I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Over the past year, energy policy has been in the spotlight. From the gulf of Mexico to Fukushima, no one can doubt the importance of our energy choices. For the first time, scientists have linked greenhouse gas emissions to an increased risk of major floods. Faced with a difficult financial situation, the Government’s objectives are clear: we must secure affordable energy supplies for the future and avoid dangerous climate change. Neither will be easy. The gap between our energy demand and our energy supply is growing and we are increasingly dependent on imported energy. We still rely heavily on unclean and unsustainable fossil fuels. By law, we must cut our emissions by 80% by 2050, and we must get 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 under EU law. Our energy infrastructure is ageing. Our old polluting power stations are shutting down.
The hon. Gentleman can take it from me, as a former journalist on The Guardian,that he should not always believe everything he reads. The Government will make our announcement on the question of the fourth carbon budget in due course.
Building the next generation of power plants will take time and money. If we are to cut our carbon emissions and keep the lights on, we must act now. The cheapest way of closing the gap between supply and demand is to reduce the amount of energy used.
The Government are rightly concerned about fuel poverty and whether customers are paying too much for their energy—a situation not helped by a myriad of tariffs and complex energy bills. As my right hon. Friend’s fellow Ministers know, I have submitted simple proposals to his Department that would oblige energy companies to show customers how much they would save if they were on that company’s cheapest standard tariff, based on the customer’s actual usage, rather than a generic or average usage. Other Ministers have been supportive. Will he be?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I know that he has been very active in promoting that cause. I thank him for the way in which he has been championing that change, which will help to increase consumers’ control of their energy bills, and I very much hope that he will continue to do so. I can certainly say—for myself and the whole ministerial team—that we are supportive of his work and the ideas that he has brought forward; we see a lot of merit in them. I would want to consult more before introducing detailed legislation, but we very much welcome the thrust of that work.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question on that issue. Obviously, there is an absolutely central objective of the electricity market reforms, on which we are consulting, and it is that we bring forward proposals. We are determined that we should have an adequate supply margin through even the toughest of winters. My whole ministerial team is determined to ensure that, and I merely urge him to wait for our White Paper, which will I hope reassure him about the prospect.
In the light of what the Secretary of State has just said, what does he make of Centrica’s threat not to reopen its gas field because of the punitive taxation that his colleagues have imposed on it? If he really wants security of supply, surely that is central to its future.
Perhaps the right hon. Lady has more information on that than I do. I read the comments very carefully, but I did not read a comment about closing down the Morecambe gas field. That would be a very odd thing for an operator to do, but we will have to wait for the fullness of time to see whether she or I are right.
The Secretary of State said a few moments ago that we need to act now to combat climate change. Will he therefore act now to bring in emissions performance standards for power stations by adding an enabling clause to the Bill, so that we make progress in that crucial area as soon as possible, the electricity companies know where we stand, and we do not have to wait months and years for action that, as he says, needs to be taken now?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is not a question of months or years; the proper place for the House to debate as significant a change as emissions performance standards is as part of the electricity market reforms. We will give a very clear indication, as I said to Mr Redwood, of exactly what direction we are taking with our energy policy on the production side. The thrust of this Bill, which we are debating today, is more on the energy saving side, but we will make very clear the detailed proposals on emissions performance standards. We have a clear commitment in the coalition agreement—and, indeed, in our parties’ manifestos.
I am going to make a bit more progress, if I may, and if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, because I have taken four interventions without being able to draw breath between any of them.
Building the next generation of power plants will take time and money. If we are to cut our carbon emissions and keep the lights on, we must act, and the cheapest way of closing the gap between supply and demand is, as I said, to reduce energy use.
The Bill contains provisions to boost our energy security, to encourage low-carbon technologies and to improve energy efficiency. It gives energy companies a new obligation to reduce carbon emissions and to support vulnerable consumers, and it delivers a key coalition commitment: the green deal—a self-financing building improvement scheme to bring our properties into the 21st century.
The UK has some of the oldest and least efficient buildings in Europe. Every day, throughout the country, our homes and businesses leak heat and waste energy.
The exact specifications of the measures that can be included in the green deal are properly left to secondary legislation—and for several reasons, because setting it out will require detail and my officials are in the process of talking to industries throughout the country about getting costs down. The scale of the green deal gives us an opportunity for economies of scale that may well bring a whole new series of measures into the possibilities that it offers. I would very much like to see the maximum possible range of measures—including, indeed, double glazing. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, a quarter of the UK’s energy emissions come from energy used in the home, and billions of pounds spent on domestic heating literally disappear up the chimney. Businesses are wasting money and our outdated building stock is costing us the earth. Not any more: under the green deal—
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the biggest problem is in the private rented sector, and that one of the best ways to deal with some of the worst properties is to stop landlords being allowed to let F-rated and G-rated properties by 2016?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will respond to his point later if he will allow me to make a bit of progress.
Under the green deal, energy-saving packages worth thousands of pounds will be installed in millions of homes and businesses right across the country. There has never been anything quite like it. It is the most comprehensive energy-saving plan in the world. Green deal measures will be provided by trusted businesses, installed by accredited professionals, and backed up with a watertight legal framework. Customers will pay nothing up front; businesses will do that for them. Once the property has been refitted, green deal providers will get their money back from the expected savings on energy bills over the lifetime of the measures. This is the big change: payments can be made not just by the existing tenant or owner-occupier but by the new beneficiaries once the original installers have moved out and moved on, so there is a longer repayment period. That makes the whole scheme much more financeable and much more attractive.
My right hon. Friend refers to the companies that will undertake the assessments and potentially the work itself. Has he had time to reflect on the lessons from the Warm Front scheme, where large companies cleaned up all that work when a lot of it could have been undertaken efficiently by small local companies? Will he ensure that the way in which the legislation is framed does not keep those small local companies out of undertaking this important work?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are absolutely determined to ensure that this scheme is open to small businesses that are properly accredited and properly qualified as installers. I am sure that all of us, in all parts of the House, want not only the biggest companies but small businesses to benefit from the advantages of the green deal.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about householders moving and the contract then being taken on. However, in the evaluation process that took place at the beginning, the estimated savings were based on usage by the initial occupier. What will happen when the occupier changes and those savings then change as well?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, when we are looking at savings or cash flow, money today is worth more than money tomorrow, so from the point of view of the installer, the longer the period, the more the work is worth doing. The key change in the Bill is to introduce the ability to go beyond the existing owner-occupier or tenant in order to spread payments out over a long period.
At the heart of the green deal is a golden rule—that for typical households, expected savings will offset costs. Each month, a green deal home will save energy while providing the same level of comfort. Money from likely energy savings will pay off the costs of the work. This is not a personal loan. Let me repeat: once a property has had the green deal, payment will stay on the energy bill at that address, even if the occupants then move out. When someone moves into a green deal home, they inherit the energy savings that pay for the work. Everyone has a part to play. This is about Government helping businesses and households to come together to deliver energy savings that are important on a national scale.
Through this legislation, we are creating a new market in energy saving. Just as the law establishing joint stock companies unleashed big investment, so this law will set the legal framework for a new green growth industry.
The Secretary of State said that he is creating a new market. Considerable consumer protection and competition concerns have been expressed to me about the creation of this market. What advice has he taken on the aspects of the Bill that will set aside the Consumer Credit Act 1974? Is it not the case that many people will feel tied to a particular energy provider? How will he ensure that these measures do not inhibit people from switching between energy providers?
We have taken extensive advice on the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and the Bill is absolutely in line with the protections.
In the view of this ministerial team, it is essential that the consumer has the highest possible protection, both financially and in terms of the quality of the installation, for the simple reason that the success of the scheme will depend on word of mouth. If people go around saying that they have had a bad experience, either financially or in terms of the installation, the scheme will not be the success that we want it to be. That is why we have been careful not to rush the Bill through. A lot of pressure has been brought to bear on us, because of the state of the economy, to ensure that we get it through as quickly as possible, but we have been determined, particularly drawing on the experience of Australia, to avoid the mistakes of countries that have rushed this matter, and to ensure that we get it right. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have done that. I will turn to some of the more detailed answers to his question later.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. Is it not the case that the golden rule will not help people in fuel poverty much because they are far more likely to feel any green deal benefits through greater thermal comfort rather than through reduced fuel bills? The energy company obligation pot does not have much money in it, although £2 billion is a good start. However, even that is being paid for by a levy on consumers’ bills, and there is research to suggest that that mechanism will push more people into fuel poverty than it pulls out.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s assessment. It is important to deal with people in fuel poverty. The energy company obligation, as she pointed out, will enable us to fund green deal measures for those in fuel poverty. The ECO will ensure that people, such as the stereotypical little old lady in her extremely draughty home who could suffer from hypothermia, can enjoy more comfort and do not have to generate energy savings to install insulation. The hon. Lady is right that we want such people to have more comfort and to enjoy a higher temperature, because we do not want to see our fellow citizens dying from hypothermia. Providing more comfort is explicitly allowed for in the Bill, and we have just introduced legislative measures for the warm home discount. We want to ensure that there are means through the green deal to tackle the root of the problem of fuel poverty, and to deal with fuel poverty problems for those who have not benefited from that.
On the ECO, does the right hon. Gentleman regret agreeing with the Treasury cap on Department of Energy and Climate Change levy-based spending over the current funding cycle, under which any new levy spending—if it is so defined by the Office for National Statistics—would come within the levy cap? Under that scenario, what present levies does he intend to carve out in order to carve in the ECO?
The hon. Gentleman should first realise that the ECO is not covered by that as yet, although it may be in the future. Secondly, it is legitimate for the Treasury to have an interest in the taxable capacity of the country as a whole. If we impose an additional obligation on electricity consumers through legislation, we should be absolutely transparent about it, and we have committed to do that through the annual energy statement, for example. It is also absolutely appropriate that the Treasury should have oversight of that, and that there should be ongoing negotiation to ensure that the balance is struck between the progress that we want to see on fuel poverty and hard-to-treat homes, and the charges that are put on the electricity consumer.
I will make a little progress, if I may.
Millions of homes, and millions of businesses, could benefit from the green deal in the next decade. We expect that households will be able to install measures worth up to £10,000. That is a massive undertaking, and it can make a real difference. Heating is the second biggest driver of energy demand in Britain, and British Gas pilots show that householders who put in energy efficiency measures can cut their gas consumption, and their bills, by up to 44%. That is a very substantial and significant saving, but so far energy efficiency has passed under the radar. We estimate that between £2 billion and £3 billion of energy is wasted every year because our homes are poorly insulated and inefficiently run. We may as well be standing outside our front doors burning £50 notes. That waste represents £2 billion to £3 billion of gas and oil imports that make us more vulnerable to the vagaries of global oil and gas markets.
What estimate have the Government made of the contribution that the energy efficiency measures in the Bill will make to the UK’s obligations on reducing carbon emissions?
One problem that we have in making that assessment is that, as I have said, this is the first scheme of its kind in the world. If an economist is trying to make a projection of what is going to happen in future, they usually examine what has happened in the past, but there is no history for this scheme, so it will be a case of “suck it and see”. However, later in my speech I will give some estimates of what will happen if the scheme progresses as rapidly as I would like it to.
I am exceedingly grateful.
I have to say that much of what the Secretary of State is telling the House is familiar to me, as the person who pioneered and piloted so much of the history of the green scheme that he denies exists. What conversations has he had with the banks? How investment is to be raised is the key element that has not been described to date.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, and I pay personal tribute to her for her work on the matter. I am not—repeat not—attempting to make any partisan points. This has been a genuinely important piece of work to which Members of all parties have contributed, and I think it will be a game changer.
On the banks, I shall read the right hon. Lady a quotation that I believe sums up better than anything that I could say what is likely to happen with the financing of the scheme. It comes from Conor Hennebry, the director of global capital markets at Deutsche Bank, who says:
He added on another occasion that
“the City is practically champing at the bit to finance the government’s green deal.”
I believe that the finance for the scheme will come through very strongly. The securitisation market is opening up—Eaga, for example, has already gone to the bond market with a securitisation, and many of the utility companies have securitised gas bills. I think that finance will be readily available, which will be an important part of making the green deal work.
I welcome the Bill—it is a superb idea, and I applaud the Government for bringing it forward so quickly. May I press the Secretary of State on consumer protection? As with any new initiative that a tremendous number of people want to take up, some providers will inevitably promise the earth and not deliver. What protection will there be for consumers, particularly those in fuel poverty to whom much is promised but little is delivered, to ensure that they get the insulation and the reduction in their fuel costs that they are expecting?
I absolutely sympathise with the hon. Lady’s question—I spent a number of years on the board of the Consumers Association, and I am a firm believer in the need for good consumer protection. There are several layers of protection, and the first line of defence for the consumer is competition. The inability of householders to get an assessment and an alternative quote—such competition keeps suppliers lean and mean—is perhaps what went wrong with the Warm Front scheme.
In addition, we will have all of the usual protections. I mentioned the Consumer Credit Act 2006 in respect of finance, but there is also the accreditation scheme for assessors, so we will know that assessors are properly trained to assess what people need in their homes to meet that golden rule. We will have properly qualified installers, so avoiding the problems that occurred, for example, in Australia, where untrained people crawled through people’s lofts, banging nails into wires and setting fire to homes. The whole Australian energy efficiency industry was given a bad name for many years because of that, but we are avoiding those problems. The hon. Lady will see in Committee that we have delivered a lot on consumer protection.
The Secretary of State has concentrated on the benefits of the Bill, which of course depend on whether there is high take-up, which in turn depends on the interest rates on loans under the green deal. Will he give us some idea of what he intends the interest rate to be? Most expect that it will be of the order of 8% to 10% over a 25-year period, which will rule out very large numbers of people, particularly the poorest.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the interest rate is important. However, it is up to competing businesses to arrange that finance. I also very much hope and trust that finance houses will make pools available for the small businesses of which my hon. Friend Andrew George spoke, so that providers other than the B&Qs and the Scottish and Southerns—the big providers—can get involved. The key point is that the securitisation market is opening up for such businesses, and the finance available is at a reasonable level, which I believe will ensure that we have take-off. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right that that is a market decision.
The Secretary of State mentioned qualified installers, which in theory are all very well. However, one problem, especially in rural and island areas such as mine, is that in practice, local businesses are often unable to tender for the work because of the big contracts that are put together. People in the locality are cut out and left without the work while people come in from outside and take it up.
As I have already said, the Government are committed to trying to make the benefits of the green deal available to small businesses, which obviously includes those in remote islands and rural communities. We have consulted widely on that with both of the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government. We have a very substantial measure of consensus with the Scottish Government, but if issues need to be addressed in Committee, we will happily address them. I am terribly keen to ensure that the Bill works throughout the UK, because the homes that need insulating exist throughout the UK. Some of the greatest beneficiaries will be communities that are off the mains gas grid. Homes in such communities are often quite hard to treat, and the Bill will be of enormous benefit to them.
Under the green deal, households could save up to £400 a year once the measures have been paid off. That will flow through to spending power, boosting living standards for all, yet many people have never even considered making their homes more efficient—they do not know what better energy efficiency could do for them. New green deal assessments will set out clearly and consistently just how homes and businesses can save energy. The green deal is a new way of doing energy efficiency.
Let me make a bit more progress, but I will give way again later.
There will be no more picking off the easy bits, with a little insulation here and a low-energy light bulb there; no more relying on regulation alone to change behaviour; and no more top-down schemes imposed using public money. Instead, we are creating a new dynamic market in energy efficiency, shifting from small-scale improvements to deep retrofits on a national scale. This dynamic market will bring jobs across the length and breadth of the country, and real growth, reaching into the most deprived areas, with no regional bias.
On that point about the added benefit of the scheme to regional economies, can the Secretary of State estimate the number of the quality jobs that will be created in areas such as the west midlands and the black country, a part of which I represent?
That will depend on the take-up in different areas, but we estimate that nationally—there is no reason for any geographic or regional disparity; the numbers should be the same across the country—that the number of people employed in insulation alone could soar from 27,000 to 100,000 by 2015. The potential benefits are huge, with opportunities for skilled and unskilled labour alike up and down the supply chain.
The green deal will save energy and help us to hit our carbon emissions targets. It will also give us a chance to get people thinking about how they can reduce their own energy consumption. Millions of homes and businesses could benefit from the green deal, but as with any new product, building consumer trust will be critical to success. We want people to know that the green deal is not just a smart choice, but a safe choice, which is why the Bill also ensures that consumers will be protected. The green deal will be delivered by partnerships across the country.
For a minute I thought that as a Democratic Unionist Member I was not going to be allowed to speak in a green debate. When I was a Northern Ireland Assembly Member, I was involved in discussions on these measures, so it is appropriate that I have the opportunity to speak today. At the time, we proposed a clause on guaranteed performance standards that made it clear that if providers did not live up to their promises, they would be accountable for losses and monetary penalties could ensue. Does the Secretary of State intend to enshrine that principle in the Bill, so that what the Assembly proposed will be applicable across the United Kingdom? It would ensure good customer service and enhance security and protection.
The short answer is that there is a limit to what we can guarantee—the hon. Gentleman used the word “guarantee”—for reasons that will become obvious: if someone were suddenly to marry a Brazilian and wanted to keep their temperatures 3° or 4° higher in the winter, I could not guarantee that their energy bills would be lower. We have to be cautious, therefore, but if there is no behavioural change, we would expect energy savings.
We will ensure that high-quality, standardised advice is given so that each customer can see clearly where and how the green deal will work for them, and that those installing green deal measures must meet robust standards. We will guard against mis-selling, and ensure that the right information is on hand at the point of sale. Competition will keep suppliers keen: if a customer does not like the quote from one green deal provider, they will be able to get another.
This is a key test that will give legs to the Bill. Some of my constituents have contacted me about their troubles with Warm Front. There has to be a clean break with the past. This has to be a better way of doing business and giving us all a green deal for the future. I am looking forward to that particular piece of the Bill.
The hon. Lady is right. Many of us have been visited in surgery by constituents saying that they were quoted under Warm Front for an improvement, but oddly the entire subsidy was taken up by the provider, rather than going to the constituent. The point of introducing this competitive provision is to ensure that the subsidy goes where it is meant to, instead of disappearing into the pockets of some large business.
The Bill will also introduce a new energy company obligation to replace the carbon emissions reduction target and the community energy savings programme, which have not unlocked carbon savings fast enough. The new obligation will be more ambitious. Energy companies will be expected to pay to support hard-to-treat properties such as those with solid walls, where insulation costs can be higher and the payback period longer than with the typical home. ECO payments from energy companies will be bundled with green deal finance and delivered together to ensure that the green deal is available to all. The scheme will also help the most vulnerable people—those in the coldest homes—to get the heating improvements that they need to keep warm and stay healthy. Cold homes cost lives. By targeting support more closely, we can reach more people more effectively.
I wonder whether this Energy Bill might be the right place for the Government to instruct the regulators to say that companies should no longer charge so much for the first units of electricity used—or whatever power it is—but instead swing that round to the point where there is better use of power. That will help the vulnerable and those in fuel poverty, because the whole thing has tipped the wrong way.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There are many difficulties in the energy market of the kind that she describes—for example, with prepayment meters, which often make things more expensive. That is precisely why we introduced the Warm Homes discount, which provides people in vulnerable households with extra support, and why the green deal is so important. We are not just using a sticking plaster—which is what we do when we subsidise people—but dealing with the root cause of the problem. One of the key points is that people in fuel poverty and those at the bottom end of the income distribution have an enormous range of energy use. Their use can vary by a factor of six merely depending on the kind of property they happen to be in. If they are lucky enough to have a social landlord who has recently renovated the property to the decent homes standard, their energy bill can be low; if they are in the private rented sector, it can be six times as high.
If I may, I am going to make some progress.
We will focus our resources on where they can do the most good. That means finding practical solutions to identify households that need the most support. We are determined to get to grips with the causes of fuel poverty, not just the symptoms, but the tools at our disposal are not up to the job. That is why I have asked Professor John Hills to conduct an independent review of the fuel poverty target and definition, so that we can understand the problem and what we can do to fix it, and also be held to account as a Government for the progress that we make. The review will produce an interim report in the autumn and a final report early in 2012.
For too long, a sizeable minority of tenants has suffered from higher bills and colder homes. Privately rented houses are more likely to have the lowest energy efficiency rating than those that are owned outright.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way again. Are not tenants unlikely to challenge their landlords on the introduction of the green deal because of a fear of retaliatory eviction? Would it not be much more effective to introduce minimum energy efficiency standards that landlords have to keep to if they want to put their buildings on the market?
The hon. Lady anticipates a point that I will turn to very soon.
Landlords do not want to invest because tenants benefit; tenants do not want to invest because they will move on. By linking the green deal measures to the property, not the tenant, the Bill bridges that divide. With the green deal, everybody wins. Landlords will face no up-front costs; tenants will keep warm for less.
I welcome many of the positive responses that we have had from landlords to the prospect of the green deal. However, some individuals and organisations feel that we are not committed to securing improvements to the least energy-efficient properties in the private rented sector. Many tenants suffer appalling conditions without the power to agree improvements with their landlords. The debate has been lively, and we have listened. That is why I am pleased to announce that we will change the current provisions to make it clear that we will regulate. This is significant step and a marker of our intent. From 2016, any tenant or their representatives asking for their landlord’s consent to make reasonable energy efficiency improvements cannot be refused. From 2018, the rental of the very worst performing properties—those rated F and G—will be banned through a minimum energy efficiency standard. We will of course seek to work with landlords well in advance to support their take-up of the green deal. The precise form of these regulations will be subject to the usual scrutiny processes.
We also remain committed to ensuring that all councils play a role in delivering the green deal. The recent memorandum of understanding between DECC and the Local Government Group recognises the enthusiasm that councils have for delivering the green deal.
I have a question about the private rented sector, and I ask it in a spirit of non-partisanship because I know that the Secretary of State likes that kind of thing. I welcome what he has said about putting some pressure on landlords but, given that the public sector will in effect be paying the rents of some of these energy-efficient dwellings, through housing benefit and housing allowances, has his Department had talks with the Department for Work and Pensions to see whether the withdrawal of housing benefit could become another weapon in his Department’s armoury?
