Fuel Poverty Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 9:49 am on 20th March 2009.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 9:49 am, 20th March 2009

The original estimate was based on reaching band B, but I do not think that there would be a huge difference in the number of jobs created if we went for band C. Many of the hard-to-reach homes will still need the most work to bring them up to the band B standard; it is a question of what exactly the retrofit involves.

I have spoken for some time now, so let me conclude by running through the clauses. Clause 1, "Purpose", is self-explanatory. Clause 2 makes clear the Secretary of State's duty to eradicate fuel poverty—the duty that the House, until a few months ago, believed it had already enacted. The clause also contains provisions on energy performance certificate measurements, on which I have made it plain that I am happy to compromise with the Government, if that would be helpful.

Clause 3 deals with the key element: the fuel poverty strategy. Under that clause, the Government must produce their plans within six months of the Bill's enactment. That is where I hope the Department's current work will come to fruition, so that an effective strategy is developed. The most important element—the most important difference from previous legislation on this subject—is subsection (3)(a), which refers to

"policies to promote energy efficiency measures and the use of microgeneration installations and locally supplied sustainable energy in existing buildings", which refers to measures such as fuel pumps, which are not used enough at present and which have huge potential, particularly for harder-to-reach properties. I hope that the Government will take up such measures.

The fuel poverty annual report required under clause 4 is very much in line with what the Government are already doing, because of previous legislation. Clause 5 deals with changes to the number of properties involved and provides flexibility for the Government either to accelerate or to decelerate—I regard that as unlikely—the scheme to meet changing circumstances. Clause 6 acknowledges the fact that some properties are harder to treat than others. Let us be honest: some properties will not be brought up to standard even if the Bill is enacted, because some people simply will not be interested in treating their houses. Some people will never seek help or let anyone into their house, and we have to accept that.

Clause 7 is about prioritising, because one of the National Audit Office's concerns about the present scheme is that it is not well targeted and seems to miss many fuel-poor people. Clause 8 allows for revision of the fuel poverty strategy and clause 9 imposes a duty to consult, which is always important before the Government publish any measures. Clause 10 deals with social tariffs, but in the form of energy assistance packages. The packages will go slightly wider than simply providing a social tariff and will, I hope, as a result of Government action, impose obligations on the energy suppliers.

Clause 11 is a safeguard: if the energy performance certificate scheme is changed, we will not need new primary legislation to effect those changes in definition. Clause 12 is the money clause and clause 13, "Interpretation", sets out the definitions of the various terms used in the Bill. Clause 14 sets out the short title and the extent of the Bill's effect. Most of the Bill will not cover Scotland and Wales, but I hope that the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly will follow its lead.

What are the arguments against the Bill? I accept that there are potential arguments based on cost. In response, I argue that we cannot afford not to take these measures. The Government are already committed to incurring substantial costs and need to be committed to much greater expenditure if they are to meet their targets. The second argument is that the time is not right, because of the High Court ruling. I have disposed of that argument: I do not believe that the Bill seeks to overturn that ruling or that it cuts across the Government's current consultation. If the Government are going ahead, that is good news and is entirely compatible with the purposes of my Bill.

It seems to me that the Bill is urgent. There are always arguments why the time is not right, but, as my hon. Friend Paul Holmes said, we have been waiting for decades for action and good intentions are no longer enough. In addition, the measures in the Bill will create jobs at a time when it is necessary to make jobs, and will deal in part with the problems of climate change at a time when there is a desperate need to tackle climate change. Whether the Bill passes is a litmus test of how serious the Government are and of whether the Department of Energy and Climate Change is worthy of its name. Finally, the Bill is urgent because if we fail to take these measures, we fail the poor, the elderly and the disabled—we fail people who are living miserable existences, whom we can do something here and now to help.

The least satisfactory outcome of this morning's debate would be hon. Members deciding to use procedural rules to talk the Bill out. I would prefer it if the House voted on Second Reading and I lost that vote because the Government had decided to oppose the Bill. Many people outside will not understand if underhand tactics are used. The Bill is very important. I hope that it will at least reach Committee, where we can have all the discussions that the Government and others want and we can make it a better Bill—one that secures consensus.

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