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Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 10:05 am on 7th February 2020.

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Lord Foster of Bath:

Moved by Lord Foster of Bath

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Rural Economy Committee

My Lords, I am pleased to introduce this relatively simple Bill. I look forward to hearing from noble Lords speaking in the debate.

The Bill is simple: it requires the Government to do a number of things, to which they have already committed in writing, by certain dates, but it does not require them to be done in a specified way. Flexibility is built into the Bill. There will of course be much to decide, from the definition of fuel poverty and the availability of data to how to retrofit listed buildings and how to incorporate the use of new technologies into energy performance certificates, but such decisions do not impact on the Bill.

Some brief background may help to set the scene. As a Minister in DHCLG I was able to build on the work of my noble friend Lord Stunell and introduce a number of measures to improve the energy efficiency of new houses, but we both knew that the really important issue was to improve the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock. Successive Governments have introduced measures to address that issue, particularly in relation to helping those defined as fuel poor. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Maddock, who began to address this many years ago in her Home Energy Conservation Act in 1995. Despite all the efforts, though, and in light of the climate change emergency, it has become clear that not enough is being done. As the Chartered Association of Building Engineers, which supports the Bill, said:

“Overall, improving the energy efficiency of existing homes remains one of the key, but still to be fulfilled, challenges facing the property sector and is essential if we are to reduce carbon emissions and ensure all homes are warm and affordable to heat.”

Writing of the need for swift action, Elmhurst Energy said:

“Now is the time to make that step change necessary to ensure that our existing housing stock is improved.”

Last year the Committee on Climate Change, whose chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I am pleased to see in his place, published UK Housing: Fit for the Future?. It assessed the preparedness of our housing stock for the challenge of climate change, and concluded that the measures to reduce emissions from the UK’s 29 million homes, responsible for 17% of all carbon emissions, had stalled; that energy use in homes had increased; and adaptations of the housing stock to meet the impact of changing climate are lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable. Crucially, it went on to say that there needed to be greater policy certainty since the absence of such certainty has led to skill gaps and lack of investment in construction, design and the development of new technologies for the urgently needed major refit programme. As Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, recently wrote:

“On far too many occasions the energy efficiency industry has been made promises by Governments, only to see them withdrawn. This has resulted in the laying off of staff, the loss of investment and the closure of factories.”

However, it is welcome that recently the Government have announced their intention to meet various ambitious targets: a target to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of the fuel poor; a target to improve the energy efficiency of the rest of the housing stock; and a target to improve the efficiency of heating systems. For some of this at least, significant sums of money have already been earmarked.

The Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to achieve these targets—the ones the Government have already committed to. Placing them in legislation and requiring annual reports on progress provides Parliament with the means to ensure the delivery of government pledges. It is an approach just like that of the Climate Change Act, which sets overall targets in law for 2050, intermediate targets through the five-yearly carbon budgets and a duty on government to prepare proposals and policies for meeting them and to report on them. Crucially, the Bill also provides the policy certainty that the industry so desperately seeks, so that it can play its part in achieving the targets. Of course, none of this should detract from the steps we should all be taking to reduce our energy consumption, so I welcome the work of organisations such as the Energy Saving Trust, and Citizens Advice with its recent Big Energy Saving Week, in providing helpful tips on how to do so.

Before providing more details about the Bill, I should point out that Sir David Amess recently introduced a similar Bill in the other place. Sadly, events overtook it and it did not make progress, but I thank him. In drafting our respective Bills, we were both helped by civil servants from BEIS and the Sustainable Energy Association, whose president, the noble Lord, Lord Best, is also in his place. I thank them and especially Ron Bailey of the SEA, whose assistance I have declared in my register of interests. I also thank the Minister for the constructive, if challenging, discussions we have had on the Bill.

So, what does the Bill do to increase the energy efficiency of domestic properties? It uses as the benchmark, as proposed by the Government, the achievement of band C on an energy performance certificate. An EPC is an assessment of the energy performance of and carbon emissions from a property. The higher the EPC, the more efficient the property, with less carbon emitted. A lower-EPC property leaks heat, is more expensive to run and emits more carbon.

Part 1 of the Bill deals with the Government’s commitment to end fuel poverty by 2030, as stated in the Clean Growth Strategy and on more than a dozen occasions. For example, in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, answered a Written Question with reference to policy to

“meet the Government’s commitment to upgrade all fuel poor homes to Band C by 2030.”

The Bill requires the Secretary of State to achieve that commitment with three caveats: where people refuse to allow required works to be carried out; where it is not technically feasible to achieve the objective; and where the cost of doing so is excessive. Bringing fuel-poor households up to EPC band C by 2030 will ensure that some 2.4 million households can live in warm homes with reduced fuel bills, with average savings of around £245 per annum according to studies by Verco and Cambridge Econometrics.

Part 2 deals with the Government’s objective to bring all remaining homes up to EPC band C by 2035, where practicable, cost-effective and affordable. One estimate suggests that 19 million homes in the UK do not currently reach this standard. The 2017 Clean Growth Strategy shows that this objective was initially just an aspiration. However, by April 2019, the then Minister, Claire Perry, made clear that all homes reaching EPC band C was a target; indeed, she described it as an “ambitious target”.

More recently, the Government said they agree

“wholeheartedly that energy efficiency is a fundamental pillar of our approach to reaching net zero emissions, addressing fuel poverty and cutting energy bills. This is why the Government has set ambitious energy efficiency targets.”

The Bill seeks to help the Government deliver on their target to get all homes to EPC band C by 2035, which will lead to average fuel bill reductions of around £400 per year and a total energy fuel bill saving of over £8.5 billion per annum.

Finally, Part 3 deals with ensuring that all new heating systems installed in existing properties have a water return temperature of no more than 55 degrees centigrade, as called for by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Again, the Government appear to agree since their Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide states:

“Systems with condensing boilers should be designed to have low primary return water temperatures, preferably less than 55°C, to maximise condensing operation.”

Again, the Bill merely puts into legislation the Government’s own intentions. I accept that the target date of January next year is somewhat unrealistic and, at a later stage, I will propose a more realistic one. Incidentally, I also believe that, although further discussion is needed, an amendment may be required to restrict the extent of the Bill to England rather than England and Wales.

