to use in legislation. The target does not necessarily have to be achieved, but the Government must take reasonable steps to achieve it. The Lords amendment is not unreasonable. It would set this country's policies in the context of international relations at a responsible level, and it should be supported.

I note that early-day motion 96, on the residential energy efficiency aim pursuant to the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, has accumulated more than 340 signatures. Given that Ministers would not sign an early-day motion, two thirds of all the Back Benchers in Parliament must have signed it. I would not suggest that Members of Parliament would sign any early-day motion lightly on such an important matter that has an impact on the future and sensible energy policies. That shows the breadth of support for the 20 per cent. target. The Lords have given us an opportunity to think again, and I hope that the House will adopt a sensible approach and vote for the 20 per cent. target.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The Lords amendment is very important, and I agree with Mr. Syms that their lordships have done us a good service by introducing it. Reference has been made already to the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, which I piloted through the House a couple of years ago, and early-day motion 96, so I want to concentrate on what the Government said in opposing the amendment in the Lords last week, which the Minister has just repeated.

Last week, Lord Rooker said that 4.2 megatonnes is double the historic 1990s level. That is welcome, and we should not lose sight of the fact that there has been a major change. In the energy White Paper, the Government said why the target was important, and they set the aspiration at a 20 per cent. reduction. The problem is that officials began to realise that an historic step change would be required and that a number of issues need to be addressed.

Lord Rooker argued for flexibility and said that the 2003 Act provides a mechanism to increase the level—it certainly does—but that is not a reason why the Lords amendment, which would set a floor, should not be carried. The Lords amendment would set in statute a floor beneath which Government aspirations should not fall. If the Government want to exceed that baseline, they can use the mechanism in the Act to go way above it.

The Minister rightly referred to the action plan, which contains many good points; but, again, that does not negate the need for the Lords amendment. The Government have also argued that we are doing well in the industrial and business sector, so we should be allowed to slip in another sector, but this is not a zero-sum game. Our aspiration should be to exceed the level in every sector.

Lord Rooker also said that the Government have a good tale to tell. The Government are not reneging on their commitments, despite what the Opposition have said, but they are scoring a classic own goal. We have a good tale to tell, but because we are not living up to what we said in the White Paper and we are arguing about 4.2 megatonnes as against 5 megatonnes, we are scoring an own goal for no good reason.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire 6:15 pm, 8th November 2004

Does my hon. Friend not agree that set as we may undershoot our CO 2 emission reduction targets by about 25 per cent., as reported by the Environmental Audit Committee, to pass up what the White Paper called the cheapest, cleanest and safest way to reduce carbon emissions—energy efficiency—seems perverse, to put it mildly?

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

My hon. Friend makes the key point. Energy efficiency is the best and most effective way to achieve our goals. Whether we are talking about tackling climate change, reducing carbon emissions or taking people out of fuel poverty, energy efficiency is a key policy instrument that the Government must use. By embracing the Lords amendment, the Government would be going with the flow, rather than trying to find a justification for resisting it, when everyone interested in the issue knows that the White Paper provided the right aspiration and the right policy.

In May, during the debates on the Energy Bill in Committee, the Minister said that the energy commitment would be reviewed in 2007—he has repeated that today—but he also thought that the non-statutory commitment would lead to a substantial stepping up of activity. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. If I am right and the increase has not been sufficient, not holding the review until 2007, with implementation in 2008, leaves very little time to achieve our goals.

The Minister also said that dialogue with the industry was needed to ensure that the serious disappointment that has been expressed until now does not recur, but that disappointment has been reinforced by the resistance to this very sensible Lords amendment. We have been down this route before with combined heat and power, when we made similar statements with consequences for the CHP industry. We are in danger of doing the same with energy efficiency.

I have often quoted Bryan Carsberg saying that regulators think that if something is not in the statute, it does not exist. What is true for regulators is also true for officials. Such a proposal has been around for a long time. Indeed, it was part of my original Sustainable Energy Bill. When a ministerial reshuffle took place during the consideration of that Bill, officials said that they would oppose it, although it had been agreed before, and their words are etched on my brain:

"That may have been ministerial policy, but it is not departmental policy."

