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Schedule 3 — Repeals and revocations consequential on section 115

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Amendment made: 43, page 101, line 5, leave out Schedule 3.—(Chris Huhne.)

Title

Amendment made: 44, line 12 leave out ‘by a National Park authority or the Broads Authority’.—(Chris Huhne.)

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you received a request from a Treasury Minister to make an urgent statement to the House about the news that the Treasury is about to sue the European Central Bank, as that is being reported in the media at the moment?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

No, I have not. The hon. Gentleman is ahead of me. He has heard of information of which I have not heard. I have, however, now heard of it, and I am grateful to him.

Third Reading

Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Liberal Democrat, Eastleigh 6:44 pm, 14th September 2011

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I begin by thanking the many hon. Members who have contributed so much to the discussions on the Bill. The hon. Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who is my constituency neighbour, put a lot of work into the Bill during its lengthy consideration in Committee. I extend my thanks to Mr Crausby and my hon. Friend Mr Leigh for chairing the Bill Committee, and to Caroline Lucas, who worked tirelessly and made a substantial contribution to the debate, for which I am extremely grateful.

On the Government Benches, I should like to extend my gratitude to the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), for Stourbridge (Margot James), for Devizes (Claire Perry), for Winchester (Mr Brine), and for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), and to my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich South (Simon Wright) and for Wells (Tessa Munt), for the dedication that they have shown in scrutinising the Bill in its passage through the House. I also thank my officials, who have worked extremely hard to develop the legislation and who helped Members with their inquiries.

The centrepiece of the Bill is the green deal, an innovative finance mechanism to release capital for energy efficiency. The green deal is the first measure of its kind anywhere in the world, and it allows a payback to investors over long periods beyond the normal tenancy or period of owner-occupation, so that householders do not have to pay any of the cost up front, and much more energy saving becomes affordable. It creates a new market in energy saving that will cut energy bills, ensure against future price rises, provide local jobs, boost green businesses and improve our nation’s energy security. We have worked hard to allow hon. Members to scrutinise the provisions in detail, and I believe that the proposal has been strengthened.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Does the Secretary of State accept that wind farms have generated serious concerns all over the country? Does he accept, too, regarding his proposition on the value of the Bill, that the consumer tariff in fact pays significantly for the destruction of the countryside?

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Liberal Democrat, Eastleigh

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The bulk of the Bill is about energy efficiency and energy saving, which means that we will need fewer types of electricity generation of all descriptions, including windmills. I disagree with him, as I think that windmills are beautiful and we should have a lot more of them. They provide the most economical form of renewable energy, and I trust that he will come up with ideas for many more windmills in and around his constituency.

There are provisions in the Bill for a new energy company obligation, or ECO, which is critical for delivering carbon savings in homes that are hard to treat. It will protect the most vulnerable groups and those on the lowest incomes, focusing on households that cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. The provisions relating to the private rental sector are a significant step forward. They are designed to increase efficiency to protect tenants in some of the worst housing and to boost overall carbon savings.

The Bill contains a number of provisions relating to energy markets and infrastructure. It ensures that I will have sufficient information to publish an assessment of future electricity capacity requirements, and that I have a duty to do so. That sits alongside the much more significant package of reforms covered in the electricity market reform White Paper. To improve security of supply, the Bill contains powers which, if taken, will give incentives to gas providers to continue to supply their customers, should Britain suffer its first gas supply emergency. Through this Bill, we will be able to de-designate areas of our continental shelf—a small but important amendment to the existing legal situation. Should negotiations between industry players over access to infrastructure in the North sea break down, the Bill gives us the ability to intervene and work to find a resolution, so that our energy security will not suffer.

The Bill contains powers to ensure that the interests of consumers are paramount. For example, we have taken powers to oblige suppliers to specify whether a cheaper tariff is available.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

On that issue, may I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Government on accepting the recommendations of the billing stakeholder group and, indeed, the need for a letter, where appropriate, provided that it is supported by a campaign by Which? and others, to make consumers aware of the cheapest tariffs? However, does he share my view, and that of the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Gregory Barker, that Ofgem should publish its findings from the consultation on the retail market review before Christmas this year?