Achieving the three targets set out in the Bill will of course require a great deal of money. However, with the help of the Sustainable Energy Association, we have shared with the Government, and can make available to all noble Lords, costings which show that most of the money required can come from committed government expenditure for existing policies and from non-government sources from existing policies such as the energy company obligation. Although we have several suggestions, it will be up to the Government to decide what policy levers to use to ensure that any remaining amount is found. However, I am confident that the Government will want to find solutions since, as they said in their response to the BEIS Select Committee on 1 October last year:

“Our analysis suggests that our EPC C aspiration for all homes represents good value for money both for Carbon Budget 5, and in the context of achieving net zero.”

Overall, if the Bill delivers on its aim and the Government meet their targets, we will reduce fuel bills and the emission of greenhouse gases. We estimate carbon savings of nearly 24 megatonnes, which is roughly equivalent to cutting the carbon emissions of the UK transport fleet by one-third. We will save energy and provide the spur to business investment.

That spur is vital. The industry needs the certainty this Bill will bring. That is why it has the support of over 100 firms including Kingspan, Worcester Bosch, Vaillant, EDF, E.ON, Daikin and NAPIT, as well as installers, housing associations and organisations such as the National Energy Foundation, the Energy Saving Trust, the Solar Trade Association, WWF, the British Energy Efficiency Federation, Power for People and the Sustainable Energy Association.

Two years ago, writing about the similar Bill proposed by Sir David Amess, they collectively wrote to the Government, saying:

“In order for the energy industry to assist the government in achieving its ambitions, boardrooms and banks must be persuaded to invest in long-term infrastructure such as manufacturing and equipment together with research and development. This legislation will provide the certainty needed to trigger this vital investment in our sector.”

In deciding whether the Government will support the Bill, I hope the Minister will bear in mind the enormous loss of confidence, and subsequent loss of investment, that rejection will bring. In fairness, I should add that two organisations, Friends of the Earth and the Energy Saving Trust, have been critical. However, their objection is that I should have set earlier dates for the targets to be achieved, so perhaps I should concede to being too reasonable.

In conclusion, the Sustainable Energy Association has said:

“The Clean Growth Strategy demonstrates the current Government’s commitment to improving our homes. But introducing legislation is essential to ensure that their ambitions are achieved in the long-term regardless of who is in power. It is a legacy any Government should be happy to leave behind.

Our homes are where we sleep, work and play so ensuring that they are safe, affordable and healthy to live in is of upmost importance. This Bill will help to achieve this today and ensure that we are on our way to having a housing stock that is fit for future generations.”

This is a simple and reasonable Bill, but it has far-reaching implications for our quest to tackle climate change and, not least, help the less well-off as we do so. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench 10:19 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I declare my interests as president of the Sustainable Energy Association and in private rented and social housing, as on the register. I will say a word about the Sustainable Energy Association: it has private sector and non-profit members, and it campaigns for policy and practice solutions for securing a low-carbon, energy-efficient future. The SEA’s website is well worth a visit. I pay tribute to its head of parliamentary affairs, Ron Bailey, who is a wonderful advocate for sustainable energy and worked with Sir David Amess, another passionate advocate, to introduce a similar Bill in the other place. I am sorry to report that Ron Bailey was rushed into hospital this week. I send him best wishes for a speedy recovery. Thanks too go to Sam Crichton, who has also been working for two years on this Bill, now brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, whom I thank for his excellent speech and for championing this legislation.

I support this significant Bill. Its adoption would turn the Government’s aspirations for the next steps toward a net-zero carbon future into reality. We could move from good intentions and inspiring words to the firm commitments—the essential certainty—needed to harness the energy, investment and innovation of manufacturers, installers, developers, property owners, lenders and investors. I want to add two points to those already covered so well by the noble Lord, Lord Foster.

First, there are the special circumstances of properties in rural areas. These will be in localities where fuel poverty is likely to be a special issue because average incomes are lower, while energy costs are higher, than in the country as a whole. There are 4 million properties off the mains gas grid. Many of these use oil, which not only is expensive but has high price volatility, which makes budgeting difficult, particularly for low-income households. The positive aspect, however, is that a rural setting is likely to be more accessible for solar energy and for ground-source heat pumps. Renewable energy sources may be more expensive but should be easier to tap into than in high-density urban locations; their use will be of greater benefit in these rural communities. So my first point is the need to rural-proof sustainable energy solutions.

Secondly, perhaps I could add some thoughts on the private rented sector, where energy standards are proportionately at their worst levels. The underlying problem is that the upgrading of properties in the private rented sector does not directly benefit the landlord, because more energy-efficient properties seldom generate higher rents. It is true that landlords can expect cost savings from good tenants staying longer, so saving the costs of reletting homes, and from ongoing maintenance bills being lower because they are so often caused by damp and condensation. But persuading private landlords to invest significantly when financial returns are not evident has proved a stumbling block to a series of earlier efforts, including the ill-fated Green Deal.

Currently, and quite properly, private landlords must cover energy-saving costs of up to £3,500, in most circumstances, if properties fall below the EPC—energy performance certificate—band E rating. It will be a big jump to require expenditure of up to £20,000, which may be needed if major works such as external wall insulation are necessary to achieve a band C rating. It is sensible for government to recognise from the outset that enforcing payment from the 2.4 million private landlords, the majority of whom own only one or two properties, will be a difficult and costly task.

As we all know, local authorities are overstretched and under-resourced; enforcement action in the PRS—the private rented sector—is already problematic. It is very different from working with council landlords and housing associations, which manage hundreds or thousands of homes and are fully regulated bodies. I suspect that the necessary co-operation of the private rented sector will be forthcoming only if the Government accept the painful necessity for significant grant-aiding or serious tax concessions for PRS properties. The Bill is flexible on ways and means, and can accommodate such governmental help. Its principles remain absolutely right.

In strongly supporting the Bill, I emphasise, first, the need for rural-proofing of future policy and, secondly, the necessity of engaging with the realities of the most complex sector—the now extensive private rented sector, for which I fear some serious governmental investment will be needed if we are to get things done. However, that investment will be well worth while.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 10:25 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change and from the work that I do in other ways to increase sustainability. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for introducing the Bill, which seems admirable and one which we can all support. If my noble friend the Minister feels that I am a little critical, mine is the criticality of urgency rather than of the nature of what we have to do.

One of our problems is that we all know what we have to do and done for a long time. But we have not done it and we all share blame in that: the previous Labour Government, for putting the date for net-zero homes as far forward as they could so that no Minister would be around when it came; the coalition Government for then getting rid of that very important part of the deal; and the Conservative Governments for not getting on with it when they should have. Just as we can all celebrate the joint nature of the Climate Change Act, we also all have to take responsibility for the lack of urgency in dealing with these matters.