That is the nub of the problem, and those words struck home. If officials do not see something in statute and do not agree with it, it will not happen. There must be a statutory requirement to allow officials to act. That is why the performance and innovation unit's report was so important and why the energy White Paper was so insistent on the 20 per cent. target.

Everyone agrees that the era of low energy prices, which helped to lift millions out of fuel poverty, is over. We are in a different global environment, so we must consider how to take more people out of fuel poverty. At a recent energy company's annual general meeting, someone said:

"The consequences for companies that do not act responsibly and take steps to assess and mitigate risks posed by climate change will be just as devastating as the recent corporate scandals."

What is true for companies is also true for Governments.

Next summer, the UK will hold the presidencies of the G8 and the EU, and the Prime Minister has rightly made tackling climate change a key objective. Never has the old adage "Think global, act local" been so true. If we do not take on board the Lords amendment, we will negate all the words we use and cause problems at home and abroad. It will give our opponents—whether political opponents at home or countries that oppose the Kyoto protocol—the excuse not to take the action that is desperately needed if we are to take climate change seriously.

The Prime Minister is right to focus on the international context next year, but we do not need to erect unnecessary barriers, which we will do if we do not accept the Lords amendment. We can hardly criticise the United State if we seem to run away from a sensible amendment. This ought to be a no-brainer, given the list of people who support the target, which includes the energy industry, energy efficiency companies, campaigners from various non-governmental organisation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Women's Institute, Shelter and tenants' organisations.

All the political parties signed up to the proposal—all their green wings have endorsed it—and some 340 MPs from all parties signed up to the aspiration. The wording of the early-day motion was carefully discussed with Ministers and officials, and the figures were checked with officials several times. All of them suggested a figure of 20 per cent, not 16 per cent. The 20 per cent. figure was reaffirmed on 24 occasions, 15 of which were ministerial statements. It was confirmed only a few days before the actual target was announced.

The Minister says that there is only a small difference between targets of 16 and 20 per cent., so why is it a problem to accept the Lords amendment as a basis on which we can move forward? There is a mechanism by which we can go above the target, but we need a statutory floor. Whatever words the Government use, they will send a clear message by disagreeing with the Lords amendment: the matter is not a priority, and the market need not deliver because slippage is okay. That message would be totally wrong. It would go against everything that the Government are trying to do and all the good things that Departments have done.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Does my hon. Friend accept that the all-party warm homes group has taken evidence showing that industry wants to invest in products that would lead to greater energy efficiency? That would create jobs, so there would be a win-win situation all round: we would not only reduce CO 2 emissions and the utility bills of people in fuel poverty, but increase jobs in industry.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

As I say, this should be a no-brainer. I ask the Minister to rethink his position and accept the Lords amendment. I do not understand why he wants to turn the win-win situation that my hon. Friend described into a no win situation in which we would be accused of reneging on commitments. The story that we have to tell is good, and we have made excellent achievements, so we need to seize the opportunity of achieving a long-held Labour aspiration. We should not give our political opponents a stick with which to beat us, or erect unnecessary barriers that would hinder next year's G8 negotiations.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

The Minister described the figures as a shifting, moving picture. The shifting and moving has been on the Government's part, because they have moved from their stated target of 5 megatonnes of carbon down to 4.2 megatonnes. He says that that would result in a 19 per cent. target on carbon rather than a 20 per cent. one, and asks what everyone is getting so worked up about. I suspect that the figure is closer to 18 per cent. than 19 per cent.—

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

Well, the reduction would be 16 per cent., but the Minister said that the overall effect would be equivalent to a 19 per cent. target. However, if the difference between the targets is so small, why will the Government not agree to the 20 per cent. target? Why is a target of 19 per cent. more achievable than one of 20 per cent.? The Government must know something that the rest of us do not. There must be a reason why a 19 per cent. target can be achieved easily, but 20 per cent. is out of reach. I am struggling to understand what that is, so when the Minister winds up the debate, I hope that he will set out why the Government are confident that they will meet the 19 per cent. target, yet fail to meet 20 per cent. The projections that his officials are making must be really tight to enable him to reach that conclusion.

By my count, at least 150 Labour Members signed the early-day motion—[Hon. Members: "Over 200."] I am being told that the figure is more than 200. [Interruption.] Well, the bigger the number gets, the more uncomfortable the Minister looks. I hope that the Labour Members who signed the early-day motion will back that up with their votes.

