Amendment 8

Energy Prices Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 24th October 2022.

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Lord Teverson:

Moved by Lord Teverson

8: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—“Report on effectiveness of energy efficiency programmes in reducing energy costs(1) Within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must review the impact of energy efficiency programmes in reducing energy costs in accordance with this section.(2) A review under this section must consider the impact of—(a) the number of homes and business properties which have increased their EPC rating,(b) the number of homes and business properties which have undergone retrofitting programmes, including— (i) fitting of solar panels, and(ii) replacement of gas boilers,(c) increases in renewable energy sources, and(d) public messaging campaigns into changing energy usage habits.(3) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of energy efficiency programmes in reducing energy costs.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, we come back to a subject we always discuss in energy Bills, whether the dormant Energy Bill or the Energy Prices Bill in front of us today: energy efficiency and demand reduction. Whatever the Government say from their Front Bench about what is being done, it is quite clear that this is not seen as a priority in reality. Indeed, as far as I have noticed, it does not feature to any significant extent in this Bill. However, although I accept that the Bill is very much about short-term measures, we still have to look forward to the medium and longer term and how we make sure that, after the payments we are making and the Bill intends to make into the future—which are substantial, with estimates varying from £40 billion to £100 billion, depending on how long these measures last—we do not go back to square one whenever such a crisis arises again, despite having spent literally billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

This is a very mild amendment. We are being modest because we hope that the Government will accept that we should have at least something in the Bill about energy efficiency. We are asking for a proper and comprehensive review of costs to do with energy efficiency within six months of the Bill being passed. As noble Lords can see from the amendment, we are asking for a review of the impact of

“the number of homes and business properties which have increased their EPC rating … fitting … solar panels, and … replacement of gas boilers, … increases in renewable energy sources, and … public messaging campaigns”.

I would be interested to understand where the Government are on public messaging campaigns at the moment. I understand that the almost-past Government very much resisted them. Can the Minister give us more of an idea of where we are now?

What I am emphasising here is that it is essential that energy efficiency and demand reduction should be at the top of the list of tools of energy policy as a way forward. We clearly need some reference to them in the Bill, while we are making these huge payments, to make sure that businesses are able to continue in the future and that households can afford their energy bills without going into debt—although I fear that many will in any case. That is the core of this amendment and we take this very seriously. We believe that the Government have not performed sufficiently on this during their time in government.

I will also speak briefly to Amendment 9, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who is not in her place at the moment, for her support. Amendment 9 looks forward to where we go after this major splurge of public expenditure. I think a consensus is coming—from consumers, consumer groups and energy companies themselves—on how we need to treat energy Bills in the future, in that we have to move to a different place. One place we could move to is a social tariff. Nothing is perfect in this world. We know that in a situation where people move out of the definition of qualifying for a social tariff, it can have negative effects on income or whatever.

A social tariff would mean those households in fuel poverty being able to solve that issue by paying a different tariff on their electricity from those not in that degree of poverty. We all know that, even without the current crisis, many millions of households are in fuel poverty. This has not been solved by Governments over the years. The long-term way is energy efficiency and demand reduction but, in the medium term, surely we should start planning now for something of the order of a social tariff. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, is taking part remotely and I invite her to speak. She does not seem to be technically available at present; it is therefore open to any other noble Lord to speak to this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, first, I apologise for being unable to be present at Second Reading. I am speaking to Amendment 12, which my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester has also signed. It sets up the mechanism for the Secretary of State to have a strategic plan for very vulnerable people who would be extremely adversely affected by power outages—for some, probably resulting in death—and for the requirement on energy suppliers to work with the local resilience forums, which are tasked with delivering local emergency plans in communities.

I read the impact assessment with interest. On page 28, paragraph 70, headed “Disability or vulnerability”, states:

“Of those surveyed … by the ONS Wealth and Assets Survey, over 40% of adults in Great Britain have a combined financial and property wealth below £23,249. Of those poorer households 41% have a physical or mental disability ... Furthermore, households with energy-using health equipment will typically be associated with higher energy use and stand to benefit more from the volumetric scheme”.