Net zero reminds us that urgency is all, because if we want to get to net zero in 2050 we have to do a great deal of the heavy lifting by 2030. If we do not, we cannot get to net zero by 2050. I have to argue with Extinction Rebellion’s claim that we could get there by 2025. When you ask carefully as to how that group thinks we ought to do it, answer comes there none. All the work we have done clearly shows that you cannot do it as immediately as that, but that does not mean to say that you do not have very large numbers of things to do by 2025 and 2030. My doubt about the Bill is that it confirms the Government’s targets, which are not good enough. I hope that the Government will not only accept the Bill and assist its passage, but recognise that it is not even a minimum. It is below the minimum that we need to do to achieve our ends.

I make just one comment: we are concerned with houses we already have, but we are making the situation worse by at least 250,000 homes every year because we are building houses today that will not meet our requirements. This is barmy and I am fed up with people, particularly Ministers of all kinds, telling me that because the other is the bigger issue they do not want to concentrate on the smaller one. Since they have been doing that, the bigger issue has gone up by 2 million. We have not done what we could have done.

One thing we will have to think about in considering the Bill is how we draw attention to the fact that houses should not be built now that do not more than reach the levels referred to in it. No new house should now be built differing much from a Passivhaus level—not a Passivhaus itself, because that has some complications that are not necessary. It needs the simplicity that Hastoe Housing is now giving to it. However, it is that level we should insist upon.

The nine big housebuilders, building nearly 80% of the homes that are bought, have avoided their duty to raise their standards on the basis that the Government have not raised them for them. Their federation is the only organisation I know which in its annual report—the most recent one published in October 2019—does not address climate change. This is the housebuilding business. It now looks as if the housebuilders have made a change; they have had a conference and they are working out how they will meet the target of no-fossil fuel connections by 2025. They have accepted that they are not going to “beat” the Government as they have on every previous occasion when they have tried to set some level from outside. My first suggested addition to the Bill—not objection—is that we make sure we think about that, because I have worked out that, between now and 2035, there will be 3 million new homes which under the present measurements will probably not meet the standards that the Government are trying to reach by that year.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, raised the important issue of the skills gap. A problem this country faces right across the board in reaching our targets for net zero is in respect of the skills of the people who will do it. The work associated with this is marvellous for new jobs; it is one of the things that can happen so much in the north of England. We can do all the things that we want to do. It is a matter not of extra expense, but of better education, more targeted education, more provision of education, and no longer treating further education as some inferior way of learning. We need to deal with that, but the skills gaps will not be filled unless there is certainty in the industry. That was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and anyone who has anything to do with this industry will accept it. It will not happen unless people know that they will need those skills in this year and for that year.

To do that, we have to examine the dates rather carefully. One of our problems is that we think that we are doing things on a certain date, but people who have planning permission, for example, manage to push the date out. I hope that the Government accept that these dates are the final dates, which are not to be moved on—actually, we want to move them back. I congratulate the Government on the remarkable step they have taken in accepting the advice of the climate change committee and saying that we will have a system whereby only electric vehicles will be sold from 2035—if not earlier—instead of 2040, which was manifestly outwith any system that we would need to reach net zero. I think that we can do the same with housing because we have a whole series of levers that I recommend to my noble friend the Minister.

It would be easy to insist that whenever any mortgage figure for monthly repayments is quoted on those banners outside new houses it should include the cost of heating. The mortgage price should never be quoted without the cost of heating, because that is the basic price. That would force housebuilders to admit to people that they are giving them an annual bill which should not be there, that if they built the house better they would not have that bill, both for heating and ventilation—I mention ventilation because that will be an increasing worry in view of the change in the climate which is already part of our existence; it is not something that we will be able to turn back. If we do that, we can make all sorts of arrangements.

I never understand why we cannot say that when you sell a house you have to show that you have raised it one energy performance level during the time you had it, or, if not, the cost of raising it another level will be put in escrow for the person who buys the house. I do not understand why we do not make it necessary for every survey to include clearly the cost of improving the house to the next level. That should be part of what the surveyor does so that people know what the situation is. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, did not refer to the fact that a high proportion—some say more than 60%—of people buying a house do not know what the energy efficiency level is. I have been to a particular housing area in my former constituency with one of my sons, who looked about the age to want to buy a house. We went around a house that was on the market for £500,000. I asked about the energy efficiency and the good lady said, “Very high.” I said, “What do you mean by ‘very high’? Is it A to F, or one to seven? Give me some idea.” It became clear that she did not know whether A was high or low; she had not quite got that right, so she said “very high” again. I said, “Well, can I see what it is?” “Oh”, she said, “head office has not given it to us.” This was a series of houses that had been on the market for some time, half of which had been sold, and nobody could have known what the efficiency was because they were not provided with the information. That is Britain’s second-largest housebuilder, which shall be nameless—although it was Persimmon.

I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, on rural-proofing, but rural-proofing should not be an excuse for not doing it. We should make sure that those things that cannot be done in the normal course of business are done because we have intervened. That is the matter of fairness. I say to my noble friend the Minister that we will not meet our climate change requirements if we are not fair. It is crucial that the people of Britain recognise that this is a battle which we all share, and which does not go on to the shoulders of the poorest. Unfortunately, the system that has been brilliant in bringing forward offshore wind bore much more heavily on those houses that did not have gas or alternative means of heating because their electricity bills were, and are, disproportionately high—because that is how we finance it. We must recognise that this is something for all of us. The benefits have to be seen, because many of them are interim benefits. Above all, the people of Britain must feel that this is fair dos. When we design this system, this is the minimum that we can do—so much the minimum that it is not enough—but, as we design it, we must build into it the fairness for which the British people are so keen. If we do not do that, we will have gilets jaunes, and perfectly rightly too, because that is a statement not about climate change but about unfairness and unthinking imposition on the nation.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 10:38 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I am intervening in this debate to support the Bill, at least as far as it goes, to call on the Government to give it their backing and to ask the usual channels to facilitate its rapid movement through the House. Also, like the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I shall put the Bill in its wider context.

It was 2015 when we last had a fresh, clear and comprehensive fuel poverty strategy. There was the start of a consultation last year, but we have yet to have any clarification as to the outcome of it or what the Government will do about it. Clearly, we need that as rapidly as possible.