There is a lot of good in the Bill—[Interruption.] There are some bad things as well. However, as there is a lot of good in it, we do not want to descend into a process of ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons. The easiest way for us to avoid that would be to accept the Lords amendment. If Labour Members were to stick to their guns, we would not have to send the Bill back to the Lords because we could pass it now. That would get the Minister out of a bind, because it would make the Whips happy if we did not get into ping-pong. The Minister used to be a Whip, so he knows all about that.

Hon. Members have posed good questions already, yet the Minister made great play of the fact that the target in the amendment is only just above the Government's proposal, but if there is such a small difference, the higher target must be achievable, unless he knows something that the rest of us do not. It is very strange for the Government to say that we should resist the amendment because we will get awfully close to the target in it anyway, but that is essentially the position that they have adopted.

I hope that the Minister will make the difference between the targets clear and explain why there is so much at stake that he will resist the amendment. Energy efficiency has been described as one of the Government's key objectives, and proposals have been made by the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit, so there is clearly support for it high up in Government. The Government's Sustainable Development Commission has used the 20 per cent. figure, and we have heard that it has been cited in letters even recently. I do not understand why the Minister is resisting the amendment. Brian White described the decision as a no-brainer, so the Minister must come clean and tell us what is at stake if we change the target from 19 to 20 per cent.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

We need to put the debate in the context of the best aspects of the Government's record. For the first time in history, the Labour Government gave a statutory undertaking to eradicate fuel poverty in this country by 2016. The Government and the Labour party should rightly be proud of that awesome commitment. Equally, the Prime Minister made it clear to the House that meeting Britain's Kyoto targets was a statutory and binding obligation. He has also said that addressing the challenge of climate change will be the centrepiece of the next Labour Government, so the amendment should be at the heart of what Labour has tried to stand for: taking people out of fuel poverty while meeting our broader global obligations to tackle climate change. It is thus bizarre and somewhat absurd that the Government refuse to endorse the targets in the amendment that successive Labour Ministers have affirmed as Government policy. We are having an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" debate that has been constructed by officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, rather than Labour Ministers or the Labour party.

The reduction of the carbon target from 5 megatonnes to 4.2 megatonnes has been justified on the ground that it was done on the basis of the best available evidence at the time. People have asked the nature of that evidence and where it came from, but it has not been adequately justified. Our advisers, the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, said that it was at a loss to understand why the Government wanted to introduce a lower target. I think that in this Bill, as in those that have preceded it, civil servants have been faced with the prospect of targets, but rather than asking how they can meet them, they have asked how they can lower the hurdle. They want to know how they can appear to be meeting Government targets without breaking a sweat. There is a conflict not between different parties in the House, but between the House—it knows the policies that came from the Government—and the civil servants who have the job of writing measures to deliver and implement Government policy. They should not rewrite such policies to give themselves an easier life while leaving everyone else with bigger problems.

The Minister understandably rebuffed the question of whether that would contribute to our ability to choose not to go down the nuclear path by saying that it was not in his remit to address energy industry issues because we are merely discussing a Bill on housing. That is perfectly fair. By the same token, however, he cannot try to shelter from reducing carbon savings as a result of improving household energy efficiency by saying that other savings would be met and exceeded in other parts of industry. We made specific commitments in relation to the housing sector and it is against those commitments that we are being asked to define a position in the Bill.

Hon. Members have counted the number of Labour MPs who signed the early-day motion, with different results.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

It seems that the figure is now 229.

Someone said that it is hard to find a loser, but there are 230 potential losers—the 229 Labour MPs who signed the early-day motion in good faith and the country. Those commitments are not abstract figures. They will affect the quality of life of the most fuel-poor people in the country. The Government need to accept that the challenge that faces us is to stand by the commitments that we have made.

In a letter on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dated 28 October, Alan Clifford of the sustainable energy policy division wrote to Mr. Robson, chair of the Association for the Conservation of Energy and a member of the Government's Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, in an attempt to rationalise why the lower figure of 4.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions was being set. He said:

"the White Paper figure was based on the best information available at the time, and was not a target."

Unfortunately, we are getting into the realms of pantomime. Civil servants may consistently say that the figure was not a target, but other voices in the background say that it was. The Labour manifesto said:

"We will lead the fight against global warming, through our target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010."

