Clause 1 - Targets for energy efficiency improvements

Home Energy Conservation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:32 pm on 2nd February 2002.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment) 10:32 pm, 2nd February 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 1, line 4, leave out from 'shall' to end of line 17 and insert—

'take all such steps as are reasonably practicable to implement the measures set out in any energy conservation report prepared by the authority.

( ) Where any measures set out in such a report have been modified by a further report, the measures referred to in subsection (1) are the measures as modified.'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this we may take the following: Amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, in line 4, at end insert—

'( ) Where the report includes any energy efficiency target, however expressed, and a date or a time-scale set by the authority for meeting any such energy efficiency target, the requirement in subsection (1) to implement the measures in the report is a requirement to implement those measures by that date or within the time-scale.'.

Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, leave out 'achieve' and insert—

'ensure that'.

Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 6, leave out 'it'.

Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 7, leave out '('the 1995 Act')' and insert—

'are met'.

Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'Secretary of State' and insert—

'appropriate authority'.

Amendment No. 5, in page 1, leave out lines 13 and 14.

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

The amendment would require energy conservation authorities to take all reasonably practicable steps to implement the measures in energy conservation reports, including any modified reports. It represents a considerable step forward from the current HECA requirements. As hon. Members will know, the 1995 Act places a duty on authorities only

to prepare energy conservation reports and then report progress. It does not provide a clear legal duty to implement any measures in their reports, which means, paradoxically, that they can make virtually no improvements yet still comply with the legislation. That is clearly nonsense and the amendment is designed to put that right.

I accept that that does not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown and several other hon. Members would like. I agree with the principle that authorities should have worthwhile targets and should achieve them. However, we need to be clear what the targets are and to come up with proposals for the best way of achieving them without imposing excessive costs on local authorities.

In the time available we have not been able to assess fully the likely cost implications for authorities of placing on them a duty to meet energy conservation targets. I assure the Committee that this is not for lack of trying. I simply have not had the means to reach those estimates until now. We are examining the matter, but until the information is available, the Committee will understand that I cannot make any more specific commitment.

However, I undertake that, subject to a full consideration of the costs, the Government will table on Report an amendment that will have the effect of requiring authorities to set and then take all necessary steps, so far as reasonably practicable, to meet the targets set out in the energy conservation reports. The reports and targets would need to be drawn up in accordance with guidance provided by us. The amendment would therefore introduce a new requirement for authorities to set a target and to take the necessary steps to meet it, but the Bill will not specify what the target should be.

There is a good reason for tabling such an amendment. The original Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 did not contain targets. In setting targets, we need to take into account the fact that the performance of local authorities across the country varies enormously. We should not be blind to some of the practical difficulties in giving authorities a duty to set and meet targets. The 1995 Act and guidance make it clear that some of the measures that will help achieve the improvement target will be outside authorities' control. Most of the improvements will be made through non-local authority programmes—as I mentioned in my comments on the sittings motion—such as the energy efficiency commitment and the warm front schemes, as well as through action by millions of individual householders.

The role of authorities is to facilitate and encourage the take-up of the programmes and activities so far as they can, and to take action in their own stock. They should not have to achieve the whole target on their own. It should be possible to estimate for any local authority how much will be achieved through the energy efficiency commitment, which is due to start in two months' time, how much can be achieved through the home energy efficiency scheme and the warm front

programme, and then to look at the increment that the authority has to achieve and to cost that. We shall need to address that issue carefully in our amendment and in guidance.

I am also aware that authorities' targets vary considerably and that energy conservation reports have been drawn up to reflect differing local circumstances. They are based on different assumptions and information, they vary in technical merit and they have differing levels of ambition and realism. Some may not even have set targets. I believe that a handful have not drawn up reports. We shall address those issues in our amendment and in guidance so that we and energy conservation authorities can be sure that the targets that they have to achieve are fair and robust, but stretching. I want those targets to be as stretching as they reasonably can be.

I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that the Government amendment to require authorities to implement the measures in their report is a helpful provision in its own right. It would complement and pave the way for a requirement to set and achieve the targets. That is what I want to do, and I repeat that, subject to full assurance about the costs, I propose to do that on Report. On that basis, I commend the amendment to the Committee and hope that hon. Members understand the Government's wholehearted commitment to what I believe is the most important measure in the Bill—the establishment of new targets and the measures and the commitment to implement them that were not included in the 1995 Act.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 10:45 am, 2nd February 2002

I have tabled amendment (a) with the hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) and for Guildford (Sue Doughty). As the Minister explained, it would remove the notion of targets from guidelines and put them into the Bill. It is a simple and straightforward proposition, which was endorsed by the House on Second Reading and by the Minister and many of his colleagues.

To set out why an amendment is needed, it is always helpful to cite the Minister whose amendment one is trying to amend. Debating the money resolution, the Minister for the Environment said:

The main requirement of part 1 of the Bill is for local authorities to take measures, so far as reasonably practicable, to achieve targets for energy efficiency improvements set out in their reports under the 1995 Act.—[Official Report, 14 January 2002; Vol. 378, c. 123.]

The Minister has realised, as we have, that targets are the lynchpin of the Bill. We know from reports that were prepared for the Minister on the performance of local authorities under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 that the average improvement rate of 6 per cent. is at best a partial success. Some authorities such as Chester made great progress in delivering a 19.56 per cent. energy efficiency improvement since 1995, while those at the unacceptable end of the scale include Maldon, which had a reported improvement rate of 0.09 per cent., and four authorities with no figures available. At that rate, some authorities will move nowhere while others continue to set the pace in

delivering what the Government and Parliament wanted in passing HECA.

The importance of having targets is perhaps best reflected in two other references about where the measure fits in with the plans to meet the Government's overall targets. We have clear commitments on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They are part of our Kyoto commitments and ones for which the Minister has been pre-eminent in fighting, not only in this country but on the international stage. He deserves enormous praise for that. The difficulty comes in questions about whether we have the programmes, mechanisms and targets in place for delivering that to which the Government are already committed. In a report from the Solar Millennium Project of Forum for the Future, which was published in September 2001, the prospect for meeting our existing targets were set out starkly in the report's summary. The opening sentence says:

By 2010 the UK Government aims to achieve a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels.

At the end of the two-paragraph introduction, it states:

However the study indicates that on current policies, the target will not be met,

and the conclusion is:

It is clear that current policies will have to be extended beyond those in the HEE scenario, implying a much greater effort to improve home energy efficiency, and so reduce carbon emissions from households, if the UK Government is to reach its Climate Change target for this sector.

The report of the performance and innovation unit, which has not yet been formally published but appears on the website, notes that the report

puts forward a programme to produce a step change in the nation's energy efficiency, led by the Government itself. At the centre would be a new target—to ensure that domestic consumers' energy efficiency improves by 20 per cent. between now and 2010, and again by a further 20 per cent. between 2010 and 2020. This would approximately double the existing rate of improvement.

The two reports together present us with an awesome challenge. The first acknowledges that we will not reach our existing targets on our current framework of commitments. The second says that the targets themselves are not sufficient to meet our climate change obligations. We should consider the Bill against that backdrop.

Many hon. Members know how serious the Minister is about performance and targets. In September last year, he wrote to his ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about performance under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995:

In the first four years of HECA, authorities in England have reported an overall improvement of just over 6 per cent. This is to be welcomed but is clearly wholly inadequate. To help them make better progress, we are undertaking a review of the existing policy framework within which local authorities in England carry out their energy efficiency activities. The review will be broad ranging and will address, amongst other things, the working of HECA, including making the 30 per cent. target more robust.

The Minister asked his civil servants to consult and work on the basis of that instruction.

There is not a shred of evidence that the Minister has been uncommitted or unenthusiastic about

delivering on our targets. However, a scenario unfolded in the events that followed. The closest that I can come to visualising the exchanges that must have taken place is a re-enactment of one of Victoria Wood's songs, ''Let's Do It'', in which she has a wonderful cameo exchange with herself. One part of her says, ''Let's do it, I want to lose control, this has to happen.'' The response of her other self is, ''I can't do it. I'm really not in the mood.''

