Clause 2 - Domestic energy efficiency

Sustainable Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:58 am on 24 June 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 7—Domestic energy efficiency—

'(1) The Secretary of State shall take reasonable steps to achieve the carbon saving aims in relation to the energy efficiency of residential accommodation specified in any policy document for the time being designated by him.

(2) The Secretary of State shall within two months of the coming into force of this Act designate the following documents as policy documents, namely

(a) The Energy White Paper presented to Parliament in February 2003 Cmd 5761; and

(b) The Climate Change The UK Programme presented to Parliament in November 2000 Cmd 4913.

(3) The Secretary of State may, at any time,

(a) withdraw the designation of any document under this section provided that he shall not do so if this withdrawal would result in there being no designated document under this section

(b) designate such other documents as he sees fit as policy documents.

(4) The steps to be taken by the Secretary of State pursuant to subsection (1) above may include steps relating to the heating,

cooling, ventilation, lighting and insulation of residential accommodation.

(5) In deciding what steps to take and the extent to which to take those steps in order to achieve any carbon savings pursuant to subsection 1 above the Secretary of State may make an assessment of the steps being taken or reasonably expected to be taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and any reasonable assessment of the carbon saving that may be expected to result from those steps taken or reasonably expected to be taken.'.

New clause 8—Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: Secretary of State.

New clause 9—Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: National Assembly for Wales.

New clause 10—Energy efficiency of residential accommodation: energy conservation authorities.

Clause 6 stand part.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 9:15, 24 June 2003

New clauses 8 and 9 are identical except that one relates to the role of the Secretary of State in England and the other to the National Assembly for Wales. New clause 10 finds a way of dealing with the second part of clause 2 and with the original clause 6. It therefore replaces both clauses. New clauses 8 and 9 replace the Second Reading clause 2(1) that relates to energy efficiency.

My advisers spent hours negotiating with officials on the clauses and one said that the most difficult issue was the drafting of the duty in clause 2. As we have said, the phrase ''take reasonable steps'' involves a weak requirement. I have been unable to find a form of words that might be more acceptable to the Government but that retains the sense of there being a requirement to take action. Twice, we thought we had agreed on a more robust version and I tabled new clauses 5 and 6, which have now been withdrawn. We agreed, at one point, about a new clause that was almost identical to new clause 7. It was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and others.

Sadly, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found a way not to proceed on those lines, so we are left with the new clauses. I can see that the proposal is weaker, but it still takes us forward—just—which is why I tabled the new clauses. They require the Secretary of State and the Assembly to specify energy efficiency aims for England and Wales and there is a duty on the Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly to take reasonable steps to achieve those aims.

In the light of the previous debate, the Committee may say that the aim is weak, feeble and virtually meaningless and that is theoretically possible for two reasons. I therefore ask the Minister to consider two points. First, if he were to take the sense of the previous debate, he would know that, if he sets weak and meaningless targets, the White Paper's credibility will be undermined. Secondly, the Government have made statements over the years about the desirability of sustainable energy. Therefore, they have a commitment that they wish to achieve. For those reasons I am optimistic that the aims that the new

clauses set will not be weak or meaningless. However, I look to the Minister to confirm that the Government are serious about taking energy efficiency measures forward.

We need the carbon savings from energy efficiency that are set out in the White Paper; without them our long-term carbon savings objectives cannot be met. The White Paper states that such savings are the cheapest and easiest way to achieve some of the carbon reductions that are required. I therefore call on the Government to confirm the aspirations in chapter 3 of the White Paper. I assure all members of the Committee that I shall continue to be at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that energy efficiency aims will enable us to deliver on CO2 targets, especially those urged by the performance and innovation unit's report. New clauses 8 and 9 will be a step forward. They do not have the same stride as the original clause, but they are not the end of the campaign. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said, they are what is needed if we are to be serious about sustainable energy.

New clause 10 is based on a clause in the Home Energy Conservation Bill proposed by the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), last year. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) for his efforts last year and to those members of the Committee that considered the Bill. Unfortunately, the Bill failed to become law, but much work was undertaken. The wording of new clause 10 is slightly different from that used in last year's Bill, but the strategy is identical.

Under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, the previous Government, like this Government, set guidance targets for local authorities for more than 30 per cent. improvement in domestic energy by 2010, based on 1995 levels. Many local authorities have responded extremely well to those targets and I pay tribute to them and to their officers. More than 100 local authorities have supported the Bill. However, some have reported domestic energy efficiency improvements of less than 5 per cent. in eight years. That is not only unsatisfactory; it is appalling and such practices cannot continue.

One matter that worried me was that the Local Government Association tried to undermine its councils by telling the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that it objected to the proposals. Despite the fact that I am a vice-president of the LGA, no one from the LGA had the courtesy to tell me what action had been taken, even though it was instructed to do so by its executive committee. No one has been to see me yet. If we are to help local government, local councils need better services than some LGA officers are providing at present. As someone who spent days trying to set up the LGA five years ago, it pains me to say that.

New clause 10 provides a lever to rectify the situation. It would enable the Secretary of State in England and National Assembly of Wales to set new and binding targets for specific local authorities, after consulting the LGA and the Welsh Local Government Association. It is intended that the measure will act as

a spur to give the authorities renewed public targets. Many authorities will respond positively, adopt the targets and strive to achieve them. The clause would have a beneficial effect.

Residents and local organisations will be able to lobby their local council to adopt measures to meet the published targets and councils should have no objection to that lobbying. In fact, many will welcome it. In addition, when taking steps to meet the targets, councils will have to take measures that will achieve the fuel poverty targets set under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. That is important because we all want to see an end to fuel poverty. Co-ordinated action between local and central Government is an essential factor in climate change, and a key step forward.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I know that, in due course, the hon. Member for Bury, North will want to speak to new clause 7. However, I wish to say a few words about the new clauses to which the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has spoken. I am also a vice-president of the LGA. It seems that it lets anyone in these days. I agree that we have not received any communication from it. I suggest that, in all probability, its action was born out of sheer frustration at the way in which it saw the Bill being taken off course by the negotiations that the hon. Gentleman had with the Government. However, as it turned out, those negotiations were unsuccessful.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I do not want to undermine the hon. Gentleman's faith in the LGA, but it was the other way round. The LGA was part of the problem, not the solution.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

In which case, the LGA needs a few more vice-presidents like the hon. Gentleman.