We have discussed this with the DWP, and that would certainly be one route down which we could go. There would be dangers in doing so, however, not least because some of those on housing benefit find it hard to get into privately rented property. The simpler route that I have suggested will have a clear and predictable effect and will touch more than 680,000 homes in the private rented sector that are currently rated F and G. This is a substantial move.
The Government are clearly announcing significant changes to improve energy efficiency in the private rented sector. Will the Secretary of State expand on what he would consider to be reasonable, in the context of his saying that any reasonable request from a tenant would not be refused? Also, why has 2018 been chosen, rather than 2016 as many outside groups have been calling for?
The clear idea here is to give a point at which we know people are going to be able to aim. It is not reasonable to introduce changes very rapidly when, for example, there might not be voids in property renting. We do not want to impose unnecessary costs, and it is therefore appropriate to set a date. Let us remember that the scheme does not begin until October 2012, and we want to set a date by which the private rental sector can deliver.
Before he took those last two interventions, my right hon. Friend had just reached the point about the memorandum of understanding between his Department and the Local Government Group. The Bill does not at present include any powers for local authorities, and some of us are concerned that if it is simply left to the private sector to generate the scheme, it might not be sufficiently targeted at the communities that need it the most. Should we not give a duty, or at least a power, to local authorities in this regard? Does the Local Government Group sign up to that kind of joint arrangement with the Government?
My hon. Friend needs to recognise that a substantial number of councils are very enthusiastic about the scheme, because of the benefits that it can bring in regard not only to energy saving but to local jobs. I personally think that we are going to see go-ahead councils trumpeting the work that they do in this area. They already have substantial powers to monitor and to ensure that this will happen.
Alongside the green deal provisions, the Bill also contains measures to enhance energy security. They include legislative changes to reduce the likelihood, duration and extent of gas supply disruption, and to protect consumers from very high wholesale prices. These new powers would sharpen the commercial incentives for energy companies to meet their contractual supply obligation during a gas supply emergency. The Bill also introduces a special administration regime for gas and electricity suppliers, which will help to maintain market stability and protect consumers.
The right hon. Gentleman is rapidly going through energy security measures, but clause 100 provides a power to change the boundaries of the continental shelf. According to Library research papers, the aim is to provide flexibility in managing the UK continental shelf resources. Will the Secretary of State give us more information about which parts of the UKCS he envisages changing, what resources are involved and what consultations have taken place with the devolved Administrations?
We have indeed had consultations with the devolved Administrations on all aspects of the Bill. One objective of this part of it is to ensure that the smaller and more difficult to get at fields, which have potentially higher costs, are nevertheless attractive and can be handed on to companies who will exploit them to the full. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see from the Public Bill Committee that that is what we are trying to achieve.
I must make progress.
The regime will ensure that if a large supplier becomes insolvent, customers will be supplied with gas and electricity as cost effectively as possible until the company is rescued, sold, or its customers are transferred to other suppliers.
The Bill also includes an updated regime for third-party access to oil and gas infrastructure. Timely access to infrastructure on fair terms will be increasingly critical over the next decade. The discoveries now being made in the North sea are typically smaller than those in the past and need to make use of existing infrastructure where possible. The measures in the Bill will help us to secure the full economic benefits of our North sea oil and gas resources.
The Bill brings energy efficiency to homes and businesses across the country. It boosts the security of our energy supply, protects consumers and supports green technology. In setting up the green deal, it places us at the very forefront of the low-carbon drive—with an innovative, dynamic market delivering energy efficiency at scale, with no extra cost to the public purse.
I have come to my peroration and I have given way many times. I would like to continue.
Together with our reform of the electricity market, which will open up our energy portfolio and deliver the next generation of low-carbon electricity, the Bill represents a signal step towards a cleaner, greener future for the UK. In the scale of its ambition, this Bill is a statement of intent. It will help cut our carbon emissions, reduce our dependence on imported energy and protect the most vulnerable in society. This is our flagship policy on energy saving. This legislation provides for it, and this Government will deliver it. I commend the Bill to the House.
I was starting to think that my moment might not come this afternoon. I am delighted that the Secretary of State managed to make it to the House this afternoon to speak to his own legislation. The power of Twitter knows no end!
It is important to outline where the Opposition stand on the vital issues facing the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Government. We would all agree that there is no greater threat facing the planet than global warming. In the 19 years since the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro, when climate change was firmly put on the agenda, the issue has moved from the fringes to the centre stage. Even during the 13-year period of the last Labour Government, for whom I had the privilege to serve, the issue became more urgent and pressing. That is why Labour not only introduced tough targets to reduce our emissions of the gases that cause global warming, but enshrined them in law.
This coalition Government cannot be accused of ignoring climate change. The Prime Minister himself put the environment at the top of the Tory agenda when he took his husky ride to the Norwegian glacier. At the time, there were sceptics—including the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change—who dismissed that as merely a public relations stunt. We could doubt the Prime Minister’s commitment; after all, he has uttered hardly a word on the matter since. Why else, though, would one install a wind turbine on the roof unless one were committed?
As the Secretary of State has said, the Energy Bill provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catalyse Britain’s journey from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy, to change customer behaviour for ever, to lead the world in reducing carbon emissions and to be a bright beacon to our partners in Europe, America and the Commonwealth. So the coalition Government have set out their stall, claiming to be “the greenest Government ever”, and what have they come up with? After months of bravado, bragging and boasts from the Energy Secretary and his ministerial team, we have a Bill that adds new meaning to the word “disappointment”. It is a flaccid lettuce leaf of a Bill, laden with missed opportunities and ducked decisions. If the school playgrounds of Britain have indeed adopted a new phrase, “doing a Clegg”—which, for the benefit of Liberal Democrat Members, means saying one thing and doing another—the lexicon will soon contain another new phrase, “doing a Huhne”. That will mean “talking big”, for 45 minutes in this instance, “but delivering little”.
I am very disappointed by what the hon. Lady is saying, on behalf of many of my constituents. A couple of months ago I was at a fish-and-chips supper with some retired people, and one elderly lady was literally in tears, saying that given her very limited resources she did not know how she would manage to keep warm in the winter and eat as well. I find it pretty shocking that an initiative that is making a bold effort to remedy that situation should meet with such complete disregard from the Opposition.
The hon. Lady may be jumping to conclusions. It is this Government who are removing the Warm Front scheme, and it is this Bill that is failing to deliver for the fuel poor. I shall say more about that shortly.
In his 45-minute peroration, the Secretary of State promised 100,000 jobs. He promised that the poorest would be saved from the cold, and that the market would protect the consumer and many others. However, he did not give us the details of some important matters. We have a Secretary of State who has been rolled over by the Tory Chancellor—and, we have learned in recent hours in days, by his own party colleagues, particularly the Business Secretary—on every important issue in his Department. We have also learned today that the ECO may be within the levy cap, but not yet. We have a Liberal Democrat sheep in a wolfish Government: a Government who want to be green-tinged, but who are under-delivering on their grand promises.
The Opposition seem to misunderstand—[Hon. Members: “You are the Opposition!”] They are the Opposition to me. They seem to misunderstand the position. There is cross-party agreement on the need for more renewables and a lower-carbon economy, but we believe that the Bill could do more to deliver that. What disappoints us is that a Bill that promised so much is delivering so little. We hope that in Committee we shall see some movement from the Government.
At the heart of the Bill is the green deal, which the Secretary of State spent much of his speech telling us about. The task is obvious. We all agree that Britain needs to insulate its homes and buildings. It needs to improve energy efficiency in millions of households. Given rising energy bills and the need to hit our carbon reduction targets, that work must be done, as Labour’s manifesto made clear at the last general election.
If the hon. Lady wishes to improve energy security and insulation in homes and to reduce carbon, I do not understand why she does not recognise that the Bill is a game-changer. I recall another game-changing piece of legislation, the Clean Air Act 1956. That was the first in the world; this is the first in the world. That attracted—
First does not always mean best. We want the Bill to succeed in its aims, but if the hon. Lady looks at the detail of the Bill and reads the report of proceedings in the other place, she will observe the glaring gaps that I will shortly highlight. As I have said, the task is obvious and the challenge is great.
The point is that this Government are removing Warm Front, and there will be nothing for the fuel poor; this Bill will not deliver for them.
The challenge is great. As the Secretary of State said, 27% of all UK emissions come from our homes. All Members are committed to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050; there is cross-party agreement on that. However, during the Bill’s passage in the other place Ministers were offered opportunity after opportunity to make their proposals clearer, to introduce proper measures of accountability such as an annual report, and to safeguard consumers, but they rejected those offers of help, and we have not heard any further detail throughout the entire 45 minutes of the Secretary of State’s speech today.
Other Members may have longer memories, but I do not believe that this House has ever been asked to vote on the Second Reading of a Bill in which so much of the detail is unclear or not worked out. We are being asked to buy a massive pig in a poke, and that is simply not good enough. At the very least, the Secretary of State should concede the need for evidence sessions for the Bill, so we can shed some light on its murkier aspects, but he has refused to do so. As a result, Members will not have a single opportunity to discuss the Bill outside Committee. Today, the longer the Secretary of State’s answers were, the less we learned. [Interruption.] No, those are my words.
The key question this afternoon is whether the Government’s proposals meet the challenge. Sadly, my confirmed conviction is that they do not.
The hon. Lady seems to turn disappointment into an art form. Is she not aware that many people are very disappointed that under the Government with whom she served fuel prices and the number of people in fuel poverty went up, and she did nothing about it?
I am sure the Secretary of State would be delighted if he had the power to control fuel prices, but now may not be the time for a lesson on the global oil economy.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s point. This Government cannot lecture us, given the impact of their policies on the budgets of households throughout the country, leaving them nowhere to go when oil prices increase.
In answer to a question from Robert Halfon, the Secretary of State said every home would benefit from the green deal—he clearly has no shortage of ambition in this area—but the Department for Communities and Local Government predicts that there will be more than 27 million households in England by 2033, so how can the green deal possibly hit that target? The Secretary of State talks about companies being keen to get involved, but we know that most have already stepped back, so unsure are they of what the Bill will deliver.
If the Secretary of State is so confident about his proposals, why has he refused to set a target for the number of homes that would benefit? He gave us a waffly answer earlier, but at a public event he said he had wanted to call this Bill the Energy Saving Bill but was told that the parliamentary Clerks would not allow it.
I am sure that all Members are far less concerned about the title of the Bill than about what it achieves, and there are a number of obstacles to achieving the Secretary of State’s aims. First, we have no details about the interest rates at which the green deal cash will be loaned. Evidence suggests that an 8% rate will deter many households. Although there were rumours that incentives would be provided in the Budget, none were announced, yet without any tangible incentives most householders just will not bother. A loan of about £6,000 will barely scratch the surface of paying for what will need to be done to make most homes as green as they will need to be to meet our targets. The Minister of State, Gregory Barker, has now suggested that loans could be as much as £10,000, which I hope is a sign that the Government finally recognise that there are inadequacies in the Bill, but that higher sum will be more off-putting to the poorest households whose homes are often the most expensive to improve.
On the golden rule, I was interested to hear the Secretary of State’s version of things—perhaps this is a new addition to the Bill—which was that “money today is worth more than money tomorrow”. That shows a level of financial literacy that clearly bodes well for the Bill. We also face the question of whether the banks will be interested, and the only banker that he could cite is a former Tory special adviser—he would be in favour, wouldn’t he? We need the banks to be on board if the Government’s model is to work.
Secondly, this Bill contains no assurances about who will conduct all the assessments and repairs. Who will accredit the legion of assessors—the 100,000 people that the Secretary of State talks about? Where will this army of assessors come from? We all know that the Government are doing their best to create a vast pool of newly unemployed nurses, RAF pilots and other skilled workers who need a new job, but even at the rate that this Government are destroying our services and putting manufacturing firms out of business, there will not be enough skilled people to do the job on the scale required.
The Secretary of State has been asked today, as Ministers in the other place have been, which measures could be put into a home under the green deal. Again, we have heard lots of words—for example, when he talked about double glazing—but he simply does not know the answer, and neither do suppliers, householders and landlords. Hard-to-treat remote and rural homes that are off-grid provide particularly big challenges, but the green deal, as it stands, does not step up to deliver on them. When the Secretary of State talks about success that will be determined by word of mouth, we know he has a great plan that will certainly deliver the results he sets out. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Clearly Government Members do not understand irony.
Thirdly, and most shamefully, the Bill—[Interruption.] I think that Government Members ought to listen to the detail. I say that for those who have perhaps not followed it as closely as some of us. Thirdly, and most shamefully, the green deal fails the basic test of fairness, as the poorest households will get the least help. The constituents of mine who, like some of your constituents, Mr Deputy Speaker, and those of other hon. Members, shiver under blankets every winter will not be reassured by the coalition placing the responsibility for tackling fuel poverty with the energy companies. Those households, who have the most to gain from decent insulation and lower bills—I do not doubt that Members across the House are committed to solving this problem—should be the Government’s first priority, but instead they have been left until last.
Finally, I come to an important question on which we have not been given enough detail: what about consumer rights? If the work under the green deal is botched, how can consumers get redress? If the projected savings do not add up to the value of the loan over 20 years, who will pay the shortfall? What guarantees can Ministers offer consumers that they will not be saddled with debts, especially when they buy a house with a green deal loan already in place?
The Secretary of State talks with passion about stopping cowboys getting in on the deal, but his Government have abolished Consumer Focus, the watchdog that has successfully taken up consumer issues with the energy companies. No detail on consumer redress is available to us as we debate this Bill on Second Reading. People are rightly asking these questions and even where Ministers are coming up with answers those answers are not very reassuring. We simply need more detail. We are expecting about 50 pieces of secondary legislation after the House has made its decision on the Bill tonight, on Report and on Third Reading.
The hon. Lady seems to be “doing a Hillier”, snatching embarrassment from the jaws of defeat. We have heard real detail from the Secretary of State today on minimum energy efficiency standards for the private rented sector. Is it not a bit churlish of her not to welcome the detail that we have heard on the private rented sector, which has been called for by many external organisations?
That tells us all we need to know about the relationships in the coalition. If the hon. Gentleman, a Liberal Democrat, believes that what we heard from the Secretary of State today is detail, he perhaps needs to look again at the Bill. The detail is missing. The Secretary of State is keen to talk about the Bill with passion but he is not giving the answers. We are waiting for detail on the 50 pieces of secondary legislation, but we have seen none at all. I lay this marker down for the Secretary of State that in Committee we will seek further detail on many of these important issues and others—
I’m not your love, matey, and I suspect someone else might find that surprising, too.
It is important that we get the detail in Committee and I make that point for a good reason. The Government have form on not giving answers in Committee. The Bill has been in the other place and so we might have expected it to be better. We gave it a fair wind and we would still like to see it succeed, but we need more detail before it can do that.
There is a yawning gap between Ministers’ rhetoric and their actions and it grows day by day. In public, Ministers talk about being the greenest Government ever, so why have they called the Climate Change Act 2008 “red tape” and placed it in a review of what they call “burdens on business”? Ministers might huff and puff and say that the Act is safe in their hands, and I do not doubt the commitment of the DECC team, but why then is it in the red tape review? Perhaps they need to talk to other members of their Government.
Why have Ministers ended the commitment to zero-carbon homes? That fact caused the WWF to resign its place on the working group as the decision was so out of the blue. Why will the green investment bank not be up and running for two more years? Allegedly, the money to fund it is coming from Britain’s stake in a uranium enrichment company, URENCO, which the Financial Times suggests is in doubt.
There is an elephant in the room and we all know what it is. The Energy Secretary has had his eyes on a prize other than reducing carbon emissions. I know that he has had to pull himself away from the detail of the Bill in recent days to attack his coalition partners by article, letter and leak, and it is a shame that he has had to do so because—to give him credit—it might be a better Bill if he had applied himself to it. We also know that the demands of the alternative vote campaign have, for some reason or another, taken up much of his time when he might have been meeting with green groups, consumer groups or businesses that would have told him what a mess the Bill was and how to improve it. There is still no excuse, when he is backed up by the gold-standard civil service of this country, to come to the House with this dog’s breakfast of a Bill. It is weak on specifics, clouded in uncertainty and built on such shaky foundations that few can have confidence in its standing up to scrutiny. We want the Bill to succeed, but we have no detail and no plan from the Government about how it will be implemented.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is still much to do before the Government can claim to be the greenest ever. There are also significant gaps in the Bill. One example from my constituency concerns a community hydro project in Saddleworth that might not go ahead because of the anomaly in the current legislation, which is not addressed by the Bill, that prevents it from securing the higher feed-in tariff rates. Surely that is something we should be encouraging.
If the hon. Lady does not mind, I will sidestep the disappointingly partisan nature in which she has engaged in the debate. I am genuinely confused. She appears to endorse the principles behind the Bill and, quite understandably, is expressing some anxieties about the details. That is certainly a matter for debate in Committee. Will she urge her colleagues to vote for or against Second Reading?
I think the hon. Gentleman wants to know whether he can get home early for tea tonight.
Let me reiterate: we set out that we wanted to give the Bill a fair wind, and I personally made that clear to the Secretary of State. It builds on ideas and work that were carried out by the previous Government and it needs to work to deliver the emissions reductions that we need in this country to meet our targets. It is light on detail, however.
I think the tenor of the argument in the House is that the whole House wants to see the Bill succeed, but there is an issue with the delegated legislation and with its range. May I suggest that those on the two Front Benches meet at some stage to discuss how that can be dealt with so that we can have a constructive debate as well as holding the Government to account? We all want the Bill to succeed.
I am in discussions with those on the Government Front Bench. When I asked to see draft secondary legislation so that we could be comforted that it would deliver the securities we have been asking for if the Bill was passed, I was told in a letter from the Secretary of State that that would not be possible until the primary legislation had been passed. I live in hope that the Secretary of State—he is a man who believes in this issue; I do not doubt his commitment—and I can continue to have a dialogue.
Even if the delegated legislation comes after the Bill is passed, may I suggest that there is a discussion about evidence sessions on it and some form of progress report on the Floor of the House so that there can be a wider ranging debate?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion, which I have also made to the Secretary of State. I am sure that with the support of the House the Secretary of State will see the good sense in that suggestion and I hope he will talk to officials about how they can ensure that we facilitate it.
Overall, climate change is too important to leave to the market, and that is one of the problems with the Bill. The market and the market alone will decide. We need a strong Government to lead the fight against global warming and fuel poverty, but I fear that instead we have a Government who are at war with themselves.
I begin by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I would very much like to find something nice to say about the speech that has just been delivered by Meg Hillier. I listened carefully for 25 minutes and I could not really say that it made any serious contribution at all to the debate. It was extraordinarily churlish in tone and very ill-judged. If ever there was an issue that cried out for a bipartisan, long-term and constructive approach, it is energy policy and climate change. That was wholly lacking from every sentence of the hon. Lady’s speech.
I warmly welcome the Bill, which is a big—and overdue—step in the right direction. I agree that some details remain to be filled in, but no doubt they will be addressed in Committee. I want to comment briefly on four aspects of energy policy that relate to the Bill. The first, of course, is energy efficiency. The Bill is especially welcome because of its intense focus on energy efficiency, which has always been the Cinderella of energy policy. I have always found that to be extraordinary—it is truly the no regrets policy. Even people who do not accept that climate change is a threat to the conditions of climate stability that have prevailed in the very recent history of our planet, thereby allowing one of the most recently arrived species, human beings, to proliferate in number and enjoy phenomenal and unprecedented success, and who see no advantage, either environmental or economic, in moving to a low-carbon economy can see the merits of greater energy efficiency, which has economic as well as environmental advantages. Those economic advantages accrue to households, rich and poor alike, and to businesses.
The green deal, which is the centrepiece of the Bill, is an excellent concept, even if there remain some areas of its implementation that we would like to know more about. The principle that energy efficiency measures can be financed through savings on fuel bills is a good one that is attractive to consumers. In practice, however, although most of the energy efficiency measures needed have a large and fast enough payback to meet the golden rule to which the Secretary of State referred-that instalment payments for the improvements will not exceed the cost of the savings made-there will be some measures that probably do not come into that category. I hope therefore that the Government will recognise—not necessarily in the context of the Bill, but soon—that some further incentive might be needed to improve all the housing stock in this country. I urge Ministers, as I have before, to explore more fully how discounts on council tax could be used to encourage faster progress to a comprehensive energy efficiency process. Those discounts could even be introduced on a revenue-neutral basis.
Powers for councils to do that are already on the statute book. A number of councils have introduced incentives through council tax, which have been very effective. We do not need new powers to do that, and I think that a lot of the most go-ahead councils will do it.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that point. I hope that means he will encourage the use of those powers in areas in which a significant number of households are not able to use the green deal measures as a sufficient mechanism and incentive to get the improvements that are needed. The same approach could be adopted for business premises by giving discounts on business rates.
Smart meters might also help. Helping consumers to understand the costs of energy and how they can better manage their energy consumption could be very valuable, but I hope that the Government will take a close interest in the roll-out of smart meters. There is a risk that the whole initiative might turn sour if the meters do not get off to a good start, if mistakes are made or if consumers become suspicious that they are going to benefit suppliers more than consumers.
Would my hon. Friend agree with a very simple suggestion that was put to me by a constituent about smart meters—that we need the information to be understandable to the average consumer who is not an energy expert? If the meter told the consumer how much energy had been consumed and its cost, that would mean a lot more than complicated numbers and figures that one cannot understand if one is not an expert.
The test of smart meters will be how user-friendly they are at giving people information that is relevant to their decisions in a manner that they can easily understand. That includes older people who might not have as much facility for modern information technology communications.
On security, I welcome the duty placed on Ofgem to report on the adequacy of future capacity. Demand for electricity will rise substantially not just because of economic growth but because several of the measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions involve the greater use of electricity—for example, for transport and heat. We shall need a lot more generating capacity and the lead times for new capacity are such that decisions taken in this Parliament are absolutely crucial. A further dash for gas might be the quickest and cheapest way to expand capacity, but it would mean becoming even more dependent on gas imports, threatening a different aspect of security of supply. Even in a world in which gas can be imported from a large number of countries and in which we have the possibility of perhaps abundant supplies of shale gas from Poland and the United States, I do not think that anyone would be comfortable with our relying more on imports.