Fuel poverty arises from the interplay of three broad aspects: inadequate household income; expensive energy bills, sometimes because of seriously inappropriate tariffs; and the inefficiency of the fabric of the building and its energy supply. A fuel poverty strategy needs to operate on all these fronts so that we get higher income into those households—if necessary, supported by the benefits system; lower prices and appropriate tariffs for those most likely to be affected by fuel poverty; and an effective intervention to improve insulation, energy supply and energy efficiency generally within the buildings in which the fuel-poor live.

It is nearly 20 years since I was the Minister with responsibility for this. We had some success on all three fronts. Specifically, we had a comprehensive taxpayer-funded intervention system to improve the fabric of domestic buildings. We still have a similar system in Scotland and Wales, but not in England. We also benefited from falling gas prices at that time, which was fortuitous and not my fault—at least, I do not claim credit for it. It was clear that fuel poverty was falling considerably under the old definition, although it would have fallen also under the new definition. Unfortunately, since about 2005 or 2006, there has hardly been a year when at least one of those three features has not been conspicuously absent.

Some interventions have undoubtedly taken a number of the fuel poor out of that category. I will not argue again about the new definition; it has some advantages as well as disadvantages. But the fact remains that fuel poverty—30 years on from when we first started defining it—is still an intractable problem for millions of households. Instead of appropriate tariffs, we have had the warm home discount and the winter fuel payment. These are very welcome to households because they help to pay the bill, but they do nothing to change the misguided structure of the tariffs or to engender energy efficiency within the household. Most of the social interventions that are now provided—I pick up on the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in relation to a subsidy for green energy—are paid for by what amounts to a poll tax on all consumers. This is resented, it is unfair and it is not the appropriate way to fund such interventions, because those who are fuel poor themselves in some cases or who are just above the threshold are effectively paying for the system.

Incidentally, this very morning I half-heard on the news at 7 o’clock that the Treasury might be looking at an income tax-based system. I listened carefully but did not hear that item repeated, but there was an item in relation to the Ofgem review of the cap, so it may well have been in that context. I would be delighted if the Minister could assure me that a move towards funding through general taxation was at least being considered by the Treasury and that I did not mishear it.

In 2014, secondary legislation defined the energy efficiency of buildings—or the target for it—by reference to EPC level C. I think that with a bespoke programme we could do slightly better, but I support this Bill in ensuring that the target is at least put into primary legislation. In broader terms, we need to improve the energy efficiency of all domestic premises, because of our climate change obligations and because heating in housing is a significant part of our total carbon use and is largely gas-based. We need to take some early decisions on how to decarbonise the provision of heating in our housing. Are we going for electrification in some form or other? It would be highly disruptive, given the millions of households with radiators, as compared with gas, but nevertheless may be the better solution, particularly if we cannot find a formulation for biogas or hydrogen-based gas that does not itself cause significant carbon emissions. Either way, a decision on that strategic choice is needed very early.

Other aspects of the Bill deal with energy efficiency of all domestic buildings. I would argue that the obligation should not be on just mortgage holders to describe the house; it should be on all those who are selling, including estate agents and, in relation to new build, it should be on builders, developers and indeed the local authorities that give the planning permission. This is so that we can begin to raise the energy efficiency of all premises. That should be part of a clear dimension for reducing carbon. We also need a clearer dimension for fuel poverty itself. Can the Minister say when we will get a new fuel poverty strategy and also when we will get a statement on energy policy more widely? I would be very grateful if he could give me a date for both of those because, at the moment, there are a lot of aspects of energy policy, including fuel poverty, that are floundering without a sense of direction. I support this Bill and hope that it goes through the House as rapidly as possible.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 10:45 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Foster for introducing this Bill. Looking around the House at those taking part in this debate, it seems to be a very small group who have been undertaking this work for, in some cases, decades. I remember raising the issue with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when he was a Minister, which was some time ago. I must declare an interest as CEO of the Energy Managers Association and as a landowner, as set out in the register.

Although my noble friend Lord Foster has said that this is a simple Bill, the problems associated with the language are anything but. I always have difficulty with the expression “fuel poverty”, because it mixes the cost of fuel and the use of fuel. One problem we have of course is that, if the price of gas is low, then fuel poverty is seen as less of an issue, but fuel expenditure increases because people raise the temperature in their houses. This is not to denigrate the issue of fuel poverty; in fact, it was brought to me in stark relief when one of my tenants came to me to say that they were paying more year on year on their energy bill than on their rent. There was of course a simple solution—though not the solution that immediately springs to mind for many private landlords—which was to look at how I could increase the energy efficiency of the building. It was a complicated building to look at, being in a rural area and having been built over a number of centuries, but I realised that work needed to be undertaken. We did that work, but of course it had a 14-year payback compared with the rent. This is an issue that landlords often face. I believe there is an obligation on landlords that, if they cannot afford to rent out a property and the works, they should not own the property in the first place. That is a fundamental issue: we should not be pushing fuel poverty as an excuse.

There are ways of bringing properties up to standard, but there are a couple of issues that I raise in association with this Bill that will have to be addressed by the Government. The first is that, if we are to increase the energy efficiency of buildings, we will obviously have to look at the energy performance certificate. I remember when the legislation brought in that certificate in the first place; it is an excellent tool as far as it goes. The problem is that it was built around Part L at the time and really needs to be updated to reflect the movement that has taken place in terms of building materials—as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out—and the greater understanding of the use of buildings and what is possible. The EPC rating has been added to estate agents’ particulars—I remember putting it forward in a Private Member’s Bill, but it was put through in regulations by the Minister at the time, Yvette Cooper, even though there is apparently no such thing in law as estate agents’ particulars. The rating was added for houses being sold by estate agents, which is an important point. The rating sets out where the building is now but also the potential that the building can achieve. For a lot of older buildings, which is unfortunately the majority of our housing stock, the potential is in many cases way below the C or B rating that we would be looking for in the future. We have to look either at replacing a large proportion of the housing stock or at how we rate buildings and make sure that they get up to the highest possible level, without making the targets almost impossible to achieve.

There are number of things you can do, especially on older buildings. You can replace the boiler, which is a major element; you can replace double glazing. The latter is a problem which the Government are going to have to address head on and have discussions with Historic England about. English Heritage—I had many discussions with them—and now Historic England are trying to preserve wooden windows because of the look of buildings. However, we should start looking at modern materials mimicking those used in the past. Trying to replace wooden windows is a major problem. Ones you buy now are meant to be of sufficient quality, but they often rot out in five to 10 years. There is a carbon cost associated with that which probably negates the energy you are saving. I hope the Government will have discussions with the relevant bodies on how we should go forward with buildings. A classic example is this building, which is grade 1 listed. I have had discussions with the House authorities on the leaded windows, from which the heat dissipates through the single frame and the lead. Hardly any of them fit properly and there are enormous drafts. The only thing worse than lead is brass. Many of the windows in this building have their joints fitted with that material.