The new clause is concerned with domestic energy efficiency. By every reasonably objective standard, the biggest gap in energy efficiency in this country is in the domestic sector, which is very difficult to get to with policy. The incentives to save energy in the domestic sector have reduced recently, because prices for the consumer have fallen. There are great difficulties in finding incentives to encourage the private sector supplier, generator or distributor to put any effort into promoting efficiency in the domestic sector because, in so far as they are successful, they will sell less of their product.

The Government need a strong regulatory and legislative framework for the domestic sector above all other types of activity. They also need to be proactive in changing the culture and setting a pattern of behaviour, not only for the individual consumers but for local authorities and all those agencies that may be brought to bear on the topic. The Government of course have some measures—I am sure that the Minister will remind me of changes to building regulations, for example—that will, over the course of about 150 years, make a real difference. But we must reach some targets much sooner than that, and that means that there should be a requirement in clause 2 to set about the project robustly.

As I understand the matter, we are in an extraordinary situation, in that the original Bill—

supported by the promoter and, I strongly suspect, the whole Committee except the Minister—in large part does what I have described. New clause 7 does a large part of that too and also has the benefit of being promoted by both the promoters and, at one stage, the Government. However, we are to be invited to reject new clause 7 and to vote for a watered-down version that will go a long way short of achieving the aims set out in the original Bill.

There are a limited number of ways in which one can express one's disappointment and regret at what has happened. However, I ask the Minister to reflect not on the partisan, party political points being made but on the fact that the Government's own targets, expressed wishes and aspirations, as set out in the White Paper, will become harder to achieve if the Bill is watered down and weakened. The Government are undermining their own policy objectives and making it more difficult for the country to achieve its Kyoto targets and outcomes.

On time and development, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East tried to persuade us to agree to the changes on the bases that half a loaf is better than none, and that he will carry on campaigning. I am delighted that he is going to do that, because it means that next year we shall get yet another private Member's Bill—last year, it was from the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, this year is from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, next year, who knows who it will be? This time next year, we shall be in exactly the same place with the Minister of the day—I hope that the current Minister is still in place then, although Ministers rotate rapidly—no doubt saying, ''The intentions are good and the aspirations are fine, but it would not be appropriate to have targets, trust us.'' Meanwhile, another year will have ticked past with nothing done and the problem of domestic energy efficiency left on the back burner.

The promoter's heart is in the right place, but I am afraid that he has been somewhat seduced by his contact with the Government. I understand that there has been a stormy relationship between the Minister and him, but we have to remember that it is often the case that people in abusive relationships return time after time. However, the sense of frustration and disappointment as yet another year goes past and yet another private Member's Bill comes up and gets de-gutted by yet another Minister with responsibility for energy is beginning to get us down. I hope very much that the promoter of the Bill and the Minister will take to heart some of the deeply felt opinions that have been expressed that if anything is to be achieved, they will have to be a bit braver than they have been this morning.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 9:30, 24 June 2003

I wish to speak to new clause 7. I share some of the frustration and disappointment that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has expressed. The original clause 2 was excellent in its own right. It is specific and it sets out where we must improve domestic energy efficiency. It was a matter of deep disappointment—I speak on behalf of most members of the Committee—

that we discovered that the Government were not willing to support that clause.

It is crucial to reiterate the overriding importance of improvements to domestic energy efficiency in a sustainable energy policy. Where I would differ slightly from the disappointment of the hon. Gentleman is that the position has changed since last year and the equivalent private Member's Bill, because we now have the energy White Paper, which sets a series of targets for renewables and CHP, and a series of figures for energy efficiency. The difficulty is that the White Paper, which is excellent in many respects, has only estimates of the savings that could be achieved through domestic energy efficiency, without a firm commitment to achieving them or even to setting a target for achieving them.

At the first sitting of the Committee, the then Minister explained in a reasonable way the Government's reluctance to commit themselves to targets that were too specific. That was based on two concerns. One was that the probability, or the possibility, of not achieving the target would itself be embarrassing. We know that there have been several recent examples of that in different areas of policy. I do not think that the embarrassment of not achieving the target is as great as the Government feel that it is. Perhaps Ministers are more sensitive to that. If there was a record of achievement that almost met the target and enabled people to see that things were moving in the right direction, that would probably be quite acceptable to the majority of hon. Members and the general public.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

The hon. Gentleman has covered the crux of the matter, which is that Governments do not like targets, when every hon. Member in the Room would support working towards them. If we did not achieve targets, but saw the Government striving their utmost to reach them, the Opposition might all be able to weigh in for the good of the country and the planet. That would be better than the Government saying that it is too difficult to have a target. We all want to see the targets achieved, so what is the problem with having them in the Bill?

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I agree with him entirely. What hon. Members and the general public are looking for is direction of travel and significant progress in that direction. Hitting the target at exactly the right time is in reality slightly less significant. Nevertheless, a wider debate must take place throughout the Government about the role and function of targets, and the consequences of not achieving them.

Things have moved on in domestic energy efficiency since last year's private Member's Bill. We now have the White Paper. It does not under-estimate the challenge that faces us in improving our domestic energy efficiency. One of the most telling statistics in the chapter on the subject in the White Paper was the table that shows that, of all the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, the United Kingdom is 14th in energy intensity. We

are the 14th least effective nation in making the most of our energy supplies.

If we are to achieve the stringent targets for CO2 savings that are included in the White Paper, which specifically states that

''savings of this magnitude would need roughly a doubling of the rate of energy efficiency improvement seen in the past thirty years'',

we must take ambitious steps. I therefore tabled new clause 7, which ties the Government into the CO2 savings that are referred to in the White Paper, while accepting that they are reluctant to adopt a particular target for energy efficiency improvements per se.

I shall reiterate one point, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. I understand that last week, new clause 7 was agreed between the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, and the then Minister and his officials. It seems to me that if the new clause was good enough last week, it should be good enough this week. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to that.

The value of new clause 7 is that it clarifies some of the weaknesses in the White Paper, and ties the Government not to a specific energy efficiency target but to introducing energy efficiency measures that would achieve the necessary CO2 reductions. It reiterates remarks that have been made by several Ministers in recent weeks about the importance of the savings proposed in the White Paper. I understand that on 18 March, the then Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), stated in response to a parliamentary question that

''a strategy for achieving these savings is set out in the Energy White Paper.''—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 639W.]