So that target was defined in the manifesto.

The letter went on to say that the energy efficiency action plan, published in 2004, reduced the target to 4.2 million tonnes because that was deemed to be the appropriate figure. So the 5 million tonnes was not a fixed figure. However, when Matthew Taylor asked the Prime Minister:

"Will he make it clear that there is no truth in the interpretation that has been put on the comments of some Ministers that Britain will stick to the new Government's 20 per cent. target for cuts to CO 2 emissions only if other countries co-operate in cutting their emissions? Will he confirm that our target is not conditional on the action of others?", his response could not have been clearer. He said:

"It is not a conditional target".—[Hansard, 24 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 687–88.]

We have targets that are defined as unconditional; targets that are defined as a quantum; targets that are defined by a succession of Labour Ministers; and targets that are endorsed, approved and supported by 229 Labour Members. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of local authorities, non-governmental organisations and everyone who works in the environment and fuel poverty sector all envisaged us setting and standing by our targets. The question that will baffle the public is why on earth we would want to renege on them now.

The Minister said that there was a danger that setting the target would create a mood of complacency and we would be held back, but the final paragraph of Alan Clifford's letter nails the lie of that when he says:

"it has always been recognised that additional measures might be needed to achieve the domestic goal of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1990 levels by 2010."

By setting the lower figure of 4.2 million tonnes, there is a calculated level of under-achievement in which officials recognise that the Government will be forced to identify other measures. Why do we build in a guarantee of failure to meet the targets that we have set for ourselves when it is within in our reach to do so and to stand by the commitments that we made?

Hon. Members are right to say that the energy efficiency industry waits for us—pleads with us—to set those targets, which it will meet. It is incomprehensible that the Minister asks the House to set lower standards when our original targets are within our reach and we should stand by them. I am not asking him to do a Dolly Parton and stand by our man, but I am asking him to stand by our manifesto, which would be welcomed by the public and the party.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I shall be brief because I agree with every word my hon. Friend Mr. Syms and the hon. Members for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), for Ludlow (Matthew Green) and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) said. I declare a possible non-financial interest. For many years, I was a qualified architect, but for much of that time I was off the drawing board and now receive no income from my erstwhile profession. Indeed, I said in Committee and before that I have a reverse interest to declare because for years I paid professional subscriptions to the Royal Institute of British Architects to no avail.

I feel a sense of sadness about the proposal. I honestly do not think that there was any need for the Government to resile from their commitment to improve energy efficiency by 20 per cent. by 2010 on 2000 AD levels. They have made a tactical mistake, and I shall set out why. As hon. Members have said, they repeatedly assured us that that target would be set. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole said that they repeated that 15 times. The target has got into the public psyche, which is good and heart-warming. It has also been fully supported by the Energy Saving Trust, the Sustainable Development Commission, the Government's official advisers and at least two other Departments—the Department of Trade and Industry and DEFRA. I cannot understand why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has suddenly decided to revise it.

The plan is to save 4.2 megatonnes of carbon rather than 5 megatonnes. That is a reduction of 16 per cent., which is significant. However, as other hon. Members said, the revised target means that we will hit only a 19 per cent. overall improvement in energy efficiency instead of 20 per cent. by 2010. Overall, the House supports the Government in the early-day motion that has been tabled. I hope that the number of Labour Members who support the proposal does not increase, as that detracts from the all-party nature of the issue, for which there is general support. I shall not be here in 2010, but if I am correct, my colleagues, whether they belong to the Government or the Opposition, will not feel a sense of triumph if the Government fail. There will be a sense of sadness, combined with respect for the fact that the Government kept to their original target. Even at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, I beseech the Minister, for whom I have a very strong regard, to change his mind or seek to persuade the Government to do so.

In conclusion, the Government have set myriad targets—some people may say too many—throughout the field of government. I am a member of the Public Administration Committee, which produced a report on Government targets. We may have complained that there are too many targets, some of which contradict others, but we have never suggested that pinpointed targets are anything other than a good thing for the Government to try to achieve. If the Government do not accept the Lords amendment, which was tabled by Baroness Hanham on 3 November, they will detract from the efficacy of their target-setting policies. I beseech the Minister, who represents Streatham—I must remember not to say "St. Reatham"—to reconsider his position, as he will win tremendous all-party support not only from hon. Members but from the public at large, persuading them that we take the issue of energy savings and energy efficiency very seriously indeed.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

I shall make a brief speech, as I hope that in his reply the Minister will take on board the many points made by Members on both sides of the House.