There are always exceptions, but a lot of people go down the rabbit hole of using historic buildings as an excuse for not implementing many of the energy efficiency ratings. However, you can introduce a lot of measures without detrimentally affecting the fabric of the building. As this is a Private Member’s Bill, I should direct this to my noble friend Lord Foster, but I hope the Minister will indicate whether the EPC rating is being looked at and whether Part L is still fit for purpose. A review of it against our climate change commitments would probably be the most beneficial step that could be taken. I remember having arguments about whether we should regulate for boilers at G rating and below to be outlawed and condensing boilers brought in. That single measure has had a greater impact on gas use in this country than any other. Part L is difficult. I remember discussing regulating this with DCLG, which argued that there was an embedded cost in the boiler itself which replacing the boiler could bring about in the carbon whole-life cycle. We did the work with Worcester Bosch and found that under 2% of the energy cost is in the boiler itself, rather than the fuel used. There would be a benefit in looking at Part L. This feeds across to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. The standard of houses being built at the moment is appalling. We have let the housebuilders get away with it because we want new houses, but the quality is very low and, in some cases, shocking.

The Bill is such a cornucopia of issues that I could go on for hours, but my final point is that the Government should look at cavity wall insulation, which is a scandal waiting to happen. If put in properly, it is of massive benefit to the thermal properties of a house. However, there is more and more evidence that a lot of cavity wall insulation has been put in badly so that it soaks up water, makes the house damp and reduces its thermal properties. The problem with insulation is very large and has not been addressed. A lot of the smaller companies who put in badly installed insulation have gone bankrupt or are not covered. This issue is coming down the line and will cause problems to a lot of householders. I spoke to a company whose main work is sucking out old cavity wall insulation and replacing it. That is an industry that we should not have. This comes back to regulation on how insulation is put in in the first place.

I welcome the Bill. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Foster will hardly be surprised if it is not taken up with open arms. He has been too long in the game for that. It was depressing, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, how many debates there have been on this and the how many pledges broken. I will have been in this House for 30 years next year. I started being involved in energy almost as soon as I arrived. It was assumed, 30 years ago, that we would have passive houses built as standard. It was assumed that the retro-fit which took place in properties would have been at a much higher level over that period. We are now looking to catch up in 10 years, to make that happen. I am not sure that the target is achievable, but if we do not undertake the basics at this point, it never will be.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 10:56 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I support the Bill; it is well thought out and very well written. The powers and duties would go a long way towards bringing Britain’s homes up to truly liveable standards and condition. There is no hope of achieving net-zero targets without tackling our crisis of leaky, cold homes. The Bill would definitely help with that—and we all know that the Government need help with ideas to achieve their net-zero targets. Home insulation and energy efficiency is a core plank of an effective green new deal and a perfect example of how investing in our green future helps to create jobs and improve people’s lives at the same time.

I am still fuming that new homes are not being built to net-zero standards, after the Government pulled the zero-carbon homes plan in 2016. Ministers are going to start celebrating their “new” policy of zero-carbon homes by the middle of this decade, but even if they do carry through on this, that is still 10 years of dirty housebuilding compared to what we should have seen. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, was right to draw the House’s attention to this, and to name and shame Persimmon for not getting on with what is a social justice issue. That should be part of the business plan.

Of course, the Bill is not about new housing; we are talking about bringing Britain’s leaky housing stock up to modern standards of energy efficiency. Britain’s fuel poverty crisis is a scandal, and the Government’s attempt to provide a solution has sometimes made things worse rather than better. The idea of putting the costs of energy efficiency schemes on to people’s energy bills is one of the biggest accounting tricks in history. Shifting the costs of energy efficiency schemes off the Government’s balance sheet and on to everyone else’s bills has disproportionately harmed fuel-poor homes, especially those which have not received the insulation that their bills have contributed towards. I am happy that the Bill will shift the cost burden on to general taxation, which is a progressive system, rather than shoving it on to everyone else’s bills.

I nearly did not speak in this debate—this is such a sensible Bill, why on earth would I? I have lots of fights on my hands with the Government on other Bills. This is so sensible, they ought to welcome it with open arms. It is a good opportunity to put the Government on record about their plans to make homes comfortable and affordable. The Bill goes beyond that, as well. If the Government do not pick it up, I will be nagging them about it for some time. If it completes its stages in your Lordships’ House, I hope the Government will at least have the sense to ensure that it passes swiftly through the Commons as well. I have brought several Private Members’ Bills here and they have always had quite a lot of opposition, but today, this Private Member’s Bill is getting a lot of support. Therefore, the Government really should see this as an opportunity to take advice from a different quarter.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 10:59 am, 7th February 2020

Briefly, in the gap, I want to add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, thank him for the way he introduced the Bill and echo his congratulations to my honourable friend Sir David Amess in another place. I want to speak for two main reasons. First, I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that this Bill may be simple in its aims but it is complex in its implications and I believe that the only realistic way of dealing with this is for the Government to pledge to take the Bill over and give it the time it needs for scrutiny in your Lordships’ House and in another place. I think that is essential.

The complexity issue was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who talked about the majority of houses in this country being already built. He touched on a particular interest of mine: historic houses and buildings. I have the great privilege of living in a listed building in a cathedral close in Lincoln—we call it Minster Yard—where all the buildings are listed and where, at the centre, is one of the greatest buildings in the world: Lincoln Cathedral itself. Of course, all buildings, including all religious buildings, will have to be covered during the next 20 years. I know the Church of England has made a commitment—rather than giving any details on how it will carry it out—but we have to recognise that there is a particular challenge with historic buildings.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, touched on this issue when he talked about wooden windows. My noble friend Lord Deben touched on it obliquely when he talked about the need for skilled workers. I declare an interest as the chairman of the William Morris Craft Fellowship Committee. We are going to need ever more proper apprentices who do a proper apprenticeship and who will be able to work on these buildings. The joy of our country lies very much in our historic towns and villages; not only in the houses but in the churches and cathedrals. We must honour the past, as well as prepare for the future in how we adopt and adapt to the needs of climate change. It is not a simple task.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is right to say that Historic England must be part of the team that deals with this. Imaginative solutions are needed. Artificial materials may, in some cases, be adequate, but in many cases they will not, so we will have to address such problems as how to preserve wood for longer. It is a complex issue and I beg my noble friend on the Front Bench to give a commitment to this House today that he will, at the very least, discuss with the Secretary of State the absolute imperative for the Government to take this on.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench 11:03 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I also rise to say a couple of words in the gap. I declare an interest: we farm some land and also rent out several old cottages. The Bill makes a lot of sense, especially for new housing, but I would like to make an appeal for some of these charming country cottages. We have discovered that we can do the basics easily—loft insulation, better heating insulation, et cetera—and get them to an F rating that way. To get them further up, I have found that you have to get them on to mains gas, which is much more expensive and more difficult. It depends on whether there is any nearby—and then we hear that this may be banned by 2025, I believe, so what good is that? We have been doing it anyway.