I believe that discussions took place, not between Ministers but between Ministers and civil servants, about whether we can do it. The exchanges were a behind-the-scenes version of ''No, Minister'': in a succession of advice notes and discussions, civil servants consistently gave the Minister wretched, misleading and, at times, dishonest advice. The obstructions thrown in front of the Government do no credit to the notion that the role of the civil service is to enact Government policy, rather than to frustrate it.

As part of the follow up to his committees, the Minister pulled together a steering group of representatives of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, non-governmental organisations and local government as part of the local authority energy review. The review sought to deliver what the Minister described as more robust targets. However, that was not the message conveyed to those who took part in it. Somewhere in the transmission process, civil servants began to talk not about strengthening the targets and making them more robust, but about watering them down; they talked about aspirational targets rather than legally binding obligations.

The steering group was thus presented with a number of problems, not least of which was that it discovered when it tested the water that far from being hostile to the notion of having legally binding targets, local authorities were quite keen on them. A letter sent recently by Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, as secretary of the Local Government Association, stated:

We continue to support the thrust of clause 1.1 of the Bill which relates to the targets, but would consider it unrealistic to seek to modify the provisions further in any attempt to impose greater responsibility on ECAs. We do though, welcome the provisions giving local authorities powers to set targets for Registered Social Landlords which we believe will be helpful in achieving the aims of the Bill.

The steering group found itself in a bizarre, Catch-22 situation. Its members were invited to be members of the panel, which met on three occasions, and the panel's presumption was that it would develop on the basis of what DEFRA referred to as shared ownership of the review's recommendations. However, as set out in a letter to the Minister on 1 February, the local authority and NGO representatives

have not been shown either the recommendations that were sent to you, or the external submissions sent to the review.

It is hard to understand how anyone can have shared ownership of a process if they are denied access to the

relevant documents, or sight of the recommendations forwarded to the Minister.

The members of the panel include Tim German of the Cornwall local authority support programme, Richard Hurford from the London borough of Lewisham, Michael King of Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes, Graham Osborne of Brighton and Hove city council and Andrew Warren, director of the Association of Conservation of Energy. They are not fly-by-night interests in the energy efficiency programme but key partners who stood by us and worked with all parties in Parliament to produce this constructive measure, irrespective of the party in government. They are the social partners who are keen to work with the Government to deliver this programme, yet they say that they have been specifically and systematically excluded from the real partnership in the review process. Their letter concludes:

We believe that the 30 per cent. target under HECA should be maintained and that taking measures to achieve the target, as far as reasonably practicable, should become a legal duty.

Far from their being hostile, or dragging their feet, they are asking the Government and the civil service to deliver in a robust manner against a statutory obligation.

The next part of the process involved a series of representations in which Ministers were told that colleagues in other Departments objected to the notion of including targets in the Bill. Several hon. Members have spoken to ministerial colleagues in various Departments and were surprised at their surprise at the reluctance to include targets in the Bill. Many Ministers were surprised to discover that objections had been registered. It emerged that objections to the system were not ministerial or party political—it was not people in the Government or on Opposition Benches who were holding back the targets. The objection and hostility came from civil servants.

Looking through the figures on delivery of the HECA targets, the objections are not surprising. It is conspicuously obvious from consideration of the table of local authority performances that departmental initiatives to ensure delivery of HECA in the period after its implementation were not followed. Non-delivery became the order of the day. Not having targets is an effective mechanism for concealing the amount of work that has not been done in implementing an Act. Merely having aspirations to pursue is a fabulous position in which the civil service should find itself. Aspirations are like mists that disappear in the night, but targets require us to state exactly what we have delivered.

I understand those who have spent much time not delivering being keen on a framework in which non-delivery continues to be the order of the day. The amendment would move us from a culture of non-delivery to one in which we can legitimately follow through the partnership that exists throughout the different parts of Parliament and reaches out to almost every sector of the country and the public interest. Targets involve our own credibility—not only of the Committee but of Parliament. They mean that we are seen not only to issue warm words but to deliver home

warmth in programmes for which we are willing to be held accountable.

The second set of objections that were presented to Ministers on targets stated that even if they were desirable, they are not legal because parliamentary counsel will not allow them. Fortunately, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown had the wisdom to go directly to independent parliamentary counsel to have the Bill and several related amendments drafted. That is what happened with my amendment (a). Lesley Furlonger, who has a background of 20 or 30 years' experience in parliamentary counsel, went through the Bill, the amendments and the arguments that one could not have targets in the Bill. Her written response was:

I don't understand their view that once the authority has made a report which has targets in it, new legislation cannot require those targets to be met so far as is reasonably possible. I don't know of any drafting reason to stop this being done.

But this smacks of drafting problems being dressed up to hide policy differences!

That is probably true. The policy differences are not between hon. Members or parties but between Ministers and officials.

The final point that I throw in the Minister's path is the notion that even if targets were desirable or legal, they are not affordable. That presents the Minister with a different Catch-22. If one considers the progress that has been made under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, it is clear that the best performing authorities have delivered energy efficiency improvements within the framework of government provision. They have done it out of their existing allocations and by drawing on specific government schemes. They have entered into or constructed local partnerships, all aimed at delivering home warmth and home energy efficiency.

The best performing authorities have stayed within budget. There has not been a cavalry charge of local authorities saying that they can deliver only on receipt of a blank cheque. Why have the worst performing authorities done so little? The most common explanation is that if it is optional the authorities that understand the seriousness of the problem and want to do something follow the suggested path, but those with little or no interest opt to do nothing. Removing the option places an obligation on the worst to meet the standards of the best within exactly the same framework of provision and constraints. It is not a blank cheque commitment.

The more that the Government seek to remove targets from the Bill or obligations in respect of residential social landlords or houses in multiple occupation, and the more that they remove the regulatory framework that requires obligations to be in place across the piece, the more one is left with the presumption that the only way to meet the targets in the different sectors will be with a huge blank cheque provided by the Government. Ironically, the setting of targets throughout the Bill across the different sectors would assist the Minister in reducing the size of the cheque that is waved in front of him to sign. It could help him to convince his Cabinet colleagues that that wonderful sweeping gesture of environmental

commitment and social responsibility will not bankrupt the Treasury. Perversely, all the pressure on the Minister to remove the targets from the Bill would increase the fear that without other people having shared obligations, the costs to the Government would be even greater.

Finally, if we have no targets in the Bill, we deeply frustrate and undermine the role that the private energy sector has sought to play in the development of energy efficiency programmes and partnerships. That has been frustrating at times. It is certainly complicated because it crosses different ministerial briefs, but it is worth putting on the record a tribute to the response from the different sections of the energy industry that are willing to go down a path of a much bolder and more imaginative commitment to energy efficiency that stretches well beyond the issuing of low-energy light bulbs. Many of the energy suppliers are already in discussions with local authorities about strategic programmes of serious improvements in home energy efficiency to which they can be long-term contributors, as long as they know the rules of the game.

In the last briefing of the energy industry to the parliamentary warm homes group, the consistent plea was for a rules-based framework within which it can operate, and it was specifically related to different sectors of the housing market. In houses in the multiple occupation sector, for example, we cannot ask the energy industry to twist the arms of private owners of rented properties or of residential social landlords and then say, ''We are not only going to make you do it but we will offer you the means of doing so, out of which we shall provide some form of contract.'' If the Government place them in that position, they will be seen as the villains, not the enablers. We might be seen as wreckers rather than reformers of the process of delivering a nation-wide commitment to energy efficiency across all housing sectors.

So the energy industry asked for a rules-based framework and for targets to be built into the Bill, which would facilitate discussions with property owners. The industry could say, ''We have targets to meet, so how shall we set about achieving them?'', and provide various options if the owners were interested—clearly an enabling and supporting role, built on recognition that everyone has obligations to meet the targets. The discussion would then be about how best, rather than whether, to achieve them. Building targets into the Bill thus strengthens the hand of the private sector to contribute to sharing the costs of the overall programme.