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Liberal Democrat, Eastleigh

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The ministerial team is pressing Ofgem to move further and faster as quickly as possible on all of this, and I very much hope that it will be able to come forward with conclusions before Christmas. Clearly we are then getting into the period before the highest energy bills, and it is important that consumers should have access to that information and to those potential safeguards. I will certainly be pressing Ofgem to do that.

These measures are accompanied by a number of minor yet vital provisions in the Bill that we need to make to secure our supply of low-carbon energy, and I am grateful to the House and to Members in the other place for taking the time to scrutinise and contribute to the Bill. It has a substantial measure of support across the House, despite the differences that we have had. I certainly pay tribute to Opposition Members. This is one of those cases where success has many parents and, as we all know, failure is an orphan. I hope that bodes well for the success of the Bill when it comes to improving dramatically our energy efficiency.

We have here the keys that will unlock the door that stands in the way of an energy efficient and energy secure Britain, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 6:51 pm, 14th September 2011

At last we are here at the Third Reading of a Bill that has dropped off the parliamentary agenda more often than Humpty Dumpty. In Committee, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Gregory Barker clearly set out his ambitions for the Bill. He described the green deal as

“the centrepiece of…the coalition’s ambitious plan for energy efficiency.”

He went on to describe it as

“a new paradigm…the biggest home improvement project since the second world war.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 7 June 2011; c. 4-5.]

In reality, it is a bit of a disappointment; not as broken as Humpty Dumpty, but in parts as divorced from reality as a nursery rhyme. Much was promised, but little was delivered.

The delays are serious, because they mean that the green deal will fail to be delivered by October next year as planned. But we should not be surprised, because since the Secretary of State was appointed we have seen promises delayed and initiatives re-announced so often that we have lost count. Even after intense parliamentary scrutiny here and in the other place, it is still a weak Bill, which I fear will not deliver what it promises. We want the Bill to achieve its aims, but wanting is not enough. The green deal needs to work, and the Government need to now work very hard on that delivery. But the Government are swamping providers in red tape, customers in confusion and energy companies with responsibilities that many are reluctant to undertake. We should not be surprised because the Government have form on this issue in delay, dither and confusion generally on the green policy agenda.

There was so much promise. The greenest Government ever was the Prime Minister’s pledge. That is the same Prime Minister who has not mentioned green issues at all since the election. In opposition, he criticised energy Bills but now sits on his hands and does nothing. The Secretary of State needs to take responsibility. He has less influence over his Department than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not just the Chancellor who we know has influence. We knew trouble was afoot when the Prime Minister appointed a new energy adviser, and as he arrived at No. 10, dripping with oil, the death knell of the Government’s green credentials were sounded. We know this from a recently leaked memo, originally circulated to a select group of 12 trusted advisers and leaked by one of them to

The

Daily Telegraph.

This shows the unease within the Conservative party ranks about the Secretary of State’s performance. The memorandum from the Prime Minister’s own energy adviser suggested that the Department’s projections were unconvincing, so not exactly a ringing endorsement for the green deal from within the Government.

One of the real scandals of the Government’s approach against a backcloth of rising prices for gas and electricity is how they are turning their back on consumers. As the temperature drops, millions will start to see their energy prices spiral out of their reach, and the green deal will not deliver this winter or even next. Those in private rented housing will have to wait until 2016, or even 2018, to see those improvements. So people will face the terrible choice between staying warm and running up debts, and turning off the heating despite plummeting temperatures. Those on pre-payment schemes will see their money run out sooner and the gas go off. Hundred of thousands will slip into fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of their household income on keeping their home at an adequate temperature. The Secretary of State cannot even persuade members of his own Government. Recent polling shows that energy prices are a top concern for the public. Within months there could be a full-scale crisis.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I am no apologist for this Government, but I must observe that in Labour’s 13 years in government CO2 emissions went up, not down. Does that not look a little hypocritical of the hon. Lady?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