On 2 April, the former Minister for Energy and Construction, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North, at a gathering of representatives of the energy efficiency industry, who were concerned at the signals sent to their members by the lack of targets said:

''It is Government policy to achieve those objectives''—

the energy objectives—

''so your members should take paras 3.5 and 3.6 as read and invest accordingly.''

I also understand that the head of the Government's sustainable energy network reiterated at the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes conference on 20 May that

''the White Paper explains the way to deliver CO2 savings.''

Thus, there have been several statements by Ministers and Government officials that reiterate the importance of the savings referred to in the White Paper, even though they are not explicitly listed as targets.

I should also like to pick up on the Minister's indication at the conference of representatives of businesses working in the energy efficiency field that it is critical to send the right signals for business confidence. The Government alone cannot deliver those objectives—they are dependent on those who work in that field. They depend on the investment made by manufacturers, whether they be

manufacturers of more efficient appliances, of boilers, of control systems for central heating, of ventilation or air conditioning, or of insulation materials. If the Government send a confused signal to those manufacturers, they will be reluctant to invest and there will not be a cat in hell's chance of achieving the necessary CO2 reductions.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a meeting was held last week between the manufacturers of condensing boilers and micro-CHP and Lord Whitty, and that the manufacturers came away very disconcerted at the apparent lack of focus and intention as a result of that meeting?

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I was not aware of that meeting, and I am not privy to Lord Whitty's diary. The point is important, however, as it indicates the dangers of sending out the wrong signals and is another important argument in support of new clause 7. We should offer the manufacturers of condensing boilers and others working in the energy efficiency technologies more reassurance so that they can plan their investment programmes more effectively.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

My hon. Friend's argument is compelling. Does he agree that the voluntary sector is especially affected by the need for clear signals? We all know about the warm front scheme and its potential budget cuts for next year. If we raise expectations, we must be clear about having to deliver them. If people expect new central heating or to have their central heating improved, we must give clear reasons why they can expect that to happen. If not, we will end up in a very difficult situation.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The wider issue is that improvements in domestic energy efficiency are an entirely win-win situation. No one is opposed to improving domestic energy efficiency, apart from the most irresponsible suppliers of fossil fuels, whose only interest is in selling more energy without considering its use or the wider consequences for climate change of a profligate use of energy. Everyone gains by improving domestic energy efficiency. I deeply regret the fact that the Government do not yet seem to have appreciated that fully, or to understand fully what a huge amount of political capital can be accrued in the industry and among consumers for an ambitious programme and ambitious aims.

To return to the role of the voluntary sector and to local authorities, the proposals in new clause 7 are crucial if the Government are to meet the fourth objective of their energy policy to eliminate fuel poverty. For a wide variety of reasons that we do not need to go into, we know that energy prices will rise in the years to come.

For several years, we have been living in a fool's paradise of unjustifiably low energy prices. We have been conditioned to believe that energy prices can continue to fall year after year, but history teaches us that when energy prices are low, people become more profligate in their use of energy and take less heed of the importance of conserving energy. That period of low energy prices is now passing. The price of all forms of energy will increase in the next few years, and the

consequences will be quite dire if no correcting action is taken to achieve fuel poverty targets.

The only way to achieve our fuel poverty targets in an era of rising energy prices is to make more efficient use of energy.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's extremely articulate and eloquent explanation. I know how much thought he gives to these issues because he contributes so much to the Environmental Audit Committee, which he has just joined. Without interrupting his flow and before he concludes his remarks, will he say why he is withdrawing the motion and whether he believes that what is left in the Bill goes any way towards meeting the ambition and strategy that he outlined this morning? I am puzzled about where all this is taking us? The hon. Gentleman has described so well for the record what we have to do and why we have to do it that I am struggling to put myself in the position of backing him, agreeing to the withdrawal of the motion, and voting for a quisling version of a watered-down Bill.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 9:45, 24 June 2003

The hon. Gentleman is making assumptions about what I intend to do. It would be misguided of me to respond to his question before I have decided what I will do. Having said that, I accept that the hon. Gentleman has made an important point. The description of the new clause that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has tabled as ''quisling'' is a little harsh. The hon. Gentleman will know that if one is not able to achieve 100 per cent.—or even 85 per cent.—of what one has set out to achieve, sometimes 70 per cent. is better than nothing.

I have tried to argue the positive reasons for supporting new clause 7. However, I also wish to reassure the Minister that accepting new clause 7 would not lead him into any difficulties. Safeguards have been built in. New clause 7 refers to ''reasonable steps''. We all know that ''reasonable'' is an extremely useful word, and that one person's conception of what is reasonable is not always the same as another person's conception of what is reasonable. New clause 7 also provides for the taking into account of any likely costs, so that if totally unexpected costs arose, that would not cause a major problem.

The new clause specifically ties the Minister to the current policy document; currently, that document is the White Paper. The objectives are defined as carbon savings, but if the Government decided that the objectives in the White Paper had to be changed, the new clause would provide the flexibility for such a change. I hope that if changes were made to the White Paper, a more stringent policy would emerge. However, to be more realistic, the clause allows for a relaxation of the ambitions of the White Paper.

Having made those few remarks, I reiterate the crucial overriding importance of improving domestic energy efficiency, and—as the White Paper states—doubling the rate of that improvement over the next 30 years. If the wording of new clause 7 was acceptable last week, it should be acceptable this week.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

That was an extremely thoughtful and sensible speech by the hon. Member for Bury, North. It pains me to ever agree with the Liberal Democrats, but the hon. Member for Hazel Grove made a similarly sensible speech with which I disagreed with very little. It is nice to see the Liberal Democrat representation present today. Last week, they were very much missed.

This is not a partisan matter, although we are in a partisan place. Everybody in the Room, including, I suspect, the Minister, believes in much the same ethos. The question is how we get a better sustainable energy policy. If anyone is not convinced of the reality of climate change, they should look at what is happening to the climate in the United Kingdom. It is not just nostalgia that leads me to remember that I went tobogganing every winter when I was a child. Climate change is here; it is happening. We see it in droughts in March; in muggy, clammy Mays, when they used to be fresh; and in snow in Jerusalem. This is such an important matter that we should not make too many silly partisan points.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has done an excellent job in bringing the Bill before the House. It is enormously important, and his heart is in the right place. He may have been somewhat seduced by too close contact with Ministers, but perhaps that is one of the disadvantages of politics. Similarly, I have no doubt that the Minister's heart is in the right place. I would like him to put his words and actions where his heart is. I turn to the departure of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North, who was on the Committee when it met two weeks ago. I much regret his departure, not because I am sorry to see the new Minister, but because his heart was in the right place and he was working hard for what all of us in the Room believe in. I suspect that his frustration with other Departments may have been part of what was behind his decision not to go on—although, of course, I cannot speak for him.

