Home Energy Conservation Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 2nd February 2002.

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[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle 10:32 pm, 2nd February 2002

I apologise to the Committee for being slightly late.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, if proceedings on the Home Energy Conservation Bill are not concluded at today's sitting, the Committee do meet on Tuesday 26th February at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Dr. Desmond Turner.]

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

I am content with that proposal, but I rise to present briefly our attitude to the Bill. We had a useful exchange of views at our first sitting. I welcome the opportunity to consider the Bill in detail. I stress that the Government are pleased to support the Bill, which covers the most important issues of domestic energy conservation, fuel poverty and houses in multiple occupation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) for introducing the Bill and for the considerable amount of work that he has done. I say that sincerely, not symbolically.

There has been some unscrupulous and irresponsible lobbying about the Government's attitude to the Bill, and I want to set the record straight. As we discuss each clause, members of the Committee will understand how wrong some of those suggestions are. There have been some suggestions that the Government are trying to scupper the Bill. Let me make it clear that the Government continue to support the proposal. I have gone out of my way to support it, and it remains in accord with its overall aims. We have been working hard to make the legislation more effective, so that we can achieve the desired outcomes of improved domestic energy efficiency, fewer people living in fuel-poor households, and better conditions for people living in houses in multiple occupation.

We are strongly committed to improving energy efficiency and ending the blight of fuel poverty. Energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change. The domestic sector makes a significant contribution to the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions. Slightly more than a quarter of such emissions come from homes. Domestic energy efficiency is also one of the ways in which we can reduce the problem of fuel poverty. We have set a target in our fuel poverty strategy, which was published in November, to deal with the vast majority of fuel-poor homes by 2010. We have set a challenging target in the new energy efficiency commitment for electricity and gas suppliers to improve domestic energy efficiency. The commitment will come into effect in April. Under those proposals, 50 per cent. of energy savings must be directed at low-income consumers.

The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—HECA, as we all call it—attempts to tackle the problem of domestic energy consumption. We all agree that it was not as successful as was hoped, and that something needs to be done. That is common ground. The Government therefore welcome the aims of the Bill, but we must be careful that in our enthusiasm we do not pass a sloppy Bill. That would not help to improve domestic energy efficiency. It is the Committee's collective responsibility to pass legislation that is legally correct and watertight. It should complement and augment existing legislation, not repeat it, which could lead to problems. HECA covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but this Bill addresses only England and Wales. New legislation that draws attention to action already covered under HECA could undermine that legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland by giving the wrong impression that the action was not covered in the original Act in those areas. That would be unhelpful.

Cost is critical. I am urgently considering how much it would cost local authorities to implement the various proposals. I am sure that the Committee would not expect the Government to impose new burdens on local authorities without being able to offer funding to meet them. However, the Government cannot sign a blank cheque. Those are the key issues behind the Government's amendments in parts 1 and 2. Some are purely technical and are designed to address issues about how the Bill is drafted. Others are intended to tidy up the Bill to reduce overlap with other legislation. All the amendments are intended to ensure that we end up with new legislation that is legally watertight and effective. I have been working especially closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown on the energy conservation aspects of the Bill, and I hope that we can make real progress towards legislation, of which we can all justly be proud.

Part 3 seeks to address some of the most serious problems of the private rented sector of the housing market, which affect many of the most vulnerable in our society. Members of the Committee will be aware of the Government's commitment to tackle those problems. Our plans for licensing the houses in multiple occupation sector, in tandem with reforms to the housing fitness standards and other measures to tackle problems in the poorest areas through the selective licensing of landlords in areas of low demand, will achieve our aim of promoting a healthier private rented sector.

So, while the measures in the Bill will not fully meet our commitment to legislate to achieve these wider goals, they will deliver an important step towards achieving our ultimate goal. I commend my hon. Friend for his work with my officials and me, and for his commitment to ensure that the Bill delivers what many people—I hope, all of us—want.

I say all that to repudiate the thoroughly unscrupulous and irresponsible claims made in some quarters that the Government want to undermine or scupper the Bill. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Government's response on each of the commitments will show.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I reiterate the general support that we have offered at each stage of the Bill. It has the potential to become a good Bill. We particularly support parts 1 and 2 on energy efficiency and fuel poverty. We have reservations about part 3. We support the general aim, but specific aspects such as the redefinition of houses in multiple occupation require considerable debate. I support the new sittings motion tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, which will allow us to reconvene on Tuesday 26 February at 10.30. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants the Committee to reach the end of part 2 today. We can then debate part 3 in detail.

I should like to give the Committee the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon). He was keen to attend today, but Her Majesty the Queen is visiting his constituency to open a new police headquarters. He is attending upon Her Majesty and cannot be with us in these august surroundings today.

Question put and agreed to.