It seems perverse for me to be a champion of the private sector. It is not a role to which I am accustomed. It would be crass of me not to recognise that the energy sector has a genuine interest and commitment to delivering the Government's targets. It merely wants us to take the targets as seriously as it does. In that context, we should ask the Minister to accept amendment (a), which simply builds commitments to targets into the amended form of words suggested by the Minister. It takes issue with no

part of his wording. Instead, it is designed to provide clearer meaning by defining a target-spaced framework to follow through.

I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment. As I said at the outset, it was tabled on a cross-party basis in the spirit of genuinely wanting to deliver what the Government have consistently said that they intend to deliver. It provides a mechanism that would give Parliament credibility with the public at large, who would see that we were willing to set out a targets base in primary legislation and then in subsequent guidance provide the mechanisms to achieve it. It is not a wrecking amendment. Instead, it provides the only basis for delivering the objectives that we all say we are serious about achieving.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown 11:15 pm, 2nd February 2002

Our debate has been interesting: its halting progress so far illustrates how tricky matters can be, even when 16 people fundamentally agree on objectives.

I agree with the Minister when he spelt out the terms of the amendment that he proposes to introduce on Report. I have difficulty not with that but with the obligation to meet targets in Committee, as that fundamentally weakens the Bill. No one wants that, including the Minister, and it seems inappropriate for us to include in the Bill something that none of us thinks is correct. I am therefore glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) moved amendment (a), as it reintroduces the targets and restores the thrust of the Bill on Second Reading. I assume that my amendments will fall. They are principally drafting amendments and no more than that. They do not change the thrust of the Bill.

Amendment No. 6 is the only amendment that would make a difference. It would require ''the appropriate authority'' to consult local authorities and registered social landlords who must deliver, before it set targets and guidance. It is ''the appropriate authority'', as we must remember that we have devolution. It is therefore not just ''the Secretary of State'', but ''the Secretary of State for England'' and the ''National Assembly for Wales''. That is a reasonable and practical proposition. The Bill is a crucial piece of legislation and we should not mess it up. The opportunity will not be repeated for some time because of the lack of speed in the workings of Parliament.

The Bill's importance is underlined by the widely leaked and entirely publicly available report from the performance and innovation unit. The report examines future energy provision and takes energy conservation as an assumption in the equation. It proposes a programme to produce a step change in the nation's energy efficiency, which the Government would lead. At the centre would be a new target to ensure that domestic consumers' energy efficiency improved by 20 per cent. between now and 2010, and 20 per cent. between 2010 and 2020. That target equates so closely with the targets in the HECA guidance that there is no practical difference. The HECA takes 1995 as its start date, so the target is not significantly different. Given the current progress against the HECA targets, if we

are going to have a ghost of a chance of achieving the targets set out in the PIU report by 2010, we must start acting now. Two years down the line—the soonest that a Bill can reach the statute book—would be too late to enable the targets to be met. The Bill is the only show in town if we are going to meet that target.

Another interesting report is the Cambridge Econometrics report, which was prepared at the request of the Energy Saving Trust. The report deals with carbon emissions, but comes to the same conclusions. It considered two scenarios. The base case is a continuation of existing practice. Carbon emissions and energy use do not decrease between 1990 and 2010; they increase for households by 19 per cent.

The second case in the model is the home energy efficiency scheme that is in development. Things are a little better according to that scenario, but the result is still only a 5.5 per cent. reduction by 2010, which is well short of the targets on which hon. Members on both sides of the House agree. Whether on the environment, carbon emissions or providing for future energy needs, there is agreement to within a fraction of a per cent., which is neither here nor there. However, there is no way in which we can achieve our targets and aims without statutory provision, and the Bill is the only way in which we can make that statutory provision in time. That is why it is important to make it work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South raised two other problems. One is the question of legality and whether the current drafting or the amendment to the Minister's amendment—if it is passed—fulfil one school of thought of parliamentary counsel, which would still have it that there is no statutory reference for the setting of targets. The Minister and I have discussed that point, however, and I hope that the final and considered amendment that he tables on Report will make it clear that, under the terms of the Bill, target setting is a statutory requirement, as is the fulfilment of those targets. I am sure that that is not beyond the wit of draftsmen. That point should be carefully addressed. I know that there are two schools of thought, but let us not take chances. I hope that by the time the process has finished, we will have it right.

Then there are the spending implications. Again, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South that giving local authorities a statutory obligation to meet targets does not imply opening the floodgates of money, because those authorities that have performed outstandingly well compared to others—there are some—have done so without asking for money. They have used government money that is already available through energy saving schemes. The resources are quite considerable. Therefore if an authority that has performed at zero or has not even bothered to set a target says, ''We need a few million quid before we can do this, guv'', my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be fully entitled to say, ''No, you're not having so much as a pound until you can demonstrate the same level of commitment as other authorities.''

It is a matter of dedication, will, enthusiasm and expertise. Action can be taken without massive extra resources. I am as opposed to wasteful use of resources as anyone. Resources are precious and we should not give lazy local authorities resources to squander. If there is to be any extra expenditure, I would advocate it being heavily justified. Under that sort of regime there would not be much extra expenditure unless the Government were to make a conscious decision to inject more resources to achieve a greater target. However, that is a different issue. I agree that it would be unwise to set a number in the Bill, but at the end of the day the Bill must show clearly that the appropriate authority shall set a number and that local authorities shall be under an obligation to meet it.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet 11:30 am, 2nd February 2002

It is a great pleasure to be on the Committee serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. As you will know, I am pleased to be a sponsor of the Bill. As you will see from the amendment paper, I am a supporter of amendment (a), to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South spoke. Much of what I was going to say has already been said by the two previous speakers, so I can be brief.

Clause 1 goes to the heart of part 1 of this important Bill. In setting targets, it puts flesh on the bones of previous legislation. I pay tribute to the Minister, who has a deserved reputation for promoting energy conservation and efficiency and who has campaigned to alleviate fuel poverty. I thought that the Minister was a keen supporter of setting targets to advance the causes in which he so passionately believes. I must say that his comments came as a disappointment to me. The Minister mentioned that people say that he is not committed; I dissociate myself from them. I have not heard that myself. If there was one issue on which I disagreed with in the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), it is that I would not presume that civil servants had been advising the Minister in a particular way. I am anxious to keep on the best possible terms with Ministers and civil servants because I have a private Member's Bill in the pipeline.

The Minister's amendment No. 28 states:

take all such steps as are reasonably practicable to implement the measures set out in any energy conservation report prepared by the authority.

I hope he will excuse me saying that that is a slightly woolly and rather long phrase. Targets are essential if the Bill is to have the teeth that it needs to achieve the objectives shared by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

As I understand it, about 350 local authorities have HECA targets. Only a dozen or so do not, and they will have to be tackled in a different way at the appropriate time. The point of requiring those local authorities to meet their targets and of putting targets in the Bill is that we can monitor them and the Government may be able to help them if it appears that they are not going to meet the targets by a certain date.

I ask the Minister to think again. From his earlier remarks I was not sure whether he was committing himself to strengthening his amendment on Report and specifically to ensuring that targets are set in the Bill, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said. Obviously, I would concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and, indeed, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South on whether or not we proceed with our amendment. I hope that the Minister will think again and ensure that the legislation, which we all hope will reach the statute book, specifically mentions targets.

Photo of David Lepper David Lepper Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Pavilion

I also wish to express my pleasure at serving on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. I rise in support of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South in favour of targets—he put his case forward elegantly—and his warm tributes to the Minister. During the short time that I have been in Parliament, I have had experience of working with the Minister, and I have no hesitation in supporting the views of my hon. Friend.