We must ask why the Government are trying so hard to water down the Bill. The Government have form. Last year, there was a bizarre occurrence involving a similar Bill. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown talked out his own Bill on the promise, I understand, of a ten-minute Bill. I do not know whether that was the case and because the hon. Gentleman is not present I do not want to malign him, but it was pretty strange.

No Governments—this goes for Conservative as well as Labour Governments—like having duties imposed on them. We understand why. God willing, after the next election I shall be the Minister with responsibility for energy. If I were, I would not like having duties imposed on me either. I understand that dislike. However, we want real obligations in the Bill. If I were the Minister, I would accept that.

Do we have time to move more slowly in good spirit and with good intentions? I have mentioned climate change. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East referred to a 5 per cent. increase in the efficiency of housing stock over eight years. That is just too slow. It is not good enough. Climate change is here and

energy efficiency improvements have to be here is spades as well, because things can only get worse.

New clause 10 places obligations on and gives targets to local authorities, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Why are the Government so keen not to have obligations themselves? If obligations are good enough for local authorities, they should be good enough for Governments.

We are talking about domestic energy efficiency. We all know that our housing stock is woefully inefficient. Two years ago, I bought a farm in my constituency. I lived in the farmhouse for 18 months. I am glad to say that we have now moved to a warm, well insulated, relatively well thought-out building with a photovoltaic roof. However, when I lived in the farmhouse, the wind came in through the holes around the cellar and went out through the holes in the roof. We had central heating, but it was pretty antiquated and if it was going full blast, it just took the chill off the house, which was really damp. That is an extreme example.

It is partly a cultural and educational thing. Far too much of our housing stock is in a similarly appalling condition. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove referred to culture and the hon. Member for Bury, North to education. I vividly remember an article in my local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, which featured a man complaining about his central heating in his council house. It had been off for two days and there he was, in December, sitting in his vest in his drawing room, complaining about it.

Every single individual in the country must learn that we do not need to have our living rooms heated to 80º. We should put on extra jerseys and have well insulated and ventilated houses. We should not expect to be able to live in T-shirts in the middle of December. It is a bit of a bugbear of mine, but it is important. [Interruption.] Sadly, I did not hear the intervention. We are talking about the education not just of local authorities, but of individuals.

I want to ask the Minister about the point made by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East about new clause 7. Was it agreed? I have looked at it and it is pretty innocuous. I do not see why anybody should get frightfully upset about it. What was the problem that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had? New clause 7 wisely keeps referring back to the Government's energy White Paper and their climate change programme that was presented to Parliament in November 2000. What possible problems can the Government have with that?

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the irony that the Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for the generation and supply side of the industry, is in favour and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has responsibility for efficient use of energy, seems to be objecting?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. If we care about the environment, surely we should be heading that way. If the Department of Trade and Industry can come on

board, surely the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can as well.

An excellent point was made about business investment and in this country we have a bad record. Some of us attended the debate on energy policy a couple of weeks ago when it was pointed out that Britain had been at the forefront in the development of wind energy 20 or so years ago, but, sadly, is now in the rearguard. I suspect that throughout the Committee and the country among those who care about the matter there is grave disappointment about the watering down of the Bill. I pay tribute to the commitment of the Bill's promoter—I am not weeping crocodile tears—but if the Bill goes through in the way that the Government want, is it really worth having with such watered down clauses?

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I thank you, Mr. Illsley, and the Committee for the opportunity to be here and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill to which he referred earlier, which was introduced by our hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown. I seem to recall speaking to a clause similar to new clause 10, which is effectively the fuel poverty clause. It was a pleasure to be on the Standing Committee that considered that Bill but it was disappointing to have to vote against my hon. Friend when he had to talk his own Bill out. That was a disappointing experience and I hope that we have—

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall not talk this Bill out.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I and, I am sure, the Committee are mightily relieved to hear that. It is a terrible dilemma when we are asked to do something like that.

New clause 10 relates to the directions that the Government would want to make to local authorities in England and Wales—I speak as a Member representing a Welsh constituency—to co-ordinate activities in their local communities for developing local strategic partnerships to achieve the aims of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 to eradicate fuel poverty. I have had an interest, but no expertise, in the matter for a number of years. I used to be a social policy lecturer and sometimes lectured on the theme of hypothermia and social policy. The seminal work in the area was a study called ''Old and Cold'' by Malcolm Wicks, the same Malcolm Wicks who is now my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions. I sometimes take particular pleasure in reading the recommendations made to Government by academics who subsequently become a member of the Government. When we were here last year with the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) who had made many pertinent recommendations to Government in his social policy research—he was at York university, as I was—we were able to quote some of the recommendations that he had enthusiastically advocated when he was an academic, but was reluctant to implement when he was a Minister. I hope that he will be able enthusiastically to advocate those recommendations again.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

Indeed it is. Perhaps another lesson is not to wish to be a Minister and to keep one's integrity by making recommendations to Government from the Back Benches, maintaining some consistency in our academic and political careers.

Fuel poverty is a serious problem and relates to insufficient income to keep one's home warm and dry. It was a particular problem and was investigated in the 1970s. The focus of ''Old and Cold'' was hypothermia among the elderly. Our concern now is fuel poverty as it might affect all aspects of all age groups, and it is a considerable problem.

There is a particular problem in Wales. My constituency, Monmouth, is relatively affluent, but it has pockets of deprivation, and one is in a wonderful community called Llanelli Hill. I do not know whether hon. Members know south Wales, but if they go up the heads of the valleys road, past Abergavenny, they will be getting to the true valley communities. One of the first is Llanelli Hill. Then one moves towards Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen. When those communities are shrouded in mist, one is aware that they can be very deprived in terms of the environment. They are former mining communities. Often, houses were put up rather cheaply in the early part of the 20th century. They are poorly insulated and suffer from energy inefficiency. That is the very type of property that we expect this legislation to address.

Hon. Members may also know north Wales. Blaenau Ffestiniog is the traditional centre of the slate mining community. I think that it has the highest rainfall of anywhere in Britain. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is not on the Committee, but I am sure that he would speak fondly of the richness of that community. It is the type of community to which such legislation should apply.