The Minister may remember that I raised the issue of ensuring electricity supply to the most vulnerable disabled and seriously ill people, who may die if their home electricity supply is not maintained, on 11 October 2022 when the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, asked a Question on energy pricing. I cited our family’s experience when my granddaughter, then aged two, who had to use a ventilator and a heart monitor faced a power outage on her south London estate. I thank the Minister for his response to my question and his being keen to reassure me and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, but I was concerned that BEIS Ministers may not be aware of what is happening in practice and how serious the problem is.

Since 11 October, I have talked to others who rely on ventilators, dialysis machines and other equipment at home. It is clear that the reality of what happened to my granddaughter in a small-scale electrical outage in south London about four years ago is, in practice, not unusual. Let me explain the process. On the advice of the consultants at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, and as a condition of her being allowed to leave hospital for the first time aged 11 months, my son had brought her home and registered with their energy supplier that she required ventilation and a heart monitor for about 17 hours out of every 24. Without it, she would have to be taken back to the specialist hospital as her lung capacity put her at high risk of death as her oxygen levels would plummet quickly.

My son had understood that the supplier would ensure that there was an alternative supply as soon as possible. On the evening of the outage, my son called the emergency line, who were encouraging: they were on the list for an emergency generator to be delivered to their house. After one hour, it had not arrived. They were told that it could take another two hours. At that time, and because my granddaughter was still quite small, he bundled her and all her medical kit—believe me, a carful—and drove to our house, an hour away. Believe me, if you have watched a small child struggling for breath, you do not hang around.

There is absolutely no doubt that the register of vulnerable users is helpful. However, the reality of a power cut means that the small batteries in those items that they have as a back-up will not last for many hours, especially if the outage is not planned and people do not know how long it will last for. That is why the suppliers knew that they had to get a generator to my granddaughter’s house. But they failed.

My concern is that, in the event of mass outages in the cold months of January and February next year, however unlikely, much larger swathes of the country will lose electricity in a number of hours. National Grid was predicting even worse last week—even if that is also deemed to be highly unlikely—and it might mean that the whole country would be without power from late afternoon until late at night for a number of days a week in January and February.

The Disability News Service picked up on the questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and I asked. John Pring at the DNS has been investigating current practice and how large outages would be handled by the energy suppliers, so he rang them. They said, “Talk to the Department of BEIS”, so he rang BEIS, which said, “Talk to the Department of Health and Social Care”—I have no idea why. The DHSC has not even replied, probably because it is not involved in emergency provision planning.

Many disability groups are very concerned about this coming winter too, as they, like my family, have experience of support in an emergency not being quite what was expected. Neither BEIS nor the DHSC seemed aware that the energy suppliers should be talking to their local resilience forums, run by each local authority, which have a statutory duty under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to deliver their local emergency health plan in the event of such an incident. However, directors of public health whom I have talked to, who are jointly employed by their authority and by the NHS, are core to LRFs, and they say that talking to energy suppliers is extremely difficult.

It is important to be clear that not all help for those whose lives depend on electricity will be on the register. Those registered with suppliers will include the elderly and the frail who must be kept warm, but they do not need individual generators at home. The LRFs need to plan with energy suppliers where generators will go in community halls or other planned venues and how vulnerable people will be taken to that venue. The current advice from suppliers to disabled people on their helpline is—wait for it—get a thermos and more battery packs. I have to say that that is causing alarm, and it tells me that proper planning is not going on, and people who are supposed to be giving advice do not know what it should be. That is also confirmed by the directors of public health whom I have talked to.

Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, local resilience forums are level 1 responders, and energy suppliers are level 2 responders. Energy suppliers keep the register and must liaise with them. The problem is that at the moment the LRFs are entirely reliant on the energy suppliers communicating with them. As with Covid, when the local resilience forums played a fantastic role as we went into lockdown in their communities, the possibility of a serious outage means that there needs to be real planning now because, otherwise, people will die in a power cut. All the elements needed are available through various duties on differing people; the problem is that they are not joined up. Hence my amendment, which is to try to join up the key partners at a national level through the powers of the Secretary of State to create a strategic plan, while ensuring an action plan at a local level which gives a duty to energy suppliers to maintain contact with their local resilience forums.