Furthermore, unabated gas emissions are so much higher than the target for emissions that the Committee on Climate Change quite rightly set for 2030 of 50 grams per kWh that a dash for gas could lead to expensive stranded assets in the 2020s unless we achieve carbon capture and storage, which is by no means a certainty. Yesterday, in its excellent review of renewables the committee reminded us, as it helpfully and regularly does, that nearly all new generating capacity must now be low-carbon. After all, electric cars and electrically heated houses are not going to cut greenhouse gas emissions if the extra electricity is generated by coal. The committee’s review is welcome as a common-sense judgment on renewables. It reaches the unavoidable conclusion that even with an enormous increase in offshore wind and solar power there remains an absolutely essential role for nuclear. We therefore need from the Government today, and regularly in future, an assurance that as soon as any safety issues raised by Professor Weightman have been addressed, every possible assistance will be given to ensure that new nuclear capacity comes on stream as soon as possible.
In the context of how more low-carbon electricity can be produced, a more explicit acknowledgment is needed of the risks of blithely assuming that carbon capture and storage will work viably at scale. With the abundant availability of coal in many countries, lots of coal is going to be burned in the next few decades. It is beyond doubt that the single technological breakthrough that the world most urgently needs is carbon capture and storage. There is huge potential for it, but I have not been encouraged by the fact that when the UK Government offered £1 billion in a competition, there was only one bidder at the end of the process. I therefore urge that more attention be given to issues such as waste-to-energy, which could provide a renewable source as some unrecyclable waste will be always be produced by a growing economy.
I am running out of time, I am afraid, and I think I get only two goes at giving way. I am sorry.
It is clear that whatever the precise mix of our portfolio of electricity generation, the cost of secure, low-carbon electricity will be higher in future—possibly much higher—although the Government have rightly pointed out that reliance on fossil fuels might turn out to be even more costly by 2030. Last week, in an evidence session held by my Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, I asked Ministers what the Treasury’s assumptions about oil prices would mean if they were translated to gas prices, and they were a bit reluctant to explain what they thought gas prices might reach. Clearly, fuel poverty is going to be a key challenge in the next few years and the solution is not to divert investment into cheaper but higher-carbon power stations, but to ensure that household incomes are sufficient to meet unavoidable increases in fuel bills.
Equally important is the need for more low-carbon capacity. Tinkering with UK or European Union targets for the exact proportion of energy to be achieved from renewable sources by this date or that date is of little relevance. The only real question is how Britain, in an increasingly energy-hungry world in which China and the other BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India—will be consuming huge amounts of energy, can attract the funds needed to finance massive new capacity in all kinds of low-carbon electricity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported today that £15 trillion will be needed in the next two decades to develop renewable energy. To attract our share, we must make sure that returns on investment in electricity generation in Britain are high enough and reliable enough. I urge Ministers to recognise that every policy change runs the risk of raising the cost of capital because each switch increases uncertainty in the minds of investors. Individual decisions such as the revision of feed-in tariffs for large-scale solar projects are understandable and perhaps unavoidable, but their impact on investors is harmful and will prove to be expensive in the long term. It is vital that the electricity market reform package promotes stability in the framework of incentives that are designed to promote low-carbon electricity. I urge Ministers to recognise in all policy statements the danger that investment in new capacity in this country is not an entitlement. We live in a genuinely global economy. Investors can easily migrate to places where returns are more secure, where planning delays are shorter and where policy is predictable.
There is a lot more in the Bill, not least the green investment bank. The bank’s contribution to funding some of the investment needed could be considerable if the Treasury allows it. In view of the imminent decision about the fourth carbon budget, I want to close by making a strong plea to the Government to accept the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations. The Government’s credentials as the greenest Government ever will be enormously strengthened if the carbon budget put forward by the committee last December for the 2023-27 period is accepted. A budget for a period more than a decade away might seem a remote concept, but carbon budgets are much less susceptible to last-minute tinkering than financial ones. Carbon emissions in the middle of the 2020s will be affected by decisions about new electricity generation capacity taken during this Parliament.
Our accepting the committee’s fourth budget will show that Britain wants to lead the way to a low-carbon world. I understand the anxieties about our competitive position, but I believe that those risks are relatively small and are confined to the short and medium term. If the world really means to decarbonise by 2050, and I believe that it does, the countries that lead the way will not only be doing the right thing environmentally, but will reap a huge financial reward.
Let us look east at what China is doing in making huge strides towards a more sustainable, low carbon transport infrastructure and energy system. In the international climate change negotiations in the 2020s it might be China that takes the hawkish stance on greenhouse gas emissions and the measures needed to reduce them, and it will do so from a position of greater strength than many countries in the west. It would be tragic if Britain, one of the first places where the science of climate change was properly understood, were not in the vanguard of the world’s response. I urge the Prime Minister to overrule the reported resistance of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on this point, and I commend the Bill to the House.
I shall start exactly where Mr Yeo, who so ably chairs the Energy and Climate Change Committee, just finished. The whole debate on the Bill is underpinned by the Climate Change Act 2008. Reference was made earlier to new legislation. It was the previous Government who passed that Act.
I agree that the fourth carbon budget is critical. I do not know whether I believe reports in The Guardian, but if the Government are to have any chance of being the greenest Government ever—there is some doubt and dispute about that—the Cabinet must accept in full the recommendation from an independent body that was set up for that purpose. When the statutory instrument comes before the House in June or whenever it comes, that must be agreed, or much of the debate on the Bill today will be irrelevant. So I hope the right Cabinet decision will come out next week or whenever it is made.
It is crucial that the Bill succeeds, but it is very short on detail. Given the comments of my hon. Friend John McDonnell, proper parliamentary scrutiny is needed and there can be a role for Select Committees to examine the cross-cutting aspects of the Bill, particularly in relation to the issues that have been mentioned, including the role of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That should be borne in mind when we get to the Committee stage. We have seen what happened to amendments in the other place. They are not before us now for our consideration. A huge amount of work needs to be done very quickly.
My test of the Bill is whether it will reduce fuel poverty around the country in constituencies such as mine, Stoke-on-Trent North. In my constituency, 59% of people in private rented sector housing, 44% of owner-occupiers and 75% of pensioners living in private sector accommodation are in fuel poverty, despite the huge benefit derived from the Warm Front programme. It is crucial that the detailed measures in the Bill deal with that and the implications for public health.
What will the Bill do to deal with the effect of the comprehensive spending review of October 2010? We have already heard about the major reduction in Warm Front funding, and the intention that the programme will be phased out by 2012-13. Will the measures in the Bill offer a fair and proportional replacement strategy? I am conscious that the shift from the Warm Front programme towards the green deal has put many installer jobs at risk as the scheme is wound down. I ask the Secretary of State to give some attention to that. I refer to installers in my constituency and the fact that the Warm Front scheme closed and then started again this year. That has serious repercussions and needs to be addressed.
There are concerns about the green deal. We need greater clarity and certainty about the scale of ambition, the take-up and the long-term nature of the green deal so that businesses can feel confident about investing in the capacity and the infrastructure necessary to deliver it. Reference has been made to the interest rate. That will be a key driver in take-up of the deal. The lower the interest rate, the more attractive it will be. When my own Select Committee went to Germany, we saw how that had been addressed. I am disappointed that so far there does not seem to be a direct link between the green investment bank and the green deal. If interest rates are not at about 2%, difficulties will arise.
Another important topic is energy efficiency measures. I chair the all-party lighting group. We need to consider not only energy efficiency in the traditional sense, but issues such as lighting. Windows are another aspect of industry that has been referred to. A briefing that I received from Wolseley sets out other technologies linked to jobs and to insulation, heating controls, energy pumps and water management. All these contribute to the wider agenda that we need to address. I am not sure whether the detail of the Bill takes account of that.
Citizens Advice has flagged up concerns, particularly in relation to clause 18, which would empower the Secretary of State to modify the energy supply licence to allow an energy company to disconnect a customer for non-payment of green deal payments. Currently, 8.8 million energy consumers in the UK rely on pre-payment meters. Citizens Advice is worried that those consumers have received little consideration in the development of the Bill. It must clarify how green deal payments will be collected from people with pre-payment meters, who are among those at highest risk of fuel poverty. It is not clear how customers’ meter credit will be allocated against green deal payments and arrears, fuel arrears payments and payments for ongoing energy supply. That is another cross-cutting social consideration that the Bill must address.
I shall deal briefly with the private rented sector and chapter 2. It is an important part of the Bill and there have been many interventions referring to it. Research commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, of which I remain an honorary vice-president, shows that the annual cost to the NHS of private rented homes with excess cold is £145,335,000 nationally. In my region, the west midlands, the cost is high, and we need to consider how we are addressing that, linked to the new proposals for public health and those in the Localism Bill. This is a further aspect of the cross-cutting agenda.
I am concerned that making regulation conditional on a review increases the likelihood that landlords will not act voluntarily before 2015. I am not sure that the Government have got that right. Further consideration is urgently needed. The Bill provides for a minimum standard for commercial rented properties. The Government have not explained why that is appropriate for the commercial sector but not for the domestic sector. MPs, including me, have had a briefing from the Green Building Council on the issue, which needs to be addressed before Royal Assent.
The bottom line for me, which has been referred to in interventions, is that the Bill must set a deadline of no later than 2016, after which it will be an offence for a landlord to re-let or market for rent a property where the energy efficiency rating is band F or G. It is vital that we ensure that properties that do not meet energy efficiency standards are not rented out.
On the energy company obligation, the Government should show that they will be able to deal properly with the gap between what the green deal delivers and what is needed. We do not have the detail of the energy company obligation, and clear information is needed. The coalition agreement was clear that there should be no public subsidy for nuclear. One of my concerns relates to clause 102, whereby, if anything unexpected happens, such as an accident at a plant or problems with stored waste, the Government could become liable for the additional costs. The coalition agreement stated that there will be no public subsidy for nuclear, and it is incumbent on the Secretary of State to set out exactly what that means, because my concern is that clause 102 could represent a hidden subsidy. There must be total transparency on that.
On low carbon budgets, no amendment was made in the other place, but that needs to be considered again. There is some support for the memorandum of understanding with local councils, but we are nowhere near getting on the face of the Bill what we need in relation to local carbon budgets. There is wide support from more than 60 organisations for a warm homes amendment, which must be addressed and brought forward in Committee.
I genuinely want to see Parliament play a role in the whole climate change agenda. I desperately want to see action that does what it says for those experiencing fuel poverty. I want the parliamentarians and Select Committees of this House to play a real role in cross-cutting and hope that as the Bill proceeds, despite its many shortcomings, there will be an opportunity to make at least some improvements.
I welcome the opening remarks made by my right hon. Friend the
Secretary of State, particularly the non-partisan tone in which they were made. I have to say, ever so gently, to Meg Hillier that when I was an Opposition spokesman on energy and climate change I took the time to praise her right hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) and for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), when I thought that the legislation they were promoting was good, and when they were honestly trying to pursue climate change objectives. I do not think that making relentlessly partisan and negative speeches is terribly constructive. I will just let her reflect on that.
Barry Gardiner made a much more constructive speech and asked an important question about meeting carbon reduction targets in future, particularly the acceptance of the fourth carbon budget recommended by the Committee on Climate Change—a theme taken up by other hon. Members as well. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was just displaying his notorious tact and reticence by not stating more fully that he was going to press for the acceptance of that carbon budget. It is absolutely crucial that we accept the carbon budget and make it clear that we are on a clear trajectory to meeting the ambitious climate change targets that all parties agreed to in the Climate Change Act 2008.
I warmly welcome many aspects of the Bill, which will deliver an important part of the Government’s green agenda. The ministerial team is to be congratulated on 95% of it. The green deal is a radical, imaginative and ambitious plan. It could deliver energy efficiency not just haltingly to a few thousand homes, as previous energy efficiency programmes have done, but to millions of homes, and perhaps even tens of millions. That will represent a step change in energy efficiency in this country and make a substantial contribution to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions. The additional measures on smart meters and offshore electricity transmission regimes are also very important and much to be welcomed.
The hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State have talked about step changing and game changing. Does he not agree with a number of Members on both sides of the House, but particularly Opposition Members, that a crucial element about which we are not yet clear is the interest rate that will be payable? We need to know that in order to ensure that the change is as significant as he claims it will be.
I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is important, but the genius of the green deal is that it will use market mechanisms and a competitive arena in which providers will compete to provide the best deal, which I hope will help drive down the interest rates offered by different financers and providers.
The hon. Member makes an important point, but we cannot always predict those interest rates, because we do not know what the situation will be. We must look at the situation in the round.
The additional measures in the Bill are very welcome, but there is one that disappoints me in clause 102, which Joan Walley has already mentioned. It deals with the vexed question of the decommissioning and clean-up of nuclear power stations. Cleaning up the last generation of nuclear power stations costs the taxpayer £1.5 billion a year, and it would be a great shame if we were to risk repeating any part of that mistake. This reopens an issue that I thought had been settled in the Energy Act 2008. I remember the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Charles Hendry and I, as Opposition spokespeople, trying to outdo each other in finding the loopholes in the funded decommissioning programme arrangements in that Act, and the long-term commitments on funding decommissioning that the nuclear industry might try to wriggle out of in order to shift the risk on to the taxpayer. With all due credit to the ministerial team of the time, that was tricky because the legislation was quite tightly drawn. Section 48 even allowed the Secretary of State to amend funded decommissioning programmes, at either their own or the operator’s suggestion, to take account of unforeseen circumstances.
But lo, we have in the Bill a suggestion that the Secretary of State should promise not to amend those decommissioning arrangements in advance when the decommissioning arrangement is being set up, either “in a particular manner” or “within a particular period”. That seems a rather strange thing, because clearly the subsequent amendment of those arrangements would be a matter of negotiation. The Liberal Democrats have discovered quite a lot about negotiation in the past year, and now think, on balance, that it is not a good idea to give away the negotiating position too early in the process. I think that that applies to Secretaries of State as well.
The explanation for that provision is apparently that it is to reassure investors, but that is a rather strange statement. In a way that is a bit of a give-away by the Government, because to reassure investors they are presumably trying to reduce the risk. There are only two possible explanations for that. Either the Government are actually reducing the risk or they are trying to shift it elsewhere. The nature of unforeseen circumstances, of course, is that they are unforeseen. Although I attribute many gifts to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, clairvoyance is not one of them. We cannot know what those unforeseen circumstances will be, any more than the Japanese Government could. Therefore, it is only the transfer of that risk that is likely to take place. It is transferring the risk straightforwardly from the operators to the taxpayer. If that is not against the words of the coalition agreement’s promise not to subsidise nuclear power, it is certainly against its spirit.
If we need an extreme and sobering warning of what might happen in such situations, we need only look at what is happening in Japan right now. The operator of the Fukushima nuclear power station, TEPCO, has now asked formally for Government help to fund the compensation for the 80,000 people who are still evacuated from their homes in the area, which it is estimated will cost around £61 billion in total.
My hon. Friend should recognise that the clause intends not only to provide more certainty for investors, but to recognise that there might need to be changes. Those changes would not necessarily be downwards, either; they might well be upwards, in circumstances that would have been set out clearly in an agreement. That applies to costs as well, so, far from saying that the measure would drive a coach and horses through our commitment to no public subsidy, I am saying exactly the opposite: it puts flesh on our commitment to no public subsidy for nuclear.
I did not say that the measure would drive a coach and horses through our commitment to no subsidy. I am sure that our commitment to it is absolutely intact, but the clause seems to insert a rather large crack in the edifice. The arrangement that my right hon. Friend mentions—in which the operator and the Secretary of State may agree to the necessity of some amendments, which might be upwards or downwards —is in the existing legislation. The difference between that and the clause under discussion, however, is that in the existing legislation the final decision rests with the Secretary of State, and in the clause before us the Secretary of State gives away that right in advance. That seems to represent poor negotiation.
To return to the situation in Fukushima—
I am not sure about feed-in tariffs, but if the hon. Gentleman is talking about the floor price for carbon, that certainly risks inadvertently subsidising the new, and indeed existing, nuclear industries. Perhaps a windfall tax on the nuclear industry might help to compensate for that, because the floor price for carbon is an important policy for operators.
To return—for the final time, I hope—to Fukushima and the example in Japan, the compensation bill looks likely to be about £61 billion for the 80,000 people who have been evacuated from their homes, and for the damage to agriculture, businesses and so on in the area. That is a very extreme case, but it is not impossible to imagine much smaller disasters—natural shocks to the system, terrorist attacks or whatever—that might deliver similarly unexpected large bills.
The situation in Japan has resulted in its Government announcing today that they will examine their energy policy from scratch, with a brand new emphasis—surprise, surprise—on renewables and energy efficiency, and almost certainly less emphasis on nuclear. That seems to me a wise decision to take, in the circumstances.
I am pleased that we are emphasising energy efficiency before we are forced to do so, and it is important that the Government promote renewables and energy efficiency as cornerstones of their energy policy, but I would not want energy subsidy for nuclear to creep into that mixture, and it seems to me that clause 102 is unnecessary.
As the Secretary of State says, it provides reassurance to investors, but it provides very little reassurance to me or to the taxpayer.
It is a pleasure to follow Martin Horwood. I have fond memories of debating with him the glorious merits of the south-west regional spatial strategy, and I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a fine Bristol Member of Parliament, have your own thoughts on that, too.
I welcome the notion of the Bill, because it is difficult to oppose in principle a Bill that intends to increase energy efficiency, improve energy security and ensure greater competitiveness for energy companies in the UK, but, as my hon. Friend Meg Hillier said, this Energy Bill is such a wasted opportunity. It treads water so much that British industry and enterprise, in a field where we could lead the world, will be left behind by other countries, and the poorest and most vulnerable households, which face massive increases in fuel bills over the next few years, will not be helped quickly enough. I want to focus on two broad themes, and in particular on where the Bill does not provide enough detail—a recurring theme of this Second Reading—or enough ambition.
Let me outline the huge potential that we have in Hartlepool, my area, and the wider Teesside and north-east areas to lead the world in modern energy production and distribution. In my part of the world we have always been at the cutting edge of energy infrastructure and technology. The docks and the railways in Hartlepool and elsewhere in the north-east were built in the 1820s and 1830s to transport coal from the south Durham coalfields —I see my hon. Friend Phil Wilson seated on the Front Bench—to London, and the world’s first bulk oil tanker for Standard Oil, the Marex, was built at west Hartlepool docks in 1892.
My area has the potential to lead the world in energy in the 21st century, as it did in the 19th century. Our assets in the region are second to none. The largest heavy industrial area in the country is on Teesside, and we already have a cluster of world-class petrochemical, energy and industrial biotechnology plants. In my constituency I have a nuclear power station with the prospect of a replacement in the next decade, the fourth largest port in the UK, a steel industry specialising in construction and energy infrastructure, and a world-class advanced engineering industry.
The port of Hartlepool is the closest such facility to the Dogger bank, the location in the North sea of the biggest offshore wind project this century, which could provide one quarter of Britain’s energy requirements by the middle of this century. We also have a highly skilled and flexible work force who can innovate and adapt their engineering expertise to design and manufacture new forms of energy production and distribution for the 21st century.
In my constituency PD Ports has introduced the concept of “Chain Reaction”, the Teesside renewable energy supply chain cluster, where firms work together in Hartlepool and in the wider Teesside and north-east areas to provide facilities and skills for other companies that wish to invest in the energy industry.
We have other ambitious companies determined to grow and succeed, such as JDR Cables and Heerema Hartlepool, which are located on land provided by PD Ports and supply the components for offshore wind developments. Tata Tubes in Hartlepool manufactures pipes that sit on the bottom of oceans throughout the globe, allowing oil and gas to be extracted, transported, processed and distributed to the highest possible specification.
Our region has identified a £6 billion pipeline of commercial investment for the next decade with regard to energy policy, but we have to move quickly if we want to lead the world in this field, because other nations are already stealing a march on us. The Pew Environment Group states that the UK is losing the race to be the leading economic powerhouse of the global green economy. Last year we declined from third in the world in terms of investment in green growth to 13th, behind Brazil, Mexico and Singapore.
Frustratingly, Singapore’s energy industry is similar in many respects to Teesside’s: centred on oil refining, with successful spin-offs into chemicals, oilfield equipment manufacturing, shipping and logistics. Singapore is moving much more ambitiously than the United Kingdom, particularly in new growth areas such as solar power, fuel cells, biofuels and energy management, and it aims to increase the value-added from its energy industry from $20 billion to $34 billion in four years and to triple employment in the sector in little over five years.
Closer to home, Rotterdam is pushing itself as the energy port of Europe. The city’s port authority has aspirations to become the CO2-free hub of north-west Europe, and about €6 billion will be invested in the port authority in the next few years to help realise that aspiration, with an emphasis on hydrogen production, supply and distribution.
Given what other countries are doing, the possibility of a missed opportunity is particularly frustrating, because we in this country remain very well placed to lead that global industry. Pew Environment Group estimates that $2.3 trillion could be invested in clean energy infrastructure in the next decade, and, although much of the attention is focused on the east, on China and the Pacific rim, Pew concludes that the UK, the US and India are the three countries with the most to gain from what it terms the
“adoption of aggressive clean energy, when enhanced policies are compared to current policies.”
I do not see the ambitions of my area, Hartlepool and Teesside, matched by the Government’s actions in the Bill. The rhetoric is often positive and encouraging, but the Bill demonstrates that the Government are merely providing warm words. After so much rhetoric about the green investment bank, there is nothing in the Bill to help it to move forward successfully and quickly. Businesses in the field are requesting a clear vision for the road ahead, with certainty and stability to allow for large-scale investment decisions, but that is not happening. Uncertainty about the green investment bank, one-off raids on small and medium oil and gas explorers in the Budget, and further delays to round three of the Crown Estate project to increase offshore energy generation are undermining confidence and stalling investment decisions.
I cannot stress this enough: we would miss the opportunity of our generation if we failed to grasp the huge potential that this country, not least my constituency and region, possesses. I fear that in five, 10 or 15 years’ time we in this House will be reflecting on how we could have been pioneers of a noble and groundbreaking world industry, but are instead rueing the loss of jobs, ambition, wealth, social equality and climate stability.