You can draft-proof, but you have to be careful, because you must maintain ventilation. It is very easy, if you hermetically seal these old buildings, to start getting that nasty black mould. It builds up and then people say, “Oh, gosh, we have terrible damp.” Actually, all they have done is keep the windows closed. There is a real problem, because then you get into the health issues. How you get over that in an old building, I am not very sure. Many people who live in older houses accept this: you have windows open occasionally and you wear a jersey in winter; your house is heated to 17 or 18 degrees, not 20 degrees—you do not pretend you are in the south of Spain. I, as a Scot, am certainly one of those people: it does save quite a lot of money. Equally, there are limits to all these things.

What I wanted to say is that if you do not allow exceptions, you are going to lose a lot of lovely cottages in lovely settings and that would be a great shame. It will not improve the housing stock for rental, either.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 11:05 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of an organisation in the south-west called Regen SW.

I am someone who loves quizzes—pub quizzes, family quizzes at Christmas—but when it comes to English literature I am useless, except perhaps for two classics, I suppose. One is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, with its first line:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

I can get that one. Then of course there is the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.

It is a quotation that I think is amazingly sexist. I am told that even in 1813, when she wrote it, it was meant purely ironically. However, while working out what I was going to say in this debate, I came across an even better first line:

“UK homes are not fit for the future”.

Of course, that is the first line in the climate change committee’s report into housing in the UK that was published under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, exactly one year ago.

Why is the UK housing stock not fit for the future? UK housing accounts for 14% of our carbon emissions, a major amount. Between 2017 and 2018, that actually rose by 1%. One of the outcomes of that, and one of the major themes of my noble friend Lord Foster, is that we still have 2.5 million households in the United Kingdom classified as suffering fuel poverty. My noble friend Lord Redesdale mentioned how many of us have talked through these subjects over many years. If I am right, that number has gone up and down, but it has never gone significantly down. It has changed with the changing price of energy bills over time.

One reason that it is not working is because of the chopping and changing of policies that we have heard about. There was Warm Front under Labour, Green Deal under the coalition and the energy company obligation. ECO, one of the current policies, has taken the low-hanging fruit but is now finding it more difficult to find ways to increase household efficiency. We have had others as well, including the renewable heat incentive, the future of which we do not know. There has been very little continuity of policy in this area.

As other noble Lords have mentioned, that has had a secondary effect in terms of skills. It is not so much that we do not have the skills in the UK economy to do what is needed in this area, it is that we train people, build them up, get them in programmes and when those programmes stop, the companies make them all redundant. They all go and we have to re-employ them two or three years later and upgrade their skills until we have a new programme and, we hope, some stability into the future.

One of the other areas that does not work, as mentioned by other noble Lords, is that where we have the regulations we do not check that they are enforced. There is laziness from contractors, builders, planners and even local authorities in making sure that our intentions, even when they are a regulatory or legislative necessity, are applied. Part of that is due to local government cutbacks but there is also a mentality that, once we have made a regulation, we can almost say “Well, that’s it; cheerio, job done” when in reality we have to make sure that it is enforced.

As a result of that, in terms of energy efficiency levels and energy performance criteria just 1% of our housing stock in the UK is A-rated. That means that 99% does not come up to the standards that we will need for the future. That is why our housing stock is not fit for the future. I recommend, having come across it, the Scottish Government’s programme of effectively interest-free loans to get a lot of this to move on. Germany has a very effective scheme as well.

I welcome my noble friend’s Bill in this area because, as he has explained so well and simply, it puts the obligations the Government have given themselves morally and as targets in such things as the clean growth strategy into legislation. As I have said, that is not everything because we then have to make sure that those regulations are applied, but at least this is a first step. That is why it is very important that this moves forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said, this should really become a government Bill rather than a Private Member’s Bill.

I remember that in the Energy Acts during the coalition and afterwards we had a thing called the energy trilemma: the conflict between energy security, the cost of energy and therefore energy poverty, and decarbonisation. The great thing is that, now we are in 2020, it is no longer a trilemma. Renewable energy and decarbonisation are cheaper than traditional fossil fuels and can give us security at the same time. The great vision on energy for the future is that we can go ahead with confidence in that area.

On this Bill we are looking at the opposite of a trilemma—perhaps we might call it a “tribonus”. If we manage to do this, we will not only decarbonise our economy and have lower energy bills through energy efficiency, which means less fuel poverty, but have the added bonus of increased health and all the implications that more healthy homes and families will have on the National Health Service.

We all know those first two lines of A Tale of Two Cities. The next two are:

“it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”.

This is the age of wisdom in that we know all the technical fixes that can do what my noble friend Lord Foster is asking, but we have the foolishness yet to have grasped that opportunity and apply it to what we are doing. That is the challenge. It is a truth universally accepted on these Benches that we have to get on with this. I ask the Minister to take this Bill and make sure that it goes through both Houses of Parliament so that we can start this journey.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords) 11:14 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing today’s debate.

This Wednesday, the charity National Energy Action held the Nation’s Biggest Housewarming. While many noble Lords will have attended enjoyable housewarming parties over the years, this event was a bit different; it aimed to highlight all those living in fuel poverty and the importance of having access to a warm, dry, safe home, something I am sure all noble Lords believe in. Therefore, I welcome the Bill’s timely Second Reading, which allows us to shine a light on the NEA’s work and the important issue of fuel poverty. By creating energy-efficient homes, we can tackle both this and the climate crisis.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, rightly stated that it is all well and good setting high standards for new homes, but improving the energy efficiency of existing homes and housing stock must take priority. I think we all share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that homes being built today will not surpass the energy efficiency and future net-zero targets that are only a decade and a half away. That seems bizarre. My noble friend Lord Whitty clearly outlined the three factors that lead to fuel poverty: household income, expensive bills or tariffs, and the fabric of the building. As he said, we must aim to solve all three factors together.

