Clause 22 - Powers under sections 17 to 20: supplementary

Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 9th June 2011.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party 4:00 pm, 9th June 2011

I beg to move amendment 107, in clause 22, page 16, line 23, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

‘(4) Modifications made under sections 17 to 20—

(a) shall be made by statutory instrument;

(b) shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’

This amendment would make all modifications to the Gas Act 1986 or the Electricity Act 1989 subject to the affirmative procedure in both Houses of Parliament.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 108, in clause 35, page 22, line 43, leave out subsections (2) to (6) and insert—

‘(2) Before the Code is issued a draft of the code must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

This amendment would make the code of practice for the purposes of the Green Deal subject to the affirmative procedure in both Houses of Parliament.

Amendment 109, in clause 36, page 23, line 17, leave out subsections (3) to (5) and insert—

‘(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations or an order under this chapter shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by, resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

This amendment would make any regulations or orders related to the Green Deal subject to the affirmative procedure in both Houses of Parliament.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

My amendments follow on from the Minister’s comment in Tuesday’s Committee sitting that any order made under clause 1(9) would be subject to the affirmative procedure, while any green deal code of practice would be subject to the negative procedure. If I am right that there is that discrepancy, I call on the  Minister to explain it. I think that he said no fewer than 16 times during the Committee’s first two sittings on Tuesday that more detail would come in secondary legislation. Given the importance of secondary legislation to the Bill, I call on him to assure the Committee that every bit of it will be subject to the greater parliamentary scrutiny that the affirmative procedure provides.

The Committee is being asked to approve a Bill the final result of which will depend far more on what is detailed in secondary legislation than on the words before us today. I know that the use of secondary legislation has increased over a number of Parliaments, but this Bill takes that practice to a new extreme. Indeed, assessments suggest that 50 or 60 clauses of the Bill—about half of it—depend on secondary legislation. I do not mean to suggest that I do not trust the Minister to write some excellent secondary legislation, but I do not think that he is completely infallible.

The Minister himself has recognised that the Bill has already been improved through the parliamentary process, first in the other place and then on Second Reading and in Committee, and I simply ask him not to deprive the Bill’s all-important secondary legislation of the same quality of contribution. I recognise that the Bill was amended in another place to accept the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, but notwithstanding those improvements, I believe that without the changes I suggest, too many elements that are central to the green deal will not be sufficiently scrutinised by Parliament, to their detriment. I therefore call on the Minister to accept my amendments and commit to involving Parliament to a much greater degree in the development of the Bill’s secondary legislation.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

As the hon. Lady has set out, the amendments relate to the parliamentary procedure that applies to the three powers in the Bill. Amendment 107 would require changes to energy supply licences to be introduced only through a statutory instrument and only after a positive endorsement by each House. Amendment 108 would require the draft code of practice to be laid before Parliament and approved by each House under the affirmative procedure. Amendment 109 would require all orders and regulations in the Bill to be laid before Parliament under the affirmative procedure.

The Government view the modifications as unnecessary. A large number of them would involve technical provisions to establish the system for collecting green deal payments. I understand the wider, important point that the hon. Lady makes. We are committed to ensuring that the substantive measures of the green deal that will come into force under secondary legislation are not only debated and scrutinised, but are publicised and receive a proper airing. It is in our interests to ensure that.

It is worth noting, however, that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not comment on the absence of parliamentary procedure in the green deal licence modification powers, and the Government agree with that. We are committed to consulting widely on any changes to energy supply licences that are needed to ensure the smooth functioning of the green deal, as is clearly set out under clause 21.

Clause 35 already provides for parliamentary scrutiny of the code of practice. A draft code will be laid before Parliament and will not be issued if either House resolves  not to approve it. We believe that that parliamentary procedure strikes the right balance between the need for proper scrutiny, which is absolutely right and proper, and the best use of parliamentary time. The code will deal with the detailed practical issues regarding green deal participants’ conduct in specific situations; it will cover complaints-handling, qualifications and marketing. However, the Bill already provides that a large proportion of secondary legislation on the green deal will follow the affirmative procedure.

I appreciate the important points that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, makes about the need for full and thorough scrutiny of the detail in the green deal, particularly given that so much of it is being left to secondary legislation. However, I urge her to understand that a significant amount of that is of a very technical nature. We risk clogging up Parliament and almost offering a smokescreen to the Government, who could, if they were so minded, push through matters that were more controversial under a covering volley of technical jargon. I assure her that matters of real importance, specified in the Bill, will be subject to the proper affirmative procedure. However, given the accompanying technical detail, reviewing those matters would not be a practical use of Parliament’s and hon. Members’ time. Given those arguments, and in light of previous, similar discussions, I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured and feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I thank the Minister. I am not entirely reassured, because it is precisely in the technical detail that the meat of the debate lies, as we have discovered in our discussions today and in previous sittings. The devil is in the detail, and the way in which the technicalities pan out will make the difference in whether the measures are a success. Can the Minister provide a list of measures that will be brought back, so that we know exactly when affirmative action will be an option for us in future?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

The hon. Lady’s suggestion is sensible. I am very happy to provide an indicative guide, so that all Committee members know which parts of the Bill are likely to be affected. We have, however, just sped through a series of clauses without a single word of debate because they were largely uncontroversial and not technical. That is not uncommon parliamentary practice, and it allows us to zero in on the matters that are of most concern to stakeholders and our constituents.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.