The main reason for my brief contribution is to put on record the view of Brighton and Hove city council. I hesitated to intervene and correct the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. It is my hon. Friend, whose Bill it is, who represents Brighton, Kemptown; I represent Brighton, Pavilion, but we have a shared view on the issue.

Hon. Members may know that the area of Brighton and Hove has many old Victorian and Regency buildings, a large proportion of which have been subdivided into flats and bedsits. There is also much council housing, built at a time when the main concern of the council was to house people as quickly as possible; inadequate attention may have been given to energy efficiency when those houses were built. The council faces a daunting task in improving home energy efficiency.

On Second Reading, I referred to the achievements of the local authority, which were listed in its latest HECA report. I will not go through them again; I refer anyone who wishes to read about them to the record of the Second Reading debate. However, I wish to point out that the achievements were made within existing budgets—within funding currently available to local authorities from Government schemes and from partnerships with the private sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South made a powerful point about the work of the best local authorities. I am sure that they would welcome more funding, but it is possible to make great progress even within existing budgets.

I recently received a letter from Councillor Framroze, who is the councillor responsible for housing on Brighton and Hove city council, which says:

Experience has shown that guidance alone is ineffective in ensuring the necessary commitment from all ECAs across the country.

He goes on to make a telling point:

it is essential that the opportunity presented by this Bill should not be lost. There is a real danger that the passage of a much weakened Bill could send a signal to local authorities that the Government does

not consider home energy conservation of sufficient importance to warrant necessary strengthening of current legislation. This would clearly be an ironic outcome to an initiative with precisely the opposite intention.

I believe that we all would echo the concern in that councillor's words. I am convinced that it is not the Minister's intention to weaken the Bill, but I ask him to consider seriously the wisdom of amendment No. 28(a).

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford

I have many concerns about what has happened this morning. We have a Minister who says that he has led from the front on green government. All parties welcomed the new phrase of green government that arrived in 1997, recognising that we have a part to play both internationally and locally to have a sustainable environment. Much of what has happened in the past four or five years has been welcome, but there has been disappointment as well. We are worried because, although we do not dispute much of what the Minister said this morning, we get the feeling of motherhood and apple pie and that we have been talking about the subject for several years. It is not rocket science, but to a certain extent, it seems as if we are heading for the lowest common denominator. The Government seem to want legislation that looks okay, so that we all go away, pat ourselves on the back and feel that we were doing a good job. I have reservations about whether we can do that without clear information in the Bill on not only what we want to do, but how we want to do it.

We support the Bill and want to see the energy efficiency that it could, and should, deliver. We want to see the reduction and eventual elimination of fuel poverty and how to achieve that. Since I was elected, I have often been concerned about how many green initiatives and opportunities—whether that is on renewable energy or sustainable waste management—we seem to choke on. We never quite get the resources in place, energise the market, bring the prices down or train the staff to do the job. I appreciated the Victoria Wood impersonation of ''Let's do it'' but ''I don't want to do it''. The Government's approach comes across like that. However, to give local authorities the energy and authorisation and business the confidence that the programme is in place, it means something and must mean something to them, we must set targets—I welcome the phrase ''selection targets''—and judge our performance against them.

I am worried about the fact that we are avoiding costs to local authorities but do not know what the costs will be. Previous speakers have touched on that in great depth, and we have heard a lot of wisdom on how to manage that risk of costs running away. I am sure that the Minister and his advisers are concerned about runaway costs, and we would not want anyone to walk into them.

The Liberal Democrats tend to believe in self-determination at low levels. We want a strong Bill to provide a structure within which people can operate. Guidance comes from Europe and internationally, and

we have had several little failures. One example is the recent problem with fridges. We thought that we had understood the European directive, but somehow the communications had not worked. Many local authorities are faced with large costs, and the Government have had to bail them out on that. We all want sustainable waste management, but not enough is being done to prime the markets, and that is another example of where we must get a firm structure in place in which the markets can operate. I regret criticising the Minister, but when he talks about the Bill paving the way for something, I hear procrastination and the Government being unsure how to deliver.

The effect of the Bill is disproportionately important. It is a green and environmentally sustainable Bill that gives us the opportunity to deliver and show how we are delivering. Putting information in the Bill would help enormously, and that is where we have fallen down on green issues in the past. We must meet climate change targets and look towards having energy efficiency targets that we are obliged to meet. We have that responsibility on behalf of those who will benefit most. I have great misgivings about why we are not getting that, and I should declare at this stage a non-pecuniary interest in that my husband was an employee of MAFF until April last year.

I am not trying to point the finger of blame, but I am concerned about the planning ability of the new Department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—which is under enormous pressure. It has inherited the desperately difficult problems of BSE and foot and mouth. It has lost staff, and the changeover has led to substantial internal problems. It has a large number of vacancies. DEFRA does some things very well, but history already shows that planning is not one of them. I fear that DEFRA is not terribly comfortable with the implications of target-setting, reporting against targets and the statutory programme that some of us would like to see there.

The amendments would not reduce the Bill to gesture politics, but they move it a little in that direction—as if we have the feel-good factor, but not necessarily the tools to deliver. What the Bill needs to do, and hon. Members with whom I agree have already said this eloquently, is to set the targets in place. We must allocate resources, which is common sense if there are targets that we have to report against. If we are investing in making improvements, we have to see how resources are being spent and how we are delivering against them, and identify areas for review and for putting in place any remedies to help local authorities deliver. Again, I do not have any difficulty with the point made by other hon. Members that money should not come across the table without a clear idea of how it will be spent. That is common sense, and if the money is not being spent, we should not throw good money after bad.

The Bill does not give a blank cheque to local authorities, but it helps the industry get measures in place. In my area, for example, we have the warm

front scheme, which is very welcome in helping to meet targets. The biggest challenge with such schemes and targets is how to get more plumbers to train unless colleges and other organisations say, ''Plumbing is a good job, there is plenty of work for plumbers and this is how to go about it.'' With such programmes as the renewable energy programme, which is not guaranteed beyond 2005, often targets are not reached, or people do not go into those businesses. There is a problem there, because in certain areas we could let the targets go by. The targets get tougher because the longer we delay, the harder the hill is to climb and we must get on with it.

I cannot support the Minister's amendment, but I hope that we can make progress on the Bill to achieve what all of us here really want to see: energy conservation and much more efficiency in the heating of people's homes.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire 11:45 am, 2nd February 2002

Energy efficiency comes in many forms. One is the efficient conversion of energy, the movement from, say, a fossil fuel to electricity. It is important that we have combined heat and power because that can increase the efficiency of energy conversion from about 30 to about 70 per cent. It is also important to reduce losses caused by energy transmission, which can run from 15 to 30 per cent., so it is useful to put energy production close to the point of use. However, one of the most effective ways of ensuring more efficient use of energy is not to waste it.

The Minister has often talked about a waste hierarchy in relation to domestic waste. As he says, at the top of the waste hierarchy is not producing the waste in the first place. The parallel in energy efficiency is not misusing the energy that is produced. Home energy efficiency is profoundly important. Clause 1, which goes to the heart of the Bill, requires that the HECA targets are met by local authorities

so far as is reasonably practicable.

Those words matter. Home energy efficiency means not only not using precious and scarce resources, but helping those who are likely to be in the greatest need—the poorest—who are too often unable adequately to heat their homes.

We know that the Minister is seized of these ideas. In news release 696, dated 14 November 2000, he said:

The Government aims to be at the forefront of good practice to improve energy efficiency and progress is reviewed regularly by green Ministers under my chairmanship.

In news release 689, dated 8 November 2000, he said:

We must achieve real emission reductions to meet the Kyoto targets.

So at least he believes in targets. On 15 November 2001, during DEFRA questions, he said:

Those three together—

that is, the three parts of the Bill—

will mean that domestic households make a full contribution to meeting the climate change targets.—[Official Report, 15 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 978.]