To the previous Government's credit, they introduced the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. It is to the credit of this Government that we have the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. The aim of the clause is to apply those measures to local authorities to achieve the aims of eradicating fuel poverty by 2016 and, in respect of the most vulnerable, by 2010.

I was particularly interested in the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North about the likely rise in energy prices. That will have a significant impact. It is to the credit of this Government and previous Governments that since studies were conducted in the mid–1970s—25 or 30 years ago—a number of measures have been introduced to improve housing conditions, social security provision, public health provision and the co-ordination of health and social services. That ensures that fuel poverty is dealt with in different ways.

The aim of this measure is to give local authorities the lead role in co-ordinating activities with public bodies, voluntary bodies, public health agencies, advice agencies such as welfare rights agencies,

agencies that represent people in the area of disablement, refugee organisations, community groups, energy suppliers and local businesses. The need for a more co-ordinated approach is at the core of the Bill.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 homes in Wales need support under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, of which 150,000 come into the category of social housing, 84,000 are in owner occupation and 23,000 are private rented accommodation.

I noted the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East about the Local Government Association. I place on the record my great respect for the officers of the Welsh Local Government Association

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

I am not a vice-president, but I know one or two of the leading officers well and I know their commitment to working with local government and, within the new democratic framework in Wales, with the National Assembly for Wales. It is to the Assembly's credit that it has made social inclusion one of its central themes covering all policy areas. This legislation will give the Assembly duties to work with local authorities in Wales to achieve greater home energy conservation and to eliminate fuel poverty by 2016. I am therefore pleased to support new clause 10.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) for the articulate speech that he has made and for bringing the Committee's attention back to fuel poverty. May I say how disappointed I was, having moved the amendment to put the teeth back into the Home Energy Conservation Bill last summer, to see that Bill eventually fail through the machinations of the Government Whips and the collaboration of its sponsor? When I made a brief contribution earlier, I asked why the Government were shying away from targets, which is particularly apposite when examining targets around fuel poverty.

The Government have not been totally silent on fuel poverty and I pay tribute to the progress that they have made. They brought in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, which imposes a statutory duty to end fuel poverty in vulnerable sectors and in all social housing by 2010. The Government have made repeated promises that they would achieve that target on the wider definition of fuel poverty, which is 10 per cent. of disposable income, rather than 10 per cent. of total income, needing to be spent on keeping warm. That promise was reiterated most recently by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton at the annual conferences of National Energy Action and the national right to fuel campaign.

Again it appears that the Government are starting to slip, slide and backtrack away from a target because they are not making progress, are not putting the effort in and are not backing their promises with resources. The fuel poverty advisory group's

recommendation that at least 50 per cent. more resources are needed if the 2010 target is to be met has been ignored. The FPAG has advised the Government that at current rates of progress 2.3 million vulnerable households, which contain 3 million people, will still be in fuel poverty by 2010, which will lead to the Government missing that target by a wide margin.

The Government's statutory duty under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 to end all fuel poverty in all sectors by 2016 is equally under threat. The White Paper claims that 3 million people in the UK are in fuel poverty, 2 million of whom are in the vulnerable sectors. Even if one accepts that low figure, the Government have still ignored and abandoned 1 million vulnerable people by using the narrower definition of fuel poverty, which is 10 per cent. of total income rather than 10 per cent. of disposable income—they have untruthfully claimed that that definition is normal. They have also broken numerous ministerial promises to end fuel poverty on both definitions. They have abandoned a further 1 million households by ignoring evidence from the NEA, which has been reiterated by the FPAG, that 1 million households in social housing who comply with the Government's specified decency standards are in reality still in fuel poverty.

Furthermore, no new resources were announced in the White Paper to achieve the 2010 target, despite the recommendations by the FPAG and others that I have mentioned. Perhaps it is not surprising that the Government do not want to see binding, ambitious targets on the face of the Bill. More than that, they are backing away from the spirit of their existing commitments. It is particularly worrying that the turf warfare raging between DEFRA and the DTI has resulted in collateral damage to the wider agenda of eradicating fuel poverty, promoting sustainable energy and coming up with an ambitious programme for Britain's renewables sector.

All those things are vitally important, but they are casualties of DEFRA's inability to get its act together and the inability of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to marshal her Department behind the promises that the Government made when they came into office. The Ministers in that Department have been unable to deliver on their manifesto objectives and previous promises. DEFRA, which is at the heart of the Government, is slowing down the machinery of the whole Administration.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent departure of the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton from the Government, which was portrayed as a resignation, showed a certain feeling of frustration on his part?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I agree that the right hon. Gentleman must be a very frustrated man, but also a very liberated one. I look forward to hearing more from him on the subjects that he covered while in office. His departure has also ripped a fig leaf away from that Department and the whole Government: it leaves them naked before the environmental lobby, and it exposes their shortcomings.

I am very disappointed that we will not get what we hoped to see in the Bill, but I look forward to seeing which way the Committee votes.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Illsley, and I will not keep the Committee long. I rise in support of new clause 7, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North. I do not want to add much to his very eloquent explanation of why it is important, if it is at all possible, to toughen up the wording of the Bill.

Sometimes the Government actually do not realise when they have successes on their hands. They ought to tell people about those successes and work upon them. By pure chance in the past few days, I managed to get hold of ''Warm Front: Helping to Combat Fuel Poverty'', a report by the National Audit Office. The report is interesting. It is critical in some respects about the way in which money is spent, but last year we managed to introduce a range of measures into something like 370,000 households. That is a considerable number, but there is a lot more to be done.

The main point about the report is that increasing energy efficiency, as my hon. Friend rightly said, is a win-win situation. In a sense, it is a win-win-win situation because energy efficiency leads to conservation that meets our international obligations, it helps individuals, and it builds industry. When I intervened on my hon. Friend, I made a point about the voluntary sector in response to his mention of the private sector.

It must be remembered that, for all the work that the Government do, they target their resources, and there has to be a clear commitment by the individual household. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth made a compelling point about what type of houses need to be energy efficient and have fuel poverty measures applied. We know that the most vulnerable people live in the oldest property. If we are serious about dealing with fuel poverty, that is the problem that we have to attack. As we know, those people will not necessarily fit into the right category of benefit support, or meet the criteria of the scheme. Such matters need to be taken into account.

I am clearly aware that such features have to be introduced according to the way that we operate in the House. I am always aware that the passing of legislation may be the stick, but the carrot has to be the way in which people change their mindsets, and we must ensure that we do the best we can. I hope that the debate has been useful, that the Government treat seriously the new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North and that the required work is taking place.