We all share the mission of reducing carbon emissions, and we have all supported the Government in signing up to the fourth carbon budget, but the proof of the pudding will be in whether they can actually deliver. My sad worry is that the Bill will not deliver the home efficiency improvements it sets out. We want it to succeed, but it is a wishy-washy Bill that I fear will not meet the Secretary of State’s aims. It needs further improvement. It has no strategy or plan for delivery, and there are so many unanswered questions about practical delivery, even after being debated in both Houses.

The Secretary of State has staked his reputation on this market-driven home energy efficiency model. His claim that it will transform the energy efficiency of our homes, which represent 27% of emissions nationally, and create green jobs up and down the country is melting away, as publicly and privately the expected players are very critical of it. I re-emphasise that the Opposition strongly support the aim. The original thinking behind it came from my Government when we were in power. The need to tackle domestic emissions is unarguable, and we fully support of the direction of travel. It is just a crying shame that the Secretary of State, with all Whitehall’s talent at his disposal, has managed to deliver a wet dishcloth of a Bill.

As five of the big six energy companies hiked their prices over the summer, it was clear that the vast majority of bill payers will face real pressure this winter. The Secretary of State’s proposal was that customers should shop around for the best deal, but with companies’ prices rising in line with one another, that suggestion rings hollow. The Government have abolished Warm Front before any replacement scheme has been introduced, and the new energy company obligation ushered in by the Bill leaves many questions unanswered. We pass the Bill tonight with that detail still to come.

The reality is that the Secretary of State, as a Lib Dem in a Conservative Government, and distracted by other matters, now lacks the focus to get even this flagship Bill delivered in time. We still have more than 50 pieces of secondary legislation to pass, so the timetable is in serious doubt. I do not doubt his commitment to this, but the reality is that the Government as a whole are not serious about their green agenda. With friends like that in No. 10, we can have little hope that the real opportunities for growth and jobs in greening our energy supplies and helping those who are shivering under blankets will be met by the Government.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Liberal Democrat, Eastleigh

May I point out to the hon. Lady that the Government have increased the funding for vulnerable groups in fuel poverty by two thirds, compared with the Government she supported? What is her response to that?

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

We will wait to see whether the energy company obligation will truly deliver, because we have real doubts about it. We are yet to see the detail, and the devil will be in that detail. There are 50 pieces of secondary legislation that will flesh out that and other elements of the Bill. We will continue to work on and with the Government, as appropriate and where possible, to put flesh on this skeletal Bill, as well as on fuel poverty and affordability, on climate change and across the board in this area. If the Government fail, they will fail this generation of families this winter and every winter. They will fail future generations who will not forgive them for mistaking rhetoric and ambition for action and outcomes.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 6:59 pm, 14th September 2011

In these final 15 seconds, I should like to say that there are real concerns in the Bill for the poor people of this country. There is the potential for high interest rates on the loans; the pre-payment meters issue has still not been resolved; and the energy company obligation is a regressive tax, because the energy consumption differential between rich and poor will not be that great, and it is going to hit low-wage households.

On the ability to pay, we have the issue of the ECO in hard-to-treat homes, and people who are on low wages but who have the ability to pay may be excluded, so the Government have real issues to sort out there. The Bill is not clear about doorstep mis-selling, whereby vulnerable people could be taken advantage of, so the Government need to tighten up on that, and the whole private landlords issue has just been a sop to the landlords, not to the tenants. That is a real problem, because a child now aged one might be 8 years old before they get the opportunity to benefit from the green deal and from insulation, and that is of great concern. I rest my 15 seconds there.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I support the Government’s intention in this Bill, but—

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 10 May)

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read a Third time.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.