The Minister has clearly demonstrated his belief that targets are important. However, his amendment has caused great disappointment to many people. I shall quote from a letter that was sent to him on

4 February 2002 by HECA Partnership for 30 Per Cent., which says:

Dear Michael . . . We are writing to you as the organisations that form this Partnership to promote the achievement of HECA targets. This is an aim that we all believe you subscribe to—indeed we were heartened to note your comments to Nigel Griffiths MP last September that although local authorities performance under HECA was 'wholly inadequate' you were interested not simply in condemnation but also in seeing that targets were made 'more robust' and also, importantly, in giving local authorities the tools with which to deliver them.

This is a view we share—and it is for this reason that we support the Home Energy Conservation Bill, which makes the targets a duty rather than a discretion . . . Your amendments remove all of these provisions. We are deeply saddened by them—all the more so because we know you to be a friend and an ally.

That letter was signed by Andrew Warren, the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, William Gillis, the director of National Energy Action, Charles Secrett, the director of Friends of the Earth, Michael King, the chairman of the National Right to Fuel Campaign, Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs for Help the Aged, Andrew Cooper, the UK HECA forum representative, Baroness Maddock, the promoter of HECA 1995, Dick Barry of Unison, Stephen Hale of the Socialist Environmental Resources Association, Penny Kemp, the chair of the executive of the Green party, Duncan Borrowman of the Green Liberal Democrats and Nick Wood-Dow, chairman of the Tory Green Initiative. As far as I know, they are not naive people who do not understand what they are talking about.

There is a benefit in speaking late in a debate: one can reduce the number of things that one has to say because they have been ably said by other hon. Members. I draw the Committee's particular attention to the wise words that we heard from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South; I would disagree with little that he said.

The question that I must ask, as should the Committee, is what degree of confidence can we have in the Minister's assurances? I say that not to be insulting, because I have no doubt that the Minister is wedded to the concept of targets. However, I believe that his wishes are being undermined, or subverted. He said that the introduction of further amendments on Report to re-introduce targets if his amendments were accepted was dependent on full consideration of the costs. I have been a Member of this place for long enough to recognise a weasel action on its way.

Given that the Bill was published on 18 July 2001—more than six months ago—and that 350 of the 360 HECA reports have targets, I find it difficult to believe that it has been impossible in that time to have determined the cost of having targets in the Bill, particularly because there are no numbers associated with or defined for targets. Targets are essential. We know from the money resolution that the cost is not large. The savings that could be achieved by energy efficiency in homes are considerable. One set of figures suggests that energy efficiency in homes could provide savings on energy usage by more than 5 per cent. in 10 years, and more than 11 per cent. in 20 years.

The attempt to delay including targets in the Bill on the grounds of cost alone strikes me as somewhat

specious. I would not say that costs do not matter—of course they do—but the very fact that targets are not defined means that the costs are unlikely to be dramatic. Certainly, we know that the benefits can be considerable.

One reason why I am happy to support the amendment that stands in the names of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and others is that, were the Bill wrong, the Government still have the opportunity on Report to table another amendment to change it. I think it important that the clear message comes from the Committee that we are determined to improve home energy efficiency not just because it saves money and helps people but because it has a considerable impact on our climate. Therefore, targets that all here believe are important should be in the Bill. That is how I intend to try to persuade my hon. Friends to vote.

Photo of Mr Harold Best Mr Harold Best Labour, Leeds North West 12:00 pm, 2nd February 2002

As the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) said, the good thing about speaking late in a debate is that most of the things that one might have said have been said already. I shall try not to weary the good people remaining with a rehearsal of points already made. I compliment my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) and for Nottingham, South on the comments that they made. They echoed the views not only of hon. Members in this Room but of our constituents. That is not insignificant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South referred to Victoria Wood. I do not know that particular quote, but it brought back a memory of a very nice poem that I once encountered by the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger. If I remember correctly, it was called ''Middle Class Blues''. I remember some of the lines, and its theme was that something should be done, and right away, and we know that, but it is too soon or too difficult or too expensive.

That brings to mind the possibilities in this legislation, and also the approach—that things are too soon, too difficult or too expensive—that was applied to the various stages of health and safety legislation over a long period. It was always too soon, too expensive or too difficult to bring measures in. The Bill, in fact, deals with health and safety matters. They are not the same as those that one would immediately recognise, such as falling off an unprotected wall when working on a building site or working with unprotected machinery inside a factory. We are dealing with the health and safety of the world and its inhabitants and all the life that we know inside this beautiful planet of ours. We must understand that this health and safety legislation, if we can see it in that way, affects every one of us.

I want to make it very plain that there is no doubt in my mind about the Government's good intentions in the matter. I have even fewer doubts about my right

hon. Friend the Minister, and recognise not only his good intentions, but his seriousness. There might be a slight question in my mind about the Government's seriousness, but that of the Minister is not in question at all. I hope that the Minister will ensure that that seriousness, which he has demonstrated on this subject this morning, will be reflected on Report.

We all understand the difficulties. The word ''shall'' in any legislation carries a duty to comply and those who fail to comply must usually face the consequences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, many people in local government have been meeting those obligations and offered no excuses along the lines of, it is too soon, or too difficult, or too expensive. Everyone would have liked greater resources and more might then have been done, but that is not a defence and even less an excuse for not delivering.

When my hon. Friend the Minister responds today and to lobbying elsewhere, I hope that he will assure us that the Government's advisers will treat the matter seriously hesitate to suggest more than that and that he will prevail on them to meet this well-intentioned legislation that we all support.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Billericay

I should declare an interest because I am a landlord and the Bill may apply to me in that it applies to landlords generally.

I also support amendment (a) because targets are important. I do not accept the view that because targets are difficult to achieve politicians should fudge the issue. Without wishing to be too naive, I feel that we are here to improve society as best we can and the relief of poverty should be one of our main objectives. The Bill, which aims to do that by addressing one aspect of poverty and has cross-party support, deserves our wholehearted support. However, my concern, which has been expressed by many previous speakers, is that certain members of the Government seem to be trying to remove targets from the Bill, thereby making it toothless. History suggests that if targets are removed or are not made a duty, aspiration alone often falls short of the required mark.

The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 set a target of 30 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency by 2010. We all accept that that is a worthwhile target and should be supported. However, local authorities have been keen to point out that while they have tried to achieve it, they have been given little help. It is no surprise that most local authorities are behind target and a variety of statistics has been mentioned to support that fact.

Figures released in response to a parliamentary question in November 2000 showed that most local authorities were well behind the target of around 8 per cent. which they should have achieved by March 2000 if the overall target of 30 per cent. was to be met. It is blatantly clear that more needs to be done and that changes must be made to help local authorities to achieve the target. The Bill introduces much-needed changes because it makes the target a statutory duty and gives councils more tools with which to achieve it. Council officers and members throughout the country have said time and again we have heard examples

today that unless the target becomes a duty, there is no hope of achieving it. With that in mind, I strongly support the suggestion that targets must be in the Bill and must be made a statutory duty. Aspirations alone will not allow us to achieve the HECA targets of 30 per cent. by 2010. We all agree that that target should be met; it has cross-party support. The Committee has the opportunity to make the implementation of the Bill effective by ensuring that targets are included.

I have to say with sadness that there is an element of hypocrisy here. I do not wish at all to challenge cross-party support, which must be nurtured for the sake of the Bill, but it is hard to understand the Government's position. The Minister is a great supporter of green issues generally. He has frequently been quoted this morning as saying that he supports green initiatives, and said himself that the performance of local authorities in achieving specific targets has been wholly inadequate. His position is absolutely clear.

In opposition, the Labour party officially supported making the 30 per cent. HECA target a statutory duty on no fewer than seven occasions. I will not bore the Committee by listing them all, but I shall cite one. In a debate on 30 November 1994, followed by a whipped vote, Labour Members criticised the previous Conservative Government for failing to support a measure to make the HECA target a statutory duty, and 16 current Cabinet members and 26 current Government members voted accordingly. Labour's position is to deplore the Conservatives for not setting targets and the Minister's position is to condemn local authorities for a wholly inadequate performance under HECA. Yet we now find that the Government hope to remove targets from the Bill. That is completely unacceptable.