The second theme that I wish to explore is the pressing need to improve the energy efficiency of much of our housing stock, particularly in the private rented sector. As the Secretary of State articulately explained, there are more energy-inefficient properties in the private rented sector than in other tenures. For instance, privately rented properties are much more likely to have inadequate loft and cavity wall insulation, and less likely to have double glazing or a condensing boiler. The landlord’s energy savings allowance, an incentive introduced by the last Labour Government, had considerable merit, but—I must be honest—a very disappointing take-up. The Secretary of State mentioned that over 40% of tenants in F-rated and G-rated homes in the private rented sector are fuel-poor, and I imagine that there is a big risk that that proportion will get worse as energy prices increase. In this context, the Secretary of State’s announcement about minimum efficiency standards is very welcome, although I do not understand why it was not announced during the Bill’s passage through the other place.
Questions still remain about certain elements of this aspect of the Bill, particularly whether big and numerous Government amendments will be needed to put in place their ambitions in chapter 2. The Bill’s impact assessment acknowledges:
“It is assumed that landlords will not act on primary powers” provided in the Bill. It concludes that
“no benefits are expected to arise from primary legislation”.
In that case, what is the point of the provision? I understand the need for secondary legislation in this field, but why cannot we act more quickly to ensure that tenants are helped now? The powers in the Bill are very weak, and the prospect of secondary legislation is so far into the future as to be completely meaningless to tenants in my constituency.
What is the point of having a review of energy efficiency in the private rented sector that is not required to report until
Will my hon. Friend reflect on how landlords are going to be found under the arrangements that have been announced? Will he also reflect on the fact that the Government recently removed the secondary legislation that provided for the creation of a national landlords register for homes in multiple occupation, by which landlords could be found for energy efficiency purposes?
I remember with great affection going to Southampton to see my hon. Friend’s constituency and talking to people who lived in homes in multiple occupation. I was privileged to be a Minister with responsibility for the private rented sector in the last Labour Government. We put in place the Rugg review, which recommended to us the importance of a landlords register. It is incredibly disappointing that that important database of information will not be put in place, as it could have helped to implement this move much faster.
I welcomed the prospect of an Energy Bill in this parliamentary Session. In such a Bill the Government could have achieved so much to help British industry, particularly in my region, to become world leaders in this growing sector, and they could have been much more resolute in providing help to more vulnerable households, particularly in the private rented sector. The fact that they have not done that is deeply frustrating and disappointing. I fear that this missed opportunity is something that we will regret for decades to come.
Let me begin by congratulating Members on their contributions, particularly my hon. Friend Mr Yeo, who made a very interesting speech, although he had the good fortune to follow the shadow Secretary of State, whose speech was terribly negative. If there is one thing that energy and climate change policy needs, it is some cross-party agreement. Dealing with these challenges does not fit in with five-year parliamentary terms; there needs to be agreement and understanding on policy over decades.
My view is that these targets are extremely difficult to meet, partly because the energy policy of the previous Administration was woeful; admittedly, it improved when the Leader of the Opposition took over the position that Meg Hillier now shadows. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are in a difficult position as regards hitting these targets, and that difficulty was not aided by the previous Government’s performance.
In the spirit of the Bill, I will try to speak within the generous time limit and save some energy. I am struck by the fact that the time limit is so long, because energy and the need to secure energy supply is one of the most important strategic challenges for our generation. We cannot have more hospitals, schools, aircraft carriers or anything else provided by Government unless we have energy, so the subject matters very much. I want to speak primarily about the green deal, because that is at the heart of the Bill, but will move on to discuss energy generation and my thoughts and views on the technology of the future that, as a country, we should be backing.
The green deal is an ambitious plan, and the first of its kind in the world. I hear that Opposition Members want more detail, and of course it requires additional clarification that will no doubt come in Committee. The reality, however, is that this is the first time that such a scheme has been attempted. I am very proud of that and to support a Government who are introducing it. It will benefit homes and businesses, allowing them to save money. At the moment, saving money matters to individuals, to families, and, very much, to businesses. It is a tough environment out there economically, and if they can save money, all the better.
The green deal involves the introduction of a new financial framework that is subject to market forces. I say to those calling for details about the interest rates that we should wait and see and let the market dictate. We are talking about long-term energy products, particularly in the area of generation, and I would invest in that sector if I were in control of a sizeable pension fund because that would produce a return in the medium to longer term. I do not buy into the idea that interest rates will be driven higher by this scheme. It is “pay as you save”, and it will benefit people who are struggling with their bills. The loan is supposedly £6,500—I hear rumours that it may be slightly increased—and it will be made against the property, not against the individual; that is an important distinction. In the past, when we have tried to go down this policy path, we have worried about the loan going with the individual and the fact that those who are less able to afford it will therefore not take one out. The reality is that it will be attached to the property.
The second aspect is the introduction of the energy company obligation to replace the carbon emissions reduction target. As I understand it, it will target those who could experience fuel poverty and have homes that are difficult to insulate. I think that it was a Scottish Member who referred to the difficulty of insulating some homes. The idea in the Bill is to deal with those problems. In view of the fact that 25% of carbon emissions are thought to come from those very homes, it strikes me as an investment worth making.
There are estimates on the benefits of the green deal. I am always cautious about such estimates because they are always dependent on human behaviour. The Secretary of State referred to the situation of someone having a Brazilian wife, and the reality is that such estimates are not always accurate. However, it is suggested that the benefit to society will be in the realm of £8 billion to £9 billion. Fourteen million insulation measures are required, which could lead to an average saving of £550 per year on domestic bills. That will lead to an increase in manufacturing jobs. In my constituency of Bracknell, small and medium-sized construction firms are crying out for this kind of work. There will be no shortage of companies willing to do it. There will be an increase not only in manufacturing jobs, but in service jobs. If we hit 26 million homes taking up the scheme, the number of jobs in the sector may increase from 27,000 to 250,000. That is pretty good.
I welcome the changes to the Energy Act 2008 to ease the introduction of smart meters. A number of companies in my constituency, not least General Electric, will be pleased to hear about that. If smart meters function properly and are able to connect to the network—I know that there are problems with that—they will play an essential part in reducing energy usage. Ultimately, that is what this legislation is all about. I congratulate Ministers on making energy efficiency the key part of their first Bill, because that is the easiest way to reduce our carbon footprint. On a recent trip to Norway, I was struck that even though it generates huge amounts of energy, the first thing I was told was, “Phillip, the best thing that Britain can do is become more energy efficient.” I know that the same view is held in Sweden.
I am also pleased about the balance of powers between Government and the nuclear industry in regard to decommissioning. I am a strong advocate of nuclear power, and I found it depressing to hear yet another speech on the dangers of nuclear power from Martin Horwood. I remind him that, as yet, there has never been a proven death from nuclear power in the west.
Forgive me. I thought that the hon. Gentleman said something about compensation to agriculture and people moving house. However, I shall move on.
The final part of my speech will be about energy generation. I commend the previous Government for their commitment to offshore wind, which was a strategically important decision. Given that we have shallow water in the North sea, I think that it was the right decision. I am not so sure about onshore wind, but offshore wind, for sure.
This country needs a sustainable energy policy. It needs sustainable sources of energy that are low carbon and, most importantly, secure. There is an increasing world population, which is going to hit the 7 billion mark earlier than projected. One does not have to be a doctor to know that that means that the 8 billion, 9 billion and 10 billion marks will be hit earlier, because that is what human beings do. That concerns me because it means that future wars on this planet will be fought over not just energy and fuels such as oil and gas, but also over food and water. This country has to get real. It has to realise that energy matters. Energy is associated with prosperity, as everybody knows. We cannot rely on how we have done things in the past, but must look to the future and work out how Britain can become as energy independent as possible.
I will mention two areas. The first is marine technology. The UK is surrounded by energy; water is just the medium that transmits that energy. Tidal power comes from the moon, and we have the Severn bore. Waves, particularly off Scotland, provide remarkable sources of energy. Why are we not concentrating on harnessing that energy? It strikes me as a no-brainer. Why is it that there are more renewables obligation certificates for tidal and wave in Scotland than in England? How is that paid for? I encourage the Minister to look at that, and I know that there is a review of ROCs at the moment. Why is solar so subsidised, and not marine? That was a decision by the previous Administration. Solar is subsidised nine times more than onshore wind. I know we are having some good weather at the moment, but I do not think that that makes sense in this country.
I know that the Government are reviewing low-carbon technologies and that £200 million will be allocated. I hope that they look at marine technology and do their best to support it. I think that it is an opportunity for us to lead the world. If one believes RenewableUK, it is an opportunity for us to generate 20% of our energy. I recognise the capital cost and the potential local environmental impact of the Severn bore project, but that one project could provide 12% to 15% of the UK’s electricity needs. We need to look at that again.
The hon. Gentleman is making a number of interesting points about the renewables sector. He is right that there are five ROCs for marine renewables in Scotland and three south of the border. That does not particularly help. The wave hub off the north coast of my constituency will be the first project of that commercial scale in the world. We clearly need to find a way forward, but how does he propose that we get parity north and south of the border?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I do not know the answer to that question. This is just another example of how Scotland is different from England, and I am getting somewhat frustrated by that.
I will quickly move on to new nuclear technologies. First, molten salt reactors eat nuclear waste and have no proliferation concerns. That is a no-brainer, so how come we are not pursuing it? Finally, I will talk about thorium, which is found in the cliffs of Cornwall and may well be in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It is also found in Wales. The greatest resource is in Norway, a relatively stable country compared with the countries that we get most of our energy from. Thorium is three times more abundant than uranium and does not produce any dangerous waste. Incidentally, that is why it was not pursued in the ’50s because it does not create the plutonium needed for nuclear weapons. China is now going big time on this, as is India. How come we are not? It strikes me as an obvious thing for us to go for. Doing so may satisfy my Liberal Democrat colleagues because it is safer to produce and does not produce any nuclear waste of note. It has certainly satisfied me because we can source thorium more easily.
In conclusion, at a time when Britain has significant economic challenges, finding ways to save energy is an obvious target. The green deal is fantastic for families, fantastic for individuals, and fantastic for businesses. That is why I am pleased to support the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give some thought to what I have said about energy generation.
Dr Lee asked about the Scottish system of ROCs. It is different from England’s because the Scottish Government have emphasised the importance of renewables and have a target of 100% renewable energy. They have rejected new nuclear power stations, a stance that was endorsed by the people of Scotland only last Thursday.
I generally support the main aims of the Bill, and the Scottish Parliament has approved a legislative consent resolution in respect of some of it. I came to the Chamber intending to support the Government should it be pushed to a vote, but I listened to the Secretary of State and one or two points gave me pause for thought. In particular, when I asked him about clause 100, I found his answer very strange indeed. The explanatory notes state:
“This clause enables designations under section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964 to be revoked, amended and re-enacted. This will provide flexibility in making arrangements about maritime boundaries with the United Kingdom’s neighbours by enabling us to swap areas which have already been designated under section 1(7).”
However, the Library research paper specifically states that the clause will
“facilitate the signing of a comprehensive agreement with Ireland about maritime boundaries. The aim is to provide flexibility in managing the UK Continental Shelf resources.”
When I asked for clarity about what was actually intended, he talked about marginal fields in the North sea. As far as I am aware, Ireland does not have a boundary in the North sea. I wonder exactly what is intended by the clause, and I ask the Minister to provide a bit more clarity. As the clause appears in the Energy Bill, I assume that it has something to do with energy resources, whether they be offshore renewables, oil and gas or whatever. We need some clarification of that point.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will try to help him. When the six counties of Northern Ireland were established and the treaty with Eire was concluded, the land was designated but there was no mention in the treaty of the continental shelf. The Republic of Ireland has therefore always maintained that the six counties’ land is Northern Ireland, but not the area around the coast, as would normally be the case. There has therefore always been a dispute between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Irish Government about exactly what the status of that area is, which is why the clause appears as it does.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. If that is the case, I understand that there is a rather strange boundary in that area, but the Secretary of State’s mention of oilfields in the North sea set alarm bells ringing about what is intended. That is the point on which I seek clarification.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way—he is my hon. Friend, and I am pleased to call him such. Has he read the explanatory notes, which make the point that the areas concerned are more than 200 nautical miles from the Irish baseline, and therefore cannot be included in the Irish exclusive economic zone? I believe we are talking about a matter of tidying up, and I hope that explanation is enough for him to carry on his intention to vote for this worthy Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend, but again, I would refer to what the Secretary of State said. My hon. Friend may understand what the clause means, but from the answer I received earlier I am not sure the Secretary of State does. I want clarity about what is intended.
On the green deal, we welcome any moves to increase the number of homes with good energy efficiency and make use of domestic microgeneration, but we have some concerns about the Government’s approach. There is talk of amendments on warm homes, and we are generally sympathetic to what they are intended to achieve. However, I wish to mention a point made by the Federation of Master Builders in its briefing on the Bill. It quotes the Minister as saying that the Government’s aim is to have 14 million homes transformed by 2020, and states that that
“would require work to be completed at the rate of 1.5 million homes per annum which equates to almost 30,000 homes per week or put another way 4,274 homes per day!”
There is nothing wrong with such an ambitious target, but to achieve it we need to ensure that there is a veritable army of installers to take on the work.
I fear that, because of the way in which the green deal is being set up, it might be dominated by a few large companies, as my hon. Friend Mr MacNeil said to the Secretary of State. The Minister may remember that I have previously raised with him the concerns of SELECT, which represents the Scottish electrotechnical industry, about the microgeneration certification scheme, which it feels works against small firms in several ways. It drew up an alternative scheme, which should be acceptable under the relevant EU directive and is consistent with the Scottish Government’s building standards system, but DECC would not agree to that system being put in place.
I understand that under the current scheme, it is difficult for firms to become certified. For them to qualify, the equipment that they install must be MCS-certified and installed by an MCS-certified installer. The difficulty for small firms, particularly those in rural and island areas of Scotland, is that many are unable to obtain certification because they cannot provide the required number of installations. Nobody is likely to want such installations unless they are certified. I fear that that problem will be transferred from the MCS to the green deal scheme if it is carried out by larger companies.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I am aware of and responsive to his concerns, but which technology in particular is he talking about? The MCS covers a whole range of technologies, and some providers are perfectly happy with the scheme whereas others have specific problems.
The Minister says that, but firms involved in a range of technologies have approached me. Scottish Renewables has raised problems with the scheme, and it covers all sorts of microgeneration technologies that will be important in providing renewables in future, particularly in remote rural and island areas. We hope that those technologies will be financed partly under the green deal. Unless the problem of not allowing small firms to install equipment is solved, smaller communities in rural areas may not get the benefits that could come from the green deal. They may not get the jobs that the Secretary of State talked about.
The MCS is quite outside the scope of this Second Reading debate, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point entirely. I have had concerns about it myself, or at least about some parts of it, and I have been considering how we can improve it. If he would care to come to see me, I would be very happy to sit down and talk to him about it to see whether we can address his concerns in more detail.
I thank the Minister very much for that offer, which takes two pages out of my speech. I will certainly take him up on that. It is an important point: although we support the aims behind the green deal, it must benefit all areas of the country and not just the B&Qs of this world—not that I have anything against B&Q.
I note with interest clauses 80 to 89, relating to offshore petroleum and gas and particularly to the difficulties of a common carrier arrangement. The Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change considered that matter back in 2009, when I was a member. We heard evidence on the issue, and it is fair to say, and hardly surprising, that there was a great deal of difference of opinion on the need for a common carrier arrangement for North sea infrastructure.
With specific reference to the future development of fields west of Shetland, which may or may not proceed given the Government’s tax grab, the Committee noted:
“We understand the Government’s argument for not wanting to interfere in a heavy-handed way in the establishment of a common carrier arrangement for oil and gas west of Shetland. But two things are clear: west of Shetland resources offer enormous potential—possibly a fifth of our remaining oil and gas resources; and putting in place a shared infrastructure to exploit those resources is expensive and complex. The Government should continue its dialogue with industry and agree a timescale for the establishment of such a shared infrastructure and the arrangements governing its use. If progress does not meet that timescale the Government should be prepared to take a more active role, probably through regulation but not precluding assistance with funding.”
The all-party group on the British offshore oil and gas industry recently heard from a representative of small companies working in the North sea, who talked about the difficulties that exist. The problem with the common carrier arrangement is that many of the fields in the North sea are now smaller fields that have been sold off by the majors and redeveloped by smaller companies. However, to bring the oil and gas ashore those companies need access to the infrastructure, which is generally owned by the majors. There are sometimes difficulties in gaining such access.
The group was told that there is a legal process known as a determination, whereby if negotiations on access to infrastructure fail, DECC can be called on to set terms and conditions and a tariff price. A determination has never been effectively used, and although DECC is making efforts to address that shortcoming, a determination is a backstop that comes too late in the process. Oil & Gas UK set up a voluntary agreement, but it says that it is difficult to get much of the information it requires, particularly on tariffs and previous commercial deals. It is therefore difficult for smaller operators to gain access to infrastructure.
The Bill continues the existing arrangements and does not address that difficulty. I recognise the difficulty of Government action, but such action is necessary to ensure that small companies that currently work fields that would otherwise not be worked can access that infrastructure. Currently, the Secretary of State can make a decision, but it is difficult to see how he could do so unilaterally without referral from one or other party.
On an allied matter, RenewableUK notes that the Crown Estate currently gives oil and gas developers leasing priority over offshore wind farm developers if supplies are found, with no compensation payable to the developer. It says that the existence of that measure leads to insecurity and uncertainty in development at a time when offshore wind is rapidly expanding. The Minister needs to consider that matter in more detail, although the obvious solution is to devolve the Crown Estates to Scotland and we will sort out our own solution.
That brings me to my final point, on offshore transmissions, which is allied to my shared infrastructure concerns. Ofgem makes the point in its briefing that
“the Bill contains provisions to facilitate the next stage of the enduring offshore regulatory regime, allowing wind farm generators to build network assets before transferring their ownership to the successful winner of the tender.”
However, how will the energy be brought onshore from those offshore wind farms? There is a lack of joined-up thinking on how offshore energy is fed into the national grid. To illustrate, there are three wind farms off the coast of my constituency. I have asked their developers how they intend to bring the energy to land, and each has its own proposal. We are in danger of running into public opposition to offshore wind farms not because of the wind farms themselves, but because of the on-land infrastructure needed to bring the energy ashore, especially if there are myriad onshore connections within a small distance of one another.
I have urged those developers to speak to one another about linking up offshore so that they can bring one cable on to land, but that does not seem to be happening. The Government need to look at that to ensure that we do not run into the difficulties with offshore wind that we ran into with onshore wind.
If the Minister gives me some assurance on those points, I might remain quite happy to recommend supporting the Bill to my hon. Friends. The Bill has many good measures in it, so the little clause on swapping bits of our continental shelf is odd. That gives us cause for concern, particularly given actions by previous Governments on the continental shelf that mean that I look out from my constituency on to an area of water that is English for fishing purposes.
Order. A very large number of Members still wish to speak in this debate, and we will not get everybody in at this rate with a 12-minute limit on speeches, so I am taking the time limit down now, from the next speaker and for the remaining Back-Bench speeches, to 10 minutes. If hon. Members can use less than that, we should comfortably run up to the period for the wind-ups. If not, I shall have to revisit the limit.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy. I shall be speedy.
It is a great pleasure to contribute to this debate and to be part of the Government who have brought this landmark—I do not use that word lightly—Bill before the House. I am sorry to return to this point, but I agree with the shadow Secretary of State on one thing: climate change is too important to be kicked around. That is why her kicking it around was so very disappointing. I support the Bill, and I hope the Opposition come through the Lobby with Government Members this evening. They are very welcome to do so.
I wanted to speak on Second Reading because the Bill has the potential to be truly transformative. Let me make it clear, however, that I am not writing a blank cheque. The Bill is seriously radical and very welcome, but it could be better, and I shall try to explain how.
I was adopted to fight the general election in Winchester back in November 2006—a long time ago. At that time, Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth”, was absolutely everywhere except Winchester. One of the first things I did was to get it shown at the excellent small, independent Screen cinema in Winchester. The response to the film was overwhelming, proving once again to anybody who does not know the great city of Winchester just how important the green agenda, the fight against climate change and the drive for a low-carbon economy are to my constituency and the people whom I now represent. I should declare an interest in that I have long since been signed up to that agenda, but I love the commitment of many of my constituents to handing a cleaner, greener and better environment on to the next generation, and I back it wholeheartedly.
It was therefore hugely to my satisfaction that in opposition my party developed plans for the green deal and many of the measures in the Bill. I remember welcoming to Winchester my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert, then the shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, to help to explain the green deal to the good people of Hampshire—and a good job he did of it too. He described the policy as a game-changer, and he was not wrong. He is not alone in using that expression, as we have heard in the debate.
The Conservative manifesto was succinct on the subject, stating that:
and the coalition agreement reaffirmed the two parties’ shared commitment to the policy. I am pleased that that part of the coalition agreement will not be reopened.
The green deal was a positive policy to sell as a candidate in the general election. It was one of those rare beasts in politics, because everyone who heard about it saw the logic of it, and no doubt thought, “Why didn’t I think of it?” including the Labour party, which might explain its reaction to the Bill.
I outlined the policy at a special hustings meeting purely on the environment—we had only 12 hustings meetings. The meeting was organised by Winchester Action on Climate Change, to which I pay great tribute. As I said at the meeting, what I like about the green deal is that it replaces the stick with the carrot. All too often, changing behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint is about what we must stop doing, and about how awful we are for living our lives, having children and so on—finger-wagging at its worst—but the green deal is different. Yes, it is a game-changer, but I would prefer to describe it as a no-brainer. To my mind, it changes behaviour and reduces carbon footprints the easy way.
I do not agree, and I will come on to why not.
On the economic case for the green deal, I am clear that the Bill is about growth as much as it is about saving energy and reducing carbon emissions. As we heard from the Secretary of State, the Bill, and the green deal it ushers in, will create in legislation a whole new market, which, as we know, does not happen every day. We heard from him about the tens of thousands of new jobs in the green economy that these measures will create. We should remember that these are new jobs in the private sector, many of which will, we hope, be in small and medium-sized enterprises. I hope therefore that Ministers will keep SMEs at the forefront of their minds at all times as the green deal is developed and rolled out. The industrial opportunities that the green deal presents for some of the big guys, such as John Lewis, B&Q and Asda—I have nothing against them—are great, but I am keen to ensure that the small guys are centre stage and can use the new marketplace as a springboard from which to grow their businesses and employ new people as the green deal comes on line.