I see that my hon. Friend the Minister has a copy of the NAO report, and I apologise if I put my foot in it because I did not notice the embargo on it. I still think that it is useful for us to know what is being done. The Government ought to take credit for it. When we have done good things, we should say, ''This is working and we are going to put more resources into it.'' The qualification is that we have had to reduce

slightly the funding for the warm front scheme next year because of DEFRA's budgetary problems. However, everything can come together; there is a need for coherence and legislation can provide a coherent framework. I hope that the Minister will give a good hearing to our plaintive pleas and will give the Bill the teeth that it needs to make the differences that all of us want to see.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Liberal Democrat, Guildford 10:15, 24 June 2003

I, too, would like to see the clause agreed. It has reasonableness stamped all the way through it. It is not trying to tie the Government down beyond what is practical. It recognises that situations change, new technologies come along, and the Minister might decide that the targets could be tougher. In fact, it is almost too reasonable. Last year, I debated the Home Energy Conservation Bill believing that it would really work towards helping the fuel poor and alleviating the situations that we heard described earlier, only to find that nothing would be done for the fuel poor because it was talked out—nul point so far as they were concerned.

Sustainable energy is essential and the Government's energy White Paper was most welcome in that it made reference to it. However, as somebody with only a couple of years' experience of Parliament, I still get very confused. How is it that the Government put targets in their White Paper, but when other targets are introduced in a private Member's Bill we suddenly find ourselves with something referred to as aims, which are not even very well specified? I came into Parliament to pin people down as to what they were going to have to do. I thought that that was what the legislative process was about.

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

Yes. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry that he has associated himself with so much of the watering down of his own Bill. I know that he worked tremendously hard to ensure that there was something concrete in the Bill—nothing unreasonable or irrational, but an enactment of part of the White Paper that would take us one stage further. I have a lot of sympathy with the view of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle about targets. The Government are obsessed with them; hospitals quail under them, as do schools. I have been in and out of my local schools during the past few weeks thanking teachers for their achievements despite the targets that the Government rain down on them all the time.

Yet when a target comes near, the Government duck. In fact, they crawl and hide. Committee sittings are constantly rearranged so that the Government can try to find the fig leaf of which we have heard, and attach it in the right place to achieve the shred of decency that they seek. I am not convinced that the fig leaf is where it should be. This is a Bill that—

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

Will the hon. Lady tell us exactly where the fig leaf should be?

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

I would like to, but, being in a Room full of men, I feel that I really must draw a veil over the matter now. However, the Bill is scarcely a macho Bill.

Some comments have been made about fuel poverty, which is desperately important. Over the past few months we have seen the contrast between what the true price of energy is, and the problems with British Energy and the money spent on bailing it out. We have never really paid the true cost of nuclear and we know that adjustments need to be made in the market, both in renewables and in traditional fuels, to get the right price for energy. All the time we say, ''We can't do this, because it would affect the fuel poor.'' The reality is that some of the objectives in the Bill to do with energy efficiency, CHP and home energy conservation, which we looked at last year, would go a long way to dealing with fuel poverty and reducing the amount of fuel that people need, and in that way we might see a more sensible approach to energy pricing.

One cannot take such things one by one, but having the original objectives of the Bill in place would have helped with the wider argument on energy as a whole. We need to work on that. I am happy to support the clause, but would still be fascinated to know why DEFRA is not happy—I am sure that the Minister will refer back to what happens in that Department. If the rumour that DEFRA lawyers were not happy is true, the question of who actually runs DEFRA arises—we know that it changes from week to week. It is possible to achieve a sensible compromise in DEFRA through what I think is now known as the domestic kerbside recycling Bill. That Bill was watered down, but some teeth were left in place—there are to be two sorts of recycling, which means that a vehicle will have turn up at the premises to bring about kerbside recycling. I do not think that the Bill will lead to any vehicle turning up to do anything by the time it has been so watered down.

On the whole, we are likely to support the Bill in order to get something on the statute books, but what poverty of ambition the Government have. I am afraid that I must say to the promoter of the Bill that it is a compromise too far—I am sorry to say that in view of the enormous amount of work that he has done. I hope that the Minister, who is an intelligent, thoughtful person, might be able to lift his sights to the horizon a little bit to see what we can do to give the Bill teeth, because it underpins so many other things that we need to do to improve the position not only of business, but, importantly, of the least privileged in our society.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I welcome and support new clauses 8 and 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, which have the aim of introducing a new duty to take reasonable steps to achieve energy efficiency for residential accommodation that has been designated for the purposes of the legislation. I must say to the Committee and to the hon. Member for Guildford that I think that that is a worthwhile and significant step. I am absolutely sure that we shall hear a lot more about that duty in the years ahead. Just as hon. Members in this debate have looked back on significant legislative changes on fuel poverty by this Government and the previous Government, the

provisions will be an important step in improving energy efficiency, and are a good illustration of the progress that will be made if and when the Bill reaches the statute book, as I very much hope it will.

Taking forward work on energy efficiency is a key part of our work in following up the White Paper on energy, which it is my job to deliver.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Before the Minister moves on, I want to probe him a little on what he takes reasonable steps to mean. It seems that in its second term, new Labour is developing a new language of irregular verbs that says to subordinates, ''You have a binding target. I target reasonable steps.'' What does the wording mean to the layman?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

That form of words is extremely familiar in legislation. I shall return to that subject, but I now want to respond to several points that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members raised about the Government's general approach to targets.

We want to achieve a step change throughout the economy in energy efficiency. We are preparing an implementation plan for delivering the strategy set out in the energy White Paper. In order to deliver our commitments, in particular in chapter 3, we will work with the energy efficiency industry, and others who have an interest, to develop that plan. We shall ensure that we provide the time to do that successfully.

New clauses 8 and 9 bring the Bill into line with policy on energy efficiency and our wider climate change objectives. The hon. Member for Blaby is right to say that climate change is happening. We need to make far-reaching changes to the way our economy works to respond to that. The new clauses are helpful steps in that direction. They provide flexibility to allow the designated energy efficiency aims to be altered and improved, and ensure that the appropriate legislation is in place for both England and Wales.

I would like to say a little more about new clause 10, which I am pleased to support. The new clause would have the effect of giving the Government power, following consultation with local government representatives, to give a direction specifying a level of improvement in energy efficiency in residential accommodation to be achieved by energy conservation authorities. It would require those authorities to implement measures that they consider to be cost effective, practical and likely to result in achieving the improvement.