I ask the Minister: what formal arrangements should be in place, because they are clearly not working? Does he accept the need for a strategic plan owned by BEIS as well as energy suppliers, working with local resilience forums to ensure action plans in the event of future large-scale outages? Will he agree to meet me, my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester and representatives of disabled people’s groups to provide us with not just reassurance but detailed evidence of how this will work, if needed this winter?

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:45 pm, 24th October 2022

My Lords, I am glad to say that the technical gremlins have now been slain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, is online. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Brinton for tabling the amendment, to which I have added my name.

There will be a lot of severely disabled people who, like me, are terrified of power cuts. We rely through the day and night on electricity to keep us alive. We are not talking about just hot drinks and hot water bottles. In my case, I am talking about a feeding pump, ventilators, riser lavatories, an electric hospital bed, two lifts, a door opener and a wheelchair that needs charging—and, of course, heating and light. There are many others much worse than I am.

In answer to my noble friend’s question on 11 October, the Minister said that the Government would do

“all we can to protect the most vulnerable.”—[Official Report, 11/10/22; col. 662.]

Can he be a bit more specific about exactly what the Government will do? The energy companies are not exactly strapped for cash at the moment, so I hope that, between the energy companies and the Government, there will be proper, practical planning for the most vulnerable customers if outages occur, which could literally make the difference between life and death.

We need reassurance on this; otherwise, we will be fearful of every winter storm. Can the Minister give us this reassurance?

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

May I beg the indulgence of your Lordships’ House: I was in the Grand Committee?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am very sorry, but the Companion is quite clear: if you were not here at the start of the debate, you are unable to speak.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am sad that we cannot hear the words of the noble Baroness, and I very much support her amendment, because she, like me, believes that this Government are not doing anything like enough to reduce energy consumption, the amount of energy expended nor making the most efficient use of the sources of energy available to us.

Other countries are doing far more than we are. Germany, for instance, is rushing to try to reduce its energy consumption by 20% in a very short space of time; we are doing very little about that. On energy efficiency, it was only 11 days ago that the European Union countries got together to celebrate Energy Efficiency Day, and Mr Frans Timmermans, the Commission vice-president responsible for the Green Deal, stated the bleeding obvious, because he said:

“saving energy, not using energy, is the cheapest energy”.

I agree with him, given that it is perfectly possible, given the Long Title of the Bill, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, to have done far more on these issues.

In truth, from this Government, we have had scheme after scheme which has floundered and left the industry in total disarray. As a result, since I was a Minister with some responsibility for this, the amount of energy efficiency work in this country has declined by a staggering 90%. It has gone down by 50% in the past 12 months alone. What we get from the Government is a lot of fine words—the Minister trots them out from time to time—from various government documents. The trouble is that if you follow through on what is said, you discover that there is not much action to back it up.

As an example, the Clean Growth Strategy, a document produced by this Government in October 2017, stated very clearly that:

“The Government will look at a long-term trajectory for energy performance standards across the private rented sector, with the aim of as many private rented homes as possible being upgraded to EPC Band C by 2030, where practical, cost effective and affordable. We will consider options with a view to consulting in 2018”.

The consultation took place, and was in fact extended because of Covid to 8 January 2021. That was 21 months ago, yet we have still not had any evidence of a response from the Government. When are we going to get the results of the consultation and the action promised by the Government around privately rented homes?

The situation is made even worse when you look at socially rented homes, in which the vast majority of those who are less well off are living. Five years ago, that same document said that the Government were going to

“look at how social housing can meet similar standards on the same timetable.”

I understand that consultation is needed before you can go ahead, but one would have thought that by now the consultation would have started. Yet in a letter to me and many other noble Lords in the last few days, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, wrote:

“The Government has now committed to consulting on introducing standards in the social rented sector. This will happen within six months of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill gaining consent”.

The consultation has not even started for something promised five years ago.

We have a lot of fine words from the Government, but in many areas the action does not take place. This is why it is so important that we have Amendment 8 on the statute book, at least in the very minimal way that requires the Government to give us a report on what is happening and what the benefits really are.