With a few weeks left of winter, it is shocking to think of how many people remain cold in their own homes up and down the country. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, talked about the choice to wear a jumper. To be fair, he was not talking about fuel poverty but about the properties of people in his area and their choice to put on a jumper, but for many it is not a choice. They cannot afford to heat their homes. They do not choose to put on a jumper or jacket to stop damp coming into the house; they have to do it to stay warm.

According to uSwitch, around 3.5 million UK households live in fuel poverty and are unable to adequately heat their homes. It also found that 1.6 million of these households choose between warming their homes and putting food on the table. The picture is particularly bad in Scotland. Last month, the Scottish Government published figures which showed that 619,000 homes were in fuel poverty in 2018. One in 10 was in extreme fuel poverty. Clearly, this is one of the many areas where the SNP has failed, and its new target of eradicating fuel poverty in 20 years is not nearly ambitious enough.

The worst consequence of this is winter deaths, on which the UK has one of the worst rates in Europe. According to a 2018 study by the NEA, 36,000 deaths over the previous five years could be attributed to conditions relating to living in a cold home. A further 17,000 people are estimated to have died as a direct result of fuel poverty. The NEA has called these deaths “preventable and shameful”, and I could not agree more. Fuel poverty can and must end; it should be addressed together with moving towards net zero.

Turning to energy efficiency, as we have heard, decarbonising heat is a massive challenge for any Government, but it is one we must meet if we are to keep global heating way below the two-degree increase. According to the Committee on Climate Change

“It will be extraordinarily difficult to hit 2050” net zero

“without a plan in place for heat very quickly.”

Most homes have natural gas-powered boilers, which need to be replaced by electric or hydrogen boilers. Better insulation and more efficient appliances are other avenues to cut emissions and cut bills. The UK FIRES’ report Absolute Zero also stresses how real investment in heat pumps is needed. These are already well established in many other countries, yet heat pump installation remains at very low levels in the UK. Do the Government propose any significant expansion in that area?

The broad aims of the Bill are therefore welcome—I say “broad aims” for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned: the Bill’s reasonableness. It would ensure that the properties of those living in fuel poverty have a minimum EPC band C rating by the end of 2030, and would force the Government to publish and implement a strategy to deliver on these targets. The Bill would enable the Secretary of State to require mortgage lenders to provide information on the energy performance of properties and new requirements concerning the energy efficiency of new heating systems installed in existing properties. As well as this, the Bill would make it a legal requirement for the Government to ensure that as many homes as possible are improved to EPC band C by 2035. However, Labour has called for us to move faster, and for almost all the UK’s 27 million homes to have the highest energy efficiency standards by 2030.

Ultimately, we are discussing this Private Member’s Bill because the Government are not doing enough on fuel poverty. Astonishingly, fuel poverty was not mentioned once in either the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech. That is despite the Government’s welcome consultation on the fuel poverty strategy, which closed last September. When will a response from the Government be published, and when will they publish their energy White Paper?

The Government have committed to spending £3.8 billion on insulating 2 million social homes, and £2.5 billion on retrofitting 200,000 fuel-poor households. While this is welcome, the spending commitment for social homes is far less than what is needed to fully retrofit a property, and a full retrofit will be offered to only a small fraction of the 3.5 million households in the UK living in fuel poverty. There is also no additional funding for most households. How do the Government plan to cut emissions and bills for the many? Labour has called for the Government to fully fund the retrofit of every low-income property in the country and provide interest-free loans to enable able-to-pay households to do that. We would also introduce a zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes.

In conclusion, everyone has the right to live in a warm and safe home but, sadly, this is not reflected in reality. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Government need to do more to alleviate and get rid of fuel poverty. Excuse the pun, but a lot more energy needs to be put in to eradicate both climate problems and fuel poverty.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 11:24 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, this has been an interesting and important discussion on a Bill that addresses an issue which I believe we all care very much about. As we look at the challenges facing the country in ensuring that all are able to live in a warm home, there is no doubt in my mind right now that that is a simple statement of ambition for everyone here.

The Government remain committed to delivering on a heat policy road map, and they will do so very soon indeed. It will look at how to both reduce emissions on buildings and address energy efficiency and will come as part of a series of announcements that we will make as we approach COP 26 in Glasgow in November. That heat policy road map is imminent. However, it cannot come alone; it must come alongside a fuel poverty strategy for England—I cannot on this occasion speak for Scotland. Again, that strategy will come very soon. These two combined policies will set out the series of steps which will be taken to bring us toward taking the necessary step to ensure that we have eliminated fuel poverty and addressed the energy efficiency of buildings in good time on our approach to our ambitious net zero target by 2050.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked when the White Paper is coming. It will necessarily come first, setting each of these policies and a wider range of policies into a broader context. Again, that is also part of our ambitious complete statement ahead of the Glasgow climate change conference.

On the question of ongoing investment in addressing the quality and durability of homes, we continue to invest some £2.5 billion in capital funding to improve the homes of those on lower incomes, and we are seeking to improve the warm home discount and energy company obligation. Each of these will be necessary.

A great deal has changed since the earlier incarnation of the Bill was introduced in the other place, not least that there has been an election, which is one of the reasons why that Bill did not make progress. In that election, the party of government, to which I belong, made a number of serious commitments in its manifesto, and it is worth while rehearsing what they are. There will be £6.3 billion-worth of upgrade for those in fuel-poor homes, particularly in social housing. We will consult on raising minimum energy performance standards in private rentals—again, as a number of noble Lords mentioned today, private rentals are perhaps the most difficult to reach of all properties, since they are in the hands of a large number of individuals. We will consult on setting requirements for lenders to improve the energy performance, which, again, should help us move in the right direction. Finally, we will consult on phasing out the installation of fossil fuel heating systems in off-gas grid properties—again, trying to get to that hard-to-reach final point in moving this forward.