The Government do not want to place new burdens on authorities without offering funding to meet them in full, so we would not issue the directions until the necessary funding could be made available. Until that time, there would be no new financial burdens on authorities. Once full funding was available, we would be able to issue directions; the authorities would have to achieve the improvements in residential energy efficiency by specified deadlines, and they would be given the funding and support that they needed to undertake that task.

New clause 10 would require the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to consult the Local Government Association in England and the

Welsh Local Government Association—we have heard a little about them today—when setting targets for improving efficiency in residential accommodation for energy conservation authorities. The direction would include a date by which the improvements were to be made, and that could be varied by the Secretary of State and the Assembly.

Under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, most authorities have set themselves targets, but those vary considerably. Of course, targets should reflect local circumstances, such as housing type and the state of the stock when the 1995 Act was introduced. However, an important element of the proposed approach is that the direction should be worked out in consultation with representatives from local government, rather than simply imposed from above.

Earlier, we had a good discussion about fuel poverty. I listened with great interest to, and was in agreement with, my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, North, for Monmouth and for Stroud (Mr. Drew). I am pleased that new clause 10 includes a requirement in subsection (6)(a) for local authorities to have regard to the eradication of fuel poverty in the course of carrying out their duties. The fuel poverty strategy that came from the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 sets a target, as we have heard, for the eradication of fuel poverty as far as is reasonably practicable. We are committed to meeting that target, and that provision will help us to do so. We have linked the proposed duties on fuel poverty action to the issue of a direction to achieve improvements in residential energy efficiency, so authorities will be required to undertake additional activities only when full funding is available.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for drawing attention to the progress that we have made. To his credit, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle made that point, too. There has been a good deal of progress on dealing with fuel poverty in the past few years. The White Paper says that in 1996 there were 5.5 million households in fuel poverty. There are now about 3 million. That is substantial progress. The White Paper also makes it clear that there is still a long way to go. We must keep up the momentum. The proposed new clause would help us do that and it may, perhaps, further speed things up.

I was especially impressed by my hon. Friend's diligence in obtaining a copy of the NAO report, which is due to be published tomorrow, and for giving us a sneak preview. He is correct to draw attention to that, because it is another indication of the seriousness with which the issue is being addressed.

My noble Friend Lord Whitty has been referred to during the debate. When I was the Minister at the Treasury dealing with such things, I discussed this topic with him a number of times. No one should underestimate his personal commitment to making progress on dealing with fuel poverty. I look forward to working with him on the present matter in my current role. I am confident that we will be able to make further progress. It is vital that we do.

I enjoyed reading the comments of my hon. Friend—now a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions—in his 1970s book on the subject, which reflect the great importance and enormous impact on millions of people and households of dealing with the matter during the years ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North made a good, thoughtful speech in support of his new clause 7. He reassured me that I would not run into any difficulties if I accepted his proposal. Notwithstanding that, I will resist it. It would replace the target in clause 2 with a duty to

''take reasonable steps to achieve the carbon saving aims in relation to the energy efficiency of residential accommodation specified in any policy document''

designated for the purpose of the legislation. I have made it clear that taking forward energy efficiency measures is a key part of our work in following up the Energy White Paper. We remain completely committed to the commitments made in that document. We want to achieve a step change in energy efficiency throughout the energy economy.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development) 10:30, 24 June 2003

I had forgotten that the Minister was a gamekeeper turned poacher, or vice versa—I am not sure. I do not doubt his good faith, but I doubt his ability to deliver. If we were to accept new clause 8, to which his name is appended, we would agree to a lot of talk about the ''energy efficiency aim''. There is some doubt about that. I hope that before he sits down he will explain exactly what that aim would be.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

Our aims are set out fully in chapter 3 of the White Paper. It is my job to deliver those aims.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

When the new clause says

''at least one efficiency aim'',

does that refer to at least one of the aims in the White Paper?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

We set out in chapter 3 what we intend to achieve on energy efficiency. The proposals in the new clause are a helpful step in that direction.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I do not doubt the Minister's good faith, but he has not answered the question. What will be the energy efficiency aim? Will it be one of the aims in the White Paper? It is mentioned in subsections (1), (2) and (3) of new clause 8.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to the White Paper, in which our 135 aims are set out fully. Those relating to energy efficiency are in chapter 3. We remain committed to all of them. The steps that we are taking in the Bill, as it is now framed, will be helpful in achieving them.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the fears that a number of people have is that, given the way that new clause 8 is now worded, a strict interpretation could allow the Government to do something on the building rate, and then say that that has achieved the Bill's energy efficiency aims, without doing anything else in chapter 3? Would he give the Committee an assurance that that is not the Government's intention, and that it is the Government's intention to bring forward a range of proposals?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that helpful point. I can give indeed give him that assurance. We are committed to making progress across all those areas. I have listened to some of the points that have been made during the debate, particularly from Opposition Members, who have given me the impression that they believe that by tying the Government down—passing laws that constrain the Government—they will advance the aims of the White Paper. That is not the case. I will return to that matter because representatives of both Opposition parties made those points.

As for new clause 7, the White Paper applies to the whole of the UK, not just to England. It is important that we are clear about the respective responsibilities of the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. The amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has tabled spell that out very clearly. Those amendments make it clear that energy efficiency aims would be designated for both England and Wales, and that the Secretary of State for Wales and the National Assembly for Wales would be required to take reasonable steps to achieve those aims. New clause 7 is not as clear about that matter. There has been some debate about the discussions of the last two weeks. I have been a party to those discussions only for the latter part of that period. However, it is clear that this is a matter on which the thinking has moved over that period.

New clauses 8 and 9 are helpful in that they require the designation of energy efficiency aims that are contained in published documents that relate to the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in England. That gives us a useful and a better way forward. I reassure the Committee that my job is to deliver on the aims of the White Paper, and to work with colleagues across Government to achieve all 135 of the commitments that it contains.

In both of this morning's debates, Opposition Members have criticised the Government's approach to targets. We have heard denunciations of the Government for issuing targets; the hon. Member for Guildford was doing that a moment ago. Targets can be important, and in certain areas it is right to have them. The hon. Lady criticised us, only to call for many more targets in the area of energy efficiency. It is not unfair to ask for a little more consistency.