In addition to the jobs that I hope will be created as the green deal develops, we will undoubtedly see a fast-growing industry for training. I am fortunate to have one such training company in my constituency—New Career Skills on the Chandler’s Ford industrial estate. The Prime Minister visited NCS while he was Leader of the Opposition and rightly praised its work in training and retraining college graduates and career changers alike in the green profession. The company offers insulation training as well as training in renewables, and is exactly what we need to make the green deal a reality on the ground. I am told that NCS receives thousands of new inquiries every week via its website, but can enrol only a limited number of new students. The Government need to help that business to grow and to up its operation significantly if the green deal is to have the skilled technicians needed to make it work and credible.
NCS told me, as it told the Prime Minister, that many students struggle to raise the funds necessary to take the course and gain the qualifications. As a provider of this key training, it provides finance, but as a small business it is obviously limited in the number of loans it can underwrite on behalf of those students. The Government have urgently to consider the support available, because this sector needs to grow, and if we are to train enough skilled people—legitimate concerns have been expressed in the Chamber about who they are and where they will come from—to ensure that the green deal reaches critical mass and matches Ministers’ obvious ambition, companies such as NCS will be important.
I want to say a word about the third sector and local councils. There is an organisation in my constituency called GreenWin, which sits as part of Winchester city council’s climate change programme, and could be a lean and highly efficient vehicle to drive the green deal in the area I represent. I pay tribute to a constituent of mine, Rob Veck from Colden common, who lives in a house we could call “green deal-plus”—although even that would be an understatement—and who is doing so much to make GreenWin happen. Critical to GreenWin’s success is building a district-wide network of affiliated suppliers and installers. The idea is simple: to build a database with moderated customer feedback that acts as a quality check on the delivery of the green deal. It is 100% community based and is big society-plus with bells on. However, GreenWin has been extremely frustrated by funding issues. I urge Ministers to engage with such groups, which is why I appreciate, and will take up, the Minister’s offer to meet GreenWin through me.
The role of the new green deal assessors is important to the roll-out of the green deal. However, it is not clear to me, and many others, how these GDAs will make a living. Logic suggests that they should be independent—similar to independent financial advisers—but I would appreciate a lead from the Minister, perhaps in Committee, on how they will operate, and on how we can ensure that they will not be cut out of the green deal by the big boys.
I want to touch briefly on the eligibility criteria for green deal homes, and place on record my thanks to Ministers for clarifying, as they did in Department of Energy and Climate Change questions in March, that the green deal will apply to park home residents, if they have an appropriate energy meter and qualify under the normal rules. Park home residents in Winchester and Chandler’s Ford have expressed to me their grave disappointment about how the Warm Front scheme cut them out, and they are very pleased, as is their Member of Parliament, that the green deal will apply to them.
I promised to say where the Bill could be stronger, and I would welcome Ministers’ responses, either today or in Committee, to my suggestions. The Government will be aware that many, including the organisations that make up the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, do not think that the Energy Bill is strong enough and are calling for an amendment—the so-called warm homes amendment we have heard about today—that would introduce provisions to ensure that the Government’s programme on energy efficiency, including the green deal, fits within an overarching energy-saving strategy sufficient to meet the ambition of the Climate Change Act 2008. To remind the House, that ambition is for an 80% emissions reduction by 2050 and a 42% reduction by 2020. Do the Government have any sympathy with this proposed amendment—on first reading, it seems reasonable—if only in the interests of open government and accountability? If not, why not?
People contacted me while the Bill was making its way through the other place, asking that we strengthen the role that local authorities must play. We have heard much about that today. I know that the Secretary of State and the ministerial team are aware of the local government offer on climate change, which has been signed by local authority leaders of all different political persuasions, and which supports the amendment to make climate change a core responsibility of every local authority through local carbon budgets. I appreciate that Ministers might think that at odds with the localism credentials the coalition Government rightly set out, but given that we must meet the ambitious targets set by the Climate Change Act, is this Bill not an opportunity to bring local councils to the table?
Does my hon. Friend not think that a good place to start would be for the Government to set out exactly how the green deal will help them to achieve their climate change targets?
I absolutely agree with that point. I can see the logic in setting local carbon budgets, because many council leaders up and down the country of all political persuasions believe in the growth and green agenda as much as hon. Members. However, some do not, and they need to come to the table if we are to meet those ambitious targets.
In closing, I want to place on record my genuine excitement: this could be a transformation Bill; it is true to the Prime Minister’s ambition to make this the greenest Government ever; and it is seriously helpful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in helping to create the growth that we so desperately need right now.
We have listened to a distinctly Panglossian rosy glow of a statement from the Secretary of State. I think that we can all support the green deal’s ostensible objectives, but there are profound problems with the mechanisms and financing necessary to deliver on the rhetoric. The Bill’s biggest flaw is the failure to address adequately the central issue in energy policy, which is to establish a target for the most efficient way of meeting the nation’s energy requirement over the next 20 years or so, and then to put in place secure and effective mechanisms to ensure that those targets are met. I think that the Bill is the wrong way around: it makes assumptions about the level of energy supply in future decades, and then proposes mechanisms, albeit—as I shall show—rather uncertain and dubious ones, to green that supply.
The Government’s draft overarching national policy statement blandly states, as a sort of unchallengeable datum, that a doubling, or even tripling, of generation will be required by 2050. That clearly puts the cart before the horse, however. If, instead of planning for X terawatts of extra power over the next two to three decades, it was practicable to reduce the figure by, say, 40%—I think that is practicable—it would make much more sense to set that reduced level of energy production as the central target, and then to implement measures to ensure that it is met in as green and cost-effective a way as possible. That is all the more the case given that energy saving is more cost effective, which is a mantra that spokesmen, including the Minister, of all three main parties have repeatedly asserted.
Why, then, are the Government still refusing to undertake a proper cost-benefit assessment of energy demand? Obviously one can see that the big six operators and power generators will be anxious about anything that might impact on their future profits, but I think that the Government, who are far too committed to accommodating the private sector, need to put the national interest first.
Then there is the question of whether the measures in the Bill will deliver what the Government purport to be aiming at. The fundamental issue, on which the whole green deal hinges, is what the interest rates will be. When that was put by me and other hon. Members to the Secretary of State, he gave a studiously vague answer—a discourse, but not an answer. However, without a low interest rate, households will be paying a full, unsubsidised rate for measures such as cavity-wall or loft insulation, which were previously available at no cost or little cost under successive supplier obligations. Without a low interest rate, households will be worse off than they are now. I do not wish to be over-critical, because this should be a reasonably non-partisan debate, but it is irresponsible for Ministers to present such a major Bill to the House and yet remain silent on the intended rate of interest, when the success or otherwise of the entire Bill—certainly the green deal part of it—hinges on that point.
WWF has done a lot of research on the issue and reports that the cost of borrowing for the green deal is likely to be around 8% to 10% over the 25-year debt. Do Ministers agree? If that is the likely interest rate, the effect of the Bill is likely to be fairly minimal without much greater financial support being offered. Market research by the so-called Great British Refurb campaign found last September that even if the interest rate were no more than 6%, only 7% of households—one in 14—would be likely to take up the green deal offer. That is all the more significant when, as we all agree, we recall that the people who need help most in energy saving are those in fuel-poor and vulnerable households, who unfortunately live in the most poorly insulated and energy-wasteful houses.
Given the Government’s savage cuts to the Warm Front programme over the next two years and its discontinuance in 2013, it is perfectly clear that they are not going to lift a finger to help with repayment charges for fuel-poor households, so I ask this question. Realistically, within the parameters of the Bill, is there any reason why energy suppliers should not be required to meet green deal repayments on behalf of fuel-poor households? After all, as we know, such companies regularly report vast profits arising from adventitious rises in fuel prices. However, such a requirement would help them, because they would be able to spread the capital costs over the full length of the green deal finance arrangements and thereby be able to install far more packages in a much shorter time than under the carbon emissions reduction target.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our experience of how the big companies have treated the fuel poor—with pre-payment meters, for example—does not really set a good example or give any hope for how they would look to the future?
The point about pre-payment meters is important, because, again, it is the poorest households—the most fuel-poor and vulnerable households—that are so often forced to use pre-payment meters. Their experience under the Bill would be questionable if it were left to private companies to decide how to deal with the issue. Again, that is an area where the Government need to step in and offer support.
A minimum energy efficiency standard is clearly needed in the private rented sector—a point that several hon. Members have made. There is little or no incentive for landlords to do very much to improve their properties, because it is their tenants who pay the fuel bills, not them. What is needed, therefore, is an energy efficiency baseline to prevent properties with an energy performance certificate rating of F or G, or whatever the Government choose, from being re-let or marketed for rent after a reasonable period—say, five years—in which the necessary energy-efficiency measures can be installed.
Lastly—and briefly—it is regrettable that the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, or HECA, which was a Lib Dem private Member’s Bill, is being repealed rather than extended and toughened, because it delivered more savings in domestic fuel than the entire first phase of the energy efficiency commitment.
I will address some of the right hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful comments in my wind-up, but let me put it on record that we are not repealing HECA. Rather, it will form an important part of our strategy to ensure coherent and joined-up implementation of the green deal right across the country at the local authority and community levels.
I am very pleased to hear that, and I will take that point away and look at it again. Obviously if the Minister says that, I accept that it is the case, and I am also grateful for it, because HECA is an important Act. It never had great support because it was a private Member’s Bill. Local authorities did not have statutory requirements but had to act voluntarily, so the legislation was not as effective as it could be. However, if the Government are to take it over, supporting and strengthening it, that is excellent.
I am very pleased to hear that. Clearly there is thinking going on in Government about how the Bill can be improved, which is what we all want. This is a good Bill, but there is a risk that it will not achieve its objectives, so it needs improvements.
Many people have said this, but there are still too many unanswered questions about so many aspects of the Bill, which I do not think is acceptable for a Bill on Second Reading. The Secretary of State was generous in being cross-questioned by Members from all parts of the House, but the increment of information that he was able to provide was not really satisfactory. Given that there is no cap on interest rates, how can the golden rule—that the expected financial savings will be greater than the cost—be guaranteed? Clearly it cannot. What consumer assurances are there that the green deal advisers will not be in cahoots with the green deal installers? Where is the major information campaign? I do not like saying this, but the “Tell Sid” campaign for privatisation in the 1980s was very effective. Where is the information campaign—which only the Government can provide—to support the green deal, rather than leaving it to big business, which will put its own spin on it? In the worst scenario, there is always a risk of repeating the kind of mis-selling scandal that we saw in the City in the 1990s.
I want to be positive about the Bill. Members in all parts of the House acknowledge that this country badly needs a programme for green energy, albeit one that is cost-effective, with implementation measures that will ensure the objective—not hope for it on a wing and a prayer—and comprehensively address the energy saving requirements of fuel-poor and vulnerable households, particularly in the private rented sector. The Bill needs a great deal more work in Committee. I hope that the Government Whip will not reject all the helpful and constructive amendments that are suggested, as so often happens. I am glad that the Government appear to be still thinking about the matter. If we make some significant changes, this could be—I stress: could be—a good Bill.
A number of speakers have already said this, but it is worth repeating that energy efficiency has for so long been bizarrely overlooked in the energy debate, despite the fact that, in terms of value for money, it is a no-brainer. I want to give just one example. Under the energy efficiency commitment, E.ON claims to have installed measures that delivered energy savings equivalent to 2.3 Kingsnorth plants at a cost of £250 million, which is a fraction of what it would have cost to build those 2.3 plants—if, indeed, it were possible to build 2.3 plants.
There will always be debate about the best source of low-carbon energy, but everyone across the House agrees that the best plant of all is the one that we do not need to build because we have eliminated the demand for it. I therefore strongly welcome the Bill, with its focus on efficiency and its simplicity. The green deal will, very simply, enable households and businesses to invest in energy efficiency at no up-front cost, thereby removing the biggest barrier to carbon refurbishment—the up-front cost—by allowing them to repay the debt through savings.
If the green deal works, it will not only reduce our dependence on imported foreign oil but insulate our homes and businesses against rising energy prices. It will also create opportunities on a large scale for green jobs and growth. More than that, it is clear that an ambitious programme of retrofitting is a prerequisite for the UK to meet its carbon targets. That has been made very clear in the fourth carbon budget report of the Committee on Climate Change, which said that we need a major energy efficiency programme to capture what it believes could be a 74% reduction in emissions from our housing stock by 2030.
Mr Meacher and other Members have aired their concern about how quickly the green deal will be taken up, how far it will go and how much demand there will be for it. The truth is that we have no idea, because it is a new scheme. There are steps that the Government could take, however, to boost the programme. For example, I would strongly urge the Treasury to introduce proposals for a stamp duty rebate for homes participating in the green deal. Given that retrofitting is always disruptive, it makes sense that the biggest incentive should be at the point at which the home changes hands. I suspect that DECC is already lobbying the Treasury on this, and I suggest that if the Treasury wants to avoid being seen as the cuckoo in the nest in relation to green policies—it said that it would try to avoid that—it really ought to take that idea very seriously, because it would have a transformative impact. Another idea is for the green investment bank to have a role in helping to ensure that the necessary low-cost capital can be raised at scale. I am pleased that, as the Bill stands, it does not preclude a role for the green investment bank; at least, that is my understanding of it.
Emissions reduction targets are clearly important, and I want to take this opportunity to urge the Treasury again to accept the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee for a 50% reduction from 1990 levels by 2025. That is important on so many different levels, but they have already been covered in a number of speeches so I will not dwell on them. But, to return to my original point, irrespective of the targets that we set, they will be worth absolutely nothing unless we also develop the mechanisms for delivering and achieving them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the new and interesting things about the green deal is that it will work with human nature? One of the big impediments to greening up homes, beside the cost, is a distrust of cowboy installers. If we put together a package, working with household names, it will help to overcome that consumer distrust and give us a much better chance of achieving the targets.
I agree with my hon. Friend 100%. One of the great aspects of the green deal is that it overcomes the obvious barriers that exist without it. The green deal is very much part of the delivery in meeting the targets, but so too is the next energy Bill. Clearly, this is not the end of the energy story for this Government.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned how imperative the emissions reduction targets are, and I entirely agree with him. The Committee on Climate Change has suggested this week that we should be looking at more nuclear power, rather than at offshore wind power. Taken in context, that means that there will be a shortage of energy supply that can be bridged only by gas, which would increase emissions levels rather than reducing them.
I am on record as being sceptical about the possibilities of nuclear power, partly because it will take so long for us to generate the new capacity that it will not address our immediate concerns. Nor do I believe it possible that we will see new nuclear power plants being built under a regime that says “No subsidies for nuclear”. I might be wrong—a number of people in the sector have told me that I am—but my hunch is that we will see new nuclear power plants only if the definition of “subsidies” is stretched beyond all recognition. But we will see; we will set the right framework and allow the market to decide. That is a party policy that I am happy with, as long as we reach a clear definition of “subsidies”.
Returning to our attempts to meet the targets that I hope will be accepted by the Treasury, one aspect of the second energy Bill—I am not sure that it is legal for me even to talk about it—is important for providing a context for this Bill. That is the concept of “negawatts”, which effectively puts energy saved on a par with energy generated. This is absolutely crucial, and represents a hugely exciting change. My understanding—although I will probably be corrected by the Minister in the wind-up—is that under the proposed reforms to the electricity market, companies will be allowed to pitch for energy contracts and then to fulfil them by reducing energy use, rather that simply by providing more energy. That in itself will transform things in this country on a very exciting scale. It is useful to consider that future Bill alongside the one that we are considering today. Even so, we are going to need more.
If the Government are really serious about energy efficiency, they need to be willing to push for much higher standards in our everyday appliances. One example that I discovered this morning is that we spend £2 billion a year powering washing machines, tumble driers and dishwashers, and a further £2.2 billion a year powering fridges and freezers. If everyone in the UK upgraded their cold appliances to a recommended energy-saving product, energy waste would be cut by two thirds. If we apply that across the board to all the appliances that we use, it is clear that this is one area in which we need direct Government intervention. We need higher levels of regulation, and we need to see standards improving on a rolling basis.
The Bill represents a significant first step in the right direction, and I strongly support it. I congratulate the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Gregory Barker on his involvement in it. It is clearly part of a big journey, however, and there are many more steps to come.
I am pleased to follow Zac Goldsmith, who has made a thoughtful contribution to the debate. He has underlined a number of the issues that I want to raise in connection with the Bill and the green deal. It is extremely important that the green deal should work well, so it must be as good as it possibly can be when the Bill completes its passage through Parliament. That is important because of the ambition that we must have for energy efficiency, whether through “negawatt” arrangements or other forms of energy management and energy saving. We must have the best and most energy-efficient housing stock that we can bring about. That is an essential part of our climate change action, and our action on energy management and the achievement of the CO2 emissions targets set out by the Committee on Climate Change.
Achieving that will involve an ambitious programme, and as a mechanism, the green deal is certainly ambitious. Indeed, the Minister himself said last summer that by 2050, as a result of the green deal, houses would not have to be visited more than once to assess their energy efficiency. That is the kind of ambition that we need for the green deal; we need to make it work as well as it can. My worry is that as matters stand, many things are missing from that ambition. That is what we need to concentrate on in Committee, so that when the Bill is enacted, the import of the 50-odd pieces of secondary legislation that have yet to be written, let alone enacted, will be much clearer. We shall also need to ensure that that secondary legislation provides the mechanisms to make the green deal work well.
I was pleased to hear this afternoon that among other things, the Government are not now intending to proceed with clause 105, which at the moment proposes the repeal of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 in its entirety. I would welcome an intervention from the Minister to confirm that that entire clause will now disappear and not go forward into Committee or beyond. Is that right?
I cannot comment on the detail, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman, as I assured Mr Meacher earlier, that we have looked at this matter in the round. Having listened to a number of experts in the field, we think that we can breathe new life into HECA. It effectively became redundant under the previous Government, but we think that it could be revitalised and become an effective tool that could allow us to avoid imposing new regulation on local government.
I thank the Minister for that clarification.
When we are talking about energy efficiency in homes, we need to understand just how big the task ahead of us is. The SAP—standard assessment procedure—rating of UK homes went up considerably under the last Labour Government. To be precise, the average SAP rating, which measures the energy efficiency of homes, went up by 11 points between 1996 and 2010—from an average of 42 up to 53. Over the last five years, the SAP rate increase went up one a half times as fast as in the previous five years and the five years before that. That shows how measures such as Warm Front and CERT—carbon emissions reduction target—which are going to disappear when the green deal comes in, were having some success in ensuring that homes were more energy-efficient.
In order to get anywhere near the sort of targets that hon. Members have suggested that the Government should consider introducing in an amendment to align energy efficiency with climate change targets—which I hope will happen in Committee—we need to move the SAP ratings much further up over the next few years, perhaps to 70 or more on average at band C by the end of the decade. That means making progress getting on for twice as fast as we have over the last few years. That is the sort of ambition that the Bill needs to encompass. My concern—hon. Members have already mentioned a number of concerns—is that it remains unclear whether that ambition can be achieved under the current mechanism, despite the claims for the efficacy of the green deal.
Other Members have mentioned the problem of poorer homes, and private landlords are a particular problem, because they have no vested interest in doing anything about them. I am sure we have all had people coming to our surgeries with horrific stories about windows that do not fit, damp all over the place and so forth—yet the landlord often does not care at all.
Indeed. I welcome what I understand to be a change of heart by the Government about the extent to which compulsion can be used to get landlords to improve their properties. Sanctions on landlords with F and G-rated properties have been mentioned; we could argue about when those sanctions might be introduced, but compulsion to prevent landlords from letting properties below certain minimum energy standards is right. The standards are well below the sort of average rating that we have talked about this afternoon, but they are nevertheless minimum standards. If that is indeed a change of heart reflected in this part of the Bill, I welcome it.
I am sure that the detailed provisions affecting landlords can be sorted out effectively in Committee—but first we have to find the landlords. It was not a good sign that when this Bill was being discussed, another Department helpfully removed the idea of having a landlords register as the responsibility of local government. Without that, it will be more difficult to find the landlords who should carry out these arrangements. I trust that the Minister will have a word with his counterpart in the Department for Communities and Local Government and perhaps think again about that particularly destructive act.
The problem of finance has been mentioned. It is essential to making the green deal work. It is not just a matter of suggesting that the market will sort the finances out one way or another and that competitive interest rates will be charged. We can be fairly clear about how finance for the green deal as it stands, without changes, will turn out, because that is how the market works in respect of the sort of return that can be expected at different interest rates. The rate may well be around 9%, or perhaps a bit less. If we look at what can be got under the golden rule with finance at 9%, we find that it turns out to be very little in terms of improvements for properties to which the green deal and the golden rule apply. Loft cavity wall insulation and draft-proofing are probably the only things that work out at that sort of level. With interest rates at 7%, we get draft-proofing, some glazing, some internal wall insulation. With interest rates at 5%, we may get loft cavity wall insulation, glazing and a condensing boiler. If the green deal comes in at 9%, hardly any of the properties that need that sort of level of serious work—glazing, condensing boilers, perhaps microgeneration—will be touched by the mechanism. We must have a better mechanism for making the green deal work.
The energy company obligation exists as a back-up for fuel poverty and hard-to-treat properties. Hon. Members might have noticed that with interest rates at about 5% or so, solid wall insulation, which is present in about 7 million homes up and down the country, will not be touched. The ECO programme might touch it and might have a substantial hand in dealing with those in fuel poverty. Perhaps they should have their green deal underwritten by the ECO so that they can join in the benefits that other people get.
If we are thinking about how the ECO might underwrite the green deal, it is important to understand whether the ECO will exist to any great extent as a financial mechanism. What greatly concerns me—I hope the Committee will be able to look at the problem in much greater detail—is that as matters stand, DECC has signed up to a Treasury-based cap on levy-based arrangements. Under the present financial arrangements—for the spending round up to 2015—DECC has signed up to a cap on renewable obligations, feed-in tariffs and warm homes discount. That cap is set at £11.8 billion over the whole period, but there is also an annual cap.