In relation to that, I acknowledge that the Minister pointed out at Second Reading that the Government have introduced one new scheme relating to energy efficiency, called ECO+. It will somehow run alongside ECO4, which was preceded by ECO1, 2 and 3. However, we do not know how that will work. It would be helpful to have a little more detail about how the two schemes will work together.

I have a specific question to ask the Minister about this new wonder-scheme. We know from all the evidence that the previous ECO schemes have been raising improvements to people’s homes. The Government claim that those schemes have led to improvements saving people up to £1,000 a year. Looking at the ECO+ documentation, my understanding is that the scheme is in fact expected to lead to a saving for consumers of about only £200 a year. The difference between the savings of the early ECO schemes and what appears to be that of the new scheme is huge. I hope that the Minister can explain to me why that is the case.

I have a couple of amendments down, which I will speak to very briefly. Amendment 10 is based on something from the Government’s own document. On page 12 of this year’s British Energy Security Strategy—which, incidentally, they described as ambitious—it says:

“We will cut the cost for consumers who want to make improvements” to energy efficiency by

“zero-rating VAT for the next five years on the installation of energy saving materials”.

Some of that was introduced by the then Chancellor—I cannot remember how many Chancellors ago that was—back in the Spring Statement. I welcomed this at the time, but I genuinely do not believe it went anywhere near far enough. A large number of energy-saving materials were not included in the list.

At Second Reading, I raised one such example: retrofitting a battery to an existing solar heating scheme. Introducing a battery makes a system infinitely more efficient, which is a benefit to the homeowner and a benefit to the nation as a whole because more energy can be put back into the national grid, not least at times of high demand. At that time, I proposed that VAT on additional, retrofitted batteries should be zero-rated. Batteries needed to be retrofitted because, when many schemes were first introduced, batteries were either too expensive or people did not see the benefits of them.

I then looked at some of the other items that were not in the list. I was staggered to discover that something as simple as double-glazing was not included. The figures are staggering: 86% of homes already have double-glazing but a high proportion—more than a quarter—is old fashioned and nowhere near as efficient as modern double-glazing. The relevant associations which produce the figures are firmly of the view that, if all windows could be brought up to current standards, a staggering £14.5 billion could be saved.

I am not asking the Government to pay for all the double-glazing to be done. However, we know from all the research evidence that reducing VAT would significantly help many people take on the additional burden of uprating their windows to modern double-glazing standards. Evidence has shown the impact of the reduction in VAT in other areas. I am convinced that reducing VAT on double-glazing and on some of the other items mentioned in Amendment 10 would be of enormous benefit.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 11 in my name. I draw the Minister’s attention to my earlier speeches. He has heard me speak on this subject in one form or another on numerous occasions, so I will not repeat it all. Suffice to say that all the evidence shows that this Government claim to believe that putting targets into legislation is beneficial for driving forward investment. I have 60 quotes from current and former Ministers and from government departmental documents that back up the claim that targets put into legislation ensure that action happens.

Amendment 11 is simple. It seeks to put into legislation the targets that the Government have already set for improving the energy efficiency of our homes. It would bring fuel-poor homes up to EPC level C by 2030 and all the rest of the housing stock by 2035. In this country, unlike, for instance, in the countries of our neighbouring friends in the European Union, we have far less efficient homes—15 million homes are below the appropriate energy efficiency targets set by the Government.

The industry has made it very clear that if it is now to invest in the research, training and equipment needed to start doing more work in this field, it needs to have the confidence of targets placed into legislation. The Government have refused this on numerous occasions so far, and not once have I heard a good reason from any Minister. I am optimistic that, on this occasion, I might get a decent reply. I look forward to hearing it.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:00 pm, 24th October 2022

My Lords, many of the amendments in this group are sensible and could easily be accepted by the Government. We on these Benches will support Amendment 8 if the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, tests the opinion of the House. The Member’s explanatory statement is exactly as the noble Lord said, and it is a modest amendment:

“This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report”— just to report—

“on the impact of energy efficiency programmes in reducing energy costs.”