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

I am interested in the Minister's interpretation of what I said. Like colleagues on the other Opposition Benches, I was drawing attention to the Government's own inconsistency in the treatment of targets. One could say that they have over-egged it somewhat with respect to hospitals and schools, and under-egged it with respect to energy efficiency.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I do not agree with the hon. Lady. We have been consistent. It was never the case that the Government scattered targets all over the place. It was always the case that the targets that have been set have been very carefully chosen and weighed. We have made a commitment to set clear, published targets. That is new; it has not been done before. The Government have been able to deploy a powerful mechanism that has allowed great progress to be made

in a range of areas. It is essential that the chosen targets are few and carefully selected, so that the apparatus of the Government can be behind the way in which to achieve them. More targets would undermine the prospect of progress that the much more careful approach would allow us.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

As ever, I am grateful to the Minister, although his approach to the matter is tremendously inconsistent. It has been government by target; targets are coming out of his ears. The Government set their own targets in their 1997 and 2001 manifestos. The targets for renewable energy and for CHP were originally in the Bill. However, he and his Government have been determined to remove them. They are inconsistent because, having set the targets, they must be willing to live up to them.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

The hon. Gentleman is making an error by saying that legislation is the place in which targets should be enshrined. In an earlier debate, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that passing a law with targets was making progress. The hon. Member for Guildford said that she came to Parliament to tie people down. The changes that all of us believe need to be made in the economy, the vision that is set out in the energy White Paper and the target to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 require a massive transformation throughout our economy. They require a large number of players in the private and public sectors to be imaginative and creative and to work in the same direction to achieve that goal. That is a subtle, long-term process. It is difficult.

The appearance in legislation of a particular number could easily be irrelevant to the process. We are looking for a much bigger process of transformation. The Bill, as now proposed, represents an important step in the right direction. I caution, in particular, the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle and for Guildford against believing that, if only they could put a particular number into a Bill, it would solve the problem. We are facing a bigger challenge than that.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 10:45, 24 June 2003

I agree that putting targets into a Bill is not enough. The Minister is missing the crucial point about the Government. After they were elected in 1997, they introduced a series of targets across a wide range of policies. In so doing, they set a new precedent. They set targets in a way in which no previous Government had ever done before. They created them as a new lever and focus for policy direction. Having set that precedent in their first term, the Government changed the political language at Westminster. In their second term, they are now suddenly wishing to revert to the status quo ante. The reason for that is their singular failure to achieve so many of the targets that they set themselves in their first term. The Government are making a rod for their own back. They set the precedent for putting down targets; now, rowing back from those targets, it is unconvincing to say that the reason for so doing is anything other than a failure of policy on their part.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I agree with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman said, which is that the Government

have used targets in a way that is unprecedented and changed the nature of policy making. That is true. The majority of people, not just my hon. Friends, but others as well—agree that that has been an effective step. It has been a positive and welcome change in the transparency of the policy making process. However, he is wrong to say that we rowed back from that. In the area about which we are talking today, several targets have been published. The hon. Member for Blaby referred to some that have been in Labour party manifestos and we stand by them.

Today we are resisting the view that, if only we could make many more targets, the world would be a better place. That is not right and it has never been the Government's approach. It was not the approach taken in 1997. We have always been careful and selective about the targets that are adopted, and careful to ensure that the resources of Government are behind delivering those targets. That was the approach in 1997. That is the approach today and that is the approach for which I am arguing in this debate.

On energy efficiency, I have said several times that we are committed to making progress and delivering our commitment. A properly developed, costed programme will deliver the substantial contribution that we want energy efficiency to make. We will be publishing a detailed strategy on energy efficiency within a year of the date of publication of the White Paper.

I hope that I have given some reassurance to the Committee. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has made an important contribution in bringing forward the Bill. The many animated discussions in which he has taken part have led to the amendments and the new clauses that we are debating today. The Bill will represent a significant and worthwhile step and I hope that the Committee will support him.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

We have had a wide-ranging and detailed debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East has been unjustifiably accused of being a Government quisling, who was too easily seduced. Whether he was tied down before he was seduced was not absolutely clear. The Opposition have accused the Government of having their fig leaf ripped from them. Nevertheless, in spite of the rhetorical excesses of one or two members of the Committee, we have tackled the substantive issue.

I listened carefully to the Minister and was pleased to be reassured by his expansion of the significance of new clauses 8 and 9. He put a persuasive case that individual targets are best not placed in the Bill and that it is the creation of the correct institutional framework and the means to deliver policies and targets that must be its focus. I am not entirely reassured over what has happened to make new clause 7 acceptable last week, but not this week, but we will let that pass.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I agree with the hon. Member for Bury, North about how new clause 7 has become acceptable or unacceptable. I am not sure which it is at the moment. When he is talking about targets, is he aware that the White Paper refers to the achievement

of carbon savings not as an aim or a policy, but as no more than a possibility or an aspiration?

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I am entirely aware of that and I think that that is a weakness of the White Paper. We have had a considerable and interesting discussion about fuel poverty, but ambition poverty is pertinent to some of the arguments that have been advanced.

The Government have been overcautious in the details of the White Paper. The Minister will have taken on board the Committee's strong belief in the need for more stringent targets, although it completely accepts the argument that it is easy to set a target and far more difficult to create the institutional means by which that target can be achieved. Nevertheless, the Committee strongly believes that we need to be more ambitious about meeting our target for reducing CO2 emissions, and about increasing the rate of domestic energy efficiency, which will contribute to meeting that target. In support of that, I quote the new chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, Mr. Philip Sellwood, who made it clear that the trust's view was that targets are a live issue. He said:

''We do believe there is work to be done in turning the White Paper commitments into more definite targets and identifying the resources that will make the commitments possible . . . This will require Government to set definite targets for home energy efficiency.''

The argument that it is not appropriate to include targets in primary legislation is separate from whether the White Paper's rather vague statements need to be converted into targets. However, I was reassured to hear the Minister reiterate that the taskforce charged with developing the energy efficiency programme will report according to its original target of 12 months from the date of publication of the White Paper, which should be February 2004. We look forward with great interest to the programme that will be published then.

I hope that the Minister has taken on board the strength of the Committee's view and the advice from organisations and individuals outside Parliament, especially people charged with advising Government—not least the Energy Saving Trust—and that he provides reassurance about the way in which new clauses 8, 9 and 10 will operate. So long as he does so, I will not press new clause 7.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 6.

Division number 2 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 2 - Domestic energy efficiency

Aye: 3 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 disagreed to.