The Treasury says that any new initiatives that come in the form of a levy must be financed within that cap. If the Department wished to undertake an ECO programme and it proved to be a levy as defined by the Office for National Statistics, it would have to be found under the present cap. That means either that the Government will have to go slow on renewable obligations and reduce the amount of renewable energy, or that the ECO will prove to be so small as to make it impossible to produce the sort of mechanism that many people hoped for—one for adding value to the green deal, getting on with the hard-to-treat properties, dealing with people in fuel poverty and homes off the grid that need extra assistance to make the green deal work, and so forth.
Unless we get the mechanisms right and have the right finance in the system—and, I would suggest, among other things, unless the ECO works properly—the green deal will not work. I am the last person who would want to see the green deal fall. Because a great deal of work has to be done to make our country as energy-efficient as possible, the green deal has to work. The task of making it work properly is the task of the Committee. I hope the Government will be generous in taking on board those ideas, which will make the green deal work as well as it can to bring our energy efficiency targets as close to realisation as possible.
I congratulate Dr Whitehead on his typically thoughtful speech, which I thought made an important contribution to the debate and was delivered in a helpful tone. I say to the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Gregory Barker that I greatly welcome the general thrust of the Bill. I believe it will be a major advance, provided we get it right, but there is a lot to do to help it become a better Bill. I hope that Ministers will approach Committee with that thought in mind. I think that, in general, the House wants the Bill to succeed and considers it important, and we should be able to tap into the House’s collective knowledge of an issue that is so important to the future well-being of our country. Knowing the Minister as I do, I am sure that that will be his approach.
My hon. and very wise Friend is absolutely right. We want to try to capture some of the positive cross-party engagement that ensured that the Climate Change Act 2008 was scrutinised and improved during its passage. We will seek to draw on the wisdom that exists on both sides of the House to improve this Bill, and we will be open-minded. We are extremely ambitious for the Bill, and we do not want to rule out good ideas just because they were not invented in our Department.
I am sure that the whole House will welcome the Minister’s generous remarks, and I hope that we can set the stage for a consensual approach to this important matter. I was going to say something about limp lettuce leaves, but in view of my desire for that consensual approach, I shall refrain from doing so.
Mr Deputy Speaker—the change is slightly off-putting, but it is good to see you in the Chair—we all know that improvements in energy efficiency are a vital part of the wider picture of our energy policy, for a number of reasons. They are central to the success of our economy, and to the well-being of the environment that we want our children, grandchildren, and those who come even later to enjoy. They are extremely important to the jobs market. However, they are even more important to consumers, particularly those who are less privileged than many other people in the country. I believe that the Government are genuinely willing to ensure that the benefits of the Bill spread to the sections of the community that we know need help because they suffer from fuel poverty, and I believe that those people would be particularly grateful to the Government if we managed to pull this off.
The Bill provides a welcome opportunity for us to consider the wider question of the direction of energy policy, which chapter 4 of part 1 and chapters 1 and 2 of part 2 refer to in no uncertain terms. Issues such as future generation and supply, low carbon innovation and investment and energy security are vital to the overall picture, and I was pleased to learn that the Minister envisages a review and report in the coming years that will deal with those vital issues more widely.
I think we all agree that a low-carbon energy future offers the strong economic opportunities to which I have referred, but energy can be saved only if there is energy to save. The whole process of generation has become even more delicate and important as a result of happenings on the other side of the world, and the future of energy policy is now a very pertinent matter to which we need to devote serious attention. I do not think that either this or the last Government have embarked on that process to the extent that would satisfy me and, I believe, a number of other Members.
Low-carbon energy provides a tremendous opportunity for us to create new jobs, improve energy security and reduce fuel poverty, and making existing energy supply go further is a positive concept that we would all support. The green deal programme is one of most startling and innovative policies that I have seen during my time in the House. As I have said, there are ways in which we can improve it, but it is a gem of an idea on which we can build, and which will have a massive impact on the people whom we serve. I hope that the rest of the House sees the Bill in the same way. I know that the Builders Merchants Federation will be interested in it, but the federation is only one organisation that will be interested in the possibilities for job creation, let alone improvement of our housing stock and help for those who are less fortunate than many of us in this country.
I am delighted that there will be a focus on the sectors to which I have referred, and I am delighted that those sectors will help to provide the growth that we need to ensure the success of the whole Budget strategy. The Bill is at the heart of that Budget strategy, which is one of the wider considerations that we need to bear in mind in Committee and on Report. However, it poses some difficulties that I think worth identifying from the perspective of a friendly supporter. I find its tone more than a little prescriptive, and I feel that it could have been more flexible at this stage, not least because so much of the detail is yet to be supplied. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take that point on board.
I believe that we should make the green deal more attractive to domestic and commercial energy consumers. In that context, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the
Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I agree that we need to use fiscal drivers such as council tax rebates and changes in stamp duty. Although the green deal is tremendously exciting, it must be sold carefully and honestly, and the marketing process must contain incentives to change the minds of the many people who may be suspicious about phrases such as “Everyone’s a winner”. Whenever I wanted extra money to spend at the local fairground where the guy cried out “Everyone’s a winner”, my grandmother warned me to be wary of catchpenny deals. I do not want that sort of marketing to be part of this process; the deal must be marketed in a sensible, mature and honest way.
When deciding on a marketing strategy, should we not think about how to attract those who are most vulnerable, most likely to be subject to fuel poverty and, in general, least likely to access the support available to them?
That is an important point, and I note from one or two nods from Opposition Members that there is agreement on it across the House. If we are to attract those who are at the bottom of the poverty chain, our marketing must be subtle. It worries me that the House often does not think about the management of the projects suggested by the Executive. We have seen that in the context of support for small business, and I should hate the same thing to happen to an idea as good as the green deal.
My time is quickly coming to an end. Before it does, let me say a little more about the need to reduce our carbon need. That is particularly relevant to what has happened on the other side of the world, which has changed the way in which some countries think about the production of energy. I therefore want to refer briefly to the vital role carbon capture and storage will play in ensuring we have the energy supply that we need in order to be able to save energy. The Government claim to recognise its importance, yet the levels of uncertainty that have beset progress of late are concerning. I welcome the Minister’s recognition that CCS is the only home-grown energy source technology that can help to reduce significantly CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power stations—indeed, by as much as 90%. I also recognise that the Bill as it stands does not deal with this issue, but there are serious discussions going on about the future supply of power in this country. Doubt has been created as a result of the Government giving £1 billion for the first test model of a CCS facility but then saying we are doing away with the remaining £9 billion and we are going to deal with this from a general tax perspective. That has worried the marketplace and could hold back CCS development. I urge my Front-Bench colleagues to take this on board. There are 300 years of energy requirement under our feet and we have an opportunity to help coal communities. If we do not make progress with CCS, others will and we will miss massive opportunities.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Let me say straight away that I welcome the Bill as I think it has enormous potential. The green deal could play a hugely important role in ensuring that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our homes and take serious steps towards meeting our climate change targets. The potential economic impacts could be almost as important as the environmental ones. At a time of economic crisis, one of the fastest ways of getting people back to work and stabilising the economy is precisely through a major programme of investment in energy efficiency and renewable energies. Retrofitting all our buildings would create well over 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years. If we were to have the right policy incentives, we could create many thousands more jobs in the renewables industries.
The Bill also has a crucial role to play in tackling the economic and health scourge of fuel poverty. Fuel poverty overall has risen steadily since 2004, and according to the latest Government figures, dating back to 2007, it now affects about 4.5 million UK households. National Energy Action—the national fuel poverty charity—estimates that the figure is in fact closer to 5.4 million households.
We can bandy figures about, but they tell only part of the story. My constituency has one of the largest private-rented sectors in the UK, and many of my constituents have shared with me their experiences of living in cold, damp rented property, and are happy for me to highlight them here today. Jack writes:
“I am currently living in a flat with no central heating and rotted wooden single glazed windows. Needless to say over winter my flatmate and I were horribly cold, and we were both very ill due to the weather.”
“You know those thermal blankets paramedics use? Even with central heating, I had two of those on my bed, two duvets, four blankets, and I still had to wear jeans and hoodie to bed, and I was still shivering in my sleep.”
It is beyond doubt, therefore, that there is both a great need for improved household energy efficiency and a great opportunity to address fuel poverty, but in order to realise the full potential of the green deal, some significant changes to the Bill will be needed. My overall concern is that I am not convinced that the measures and mechanisms proposed in the Bill will be ambitious enough to meet the scale of the challenge we face. The Minister has talked both in the press today and at a seminar in my constituency yesterday about the aspiration for 14 million households to be insulated in the first phase of the green deal. I support that aspiration, of course, but it is hard to see how it will be achieved through the current proposals, and that is made even harder by the fact that so much of the detail of the green deal is, unfortunately, being left to secondary legislation.
However, as Mr Weir has suggested, what we do know is that retrofitting 14 million homes by 2020 amounts to over 1.7 million homes a year, or about 145,000 homes a month, or about 4,800 homes a day. That will be a massive step change, which will require an extraordinary ramping up of the supply chain, of the training of engineers and so forth. Even the leading programme in Germany is only achieving 100,000 retrofits a year, and it is doing so by offering publicly subsidised interest rates of 2.65%. The green deal before us today is based on market interest rates, which will be a lot less attractive.
Therefore, although it is very welcome that Ministers are sounding ambitious, those ambitions need first to be stated firmly in the Bill and, secondly, to be backed up by a far-reaching delivery system that will roll out the green deal in a much more comprehensive manner. It is not enough simply to state that a number of homes will be treated, since it is clearly far easier to make minimum energy efficiency improvements to 14 million homes than it is to deliver the whole-house, comprehensive retrofits, including micro-energy generation measures, that are needed. That is why we need to have stated in the Bill not just the number of households to be treated but, crucially, the minimum level of emissions reduction to be achieved.
Maximising the take-up of the green deal involves looking again both at the finance mechanism itself and, crucially, the way it is delivered. Given that we know the most effective agents of change are likely to be local community-based organisations working alongside local authorities, the Bill needs to be clearer about the role of local authorities, and more explicit about the important role of co-ops and mutuals, such as Brighton Energy Co-op in my constituency. I believe that a national, publicly funded, street-by-street, comprehensive energy efficiency improvement scheme would deliver the greatest and quickest financial and CO2 savings, while also providing the largest boost to the development of a green economy. The effectiveness of such schemes has been seen at a local level across the country, driven by local authorities. Indeed, it was at the heart of the “green new deal” that a number of Greens and others put together some years back. That was a more ambitious forerunner of the Government’s green deal and other proposals here.
The Local Government Association has called for much greater clarity on the role that local authorities could play within the green deal, and the New Local Government Network argues for social landlords to have a prominent role in co-ordinating green deal measures across their estates on an area-wide basis, given that pilots suggest that costs can be reduced by as much as 20% per home when whole streets are improved collectively at the same time. That could be facilitated by ensuring that the energy company obligation fund is paid into an open pot that all green deal providers, including local authorities and registered social landlords, can bid into, in order to ensure that the green deal delivers on fuel poverty.
I am very glad to hear that the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 measures will now not be repealed, and I hope we will link that to calls for local carbon budgets. More than 40 council leaders have called for councils to be given a duty to set a carbon budget for their area, and to meet it through locally agreed and appropriate measures, with the support of central Government where needed. These two things should be going hand in hand.
Local authorities have a unique role to play. They are a trusted brand, and they know where their hard-to-heat homes are and where many of those in fuel poverty live. Their knowledge, experience and reputation will be key to the success of the policy, and I think the Bill needs to be clearer about their central role.
Even with local authorities and local community groups driving forward the delivery of the green deal, we will need to do much more to incentivise people to take it up. Part of the answer lies in getting the financial package right. I support proposals that would include looking at ways of incentivising that through reductions in stamp duty, and as Mr Meacher said, it is crucial to get the interest rates right. The success of a home efficiency improvements programme in Germany has shown the value of using publicly subsidised lending. With Government backing, the KfW development bank raises triple A rated bonds for its energy efficiency household loan programme. The Government then subsidise those loans, which are offered to the consumer at a rate of 2.65%. With the support of some further grants and regulation, Germany is achieving 100,000 retrofits of residential homes each year. The current understanding is that green deal providers in the UK will only offer the loans at market interest rates, which prompts this question: where exactly is the “deal” in the green deal?
To meet the ambitions stated by the Minister today of treating 14 million homes by 2020 it is clear that the Government have to go well beyond what is being offered and achieved elsewhere. They have to introduce something like 0% interest rates, linking this to the green investment bank. Unless we cut the cost of the up-front capital for the green deal, we risk limiting the measures that can be implemented under the golden rule.
As I have said, fuel poverty is a crucial issue when it comes to ensuring that the energy company obligation works. I am deeply concerned that there is not enough money in the pot for the ECO and I am also concerned that it has two functions. On the one hand, we are asking for it to address those in fuel poverty and, on the other hand, we are asking it to address those in hard-to-heat homes. People in hard-to-heat homes may be able to pay, so if we provide them with funding from the ECO pot, we are using money that could help people in fuel poverty in order to subsidise residents who are able to pay. Such an approach does not make much sense. We also need to be mindful of the fact that the ECO will be funded through a levy on all bills, as that risks pushing more people into fuel poverty than it takes out of it. If we use a regressive mechanism, such as a levy on all bills, we run a real risk of it putting more people into poverty.
The warm home discount is welcome but, again, there is a problem, because it is paid for in the same way—it is a levy on the bills of all consumers—and it tackles only the 50% of the fuel poor who are of pensionable age. There are plenty of fuel poor people who are not of pensionable age. So we need to make many changes to the Bill, but I repeat that overall it is very helpful. I hope that we will be able to improve it and that we really will have the kind of policy that we can be proud of in this country.
It is an honour to follow Caroline Lucas. She made many of the points that I would wish to make, so I shall briefly address the issues of particular concern to my constituents.
I welcome the green deal, in particular the potential for green jobs, the energy-saving capacity measures, the potential savings for those who most need the money and the emphasis on the benefit to individuals. The first thing I wish to focus on is that we should be setting targets on an annual basis. An annual report should be given to Parliament on the progress made, not only on the number of homes that have been dealt with, but on the carbon saving.
I am concerned that there will be no separation between the assessor and the supplier. As such, there will have to be a strong resolution capacity for those who have disputes and grievances. I wish to see something similar to a green ombudsman put in place, as that would help to keep consumer confidence high—we saw what happened in Australia when confidence fell.
Local authorities have been mentioned, and I particularly wish to know the Government’s view on including housing associations and some of the larger estates, possibly the Duchy of Cornwall, the Grosvenor estate and many others, in the Bill’s arrangements. Would they have the capacity to become green deal providers? The economies of scale that would, thus, be brought in would, of course, have to benefit individual consumers. The idea of introducing schemes so that individual roads, villages, neighbourhoods or districts are dealt with in that way—in a fairly consistent way—is an interesting one.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I recall that when I was serving on Wandsworth council 20-odd years ago we looked at regenerating areas such as the Battersea triangle. I remember writing out a cheque for £4 million for one year. We took over and regenerated entire streets, and the economies of scale involved were superb. When I think of what Battersea is like now compared with what it was like 20-odd years ago, I realise that she is hitting on an interesting point. Perhaps the Minister might be able to wrap this up later.
I can do that now. I am very happy to say that we want to make the green deal as permissive as possible. These sorts of ideas, which encourage housing associations and other community groups to come together to be green deal providers, alongside the big boys, demonstrate exactly the sort of innovative approach that we want to see.
I thank the Minister for that answer.
I wish to return to the issue of fuel poverty. I cannot say how strongly I feel about the fact that the Government must instruct the companies or the regulator, or whomsoever else we are able to instruct, to ensure that we operate a rising block tariff, rather than a falling block tariff. That would be the most green measure we could implement. Leaving things as they are would be a disincentive. It is bonkers not to make energy cheaper for the first units and more expensive as people use more. This measure would be so green and would provide such an incentive to use less energy that I make a plea for the regulator or whomsoever is able to deal with that to be instructed to do so.
The other issue that I wish to return to is that of the pre-payment meters, as it is very unfair to penalise the less well-off through higher charges for pay-as-you-use gas and electricity. I accept that those with arrears must pay them off, but they should not be penalised after that by having to pay more for their power.
Will the Minister clarify something on the issues of fuel poverty and ill health?
My hon. Friend has mentioned the manner in which the utility companies charge for their power. One further disincentive for those on low income is the advantage that is given to those who can pay their bills by direct debit, as those who live on the margins of credit clearly cannot take advantage of the various deals available to those who have no difficulty in that regard. If we are to wrap up a set of policies that help the less well-off, I would hope that this issue would be addressed as part of it.
I assume that it is Government policy, but I am unable to see where it is explicitly stated that all new homes and buildings should be carbon neutral and that that might in some way be reinforced by building regulations. I would like to be given some clarification on that point.
I also believe that it is crucial for assessors to have a duty to ensure the best for the individual customer. I am talking not about the best financial deal or the best deal for the provider, but about the best deal for the individual consumer. We should not be dependent on any one organisation to carry out those assessments, be it B&Q, Marks & Spencer or anyone else; consumers must have some protection and various options.
I would like the Minister to address one particular issue. Park homes have been mentioned and in my constituency there are quite a lot of mobile homes as well as 11-month homes, which are homes, perhaps on the coast, where people are able to live for only 11 months of the year. Do those buildings have any different arrangements? I am concerned about Airey homes and prefab homes, which are definitely not energy-efficient types of building in the first place. Are there special arrangements for them?
I am keen that there should be a tougher stance on private landlords. Private homes, certainly in my constituency, are often occupied by people who are unable to have social housing because there is so little of it. About 2,600 people are waiting for social housing in my constituency and as they have little hope of obtaining a social home of any sort, they move into the private rented sector. I would prefer it if a private landlord could not reasonably refuse any request to be part of the scheme as a huge group of tenants would be affected.
I was interested to hear about appliances, the need to replace many of them and whether that could be done more efficiently. I wonder whether the Government might consider some sort of scrappage scheme.
As I understand it, the Secretary of State has the ability to override offshore wind leases if requested by oil and gas companies. I want a clause that prevents that from happening or, if it is going to happen, provides a clear compensation mechanism for early termination. Otherwise, we will move away from having any investor security.
Finally, I ask the Government to accept the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. I hope that this scheme will achieve much more than any previous scheme has before.
The Bill is debated under the shadow of the report published this Monday by the independent Committee on Climate Change. The committee has been clear and it is authoritative: in order to achieve our 2050 target of at least 80% carbon reductions, we must adopt a 2025 target of at least 50% emissions reductions. That is the shadow that hangs over the debate today. The Business Secretary has clearly rejected that advice and his Liberal colleague, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, would, one hopes, wish to accept it. That is the split at the heart of the Government’s decision making on where to go with energy policy.
This is entitled the Energy Bill, but it is really a financial services Bill drawn up to enable energy supply companies to act as long-term finance providers for energy-efficiency measures with repayment coming from the anticipated savings on future energy bills. I have changed the speech that I brought into the Chamber this afternoon, partly because of the excellent speeches made by my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I thought they made excellent contributions and addressed very serious points.
It was, however, Mr Binley, with whom I do not normally find myself in considerable agreement, who struck me as injecting a note of realism into the debate. We must consider carefully what the Government expect people in the country to do. It is generally accepted that on both sides of the House we would like the Bill to be effective. We would like to see it achieve its objectives in energy efficiency and energy savings. We all know the McKinsey cost curve and it is clear that it is far better to start at the left hand side and achieve the savings in the negative cost element of the curve before we go up to forestry, carbon capture and storage and so on at €60 per tonne.
Of course, we wish the Bill to be successful but we must have a note of realism about the likelihood of people taking on the loans that are on offer. Under the deal, a householder would engage an independent energy assessor to advise on the level of savings that could be made by efficiency improvements. The householder would then take out a loan by entering into a contract with an energy company that paid for a provider—it could be the energy company itself—to fit those energy-saving measures. We know that the energy companies have said that they have serious reservations about the effect that that would have on the rented sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made some very apposite remarks in relation to that sector.
Are we being realistic in expecting citizens to take out loans to make anticipated savings on future bills which are, by their very nature, uncertain? Let us look at DECC’s own projections. It has calculated the green deal financial costs as being cheaper than a “market personal loan”, but they could be as high as 11%. My hon. Friend showed a range of interest rates between 9% and 5% and the differential that one might achieve for those rates, but why would a householder take out a loan at 9% to make the changes when it would be cheaper to put it on their mortgage over 20 or 25 years?
I share the commitment to creating the best incentives possible within the Bill but I think the hon. Gentleman is rather underselling the citizens of this country. Citizens in Oxford West and Abingdon are certainly committed to tackling climate change and I feel that they will undertake some of the financial commitments suggested within the Bill—indeed, many of them already have. Amazing examples have been set by community groups such as Low Carbon West Oxford.
The virtue that the hon. Lady’s party usually claims for itself is that it adopts a hard-nosed business approach to things, so I offer her a hard-nosed business approach. If a householder were offered a deal at 9% over a period of 25 years, why would they take that up if they could take out exactly the same capital amount needed to fit the elements required to achieve the savings that the policy is designed to achieve but at the rate they are getting on their mortgage, which might be 4%, 5% or 6%? The simple point is that householders can already make the changes we are discussing at a lower cost than is offered in the green deal that her Government propose.
Has my hon. Friend seen the YouGov poll that was released today in which only 7% of the people polled said they would take up the green deal if the interest rate was set at 6% or more?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to assure the Minister and all hon. Members present that I have no intention of talking the measures down. What I want is realism about their likelihood of success. Polls are polls—they are what people say about their future action, but I am not trying to present such evidence. I am simply asking hon. Members to look at what people are doing at the moment. They have the opportunity now to take out money on their mortgages and do exactly what the green deal is offering but at a lower rate of interest, and very few people are doing that. I do not want to talk this down, but I do want realism.
One has to look at this issue in the context of the Government’s overall policies. Of course, it is right that we should look at efficiency savings and energy reduction, but look at the cuts to the Carbon Trust: they do not sit easily with a Government policy of rigid focus on energy reduction. One of the premier schemes, which has been in place for a long time, is being cut. Look at the carbon reduction commitment—a very good scheme that was initiated a couple of years ago to incentivise businesses to lower their carbon emissions, which was welcomed by the CBI and the Institute of Directors. A billion-pound saving was going to be made and then recycled into those businesses. It was revenue neutral.