It is modest indeed, and I am at a loss as to why His Majesty’s Government are not willing to accept it.

To quote from the government website:

“Improving the energy efficiency of UK buildings is the quickest way we can support families and businesses, to respond to rising energy prices.”

I am sure we all agree. It goes on:

“Improving the efficiency of our homes could reduce our heating bills by around 20% and reduce our dependency on foreign gas.”

Again, that is something I am sure we all agree with, so these amendments are in line with BEIS’s priorities and language.

As the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, said, the UK has some of the least energy-efficient housing in Europe. According to my figures, 19 million homes are estimated to be below EPC band C. His figure was 15 million; I am sure he will forgive the 4 million. In excess of 10 million homes are worse than EPC band C. Under the Conservatives, home insulation rates have plummeted. In 2013, the then Government cut energy efficiency programmes, after which insulation rates fell by 92% in 2013. Further to that, new statistics show that home insulation dropped again by 62% in the second quarter of 2022 compared with the first quarter, with only 35,000 installations being recorded. The Resolution Foundation estimates that 9 million households are paying an extra £170 per year on their energy bills as a result of these failures. Since then, the Government have botched the green homes grant, which has yet to be adequately replaced.

These amendments would help with the bills people have to pay, and they would help the Government, the country and consumers. On top of this, Labour would give the devolved Administrations the power and resources to bring every home in their area up to EPC band C or higher within a decade.

The chief executive of E.ON, Michael Lewis, has pointed out that a sustained programme of energy efficiency could have reduced the amount of energy used in UK homes by 25%. That is the equivalent of six Hinkley Point C power stations. As we have heard throughout the debate on these amendments, the cheapest energy is the energy we do not use. A simple uprating of a home from EPC band D to band C would save the bill payer some £500 a year on the basis of April prices, so if it is put to the test we will support Amendment 8.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for their interventions. This group includes amendments relating to energy efficiency and energy savings which would help to reduce energy costs and, of course, ensure energy supply for vulnerable consumers, which I will come on to shortly. I completely agree with noble Lords that improving the energy performance of domestic and non-domestic properties is vital in the context of affordability, energy security and fuel poverty.

Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson, Lord Foster and Lord McNicol, would require the Secretary of State to produce a report on the effectiveness of energy efficiency programmes in reducing energy costs. The Government already evaluate the impact of their energy efficiency programmes and publish extensive energy statistics and evaluation reports as a matter of course. There really is no shortage of published materials on these matters, and I believe that they sufficiently cover the intention of this amendment. Bedtime reading for noble Lords interested in this matter includes the Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report: 2021, the Household Energy Efficiency Statistics, and the English Housing Survey, commissioned annually, on housing circumstances, condition and energy efficiency in England. Therefore, I am not sure there is any more information we could provide noble Lords with, and we believe this amendment to be unnecessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also asked about a government public campaign on energy demand reduction. As I have mentioned in this House before, I have been working with officials and we have just launched our new website on GOV.UK—we have migrated the SEA site over to the government website and updated it. We now provide home owners with a kind of home energy MOT that gives impartial recommendations and could help them save hundreds of pounds a year. It is linked to the EPC database, so it provides personalised information on people’s property. Of course, we will be rolling that out further and linking it to several other sources of advice from energy companies, charities and others, to make sure that people have the information they need to make energy efficiency savings.

Amendment 9, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would require the Secretary of State to formally assess the merits of introducing social energy tariffs. I would never accuse the noble Lord of wanting to go back in time or of being stuck in the past, but in 2011 the Government of which his party was a part replaced social tariffs in the energy sector with the warm home discount scheme. The warm home discount is a better scheme than the then social tariff scheme; it provides a consistent level of support, standardised across all the participating energy suppliers. It has been an improvement on the previous arrangement of voluntary social tariffs—not all companies took part in them—where the level of benefits and eligibility varied between energy suppliers.