Amendment (a) should be accepted. Having listened to previous speakers, I believe that it has broad support. I hope that the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown will forgive me, but I would welcome his confirmation that he will vote in its favour. Realistically, if we are to achieve the targets, they must be included in the Bill as a statutory duty. I wholeheartedly support the amendment.

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

This is one of those fascinating parliamentary occasions. We have been debating the amendment for about an hour and a half, yet it is clear to me and probably to everyone in the Room that there is broad consensus about objectives and no disagreement about what needs to be done.

It is always entertaining and enjoyable to participate in debates with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, who speaks so persuasively and so meritoriously that it is easy to get carried along by his argument.

Let me again make it absolutely clear that there is no dispute about the fact that targets are the linchpin of the Bill nor—I remind the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and others—about the fact that they are necessary. There is no dispute about the fact that the achievements made under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 have so far been inadequate. I have said so before and I stand by it. In the period since 1996, when the guidance became

operative, about 6 per cent. has been achieved. That is clearly inadequate even in terms of making substantial progress towards 30 per cent. I do not renege on that at all.

There is no dispute—I hope—about whether the Government are trying to remove targets from the purview of the Bill. We are absolutely not seeking to do that and I cannot underline that strongly enough. The only issue is how targets are decided, what they are and what they will cost. I say to all hon. Members that were they standing here as a Minister not one could truthfully say in their heart of hearts that they would commit themselves to a target that cannot be quantified, and the cost of which cannot be known. That is not to say that we do not believe in targets, or do not want to see targets written into the Bill. I have sought with passion to reject what several hon. Members have said. They obviously spoke with complete integrity. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet advised me to accept targets, and I do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion said that guidance was not sufficient, and I entirely agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) said that the problem is that targets can often be too soon, difficult or expensive. I do not think that they would be too soon in this case, nor would they be too difficult; we can work out what the targets should be. My only problem is that I have to be clear that such targets, and their costs, can be met.

In one of the wonderful allusions that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South frequently uses, he tried to allure me with the Victoria Wood song saying ''Let's do it, let's do it'', but, in a revealing aside, added ''and lose control''. That is the key: I want to do it and the Government want to do it, but no responsible Government can lose control. I do not mean that in the control freakery sense, but we must be aware of what we are committing ourselves to, be sure that there are delivery mechanisms, and know what the costs are.

The hon. Member for Guildford, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, accused me of procrastination. She was fair and her speech was not polemical—quite the reverse. However, I am not procrastinating, simply saying that I cannot give a commitment at this stage. On Report, which is not far hence, I believe that I will be able to, and will indeed give one. I must consider the logistics and costing. The hon. Lady was kind in her comments about the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have had difficulties, which I am glad are recognised, but I insist that we are overcoming them—that is a wider issue. She said that DEFRA would have difficulty in providing for targets and the requirements for reporting, but that is not the case. There are many examples to the contrary in DEFRA, not only from the environmental side, but from the Curry commission on sustainable agriculture, which will be considering specific targets and objectives, and reporting on progress.

There was a slight discordance in the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. He was generous

when talking about me, but then said that I was using weasel words about costing. He said that I was attempting to delay for a somewhat specious excuse and I have given reasons why that is not true at all. Significantly, he then said that the targets are not defined—absolutely true—and added, in a wonderful non-sequitur, that the costs will not be significant. If one does not know what the targets are, how does one know what the costs will be? Government cannot engage in that kind of exercise because the buck stops here: Government have to be clear about what is involved and must commit the resources to do it.

This is a brave private Member's Bill, which is pioneering a new course. It is not some minor or peripheral amendment, worthy and principled, on the edge Government legislation. It is attempting to say something significant. The Government have not, at this stage, budgeted for whatever the costs might be in their spending programme. It is not surprising—I would say the same in their shoes—that colleagues say to me, ''You've got a private Member's Bill, it's quite an ambitious one, and intentionally so. We respect it as that, but we have to be absolutely clear what the implications are and that we can manage them.'' I believe that that can be done.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire 12:15 pm, 2nd February 2002

I think that either the Minister misheard me or I misspoke something. I did not accuse him of weasel words; I said that as a Member of some long standing in this place, I can see a weasel action coming down the line. As far as I am aware, nor did I accuse him of making a specious excuse, although I was accusing the action of being specious. I would like to make it clear to him that I understand the point about cost, as all Governments have to take that into consideration. However, I cannot understand how, given that they have not worked out the costs in the six months since the Bill was publicly announced, the Government will be able to come to a definitive idea of the costs in just a few weeks.

What we know, however, is that the money resolution put money by for the Bill. One presumes that the money that this House voted for the Bill, on the Government's advice, was the amount that they thought that it would cost.

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

The hon. Gentleman is being a little weasel-worded in trying to drive a distinction between me as the Government spokesman on the Bill and the rest of the Government. I speak here on the Government's behalf, and he cannot say that I am not being specious, or delaying, but that the Government are. I cannot accept that distinction.

On costing, it is of some significance that the supporters of the Bill, for which I have great regard and support, have never come forward with targets or costings. The Government's problem in trying genuinely to help the Bill is that it is not for us to write in the targets or costings. Our task is to respond to a private Member's Bill that suggests what those should be and, if we do not agree with them, to say so. However, we have been presented with something of a blank cheque and invited to write in all the contents. I am prepared to consider that and to respond

positively, but I think it a little unfair to say that we have had six months to respond when we have not had anything specific to respond to.

I pick up on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South about civil servants, which is where we part company. I do not think that his claim that civil servants have given me misleading or dishonest advice is fair and I repudiate it. Civil servants have been carrying out a review of the role of local authorities in improving energy efficiency. I wanted that and I have been continually pestering them, as they will confirm, on the inadequacy of HECA. I have been saying that for a long time, and we have finally agreed to have a review entirely at my bidding.

The terms of reference for the review, as agreed by me, are available on the Department's website. They do not refer to watering down of targets. The reference to targets is clear:

How should HECA work in future? Should changes be made to any aspect, e.g. its aims and objectives, monitoring and reporting requirements, the existing 30 per cent. target, how it is funded?

Those are totally open-ended terms of reference. My dissatisfaction matches that of members of the Committee. I wanted my civil servants to look at the weaknesses, inadequacies and flaws of the original Bill. I see that the hon. Member for Guildford wants to intervene. I am not trying to belittle the importance of the 1995 Act. I am simply trying to improve it.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford

Listening to the Minister and his explanation was helpful. We do not know how much this will cost and how much work there is to be done. Helpfully, he said that he had requested information on the funding. I was not there at the time and so I ask this question in all innocence: could we have done something with pilots? Could we have asked a cross-section of local authorities what was implied? I am slightly unsure about why we do not know what the costs are.

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

We have been consulting local authorities on this. I am anxious to learn from them. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown made the entirely fair point that there is enormous variation between local authorities. Some have done extremely well. Some are well on track to meet the 30 per cent. target within a 10 or 15-year period. Others have hardly started moving. It is important to find out why. It is not just a question of Government funding, as my hon. Friend rightly said. It is a question of local political determination and local political priorities and where they propose to put the money that they receive from Government. That has been the background to the review: how do we ensure that the laggards can adopt the best practice of the more successful authorities?

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said that civil servants ignored my wishes and the wishes of local authorities and non-governmental organisations on the review and recommended weak and non-statutory targets. I do not recognise that description. My hon. Friend may be referring to draft recommendations that were circulated to members of the steering group that we set up. Those were

preliminary thoughts taking into account the views of a wide variety of organisations, including local authorities and the Local Government Association. They were circulated to the steering group for comment. It was a means of obtaining views, not of ignoring them.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

Could my right hon. Friend clarify that it was suggested that the targets be made aspirational?

