Clause 68 - Overall home-heating cost reduction targets

Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 16th June 2011.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 2:00 pm, 16th June 2011

I beg to move amendment 119, in clause 68, page 51, line 44, after ‘homes’, insert—

‘or may specify targets for the promotion of measures for reducing the cost to specified groups of individuals of heating their homes.’.

This is essentially a two-for-one offer on the part of Labour Members, and we have already had a substantial debate about a number of aspects of the targeting of ECO, so I will not go over them in detail again but, on this amendment, I would like to divide the Committee if necessary. I have six propositions which are all that need to be said, and then I will sit down.

First, we need to deal with hard-to-treat homes if we are to achieve our climate change targets. Secondly, ECO can deal with hard-to-treat homes. Thirdly, ECO will inevitably be limited in scope and will not therefore treat all hard-to-treat homes in the first few  years of its operation. Fourthly, people in fuel poverty disproportionately live in hard-to-treat homes. Fifthly, targeting people in fuel poverty who live in hard-to-treat homes should therefore be undertaken within the limited scope of the existing ECO. Sixthly, targeting that raises the energy efficiency of a district even though some homes in that district might not be in fuel poverty makes sense, provided that the targeting relates to the likelihood of high fuel poverty existing in that district.

Those are reasons for the amendment, and I trust that the Minister will agree with them.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

In the previous debate, I put on the record that we at no point have said that we should abandon our carbon emissions reduction target. If the Minister looked back in Hansard, he would see that I had said it was not mutually exclusive. However, while we support the amendment, I echo my earlier points.

Seven million homes in the UK have solid-wall insulation. It is estimated that 2 million of those are also households in fuel poverty. If the ECO pot is at the £20 billion mark, that money will help those 2 million homes and no others, leaving anything between 3 million and 4 million households in fuel poverty, at current estimates. Nothing else is on the table, and the Minister has said that ECO is the game-changer for fuel poverty, so the ECO pot and whatever is limited within it should at least be directed at those households experiencing fuel poverty, and we would therefore not need to have 44,000 excess winter deaths every year. That is where our resources should be targeted.

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

I am sorry to hear the hon. Lady say that, because she is therefore ruling out support for community-wide schemes for the same types of housing across the board. She would only provide ECO support to those on a defined, fuel-poor income basis, not on the basis of the housing lived in. She is trying to have her cake and eat it. We cannot define eligibility simply on the income of the household, irrespective of the type of poverty. If we are to roll a scheme out effectively and economically, to whole areas and street by street, we cannot exclude next-door neighbours because they might be just above the fuel-poor definition.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

I refer to our debate, in which we said we were not being exclusive. We were talking about priorities, and that is the point. The priority for installing measures should be given to the homes of those living in fuel poverty, not given to them exclusively. Obviously, if the pot were bigger, we could treat all the homes in the UK.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

Order. We are on amendment 119. We had a wide debate on clause 64. I would appreciate Members staying with me on the subject in hand.

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

Amendment 119 addresses an important element of what we want to achieve through the provisions in this part of the Bill. We recognise that in some circumstances additional or different support will be needed for specific groups of individuals—for example, and most obviously, vulnerable and low-income households, so that they can heat their homes to a more suitable level, avoiding the regular cold winter deaths with which  we are all too familiar. Through provisions contained in the home heating cost-reduction target, the ECO has been specifically designed to enable us to provide such support.

For example, clause 64(6)(a) and proposed new subsection 5(bb) make it clear that the home heating cost-reduction target can be required to be met by action relating to

“individuals of a specified description.”

In fact, the legislation goes further and allows individuals to be targeted by reference to the type of property in which they might reside.

In the light of that, I assure the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and my hon. Friend the Member for Wells that the intentions of the amendment are fully met elsewhere in the Bill. I have indicated where those provisions are to be found, and I assure Opposition Members that we hold a similar position on the issue. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 2:15 pm, 16th June 2011

I am sorry, but I would like to press the amendment to a vote. The amendment states that the Secretary of State “may specify targets.” It would give a power to the Secretary of State, and I see no reason why it should not be incorporated into the legislation, even if other passages in the Bill point in that direction. The amendment would provide a specific, encapsulated version of how the Secretary of State may specify targets. Even at this point, I ask whether the Minister is prepared to include the amendment in the Bill. It would incorporate a large number of concerns that have been aired by Opposition Members, justifiably and extensively debated, and largely agreed on by all parties. It would be a pleasant, cordial and friendly gesture for the Minister to incorporate the amendment into the Bill, and many hon. Members would be happier about what the Bill means in an overall sense. It would be a good deed in not such a good world and on not such a good day.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly persuasive and charming case, and I am all in favour of generous, pleasant, cordial and amicable gestures in the Committee Room. However, I am also mindful that we are absolutely confident—I have just been reassured by my officials—that we have already accounted for the amendment in clause 66. I am also mindful that we have an obligation not to unduly amend this Bill, which started in the other place. There is a balance to be struck, and the more we amend the Bill, the more likely it is to be delayed on its return to the upper House. We cannot afford to amend the Bill unnecessarily and risk delaying Royal Assent until after the summer recess. I have to be frugal with the amendments that I offer, and cautious about any changes that we make. Where there is demonstrably a case that the measure is already covered in the Bill, I have to resist the hon. Gentleman’s charms and say that we cannot support his amendment.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Clause 66 is not the comprehensive clause that deals with all the issues; it deals with gas bill payers, and clause 67 deals with those who pay for  electricity. The clause under discussion is an amendment to a subsequent clause, the terms of which can be universal, and that is not the same thing. I think it would be a good idea to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 10.

Division number 8 Decision Time — Clause 68 - Overall home-heating cost reduction targets

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 68 ordered to stand part of the Bill.