What did the Government do? They came in and said, “Thanks very much. We’ll have that billion pounds. We won’t recycle it into business.” They did two things: they destroyed the incentives that the businesses had in the first place to reduce their carbon footprint, and they also destroyed the trust that business had in the Government not changing the goalposts. One of fundamentals that we have heard throughout our debate today is the importance of maintaining a stable investment framework going forward. I appeal to the Government to think about everything they said in opposition about stable fiscal regimes and the need for certainty for business. Their actions in government have gone against that.
Mr Yeo, the Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, made the point forcefully when he talked about the changes to the solar PV scheme. The important thing is not the changes themselves. It is understandable why those changes were made. The Government did not wish to see businesses profiting from the scheme that was intended primarily to be a domestic or small-scale scheme. That is not the issue. The issue is that they changed the goalposts and destroyed the confidence that business investors had in that area. That is what the Government are doing.
The Bill calls itself an Energy Bill. I am afraid that does not sit well with a coherent energy policy. If this were an Energy Bill, it would address energy much more in terms of electricity market reforms—again, those were referred to by the Chairman of the Select Committee. We should be looking at what sort of structure there is to the energy market in this country. We have a vertical integration of generator and supplier that is destroying the attempts to bring renewables into the mix, yet the four pillars of the Government’s proposals leave that market intact. It is not a reform of the electricity market; it is tinkering around the edges.
What is needed is a genuine reform of that market. That is what the Government are not doing. What is needed is a move to a pooled supply where it can be seen that companies are selling in a transparent and liquid market. At present it is an illiquid market which lacks transparency. That is why the big six are able to rip people off. The Government must do much more to claim that the Bill is an Energy Bill. They must have an energy policy, and the Bill shows that they do not. They are tinkering. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The Government are fiddling while the planet does.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak on Second Reading of the Energy Bill. I declare an interest, as I retain shares in a communications company that specialises in regeneration and development.
Over the past 15 years I have seen first-hand how the green agenda has risen up the political agenda and how developers have reacted to increasing environmental demands. Whereas most businesses are keen to keep their costs down and avoid regulation, I have noticed that the moves to improve environmental code levels have come about only because politicians have challenged the development industry to meet these improvements. To encourage private inward investment in this new sector and for developers to include windmills, solar photovoltaics and other energy-efficient schemes, it is important that we do not send a confused set of messages to potential investors.
As an aside, I recently received correspondence from a developer in Plymouth who is concerned that the decision to reduce the higher feed-in tariff from 29.3p to 8.5p by
The Stern report, which the previous Government commissioned, clearly set out the global implications of collectively taking no action. The increasing incidence of floods and storms in some of the poorer parts of the world will have a significant impact on helping third-world countries. I welcome the measures set out in the Bill, which will help us to play our part in reducing CO2 emissions by saving energy. Specifically, I welcome the creation of a new manufacturing industry. My constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is very dependent on the public sector and needs to use this initiative to help rebalance its economy. As one of the major global players in marine scientific research, it is well placed to help deliver the Government’s green deal by becoming a manufacturing centre for renewable products.
In the 1990s, Cambridge university set up a series of research companies that specialised in genetics. The companies were then sold to the likes of SmithKline and Glaxo to develop pharmaceutical products that helped to build the biotechnology industry we have today.
I have argued for some time that Plymouth needs to develop similar clusters of renewables industries within our travel-to-work area, which will help us to turn the tide in this low-skills and low-wage economy where 38% of the work force are dependent on the public sector. Our university, with its fine reputation for marine science research, should be the catalyst for this economic regeneration. However, to achieve this, we need the Government’s help across a number of Departments.
Later this summer, my hon. Friends in the Ministry of Defence will publish the results of the base-porting review, which I hope will identify parts of the naval estate, especially in South Yard, that are not needed for defence and could be used to realise Plymouth’s full economic potential. Last week, Defence Ministers announced that Plymouth’s seven Type 23 frigates would not be transferred to Portsmouth for the foreseeable future. That is excellent news for a naval garrison city that prides itself on the role it has played in the defence of our country. The Royal Navy’s role in that part of the south-west is a key ingredient in creating this cluster of marine industries. It is part of a commercially focused agenda, working with the private sector, Plymouth city council, Cornwall council and academic partners to create a dynamic programme that can bring ocean renewable energy to the world.
Our vision in that part of the south-west is to exploit domestic and international markets for offshore wind, wave and tidal energy. That will enhance trade and industry policy and the low-carbon skills and jobs agenda and will help us to address the urgent need for climate change mitigation and adaptation. We need to develop products that can be sold not only in our domestic and European markets, but to China, India and emerging economies. That is something that we should most certainly concentrate on in a big way.
We also need joined-up thinking between the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury, and we must ensure that we give an important role to the green investment bank to create businesses that will be worth hundreds of millions of pounds in coming decades and help the UK maintain is current commercial and intellectual property advantage.
The MOD and the Navy are well placed to benefit from sharing physical assets in Plymouth: low-carbon energy supplies in our dockyard and the presence of service industries, such as Babcock International and Serco. We need to explore a new commercial relationship between the naval estate and potential wealth creators. Those companies and their supply chains, which are largely made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, will benefit from future enterprise zone status in Devonport and elsewhere in Devon and Cornwall. I believe that it will help us to grow defence-related and civilian businesses and marine and renewable energy to the joint benefit of the country’s future military and energy security.
The Minister of State will be aware of our increasingly unstable and insecure world, with growing threats of climate change, terrorism and economic instability, and we need only to remember what happened when Russia decided that it was going to hold its next-door neighbours to ransom, but to build greater economic, social and environmental security, as well as commercial and trade advantage, we need to ensure that the relevant Departments work together effectively. In order to realise those opportunities, I hope that my hon. Friends will be able to work with me and other interested parties to establish the UK’s first marine energy park in Plymouth and the south-west as soon as possible.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has agreed to come to Plymouth later this year to see for himself how we can deliver that economic regeneration. I firmly believe that together we can create a series of green manufacturing businesses in the south-west and help to regenerate our economies in order to improve our skills.
I, like many other Members on both sides of the House, welcome large elements of the Bill and support its general aims. As Dr Lee said, the challenges we face in dealing with energy policy cannot be safely confined to a five-year term, and much of the Bill builds on the work that my right hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) did in the previous Government. I am pleased to see some of that being built on and developed in the Bill and in other aspects that the current ministerial team is taking forward, and I hope that that helps to bring some cross-party support to elements of it.
There is huge potential in the green deal, which is a significant part of the Bill, and we want it to work. The aims are laudable, and they have been lauded by Ministers. There is the potential not just for energy efficiency, for wider environmental reasons, but for a positive impact on poorer households, in particular, including people with dependants, long-term conditions and a greater need for domestic heating. Many live in properties, such as those in my constituency and in other parts of the country, that by age or design are inherently inefficient. There is huge potential, and that is why, as many contributors have said today, we want to see the green deal work.
I hope that the Minister will acknowledge, however, that some significant gaps still need to be filled, including those on how the green deal will end up working, and, as many others have said, on the crucial issue of the interest rate. Its impact on what can be managed within the deal has caused concern to many within and outside the House. I hope that Ministers can provide us with further enlightenment on that, if not this evening then in Committee, so that when we return to the Bill we are able to reflect on proposed legislation that is more detailed and comprehensive than that which is currently before us.
I have listened carefully to today’s contributions, and to the Secretary of State’s responses to earlier interventions. My constituency includes many properties in which cavity wall and loft insulation are unsuitable, because they do not have lofts and their walls are too old for insulation. That is the case in many others places, too, and that is why the detail of the proposals is so significant.
I hope the fact that the Bill has been through the other place without that detail will encourage Ministers to find out how the gaps can be filled, and I hope that the work can be done in the bipartisan way that the Bill’s origins and aims naturally dictate. That is why we can support the aims of the Bill and the green deal, but we do not as yet have the confidence safely to proclaim that they will work. There is an obligation on Ministers to help us to reach that position. I am sure that I speak for most, if not all, Members in saying that we want to be in that position on this very important matter. As the Chair of the Select Committee, on which I was privileged to serve briefly at the start of this Parliament, made clear, the need for certainty also has an impact on some of the investment decisions that will help to make the most of the potential of the green deal.
As several hon. Members have said, there are problems relating to energy companies’ tariffs. The Bill includes a requirement that companies must provide information on their bills about the cheapest tariffs, if that is not done voluntarily. I am not sure that goes far enough in dealing with an issue that frequently comes to my attention in my surgeries when I see constituents who have been frustrated and confused by what they are told by energy companies. They are baffled by what their bills mean, having been told by suppliers that they would be saving money but end up paying much more. There are dozens of different tariffs for each energy supplier, and social tariffs are probably the least known about among those who need them most. Research carried out by Consumer Focus shows that many consumers not only do not understand the detail of their energy bills but do not necessarily trust the energy companies to provide them with the most accurate information.
In my constituency, we are fortunate to have Lightburn Elderly Assistance Project, or LEAP, which provides help and support to elderly people, including on energy efficiency. It does a superb job in being able to get into the detail of what tariffs people are on and whether they are the most appropriate ones for them. I am sure that other organisations in other parts of the country perform a similar role and are similarly useful and helpful. However, they will inevitably only ever touch the tip of the iceberg of people who need and will benefit from that advice and that degree of specialised knowledge. It would be much better if we were in a position where some of the vagueness and evasiveness were removed from the information that energy suppliers provide to their consumers, which often leads to mistrust and confusion, and to people who have the lowest level of financial literacy paying the highest tariffs when they can least afford it. That problem needs to be addressed. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to do so in Committee, and perhaps appropriate amendments will be tabled.
It would be wrong not to refer to the role that Consumer Focus has played. That is not covered directly in the Bill, nor is it the responsibility of the Ministers in charge. Nevertheless, it is a cause of regret and concern to me and to many others that the decision to abolish Consumer Focus and roll its functions into citizens advice bureaux might leave us without the specialised knowledge that has benefited consumers by providing expert and helpful guidance.
The Bill has laudable aims. The green deal is a laudable policy and a mechanism that many Labour Members hope will work. However, I have to say to Government Members, following their earlier remarks, that it is not partisan to point out that detail is still required, work is still to be done, and confidence is still to be infused. I hope that, as Mr Binley said, Ministers will consider the important issues highlighted by Opposition Front Benchers and others, which need to be addressed in the attitude that the Government take to the Committee stage so that when we come to debate the Bill again—it has already been through the other place—it will be improved, it will be more comprehensive, and it will help to give Members on both sides of the House the confidence to be able to support its most significant measures.
There is an energy challenge in this country, and I have congratulated Ministers before on being adept at facing up to that. It is a shared challenge that crosses party boundaries, and it is in the interests of all our constituents that we address it. I hope that we can do that by constructively filling in some of the missing detail in Committee. As has been said, the Opposition will find it difficult to support the measures without that detail. I hope that Ministers will be constructive in responding to this debate and in Committee.
I am pleased to speak in this debate because I believe that this issue is extremely important for our country. It is perhaps the most important issue that we face. In the midst of dealing with a difficult economic situation, restoring strength to our society and empowering local people, we also face the threat of climate change and the need to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels and towards being a greener, more energy-efficient country. The UK has rightly taken the lead on this issue, and the Bill is a welcome step in the right direction.
I am also pleased to speak in this debate because my constituency has great potential as an energy hub. Major national companies such as National Grid, Calor Gas, Wolseley and AGA, and a range of smaller companies such as Encraft, are located around my constituency, providing employment and a potential source of growth.
The Bill marks a significant step forward, but no one can expect it to be the golden bullet. It can only be part of a wider agenda to create a greener energy infrastructure. It is important that we have the strongest Bill possible to build on in the years ahead.
I wish to discuss fuel poverty in particular. In a written parliamentary question, the Department of Energy and Climate Change calculated that about 6,500 households in Warwick and Leamington—about 14% of households —were living in fuel poverty. Across the west midlands, it is calculated that about 65,000 homes may suffer from excessive cold, which costs the NHS about £12 million a year.
I am pleased that the Bill will create a framework to tackle that problem. The energy company obligation will provide a means to support the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country, who would not be able to make their homes more efficient without help from energy companies. The green deal, which will help millions of households across the country, is a welcome development, but we need to ensure that no one is left behind. The energy company obligation will ensure that we bring every home possible into the 21st century. Moreover, the most energy-inefficient households are often the poorest. It is in those homes that the greatest impact on carbon emissions can be made, and it is right for the Government to focus on them.
I believe that the Bill should be more ambitious. If we are to see real progress on climate change and green energy production, we need to ensure that it is carried out at local level. People across my constituency are proud of the efforts that we have made to increase recycling. Many people want more to be done to make our community greener and more energy-efficient. About 80% of UK emissions are generated by local activity, from heating our homes to getting to work. This is an opportunity for councils to make a difference, co-ordinate local activity and give local people a chance to set priorities.
Like many of my colleagues, I believe in localism. I believe that the Bill is an opportunity to set ambitious targets for local authorities and enable them to focus on one of the biggest challenges that our country has ever faced. A scheme that allowed local communities, through consultation, to put together their own budgets, and bound them to reductions that they believed to be sustainable, would be an excellent way forward, and could result in considerable reductions in carbon emissions. I urge Ministers, who I know have had discussions with several organisations on this subject, to look at these proposals in more detail, and to consider amendments in Committee. We need to take action swiftly, and I believe that the Bill provides the perfect opportunity to rally people and local authorities.
It is a real pleasure to contribute to today’s Second Reading debate. I have a long-held interest in energy-related matters, and I strongly believe that the Bill contains some really positive measures that, together, will lay the foundations for a fairer, more efficient and greener energy market across the country.
Although wide-ranging initiatives covering energy efficiency and the empowerment of the Coal Authority are present in the Bill, it is clear that it is only the first legislative part of the Government’s promised energy reform programme. Missing from the Bill—this is no criticism of it—are provisions relating to the regulation of carbon emissions, the creation of a green investment bank and the security of energy supply, which I think is immensely important and on which a number of Members have touched. I see energy security, along with food security, as being the defining issue over the next decade. The decisions that we take in this Parliament will affect generations to come, so we have to get them right.
It is my understanding that, as the Secretary of State outlined earlier, a second energy Bill is planned for the autumn, to provide the missing pieces of that important jigsaw. In light of that assurance, I must confess that I am extremely optimistic about the Government’s energy ambitions, and thus very supportive of the Bill. However, I would not want to see the time scales in the Bill slip any further. Energy security must not become a political football, because it is far more important than any party politics.
I wish to focus my thoughts on the attempts in the Bill to improve energy efficiency. Such improvements must be made if we are to meet our international and domestic climate change targets—after all, energy efficiency can play a major role in cutting energy use and emissions of harmful gases. Alongside our requirements to meet international targets, we must tackle once and for all the tragic and unnecessary problem of fuel poverty here in our own towns and cities, and we must also bear in mind the often vast financial cost of energy to ordinary households. Together, meeting legal targets, tackling fuel poverty and reducing families’ energy bills make up the triangle of criteria by which we must scrutinise the Bill and judge its success.
In discussing a new approach to energy efficiency, it is worth briefly reviewing previous policies and schemes. The decent homes programme and the Warm Front scheme are two examples. I strongly believe that lessons can be learned from those programmes, particularly Warm Front. I have recently been actively engaged with Warm Front through the provider of the scheme, Eaga, on behalf of local constituents.
As hon. Members will be well aware, Warm Front offers grants to enable certain households in fuel poverty to install energy efficiency improvements such as home and loft insulation and heating measures. Unfortunately, in my constituents’ case, applying to Warm Front to get a new boiler to replace one that was broken took over 13 months. The paperwork was burdensome, and the inefficiency and bureaucracy of the system beggared belief at times. Spending on the Warm Front scheme and its predecessors has totalled £2.6 billion between 2000 and 2011, yet at national level too many homes, particularly in vulnerable communities, remain poorly heated and insulated. I urge the ministerial team to ensure that future schemes under the new proposals are accessible to more people, easier to follow and less bureaucratic in nature. Even those simple changes would, in my opinion, encourage households to take advantage of such Government-led measures.
For the time being, despite huge investment in various schemes, the simple truth is that too many properties continue to achieve very poor energy efficiency ratings. We must embark upon a new pathway, and the Bill provides us with a perfect opportunity to do so through the green deal. To coin a phrase, it is a game changer.
The green deal clearly has a mammoth task ahead. I am excited about the realistic tone, and the practical and flexible nature, of the policy. The current lack of investment in efficiency priorities is not only the result of poorly administrated Government schemes such as Warm Front, but because too many households have been put off by the time and money that it takes to benefit from implementing energy efficiency measures.
When tapping into the green deal, customers can take advantage of up-front money to make responsible energy efficiency improvements. Repayments will be attached to energy bills at the property, rather than the individual having an obligation to pay the money back or pass the cost of improvement on to a future owner of the property. That is an important part of the Bill, because it is increasingly clear that the younger generations move more frequently and more widely than generations before them. That simple measure will in effect encourage participation in the green deal through the flexible transfer of responsibility for repayments to whoever benefits from efficiency savings. Although I am very much in support of the principle, I look forward to more detail as the Bill develops.
I am conscious of the time, and that other hon. Members want to speak, but I shall add another note of caution, which my hon. Friend Mr Binley mentioned earlier. There should be further incentivisation measures in the green deal. As the CBI has said, there is concern that the policy, which is a truly exciting one, could become a lame duck if people are not truly engaged to take it up. We must not let that happen, because the consequences are too important.
We should not understate the importance of making a breakthrough in improving energy efficiency in this country. It is therefore imperative for the Bill to win cross-party support and progress successfully. I have been heartened by many of the comments made on both sides of the House this evening. If progress is made, the framework to establish the green deal will be in place, and we can be far more optimistic about meeting our emissions targets, reducing energy bills, tackling fuel poverty and contributing to a greener and fairer energy market. I hope that Members on both sides of the House support those objectives.
Order. Two hon. Members are yet to speak. Perhaps they could divide the time left between themselves. The winding-up speeches will begin at 9.30 pm.
The Government are to be commended for introducing ambitious legislation, for thinking outside the box and for highlighting the importance of realising the potential for Britain to be a world leader in the move towards a low-carbon economy. The Bill contains a wide variety of measures that can help Britain in that aim, including the promotion of smart meters and the move towards greater transparency for energy companies.
The ministerial team are to be congratulated on adopting an open-door approach in explaining their proposals and listening to parliamentarians’ views and concerns. I very much hope that that approach continues in Committee, because although the Government’s ambition and strategy are spot on, we need to look closely at some of the provisions to establish whether they need strengthening so that the Bill achieves its objectives.
It is appropriate for the Government to concentrate much of their efforts on domestic buildings, because 24% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the domestic building stock. The flagship green deal is a bold attempt to improve the nation’s housing stock, and giving it every opportunity to succeed is vital.
However, there are a variety of issues to which I would be grateful if the Minister could give further consideration. The CBI, among other organisations, has suggested that there is a need for incentives to encourage take-up of the green deal. I am aware that the Chancellor has indicated that he will look at that. Incentives could include changes to stamp duty, VAT reductions on some works, and council tax rebates.
I would also be grateful if the Minister could consider whether the green deal should include renewables and microgeneration, both of which have important roles to play in the move towards a low-carbon economy. It is also important to consider accepting the warm homes amendment, because the production of an overall plan and strategy kept regularly under review would generate confidence in the green deal and encourage its uptake.
The private rented sector requires specific consideration. Buildings in this sector are more likely to be pre-1919 properties, and thus there is a limit to the energy efficiency improvements that can be made. However, there are other significant challenges in encouraging take-up of the green deal in the private rented sector. First, there is the problem that the initial cost of the works will be borne by the landlord, with the benefits of reduced fuel bills going to the tenants. Secondly, with many tenancies being short term in nature, investment is understandably unattractive to tenants. Thirdly, there is the worry that in the past a non-regulatory approach has invariably not worked. We need to consider how the green deal sits alongside existing tenancy laws and whether legislation is required to encourage landlords to take it up. When the Bill was being considered in the other place, the Government stated that the position would be reviewed after 12 months so that it could be decided whether further legislation was needed requiring landlords to take up the green deal. I welcome the further proposals that the Secretary of State has brought forward today.
I believe that the warm homes amendment has merit, and that consideration should be given to imposing the 2016 deadline for providing minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector, after which landlords will not be able to rent out the worst-performing properties. The warm homes amendment would strengthen the Bill by helping to provide a minimum standard for the private rented sector, and it would help to provide more certainty to businesses expected to deliver the green deal. It is supported by the Federation for Small Businesses and the Federation of Master Builders, and would provide a clear direction for businesses and help to drive the take-up of low-carbon skills across the construction sector.
Although the green deal applies to non-domestic buildings, research carried out by surveyors Cyril Sweett has revealed that the nature of many buildings, such as schools, offices, industrial units and retail warehouses is such that not enough savings will be made to pay for improvements, and that thus they will not qualify for the green deal. Although the green deal will therefore largely apply to domestic buildings, it is important that the UK’s non-domestic buildings are not overlooked as they seek to reduce emissions and energy bills. I therefore urge Ministers to consider carefully the proposal made by the British Property Federation and the UK Green Building Council, which have highlighted an anomaly concerning public sector and private sector buildings: the former are obliged to provide display energy certificates, while the latter are not. The BPF and the GBC believe that a voluntary approach to take-up in the private sector will not work and are of the opinion that it is vital for the Government to provide mandatory DECs. I urge the Government to consider their representations.
It is important that the Bill is framed in such a way as to provide opportunities for small business to play a full role in the roll-out of both the green deal and the energy company obligation, and to ensure that they are not squeezed out by energy suppliers and large companies. There are significant job opportunities for small businesses, ranging from carrying out the energy surveys to installing many of the energy saving works. There is a need for both training and the building up of capacity within the sector in the lead-up to the introduction of the green deal in the latter part of 2012, while with the ECO there is the need to avoid a monopoly situation. There is also a need to encourage banks to provide funding for small and medium-sized enterprises, so that they can get involved in this major opportunity that will help to kick-start the construction sector. With the ECO, it is important to improve access to the market for independent suppliers, and consideration should be given to earmarking a proportion of the obligation for non-obligated suppliers.