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

I accept that reference was made in the initial comments to a number of alternatives, one of which was that there should be purely aspirational targets. That is not a Government view. It is certainly not my view and no such conclusion could be reached while I remain in this post. My hon. Friend is a little unfair in suggesting that the wording that appeared suggests that the civil servants are trying to subvert my position. They know perfectly well that they would have little luck if they tried to do that.

He also said that my ministerial colleagues objected to putting targets on the face of the Bill. Again, the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions pointed out, as is perfectly reasonable, that if targets were put on the face of the Bill, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would have to fund them. The local authorities would carry them out, the DTLR is the sponsoring Ministry for local government, but we would have to fund them. As have already said, we are acutely aware of this. I intend to proceed. I am convinced that we shall but I have to be entirely clear what I am letting the Government in for, what it will cost, and that I can persuade colleagues, including those at the DTLR,that it is manageable.

My hon. Friend also referred to climate change targets. That again is important. There is no doubt that energy efficiency is an important part of achieving our climate change targets. Committee members will know that the United Kingdom, along with Germany and Luxembourg—which is a smaller state—are the only countries in the EU, and probably most of the developed world, that are well on track to achieving those targets. We believe that we are on track to achieve not only our legally binding target of 12.5 per cent. cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 compared with 1990, but a cut of 23 per cent., which is not far off double. One way of ensuring that is the new energy efficiency commitment, which starts on 1 April, and we have also examined the renewables obligation to see how we could strengthen it and achieve 10 per cent. electricity generation by renewables by 2010. The much-strengthened home energy efficiency scheme is on track to insulate 800,000 homes in the private sector by 2004, while there will be upgrading of social housing by local authorities and registered social landlords. We will also follow up on the recommendations of the performance and innovation unit, which will report shortly, and announce new measures where necessary. I am confident that we will meet the targets.

The question is how the targets will be set and delivered. That is the only issue between me and every other Member who has spoken. I come from exactly the same direction, but must ask Committee members to think of the Government's position. If they were in

my position, would they vote for amendment (a) without knowing what the target is and what it will cost? There are no targets in HECA, although that could be changed. It is not as if we are consolidating targets that are already there; the targets are in the guidance. Legislation is not passed to turn targets in guidance into statutory targets.

The question remains simply what the targets should be. Bearing in mind that there is great local authority variation, we cannot put a single figure in the Bill because it would not be generally applicable. For some it would be too low, for others far too high. We must find a way to provide that targets take account of the differential position of local authorities. On costing, no responsible Government of any party could sign a blank cheque. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown said that a target would reduce the blank cheque. It might do that, if we knew what the target was, but we would still be left with some costing. I cannot ignore that.

I admire the spirit of the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. I know exactly why he has put it forward and share his enthusiasm. He has been a profoundly successful campaigner for energy efficiency during the past decade, and will chalk up with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown another major success with this Bill. I am prepared to regard the amendment as the basis on which the Government will consider our own amendment on setting and meeting the targets in guidance. That is as far as I can go. I hope that I have said enough to convince Committee members that I share the objectives of all Members who participated in this debate, but I cannot responsibly go further than a commitment to introduce an amendment on Report that fully takes into account the spirit of what has been said this morning. On the basis of further analysis that we need to make, it will provide a comprehensive analysis of what the targets should be for different local authorities and how they will be met. I hope on that basis my hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I am pleased to hear the Minister say that he will table an amendment on Report to address targets in the Bill. I am also pleased to return the compliments that he has paid me. I should declare that he is my friend as well as my colleague. I am his admirer and sometimes a parliamentary and political pest helping to keep him on track. That is what the amendment is about.

The Minister made a point, as did other Members, about the direction in which his amendment seeks to take the Bill. It hinges on the phrase, ''all such steps''. At the previous sitting, Mr. Benton, you will recall that I tried to apply that phrase to my stepdaughter's approach to going to bed. She also takes ''all such steps'' in the direction of going to bed. It is just that at times she does not manage to get there. My amendment specifies

a requirement to implement those measures by that date or within the time-scale.'.

The analogy is that it is not enough to have an intention to get to bed at some stage; one needs an obligation to get there by a given time. That is why the

amendment is so important. It is not enough to talk about steps. That is not sufficient to meet the responses that we currently face from local authorities. They understand that, in the light of everything the Government have been saying, the reality of the debate moves from the why of energy efficiency programmes to the how. They want to make that shift and they are looking to us to provide guidance.

I understand the Minister's concern about costs. In defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, it seems legitimate for a Back-Bench Member who is presenting a private Member's Bill against the backcloth of the Government's existing climate change commitments and the targets set in the guidelines in HECA 1995, to expect that somewhere along the line, someone would have done some costings on achieving those ends and for the Bill to be a means of assisting the Government in achieving them. The notion that the responsibility for those costings can be placed on the shoulders of a Back Bencher is not entirely legitimate. The Bill does not seek to change Government policy or commitments, only to deliver them.

It is reasonable to expect that among the various ranks of advisers in different Departments someone will have carried out costings at some stage if we are to deliver our climate change commitments. If we are to have guidance to set targets for HECA, how much will it cost? I merely say that it is important that those targets are met within a timetable. I do not want to go over the arguments, which have been well rehearsed by Members of all parties.

I was pleased that the Minister picked me up on Victoria Wood, because that allows me to say that it is not my intention or desire to invite the Minister to lose control. Nor is it the Committee's desire to bend him over backwards on his hostess trolley—as the song goes—to get him to do this. I know that the Minister wants to do it. I know that he is really in the mood. I know that the amendment would assist him in doing so. I hope that the Committee will support it.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

I am happy to offer to withdraw my amendment, but I will support amendment (a), which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. His amendment does not commit the Government to uncontrollable expenditure, because the Government has control over the targets. It fulfils the essential function at this stage of keeping the principle of statutory targets in the Bill. That is vital, because the clause is the axle of the Bill. If we take away that axle, the whole thing falls down. I look forward to a comprehensive Government amendment on Report that will clarify the clause to the satisfaction of all hon. Members.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the implications of the withdrawal of his amendment?

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

There should be little implication. The amendment leaves intact the principle of setting targets. Not much matters beyond that at this point.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. If amendment No. 28 is made, the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown will fall.

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

I spoke at great length and I shall not reiterate any of my remarks, as I hope that I have been clear. My amendment states:

take all such steps as are reasonably practicable

—that comes from the HECA

to implement the measures set out in any energy conservation report prepared by the authority.

That is not the same as my hon. Friend telling his daughter to take all reasonable steps to go to bed, but her never quite making it there. The force already lies behind the requirement to meet the targets if, when or however they are determined. The essence of what my hon. Friend is saying is contained in that.

I want to make a second point explicitly, although I have hinted at it previously. We are debating a private Member's Bill, which the Government have decided to back after considerable discussion. For reasons that hon. Members have kindly recognised, I am strongly behind it. However, I must also persuade my hon. Friends to continue to support it. I do not say that menacingly or threateningly. It is just a fact of life. If I am to tell my hon. Friends that I tabled an amendment to

take all such steps as are reasonably practicable to implement the measures

and that the Committee passed an alternative amendment—proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South—it is only fair and right of me to make it clear to the Committee that I cannot guarantee the results.

I ask all hon. Members to consider whether the gain is worth taking that risk, if there is any gain in preferring the wording of amendment (a) to that of amendment No. 28. I am not trying to bulldoze or stampede the Committee. I am simply stating the facts as I know them. I ask all hon. Members to take into account the import of what I am saying when they take a view on amendment No. 28 and amendment (a).

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 12:45 pm, 2nd February 2002

My right hon. Friend intends to table a further amendment on Report to clarify the issue of targets. Will he not in any case be obliged to table an amendment to amendment No. 28, because that is the context in which a delivery date will have to be set?

