New Clause 10 — Green deal installation apprenticeships

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 12:49 pm, 14th September 2011

It is a pleasure to be back in the House to debate this historic Energy Bill one last time before it moves back for the last time to the other place. To better inform the debate on the amendments before us, I shall update the House briefly on the progress made over the summer on a number of issues that were raised in Committee.

We had a lively discussion on measures eligible for green deal finance. That was led by Huw Irranca-Davies, who championed the power shower. I committed to an early refresh of the Government paper to take into account queries about our position on water efficiency and recommendation of measures outside the green deal. That has been done. After our exploration in Committee of the detail of the energy company obligation—an important part of the Bill—I agreed that my officials would meet Dr Whitehead to discuss our brokerage proposal. That has been done.

The private rented sector was another important subject of debate—fruitful debate, I hope—with contributions from Tessa Munt, among others. I shall say more about that later. My officials are setting up a new workshop to look specifically at how the provisions can best work with older buildings, which present a challenge to the green deal, particularly older historic buildings.

Lastly, I am pleased to report progress on energy efficiency for service family accommodation, following the excellent suggestion of my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith. My officials have had a number of meetings with their counterparts in the Ministry of Defence and, having agreed the shared objective of improving the energy efficiency of accommodation, are investigating the best ways to achieve that. As I mentioned in Committee, it is a complex problem owing to the unique nature of service family accommodation. None the less, I am optimistic that a solution will be found to satisfy the House and, most importantly, service families.

We have a large group of amendments, not all of which were tabled by the Government. I propose to speak to the Government amendments in my opening remarks and address the other amendments in my closing remarks, rather than pre-empt them before the Members who tabled them have spoken. That should make for a more orderly debate. There is nothing more annoying than having one’s arguments addressed before one has even had a chance to make them to the House.

The Government amendments are largely technical. Government amendments 31 to 34 cover disclosure. They enable the Secretary of State, if necessary, to require a green deal provider to produce a further document containing information about the green deal plan as part of the confirmation process. This would be in addition to the energy performance certificate. Both documents would then have to be disclosed to future bill payers. These amendments therefore enable the Secretary of State to require, if necessary, additional information about the green deal plan to be given to future bill payers as part of the disclosure process. This small amendment responds to the concerns of stakeholders and the concerns that were expressed in Committee about consumer protection, particularly in the rented sector. We have moved to tighten that up.

On the transfer of payments, Government amendment 29 is a technical amendment which makes it clear on the face of the Bill that when collecting payments, energy companies are acting in an agent and trustee capacity for the green deal provider which, in many cases, will not be the energy company itself. This is in line with the policy that I set out in Committee. Liability for green deal payments should sit on the balance sheet not of the of energy companies, but of the green deal provider.

Without this clarification, there is a risk that payments received would be the property of the energy company until they were remitted to the green deal provider, which might enable an administrator to claim green deal payments in the event of energy company insolvency. Through the amendment we can minimise this risk and, as with all risk minimisation in this process, help to push down the cost of green deal finance.

On assessment and installation, I shall deal with a number of Government amendments relating to the role of professionals operating under the green deal, and consider them with amendment 26, tabled by Caroline Lucas. Amendment 26 and Government amendment 30 relate to the role of professionals and the importance of protecting customers, while allowing the green deal to thrive. I apologise for breaking the rule that I said I would abide by in my opening comments, but this makes more sense, so I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me. I am grateful to her for raising the issue of cross-selling.

It is important to consider how and when green deals are likely to take place. Many will come about as a result of other activities, such as the installation of a new kitchen or boiler in a home. We do not wish to limit these trigger points. They will often be important opportunities to promote the green deal alongside other renovations or improvements that are happening in the home, which the householder may not have considered ahead of planning for a new bathroom, kitchen or other improvement.

Also, our market research has shown that customers would welcome and are therefore more likely to trust the involvement of local authorities, community groups and third sector organisations when thinking about entering into a green deal. This was a recurring theme in Committee, when we all agreed that the involvement of local authorities and community groups was vital to ensure the successful large-scale roll-out of the green deal. Such organisations may see participation in the green deal as a way of making people aware of other valuable services—for example, loft clearance for the elderly is an essential prerequisite for putting in insulation. Some voluntary or community groups might offer such a service in some areas at no cost or at a reduced cost.

A blanket ban could reduce the willingness of these organisations to play a full and positive role in the green deal. This could be especially detrimental to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, who are most likely to benefit from energy efficiency. It could also affect the ability of enthusiastic volunteers and community groups to encourage their neighbours by knocking on their door, sharing their enthusiasm and urging them to join in community projects. Members of a community or neighbourhood group are more likely to go round and speak to their neighbours individually, rather than e-mailing or writing to them. We are concerned that a blanket ban could be detrimental.

Our approach is therefore to be mindful of the points raised by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. She is right to identify the need for strong consumer safeguards, but we believe the right way forward is to build on existing regulations which protect customers, and set out a clear enforceable framework within the green deal code of practice for such activities. This will be clearly set out in our consultation and we will seek further views on this important aspect then.