We are putting forward a number of other policies, some of which touch on issues raised by noble Lords today. On the question of insulation, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, he is quite right. You can have the best insulation, badly installed, and you achieve literally nothing. The problem with that is that if your kitemarked process does not recognise the installation, you could theoretically have a high quality and yet a low reality, and you might never know that, because there is no way to monitor it traditionally inside your own home. Therefore, we are instituting a new trust mark scheme, which should allow us to examine things such as cavity wall insulation to ensure that it is up to standard regarding not just the materials but the installation itself. That should go some of the way forward. We are also putting £5 million into the green home finance innovation to look at other ways in which we can address some of the issues inside homes, and £10 million to examine how best to retrofit.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Errol, questioned how we are able to look at some houses which are listed beyond the ability to address them. To be frank, it is a hornets’ nest to try to look at the whole listing process, but that will need to be done. We are sitting in a Chamber that is surrounded by glass held in by pieces of lead. As this building goes through its retrofit, we have to ask ourselves how it shall achieve the highest possible standard, and what it can expect to achieve in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked why the number of people who seem to be stuck in fuel poverty does not seem to change year on year. He is right to ask that, and the answer is a more straightforward one, as it is a relative metric. It is always looking at the bottom 10% to 12%, so we will always get a similar sort of figure. However, because what we are measuring inside that will change but the numbers themselves may not, to measure progress within it we need to look at the fuel poverty gap, which is the difference in bills between fuel-poor and not fuel-poor households. The fuel poverty gap fell from £873 million in 2010 to £812 million in 2017—the most recent statistics that we have. I do not think that is enough, if I am being honest, but it is a move in the right direction. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also asked about the renewable heat incentive. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has committed to a replacement for that, but I do not yet know what that replacement will be, so I cannot give him any more detail on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, made a number of serious points. His chairmanship of the Committee on Climate Change is welcome and his contribution is welcome in that regard. Our future home standards will be introduced by 2025. I know that he will quickly say that that is too late, and I understand why he would, but it will require new-build homes to be future-proofed, with low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. As it happens, we are consulting on it right now, and consultation on that particular proposal closes today, so I fear those who have not yet put their thoughts on paper may be a little too late.

Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative

Will my noble friend give way on that point? Can he assure me that in 2025, the new standards will come into operation on any house that is under construction, and not wait for people to have fulfilled their planning period; otherwise, it will not be 2025—as history tells us, it will be 2029?

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I will give that commitment; I think I can do that. This may not be in the consultation, but I think that would make perfect sense. We need dates to be meaningful, and 2025 is the meaningful date we are talking about here. If a piece of paper whistles towards me from the Box, noble Lords will realise that I have gone beyond my brief, but I think that at this point that commitment is something I can make—I hope. Yes, I have reassurance from over my shoulder.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asked about the radio programme he heard this morning and what tax issue will come forward. I suspect that it is true to say that all of this area is being examined. The Treasury works in mysterious ways: I cannot tell noble Lords exactly what it is thinking about at this moment, but I am sure it is thinking very big thoughts. When it tells us what they are, I shall be very interested to hear them, much the same as the noble Lord.

What I have to come round to, and have been skirting around just now, is that although the Bill itself is welcome in so far as it facilitates this discussion and our debate today, we cannot support it. I appreciate that a number of noble Lords will be disappointed in that regard, but let me explain some of the reasons why we cannot do that today.

The first is that we have strategies coming which will examine this. I thought that was a piece of paper whistling toward me—good, it was not. I am sorry about that; I am distracting myself. The policies that we will be putting out in a matter of a few months will set the strategic direction and set in place within a road map how we will achieve it. The Bill before us would cut across that and reduce our flexibility when that comes forward.

The other aspect of the Bill is that it gives us no new powers or levers. It does not actually help us achieve the ends; it would simply set the framework within which we are to achieve them. Those dates will be contained within the strategies I mentioned. It will be important to ensure that the strategies have clear dates, and we have a road map with commitments which fit into a legal framework to ensure the certainty which underpins the purpose behind the Bill: to allow the building sector to understand what it is up against, what it has to commit to, and, frankly, what it should be exceeding. These should be setting minimum standards, there should not be any limit on their ambitions to move beyond that point.

I do not doubt that the noble Lord will be disappointed to hear that we do not support the Bill, but I can give assurances that in the development of the strategies to come, I would welcome his involvement and that of all Members of the House who have taken an interest in the Bill today. I would also welcome the involvement of Mr Bailey; I was disappointed to hear that he was ill, but would welcome his involvement in this process as the strategies become more robust. I think elements of the Bill will find a new home in the strategy as it manifests itself as a more solid approach.

I appreciate that that is not the outcome many here would have wished for, but I hope that noble Lords will understand why I am saying that. We are in no way seeking to be less than absolutely ambitious in this area, and we will seek to work with all to ensure that our strategy delivers, as this Bill itself would have delivered.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Rural Economy Committee 11:34 am, 7th February 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting and informative debate. Inevitably, many of the issues raised are in a sense outwith the Bill, but will have to be addressed if the Bill is to go forward. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Best, raised the need for financial carrots to deal with issues in the private rented sector. He rightly raised the importance of rural-proofing, an issue he knows I am very passionate about following the work we were able to do in your Lordships’ Rural Economy Select Committee. Of course, it is wonderful to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. The House may recall that about two years ago, he spoke after me in a debate and began his contribution by saying how great it was to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foster, who always reminded him why he is not a Liberal Democrat. I am delighted that on this occasion, I have his full support.

He rightly raised, as did other noble Lords, issues about not just existing housing stock, which the Bill deals with, but the vital importance of getting it right for new housebuilding and the need, as others, including my noble friend Lord Teverson, said, to address Part L of the building regulations. I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that his history is slightly wrong in respect of zero-carbon homes. In fact, the policy was introduced—I played a small part in it as a Minister—during the coalition. It was George Osborne and the Conservative Government who removed that policy in 2016. Let us hope that in the strategy referred to by the Minister, zero-carbon homes will be coming back in.

Issues to do with listed buildings were raised, as was the need to revise the EPC, and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and others talked about the fuel poor. Various charities are doing excellent work to help them, but we need, above everything, for the Government to be doing far more. It is worth reflecting, as it was mentioned, that if we are to move to low-carbon electricity, if no support is given, the average house bill will go up by £200 per annum, placing an even bigger burden on the fuel poor in particular, so that needs to be addressed.

Of course, I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. I am delighted that the Government will have a clear road map and that there will be a set of strategies to deal with the various issues in the road map. But, frankly, it seems to me that nothing in the Bill can be cutting across what the Government plan to do. It provides in statute legally binding dates by which certain things should be achieved—things that the Minister has admitted are exactly what will be in the strategy. The difference with not putting that in legislation is that it does not provide your Lordships’ House and the other place with the means to hold this and future Governments to account in achieving what noble Lords have demonstrated we desperately want.

I say to the Minister that I am bitterly disappointed and warn him that in that light, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will be, as she said, nagging him for a very long time to come—a fate that I suspect he would not wish. Nevertheless, I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.