I hope the noble Lord is not suggesting that we should go back to that time. The warm home discount was introduced as an improvement to the old social tariff system. Any new social tariff would be almost identical to the warm home discount in its design and operation. It is already a mandated, targeted mechanism to reduce the cost of energy for those in vulnerable circumstances, on benefits et cetera. If the noble Lord thinks about it, he will accept that this is a better way of doing essentially the same thing, but I do not disagree at all with the objective. In short, this proposal simply seeks to provide benefits to vulnerable energy consumers that are already provided by the existing warm home discount model, and it would add a further level of complexity to the support system. Certainly, to judge by my postbag from Members of Parliament, it is already quite a complex system with complex eligibility requirements, and I do not think we would be well served by adding to that complexity.

Before I turn to Amendments 10 and 11 from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, let me answer the questions he asked me. He compared ECO4, the current iteration of the energy company obligation, and the forthcoming ECO+, and highlighted that there could be different levels of bill savings in each one. The reason for that is that the energy company obligation is an obligation based on suppliers; it used to be bill funded and is now funded by the Exchequer. One of the elements of the mini-Budget that remains—the last time I looked—is the ECO+ announcement that I worked hard to get in there, and we will shortly be consulting on the way it works. We project lesser bill savings because we want to do more under that scheme. The latest iteration of ECO4 looks at whole-house retrofits, so it is obviously much more expensive and treats fewer whole-house property refits. We have to consult on the details of ECO+, but the idea is that it would provide a smaller number of targeted measures, possibly only two or three, such as loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and heating controls.

Even though they are both called “ECO”, they will be targeted at different parts of the market; indeed I hope ECO+ will be targeted more at the able-to-pay market—those who are not necessarily on benefits and slightly above benefit level but who are still suffering and could take advantage of some support. The noble Lord will not have long to wait. We are working on policy design now and we will consult shortly on how that will work. The House will have an opportunity to debate the regulations and it is my intention to have this up and running as early as possible next year.

The noble Lord also asked me about the PRS regulations. As he correctly said, we consulted on them; we are currently looking at the recommendations and working on a government response. If I am honest with the noble Lord, it is about getting the balance right between wanting to see improvements and operating in the private rented sector and not doing so at the expense of less rented properties being available where there are already shortages in many areas. It is about trying to get the balance right between, on the one hand, obliging landlords to improve their property and, on the other, not wanting to provide them with incentives to leave the market.

Amendment 10 would zero-rate VAT for battery storage when used to store energy generated by solar panels, and measures to reduce energy demand in domestic properties. The installation of central heating system controls and insulation draught stripping already qualify for the zero rate for energy saving materials. The noble Lord will, of course, know that changes to tax policy are considered as part of the Budget process. If he has ever had interactions with the Treasury, he will know that this is important and will be jealously guarded. Tax policy decisions are taken in the context of the Government’s wider fiscal position. It permits sufficient time to consider the impact of any changes on government finances and individual taxpayers. The Treasury would wish him to know that that it keeps all taxes under review and welcomes representations to help inform future decisions on tax policy. I am sure that the noble Lord will want to feed in his views to Treasury, as we all do.

Amendment 11 would make it a legal requirement, as of 31 December 2022, for all fuel-poor households to be upgraded to band C by 2030 and all other households by 2035, with specified exemptions. The Government already have a statutory requirement to upgrade as many fuel-poor homes to band C as is reasonably practicable by 2030, and we have set out in the 2021 fuel poverty strategy how we intend to do so. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 placed an obligation on the Secretary of State to make regulations that have as their objective the improvement of households in fuel poverty by a target date. Such regulations have been made for each of the devolved nations. The Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set out their own approaches. This amendment seeks to replicate that requirement. I therefore submit that it is unnecessary.

We remain committed to our aspiration of improving as many homes as possible to EPC C by 2035, where that is cost effective, affordable and practical. However, we need to retain flexibility to choose the best approach, including how and when to introduce reforms, rather than being restricted by a statutory longstop date. This will ensure that we set policy that reflects best practice in the industry and that homeowners will not be required to make upgrades that are sometimes inappropriate for their property.

We move on to the important issues raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thomas, in Amendment 12, which would require a

“strategic plan for the supply of energy for those who are disabled or seriously ill”.