Finally, I would be grateful if in Committee the Government could consider addressing a situation that is handicapping the offshore wind sector, which has an important role to play in my constituency. Currently a clause exists in the leases and agreements for lease for offshore wind projects that allows a switch from offshore wind to oil and gas to take place should new oil or gas reserves be found. In that situation, no compensation is payable to wind developers. The existence of the clause continues to cause major problems for offshore wind projects that are seeking finance, with the result that banks view such projects as higher risk than necessary. This comes at a time when both industries are seeking to develop areas of the seabed that are close to each other or even overlap. Efforts to work together to prevent problems will be meaningless unless a fair and clear framework is established in situations where co-existence is impossible. There is an urgent need to ensure that the matter is resolved quickly, through the creation of an early termination mechanism, which would detail how compensation would be paid to the wind developer if a lease is terminated. I urge the Government to take action on the issue now. It has been dragging on for some years and it is important that it should now be resolved, at a time when the offshore wind industry in the UK is rapidly expanding and when companies are looking to make investment decisions. The Energy Bill is an ideal vehicle to tackle the problem.
The Government have the ambition to be the greenest Government ever. I believe that this goal can be achieved if they take on board the helpful suggestions made by right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House during the debate this afternoon and this evening.
It was not clear to me this evening whether I would make the remarks that I want to make, because it occurred to me that they might be more apposite to the next energy Bill. However, I want to make a few points that perhaps have not yet been made.
First, on the context and the legacy with which this legislation is kicking off, we have heard about two dates this evening. We have heard about 2050, which is the date by which we must reduce our carbon emissions by 80%, and 2020, which is the date by which renewables must account for 15% of electricity generation. However, we have heard less about another date that is equally important, which is 2017 or thereabouts, which is the date by which we will start having power cuts unless we put in place measures to stop that happening.
I have two other pieces of legacy data for the House. Currently, 0.5% of our total energy production comes from renewables. It is also true that 7% of electricity generation comes from renewables, but 0.5% is the measure of what we have to achieve over the next 40 years to meet that 80% reduction. Roughly speaking, even if we achieve a 40% reduction in energy use through such excellent measures as this Bill, we will need to scale up renewables by a factor of about 50. That is absolutely massive.
Although we have talked about fuel poverty, another thing that has not been mentioned in this debate is the fact that energy prices in this country are among the highest in western Europe. Our starting point is that our industries and our people pay more for fuel than others. In particular, those in competitor countries such as France have had cheap, plentiful nuclear power for many years, and they pay less than us. Why does that matter? It matters because we are trying to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing, and a unit of GDP generated from manufacturing requires more energy than a unit of GDP generated from services. That is a further challenge that we have to face.
Broadly speaking, Government policy has two thrusts to it, one of which is energy reduction, which is dealt with in this Bill through the green deal. Our target is to reduce total energy use by some 40%, and that can be achieved—the Royal Academy of Engineering is certainly of that view. Part of that will involve the measures that have been discussed at some length this evening, but part of it will involve, for example, smart meters and smart grids, and all that goes with that.
The other part of our strategy to meet the challenges that I have spoken about is the fact that we are about to manage the market. Why are we managing the market? We are doing so because if the market were left alone, we would end up using gas. That much is clear. Using gas would not be disastrous for our climate change objectives, given that so much energy comes from coal and oil, and that gas is 50% better in terms of carbon emissions, but that is nothing like enough to meet our statutory targets. That is why the strategy on the mixture of renewables, nuclear and carbon capture is important. One of the oddest things about the whole energy debate is that we talk about nuclear and renewables as though they are competing with each other, when we clearly need both. If anything, they are both competing with fossil fuels. The default solution if we react slowly is that we will have to use gas, because that can be obtained relatively quickly.
I have a couple of observations on the Government’s strategy. One relates to urgency. We have heard numbers relating to how quickly we need to implement the green deal, but I do not believe that the 2017 deadline is being treated with sufficient urgency. I was at a meeting recently with some nuclear supply chain people in my constituency, and I was disappointed to hear that they did not believe that any effective nuclear new build would start for at least another year, although time was ticking away. An ex-colleague of mine in Shell once told me that the chief executive officers of the utility companies were quite sanguine about the fact that all this was taking so long, because they had nothing to lose from our inertia. When the time comes, what they have to offer will cost even more. It is important that the Government should take the initiative, rather than leaving this to the utilities, because it would be a perfectly viable strategy for a utility CEO to take their time over this.
Another aspect of the strategy is cost. We have not said a great deal about the differential costs of the different kinds of energy. Energy has to be environmentally sustainable, but it also has to be economically sustainable. I leave the House with the thought that the brilliant technical achievement of the Thanet wind farm, which is a tremendous thing, is going to cost £1 billion in subsidies over its lifetime. It does not produce that much electricity, and its actual cost is therefore very high indeed. Some of the hon. Members who have spoken about fuel poverty today might like to reflect on the fact that a starting point for fuel poverty is when our power costs more than that of other people in the first place.
A third element of our strategy is our approach to technology. Possibly the most impressive technological breakthrough in energy in the past 30 years is horizontal directional drilling, which, combined with a fracture technology, is enabling shale gas and coal gas to be discovered in quantities that would be of material use to the US and the UK, but I am concerned that their use is not forming part of our approach. Perhaps a wider point on technology is that I believe that we should be a fast follower, rather than being at the leading edge—or perhaps the bleeding edge, as one might say. Carbon capture and storage was mentioned earlier. Of course it is a good technology, but it is unproven, and there are other technologies out there that we need to adopt more rapidly.
This all leads me to the subject of nuclear. There is no possibility that we could come close to meeting our 2050 commitment without a massive upgrading of renewables and nuclear. In fact, they go together. Renewables are, by their nature, somewhat intermittent, while nuclear has a very high base-load. The two can be put together quite well. I support the Bill. It is innovative, it is radical and it is right. I hope that it will result in a 40% reduction in energy use, but there is no realistic alternative to nuclear and if we are to meet the 2017 deadline, it is important that we move faster, because 2017 will be here a lot sooner than 2020 or 2050.
One thing has been proved in the course of this excellent debate—that the Government’s green ambitions are lofty, but that the green reality is far less certain. Just today, we read that the Energy Secretary cannot convince his right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to support the fourth carbon budget and Ministers cannot explain why the Climate Change Act 2008 is included in the list of burdens on businesses that are currently being considered for the bonfire. Ministers are in danger of presiding over a great green betrayal. We on the Opposition Benches want to help them to meet their green ambitions.
The message we hear consistently and very loudly from consumers, industry, green groups and trade unions is that there is no clarity or consistency of policy. Green jobs are being lost; green business is moving overseas; green non-governmental organisations are becoming increasingly alarmed and frustrated. As my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner eloquently said, Ministers are failing to provide investor certainty from one week to the next, let alone over the next couple of years.
The threat of climate change and fuel poverty grows greater. When we look back in a decade or more at the actions of the Energy Secretary and his Ministers, we do not want to see guilty men who had a golden opportunity to secure our green future. It is not us alone that are saying this. The CBI, for example, has said that the green deal
“has clear potential to help unlock…emissions reductions…But without significant action from government to develop an attractive proposition for businesses and households, this potential is unlikely to be realised.”
As it stands, this has all the dangers of being a deeply disappointing Bill. It could be so much more effective, but warm words will not deliver warm homes.
Let me deal with some of the important contributions made by Members of all parties. I hope that they will forgive me if I fail to do their arguments justice in the short time available. The theme most constantly revisited throughout the debate was the distinct lack of detail in the Bill. As Mr Yeo mentioned, it is a great concept, but as my right hon. Friend Mr Meacher said, the Secretary of State did not provide a satisfactory increment of information in his responses to the many interventions he took.
The Bill is a stab in the dark. Although the Government first published it no fewer than five months ago, none of the secondary legislation has been outlined, which leaves so many questions unanswered.
Many Members asked about the incentives to be made available to home owners and tenants to encourage take-up. Zac Goldsmith referred to a possible stamp duty rebate, which was raised in the press as something that might crop up in the Budget, while Mr Binley referred to a possible council tax rebate.
A number of Members raised serious concerns about the maximum interest rates on the green deal. As my hon. Friend Joan Walley said, this will be absolutely critical. I referred in an intervention to research and polling done by YouGov, showing that more than 40% of households do not believe that the green deal is an attractive proposition for them, and if the interest rate is above 6%, only 7% of people polled said that they would take up the green deal. We need to reflect carefully on that as we go into Committee.
Another big question is who is going to come into the home to assess the situation and to what level those people will be trained. The Secretary of State said that we can get lots of quotes for the green deal. That sounds fantastic, but who is going to pay for the different assessments of the home?
A number of Members, including the hon. Members for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and for Angus (Mr Weir), referred to the opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises to take part in the green deal. This is crucial because SMEs, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises must have equal opportunities to participate in the scheme, but the Bill does not provide the detail on that. I am also keen to know what guarantees exist that millions will not be saddled with debts that they cannot afford.
Many Members asked a crucial question: after all the work is done, by how much will our national emissions be reduced? We tabled an amendment on that very issue in the House of Lords, which was rejected. I sincerely hope that the Government will revisit it in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North asked what might happen if a new householder or tenant arrived and the energy savings arrangement changed as a result. The Secretary of State made a joke about a Brazilian wife, but my hon. Friend had asked a serious question that needs to be considered. [Interruption.] It was a Brazilian husband or wife.
Ministers should already have the answers to the many questions that have been asked, rather than deferring them to more than 50 pieces of delegated secondary legislation. The Secretary of State referred to a watertight legal framework. We want and need that framework, but it does not yet exist.
Another key theme that emerged was the poor deal for the consumer represented by the Bill in its current form. Several Members, including the hon. Member for Northampton South, expressed concerns about consumer rights, and my hon. Friend Tom Greatrex spoke eloquently about the confusion felt by his constituents about their energy bills and the implications of the forthcoming abolition of consumer support. If the Bill is not strengthened in that regard, the green deal has the potential to be a poor deal for the consumer. Consumer Focus has warned that it could erode consumer protections rather than enhancing them, and the consumer watchdog Which? has said that Ministers have yet to provide assurances that consumers will be protected from mis-selling and dodgy cross-selling, that they will have access to redress should something go wrong, and that they will not be expected to pay hidden charges. A lack of clarity on those issues will reduce take-up of the green deal.
Many Members also raised the issue of fairness in tackling fuel poverty. I do not have time to go into as much detail as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton, who made an innovative suggestion about how green deal payments might be met for the 5.5 million households in the UK in fuel poverty, but this is an important issue that urgently needs to be addressed.
According to Ministers and others on the Government Benches, the green deal will be a game-changer for fuel poverty—we heard that phrase a number of times—but that too is not yet evident in the Bill. The new energy company obligation, which underpins the green deal, will be targeted at hard-to-treat homes, but currently no amount has been ring-fenced for the purpose. It is worrying that there are no guarantees that the ECO will be adequate to deal with the scale of the problem, not least in the light of the concern raised by my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead about the inclusion of the ECO in the Treasury’s cap on levies, which the Minister did nothing to assuage.
The hon. Member for Bracknell rightly drew attention to the need for more investment in renewables, referring specifically to marine energy. We know from the Pew Environment Group’s report, which was released only a few weeks ago and mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr Wright, that in the past year the UK has fallen from third in the world to 13th in terms of investment. Just before the last election the Labour Government published a marine energy action plan, which is currently gathering dust on a shelf at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. I urge the current Government to resuscitate it and make the necessary investment in more renewables, so that we can take advantage of the £100 billion that is expected to be invested next year alone in renewables across the globe.
In his eloquent contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool spoke of the experience of businesses in his constituency and their concerns about the Government having to move quickly. I have mentioned the £100 million that will be spent next year, and he referred to the figure of $2.3 trillion, which is the amount that will be spent on renewable energies over the next decade. Businesses in his constituency are asking for a clear vision from Government, but they are not currently getting one, and I urge the Government to respond.
Several Members on both sides of the House talked about the private rented sector, and there are a number of relevant clauses in the Bill. Some 40% of tenants in the private rented sector live in F and G energy rated homes. We welcome the move to bring forward the timeline, but we hope we might revise that even further in Committee.
A report last week by Friends of the Earth gave a damning verdict. It talked about the great green betrayal and conducted an examination in forensic detail. The report makes it clear who it believes is to blame for what is happening. It talks about
“Liberal Democrats, who have clearly failed to use their influence inside the Coalition to ensure a better performance on the environment.”
This is not the greenest Government; it does not yet come close. With 27% of all UK emissions coming from homes, the Bill is not yet adequate for the task.
It is essential that the Secretary of State gets the green deal right. He said it was the first such deal in the world, but a similar scheme was set up in Australia. Unfortunately, it was a complete disaster. After 160,000 homes were fitted with substandard insulation, four people died and the scheme was scrapped. There is also a scheme in Germany where the take-up is 100,000 a year, but it has a Government-supported interest rate, which we are not going to get under the current Bill. Such issues must be revisited in Committee.
In spirit and in principle, we want to support the Bill. Mr Brine tried to rewrite history earlier; it was, of course, the Labour Government who began to implement a pay-as-you-save scheme. In its current form, the Bill could end up being a wasted opportunity, but we will take the Minister up on his assurances that he will work across the Chamber to make it better. We will not vote against it tonight as we support its aim, and we will work hard and positively to make it better. In Committee, we will strive to convince Ministers to give consumers the protections they deserve, to give British businesses the confidence they require, and to build into the Bill the backbone that it so desperately lacks.
I am delighted to hear from Luciana Berger that the Opposition will not vote against the Bill, but I will hold her to blame if my hon. Friends now start to disappear from the Chamber during my winding-up speech. She has just delivered a very polished debut from the Dispatch Box. I think that winding up is a much harder job than opening, but she made a very good fist of it.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s rather gloomy scepticism about this important Bill, but she was spot on in one respect: this has been an excellent debate, with powerful and substantive contributions from both sides of the Chamber. In saying that, I gloss over the opening speech of the shadow Secretary of State, Meg Hillier, whose contribution was out of tune with the debate we subsequently had. I was genuinely pleased by the way in which Members across the Chamber engaged in scrutinising these radical and far-reaching proposals, and I have to say it is telling to compare and contrast the shadow Secretary of State’s speech with the master-class demonstration by the leader of the Green party, Caroline Lucas, of what can be achieved in an effective and intelligent critique from the Opposition Benches.
This Bill is only the first step in the new Government’s plans to reshape and renew our energy economy, but it is certainly a very clear and substantial demonstration of the coalition’s determination to be “the greenest Government ever”. These measures will be vital tools in helping to meet our stretching carbon reduction targets and they underpin our determination to stop dangerous global warming.
The Bill, however, is no tree hugger’s charter, nor is it a narrow response to the science of climate change; it can provide practical help to families and money-saving improvements to every home in Britain. The British housing stock, which for too long has languished at the very bottom of the European energy-efficiency league table, will be transformed. Finally, government will have a game-changing policy framework that is commensurate with the huge twin challenges of improving our housing stock and eradicating fuel poverty.
That said, I am very conscious of the fact that with this Bill we are putting in place a gigantic project that will stretch way beyond this Parliament and, we hope, the next too. The green deal framework is designed to continue well into the 2020s and beyond, so I do not pretend for a moment that this Bill will be the last word on the issue or that we have anticipated every eventuality. We will continue to consider new incentives and levers to drive the programme forward as the market develops and we reach towards that very ambitious level of retrofitting 14 million homes by 2020 and 26 million homes by 2030. But the long-term direction is clear: there will be no more short-term initiatives and no more stop-start schemes. Business certainty created by the green deal will be essential to unlocking the billions in private sector investment that will be key to this programme’s success.
I am keenly aware that responsible political consensus on the green deal is particularly desirable. I very much hope that, given the shared climate objectives among the parties, we can all show the same resolve and constructive cross-party engagement that was the hallmark of the Climate Change Act 2008. I listened carefully to the thoughtful speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the House today, and I would be happy to engage in an informal evidence-based session before the House rises for the Whitsun recess. I noted not only the shared ambition that Members on both sides of the Chamber have for the Bill, but the detailed concerns and questions that have been raised. I hope to address many of these issues now. Where I am unable to do so, I hope to deal with them more seriously, and constructively, in Committee.
Broadly speaking, six main themes have emerged from today’s debate, and I hope to hear more about them in that informal session. The first was the scope of the coalition’s ambition, the scale and pace of delivery, and how we measure success. The second was the energy company obligation—the ECO—and the challenge of ensuring that we deal effectively with fuel poverty. Thirdly, hon. Members rightly urged robust consumer protection—that is absolutely essential. Fourthly, hon. Members strongly argued the case for more ways to involve local communities and local councils, and, importantly, challenged us on the provisions to tackle recalcitrant landlords in the private rented sector. Fifthly, we debated the enormous potential of the green deal to drive green jobs and green growth, and to create new investment opportunities. Finally, we must not overlook the importance of enhancing our national energy security, as well as moving our economy beyond dependence on foreign oil and expensive imported fossil fuels.
Let me deal briefly with each of those themes in turn. Many questions were asked on the fundamental point of the scale of our ambition by, among others, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, my hon. Friend Martin Horwood and Joan Walley, with whom I have served for many years on the Environmental Audit Committee. The issue was also addressed in particularly informative contributions from Mr Meacher and Barry Gardiner. I am pleased to respond to them by saying that I can announce two important developments. First, my Department will publish a formal aim—that is, on the face of the Bill—to take reasonable steps to improve the energy efficiency of the English residential sector by 2020 so that emissions from that sector follow a trajectory that is consistent with the UK carbon budgets. Secondly, I will table an amendment that commits to an annual report to Parliament on the specific contribution of the green deal and the ECO, within the context of contributing to the carbon budgets set out by the Climate Change Act that have so concerned Members from all parties in the course of the debate.
Many Members raised the issue of the ECO and fuel poverty. Fuel poverty is key to the essence of the Bill and we will certainly be judged on its success. Those Members included the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch and my hon. Friend Dr Lee, who is a member of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change as well as of the Conservative friends of Bangladesh and so has a particular interest in international climate change issues. Dr Whitehead, with his usual expertise, focused on the ECO and the role it plays in the potential levies cap. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion had some very vivid cases of fuel poverty from her constituency that will be reflected across the land, as did the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch.
Let me be clear that the ECO is designed to work hand in glove with the green deal to help the most vulnerable households and hard-to-treat properties. The ECO will deliver heating systems and insulation in the most effective way to help low-income vulnerable households heat their homes affordably and it will be tightly targeted. The ECO and the warm home discount provide a range of support mechanisms for low-income vulnerable households. I have heard the calls for more information and so I commit today to bring forward details on the ECO before we go into Committee.
On the subject of robust consumer protection, we heard the shadow Secretary of State’s questions about who will be the regulator and whether we could have more detail. The right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton wanted to know more about how the green deal would work for vulnerable energy users. My hon. Friend Mr Binley, in his very statesmanlike speech, also highlighted the need for more protection for the most vulnerable in society.
There will be strong consumer protection. It will be necessary to propose that level of detail in statutory instruments, through which we will all have the opportunity to scrutinise those important points in more detail. There will be a green deal quality mark for installers and warranties against installation failure and poor workmanship. The golden rule is that the charge attached to the Bill should not exceed the expected savings at the time of the assessment and that will be crystal clear. The Consumer Credit Act 1974 will offer protection for green deal customers. I really appreciate the way the industry has got involved on this important issue. Voices such as Kingfisher and the Builders Merchants Federation are essential in helping us to design the green deal so that big companies and local small and medium-sized enterprises can get involved while at the same time offering strong consumer protection.
The question of involving communities and tackling the private rented sector was raised by my hon. Friend Chris White, the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North, for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Brighton, Pavilion, the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. We will take robust action on the face of the Bill in respect of the private rented sector. Before we came to the House today, we listened to various voices from a number of stakeholders on the subject of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 and we have decided to retain parts of HECA, to breathe new life into it and to ensure that it becomes part of our way of ensuring uniform delivery of the green deal across Britain. We will table those amendments in Committee.
The question of green growth and investment was mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr Brine, who made a very powerful speech arguing that the green deal is a great carrot, rather than a stick, that will throw up a huge number of business opportunities. He also rightly tested us on the need for more training opportunities, which we are taking very seriously. Mr Weir also asked whether we would be letting in small businesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester pointed out that this could mean 100,000 jobs or more. It is important that we do not just capture the carbon savings, but that we really capture the industrial opportunities that this big market push will afford us.
I will not, I am afraid, because there is very little time.
On energy security and moving beyond oil dependence, the Chairman of the Select Committee made a very important contribution at the beginning of the debate pointing out the need for stability in electricity markets and for investors and about the role for nuclear and the important role of renewables. That will be delivered through the next stage of our redesign and renewal of the sector in energy market reform. Those points were all reiterated by the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Angus and my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), who listed a number of energy security measures, as well as by my hon. Friend Peter Aldous, who spoke forcefully about offshore renewables, and my hon. Friend Mr Yeo. We are very keen to see a resurgence in renewables and support for new technologies, including carbon capture and storage. I promise to write to hon. Members about any important points they have raised that I do not cover in what will be a rather hasty wind-up now.
In summary, no one should underestimate the sheer scale of the ambition that underpins the Bill, which has the potential to upgrade the homes of every family in Britain by allowing every household to access finance for up to £10,000-worth of energy improvements irrespective of age or status. Further subsidy is available for hard-to-treat homes and, of course, the fuel-poor. The Bill will unleash the most far-reaching programme of British home improvements since the second world war. It will drive down family energy costs and will insulate consumers against further sharp rises in future. The Bill will unleash billions of pounds in new investment in our green economy and will create thousands of new green jobs.
The Bill will directly help those in poor rented accommodation whose landlords refuse to make improvements, and it declares war on the root causes of fuel poverty. The Bill will deliver huge steps towards meeting our carbon reduction targets and it will strengthen British energy security. The Bill will create a brand new market and will drive choice and competition. It will unleash British research and development as well as technical and industrial innovation that should propel the UK to the forefront of the giant global markets for energy efficiency, products and services—exports up, emissions down. The Bill will deliver greater choice to the consumer and fairer access to investment for the fuel-poor and it will be a massive boost to British businesses. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.