I religiously signed the early-day motions because I believed in them and in the original target. We must be careful not to devalue targets by suggesting that a target that cannot be met provides a perverse incentive and undermines the system. Many hon. Members passionately want the original target to be met and to be applied to energy efficiency. My hon. Friend Brian White set out our aims clearly, and I urge the Minister to persuade the Government to address the reports and debate on the issue. If the target cannot be included in the Bill, will he give us an assurance that we can meet what we set out to achieve—the basic floor target of 20 per cent. savings?

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I am sure that, like us, the Minister is strongly in favour of abolishing fuel poverty and meeting achievable targets on insulation with a hard-working programme. I do not believe that that is at issue. However, I would like to know why he believes that it is inappropriate and wrong to include the 20 per cent. target in primary legislation. Does he fear, for instance, that the Government could be taken to court gratuitously if the Lords amendment is accepted? Would a lot of legal time be taken up defending slow-burning Government programmes? Why does he agree with everything that has been said in favour of the target, but object to its inclusion in primary legislation?

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 6:45 pm, 8th November 2004

I will not delay the House long, as I merely seek clarification.

It is obviously difficult for the Government to change their mind. Had the Bill received pre-legislative scrutiny, they might have been able to do so. However, once a Government have decided to push through a measure, it is usually impossible for them to change their mind.

I have just one question for the Minister. The Lords amendment says that

"the Secretary of State shall take reasonable steps to ensure an increase in residential energy efficiency of at least 20 per cent. by 2010 based upon 2000 levels."

Will the Minister clarify the Government's position? Is it that he supports the target but does not want to include it in the Bill? His reply will help hon. Members who signed early-day motion 96 to consider their position before voting against the Government.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Let me provide immediate assurance to my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan that the Government support the 20 per cent. target and, indeed, as I have argued, we are in the process of meeting it.

I am alarmed by the tone taken by some of my hon. Friends. There is no hidden agenda or conspiracy. May I tell my hon. Friend Alan Simpson that the Government have not reneged on their commitments—we are delivering on them, as I have previously said, and as I shall go on to demonstrate. I respect the expertise of my hon. Friend Brian White, who protested that we have not accepted the terms of the amendment, even though, somehow, we have already agreed to its substance in legislative form. We have not done so, but we are not withdrawing or resiling from our commitments. To be entirely accurate, the figure of 5 million tonnes of carbon savings in the residential sector was never the Government's stated aim, but an initial indication in the energy White Paper of what could be achieved. However, our record stands in its own right. The 4.2 million tonnes of carbon savings that have been mentioned in our debate represent a significant increase in activity on current levels, and will require a major increase in delivery by the industry. Our latest calculations indicate that that total corresponds to an increase in efficiency of about 19 per cent. compared with 2000 levels.

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

No, I am afraid that I do not have time.

We expect a significant increase in overall carbon savings from energy efficiency. The energy efficiency action plan details measures to make estimated carbon savings of 12 million tonnes of carbon—a 20 per cent. increase compared with the rough figures in the energy White Paper, which predicted savings of 10 million tonnes of carbon to 2010. I repeat, therefore, that we are genuinely succeeding in meeting our energy efficiency targets, so the Lords amendment is simply unnecessary. There are no grounds for doubting the Government's commitment and we are getting there by making carbon savings across the board.

My hon. Friend Mr. McWalter raised the relationship between energy efficiency targets and fuel poverty. He will know that that relationship, about which colleagues and I share serious concern, is not unilateral. We will have an opportunity to debate it later this evening, but I remind him that measures in the energy efficiency action plan play an important part in combating fuel poverty. As he and the House will know, there has been a steady reduction in the number of households in fuel poverty, which we can discuss in more detail later. However, I remind the House that the fuel poverty action plan for England, which will be published later this year, will set out how the Government expect to meet the target of eradicating fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010. I therefore invite the House to disagree with the Lords amendment.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 259, Noes 186.

Division number 311 Housing Bill — Improvements in Energy Efficiency — rejected

Aye: 259 MPs

No: 186 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 210 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.