I know that this is an important issue and one to which the noble Baronesses are deeply committed.

As I think the noble Baroness said, electricity distribution network operators are obliged to maintain priority services registers to ensure that support is given to the most vulnerable customers during power disruption, including those customers who are disabled and rely on electricity-powered devices. Furthermore, as the noble Baroness also said, under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, network operators are required to liaise with local authorities, strategic co-ordinating groups and third parties such as local resilience forums and partnerships to share information about vulnerable customers and work together to provide welfare support.

While the right processes and duties are in place—I think the noble Baroness recognises this—she and others have concerns about how it is working in practice. We are also keen to ensure that all relevant parties are co-ordinated as they should be. A review was carried out as a result of the electricity disruption faced during the storms of 2021-22. As a result of its key recommendations, distribution network operators have since created a guidance document and standard presentation to ensure consistency and clarity on provision of welfare and support during such incidents. This will form the basis of network operators’ winter liaison with local resilience partnerships. As I mentioned, I completely agree that a crucial issue has been raised. The Cabinet Office has responsibility for ensuring the plan is implemented. I will certainly pass on the noble Baroness’s comments and ensure with them that this is followed through.

Amendment 15A was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I am sorry she was not able to speak to it. It would give the Secretary of State powers to introduce measures such as reducing unnecessary lighting, advertising, heating and air conditioning in commercial premises. It is right that commercial and other organisations should look to be energy efficient. We already have measures such as the energy savings opportunity scheme for large businesses to achieve exactly that.

While I commend the sentiment of the amendment, I do not consider that the noble Baroness’s approach is the right one. The Government believe that it is for businesses to make decisions on the basis of the information they have available to them. We want to avoid unnecessary and burdensome regulation. There would also be practical complications in delivering such regulations; for example, in defining unnecessary heating or lighting, as well as potentially significant enforcement costs and risks.

We will also publish a review into the operation of the energy bill relief scheme in three months to inform decisions on future support. The review will focus particularly on identifying the most vulnerable non-domestic customers and how the Government will continue assisting them with their energy costs. They are likely to be those who are least able to adjust by, for example, reducing their energy usage or increasing their energy efficiency.

In conclusion, I have sought to assure noble Lords who tabled amendments in this group that the Government are committed to energy efficiency and supporting vulnerable consumers. Therefore, I hope they will perhaps not press their amendments—but looking at the gathering of the clans, I suspect not.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health) 5:15 pm, 24th October 2022

I asked the Minister whether he would meet me, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and representatives of disabled peoples’ organisations. I think I heard him say that this was more appropriately handled by the Cabinet Office. Would he help me to ensure that this same group, including myself, could meet the relevant Minister in the Cabinet Office on this issue?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I will certainly reply, although of course I cannot speak for Cabinet Office Ministers. I checked and they do have responsibility for ensuring that the Civil Contingencies Act is followed and implemented. I will certainly do my best to facilitate what the noble Baroness wants.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s response to my noble friend Lady Brinton on that important issue. He said that there are already lots of statistics for energy efficiency: absolutely, there are. They are all over the place, and every time you need to search for them, you have to work out what they are. One, from the energy poverty statistics, points out that, in England alone, 3.6 million households are in fuel poverty. That was in 2020, before this crisis.

Although the Bill, which we welcome in principle, is there to solve that problem—or not make it any worse—let us remember that the present average price cap is £2,500 per household, which is getting on for double what it was in 2020. So the level of fuel poverty will hugely increase.

There may be good will or a wish among the Government but, whatever the Minister says—I do not doubt his sincerity—there is never a major move forward in the form of action on energy efficiency and demand reduction that actually makes a difference. As my colleague and noble friend Lord Foster, and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, we have some of the least efficient housing and commercial building stock in this country. That is why we need to reboot the whole energy efficiency and demand reduction conversation, which must lead to action. This amendment is not the end of that process; it is a modest but essential start. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

Ayes 170, Noes 174.

Division number 1 Energy Prices Bill - Committee — Amendment 8

Aye: 168 Members of the House of Lords

No: 172 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 8 disagreed.

Amendments 9 to 12 not moved.