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

The further amendment that I have offered to table on Report will build on amendment No. 28. It contains something that is not in the legislation in that it requires authorities to take all reasonable steps to implement the measures. The real issue is what authorities are implementing and what the targets are. That is the critical question. For all the reasons that I have given, I cannot responsibly give a commitment that we will implement targets irrespective of what they are, or that we have the finance to do so. I ask all Committee members to recognise my bona fides in saying that I will table the best amendment that I can on Report. However, I will not be helped if I am overturned on amendment (a)

before I have had the necessary discussions with colleagues. I ask the Committee to bear that in mind.

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

Just as Parliament is sovereign, so is a Committee of the House. I understand what the Minister has said and his reading of the Bill's horoscope, but if a Committee is minded that something should be put in a Bill, that is what should happen.

My question is directed at the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown. I understand that he is not pressing amendments Nos. 1 to 6, which is why I asked him about the implications of that. I should have thought that amendment No. 4, which would

leave out 'Secretary of State' and insert 'appropriate authority',

and amendment No. 6 were rather important amendments in the group. If the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Benton, I should be interested to know whether he is satisfied that without those amendments, the Bill will have the force that he intends it to have.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

Amendments Nos. 1 to 5 automatically fall if amendment No. 28, amended or otherwise, is passed, because the lines to which they refer will no longer be in the Bill. The only amendment that would still have any meaning is amendment No. 6. In the current circumstances, although it has value, it is much less important than the principle at the core of the Bill.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. I may not have made myself clear. If amendment No. 28 is carried, amended or otherwise, the hon. Gentleman is right, but the group includes amendment No. 6 and they will all fall. I hope that that is clear to the Committee.

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

For clarification, amendment No. 4 covers the point that in Wales the National Assembly rather than the Secretary of State is the appropriate authority. Obviously, that is right; however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown said, the Government amendments cover that. Therefore, there is no need for amendment No. 4, provided amendment No. 28 is carried.

On amendment No. 6, we would be happy to consult on appropriate standards and performance indicators for monitoring energy conservation, but it would be inappropriate to require—that is the operative word—the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to do so, or to require that such standards and performance indicators be included in regulations. I am not against the principle or the purpose behind the amendment, but the regulations would have to be changed every time there was a fully justified change of target. That is not an appropriate use of secondary legislation.

In addition, the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 already contains a power that could be used to give guidance on standards and performance indicators. As I said at the outset, it is not right for legislation to repeat what is already in the statutes.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

I understand the Minister's reservations; he was right to issue a warning to the Committee. However, in the light of our debate this

morning, in which every speaker stressed the importance of setting dates for meeting targets, as well as the steps to do so, it would be remiss of me not to press amendment (a). It accurately reflects the views and strongly held desires of the Committee.

Amendment proposed to the proposed amendment: (a), in line 4, at end insert—

'( ) Where the report includes any energy efficiency target, however expressed, and a date or a time-scale set by the authority for meeting any such energy efficiency target, the requirement in subsection (1) to implement the measures in the report is a requirement to implement those measures by that date or within the time-scale.'.—[Mr. Alan Simpson.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 2.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 1 - Targets for energy efficiency improvements

Aye: 12 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment (a) agreed to.

Amendment No. 28, as amended, agreed to.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'( ) In section 35(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52.) (duty to provide information as to standards of performance in connection with housing)—

(a) after ''shall'' there is inserted ''(a)'',

(b) at end there is inserted—

(b) so far as the information referred to in paragraph (a) relates to the level of performance achieved by him in connection with the energy efficiency of residential accommodation within the area of a local housing authority, provide the information also to that authority in such form as may be so specified.

In paragraph (b), ''energy efficiency'' and ''residential accommodation'' have the same meanings as in the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments No. 55, in page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'(2) For the purpose of enabling an energy conservation authority to discharge its functions pursuant to subsection (1) (a) above the appropriate authority shall, after consultation with such energy conservation authorities, representatives of registered social landlords, utility companies and other persons as the authority considers appropriate make regulations requiring:

(a) utility companies to report annually to a person prescribed in the regulations;

(b) registered social landlords, manager of government funded energy efficiency schemes and the Energy Saving Trust to report annually to energy conservation authorities;

in a format prescribed in the regulations on improvements in energy efficiency that result from measures taken by them (and different formats may be prescribed for different cases) provided that in the case of utility companies the regulations:

(i) shall not require any company to report to any energy conservation authority; and

(ii) shall not involve any company in any significant expense over and above that agreed under the Energy Efficiency Commitment; and

(iii) shall require that any information so provided by any utility company need be provided only on the basis of totals per postcode and for the avoidance of doubt shall not identify any particular address; and

(iv) shall be in a format to be agreed between the person prescribed and the utility company prescribed in the regulations, which agreement shall not be unreasonably withheld; and

(v) shall require the person prescribed in the regulations to report to energy conservation authorities; and

(vi) shall require that any information so provided to an energy conservation authority shall not identify any utility company'.

No. 8, in page 2, line 1, leave out 'stipulated' and insert—


No. 9, in page 2, line 2, leave out 'them' and insert—

'the body making the report and in the case of the Energy Saving Trust also by the utility companies (and different formats may be prescribed for different cases).'.

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

The amendment would require registered social landlords to copy to the local authority such information as they provide to their regulator, the Housing Corporation, relating to the energy efficiency of their housing stock within the local authority area.

Many registered social landlords are already committed to improving the energy efficiency of their stock. In 2000–01, the Housing Corporation introduced new performance standards for energy efficiency and renovation of housing stock, which relate specifically to the average standard assessment procedure—SAP—ratings of dwellings, for all those registered social landlords with more than 250 homes. That information will be published shortly.

In addition, registered social landlords are working towards the Government's commitment to bring all social housing up to a decent standard by 2010. That encompasses energy efficiency. The corporation will replace the current SAP performance indicator with a performance measure against the decent homes target. The amendment would ensure that that information was also available to local authorities for housing stock in their areas.

We do not want to impose additional regulatory requirements on private sector organisations such as registered social landlords unless they are strictly necessary. However, we recognise the importance of energy efficiency information in assisting local authorities with their duties under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—to draw up energy conservation and progress reports relating to residential accommodation in their areas. Allowing local authorities to receive copies of information already provided to the Housing Corporation will not needlessly increase requirements on registered social landlords.

Some registered social landlords working across several local authority boundaries may, in being required to disaggregate the information about their stock at local authority level, face greater difficulties. We shall do what we can, in conjunction with the Housing Corporation, to mitigate that, but we are also considering whether a more appropriate way of achieving our aim would be to require the Housing Corporation to provide local authorities with the necessary information. Depending on the outcome of our deliberations, we may table a further amendment on Report.

I hope that that meets the desire of the Bill's promoters to ensure that the information is passed from registered social landlords to the energy conservation authorities without causing unnecessary additional burdens. We agree with the objective and believe that that is the most effective means of carrying it out. I recommend the amendment to the Committee.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

I shall speak briefly to my own amendment No. 55 and to amendments Nos. 8 and 9, which are small drafting amendments.

Amendment No. 55, which was drafted before the tabling of Government amendment No. 29, has exactly the same aim—to facilitate the work of local authorities in preparing their energy conservation reports by making information available from other agencies that may not be readily available now. Amendment No. 55 is longer and more explicit than amendment No. 29, but involves no difference in principle. The issue is not as substantial as the previous one, so I shall not press my amendment to the vote.

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

On a point of clarification, will the Minister confirm that the reporting system will be standardised and that the energy conservation authorities will be able to obtain the requisite information from other bodies—including registered social landlords, the utilities, Government schemes, energy saving trusts and so forth—in order to do their job?

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

First, my hon. Friend is right that we all have the same objective and that amendment No. 55 was tabled before Government amendment No. 29. I hope that I have explained to his and others' satisfaction why it is a better route to achieving the same objective.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire spoke about utility companies. I should add that Ofgem and the Energy Saving Trust are already in discussion with gas and electricity suppliers about how to provide information on a voluntary basis. I understand that those discussions are proving positive. I appreciate the importance to energy conservation authorities of good reliable information from the utilities. If current discussions do not reach an agreement satisfactory to all parties, the Government will—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.