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Sustainable Energy Act

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 30th March 2004.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Margaret Moran.]

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) 9:30 am, 30th March 2004

I am delighted to have been successful in the ballot for this debate on an extremely important topic. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some firm, practical and robust answers.

The background to the debate is the success of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003, which was a private Member's Bill promoted by Brian White, who hopes to join us later. An important provision in that Act is section 2(1), which states:

"The Secretary of State must within one week beginning with the coming into force of this section designate under this subsection at least one energy efficiency aim.

The designation of that energy efficiency aim is at the core of what I want to say today, although it is part of the bigger topics of promoting sustainability and eradicating fuel poverty in housing, and—this is not incidental—building up a viable energy efficiency industry in the United Kingdom, with the accompanying employment and economic prospects.

The Minister has a good idea of what I am going to say, not least because he has already heard it in stereo from just about every part of the spectrum. For a start, 332 hon. Members signed early-day motion 96, which sets out the core of the subject. Overall, 420 hon. Members have signed early-day motions or voted or spoken in debates in support of the sustainable energy aim set out in the 2003 Act. We are still waiting for that aim. If that is not enough, the Secretary of State has received a joint letter from every environmental non-governmental organisation asking when the aim will be published and what it is.

A similar letter was received by the Secretary of State from every fuel poverty NGO and other relevant organisations. In addition, just about every trade association and group of manufacturers and installers of energy efficiency equipment has also written in the same terms. The Minister has heard about the matter not just in stereo but quadrophonically. His Department knows the script, but I want to ask, on the record, some pertinent questions and I hope that he, in turn, will put some robust and positive answers on the record.

To go back a little, we need to emphasise the importance of developing a sustainable environmental policy and to remind ourselves that 27 per cent. of the carbon dioxide emissions produced in the United Kingdom come from homes and houses. We are living a lifestyle that needs three planets to be sustainable, not the one that we have. I am hoping that, apart from any assurances that the Minister can give on this subject, he will say that there is a determination throughout the Government to ensure that our homes and housing stock are far more sustainable in future than they have been in the past and that the Government intend to play an active part in promoting that. I particularly hope that he will explain to his ministerial colleagues the need to designate a requirement on the Thames gateway site for perhaps 2,000 zero-energy homes, which could kick-start the whole sustainable housing market.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this Adjournment debate. The subject is important. He referred to the Thames gateway, and he will be aware that my constituency is in that area. Many of the 40,000 people on Canvey Island live 6 ft below sea level. The argument is not just academic, because within 40, 50 or perhaps 80 years, the flood defences will again be threatened. If we are to build another 2,000 houses in the Thames gateway—it is said that some will be on the flood plain—it is very important that we tackle global warming and CO 2 emissions, which increased by 1.5 per cent. last year and have increased in three years out of the past four. Clearly, the Government must do something.

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 agree. The hon. Gentleman has the fortune, or possibly the misfortune, to represent a constituency that will be directly affected if global warming proceeds unchecked, and he makes a valuable point.

When the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East introduced his Bill, as it then was, the relevant clause stated that the Government should set "targets. I served on the Committee that considered the Bill, as did other hon. Members here, and there was a considerable tussle between the Government and the Bill's supporters about the precise wording. Eventually, the Government prevailed and the word "aims was substituted for "targets. That represented a serious watering down. Revisiting the Committee transactions, I see that there was a great deal of concern, not to say bitterness, on both sides of the Committee when the change was made. I am not sure whether this is a parliamentary term, but I slagged off the promoter of the Bill somewhat for his faint-heartedness. However, as I am now steering my own private Member's Bill through the system, I can see how such things happen and I am somewhat more forgiving of the fact that he felt the need to buckle under Government pressure.

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services said in Committee that we need have no fear that the word "targets was being replaced by "aims. He said that that had to do with chapter 3 of the White Paper, which set out the Government's aims. He said that they were still the Government's aims and that the Bill's proposals would be "helpful in achieving them He also said that

"to deliver our commitments, in particular in chapter 3, we will work with the energy efficiency industry, and others who have an interest.—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 24 June 2003; c. 56–58]

Given that assurance, does it matter that, nine months later, interdepartmental shilly-shallying is blocking all progress, scaring away investors in the energy efficiency industry and undermining the achievement of the United Kingdom's CO2 targets? As Bob Spink said, it certainly does matter, because UK CO2 emissions are increasing. They increased in three of the past four years, most recently by 1.5 per cent. A Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dismissed that as simply "a blip, but if, in three years out of four, instead of working towards our target, we are going in the opposite direction, that is more than a blip.

We are moving away from the Kyoto targets to which the Government signed up, and we all know that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to cut CO2 emissions and get back on track. It not only helps us to achieve the Kyoto targets but enables households to save on their fuel bills and improves their comfort and health. It can also make a major impact on fuel poverty reduction. Furthermore, if there was steady and sustained investment in energy efficiency, driven by clear public policy, we would see growth in jobs and economic progress in the industry and throughout the economy.

However, when we consider the record since June, we see that there has instead been a tremendous amount of weaselling by Ministers and Departments. At the time, the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services said that we need not worry, because there were 135 targets in the White Paper and the aims in the Bill would be a way of harnessing the fulfilment of at least some of them. However, he was a little elusive in Committee about precisely which ones, and closer inspection shows why. Although there are 135 targets in the White Paper, amazingly, none is about energy efficiency. It says only that there is an expectation that there will be a carbon reduction—there is not a target.

In the absence of any definition of the aims set out in section 2, which was supposed to be given within one week of its coming into force, no one knows what they are supposed to do to implement Government policy on energy efficiency. That means that everyone in the energy efficiency industry is pretty much stalled. They cannot go to the bank manager to raise money to invest on expanding their business to fulfil an undefined expectation and an absent aim. They need a bankable commitment. They need a target. At the very least they need a published aim. They need that even more having been led up the aisle and dumped more than once before by the Government, such as on cavity wall insulation in 1999.

The energy efficiency industry needs something that is published and bankable all the more because after the Minister made his announcement in June 2003, the Government promptly cut their expectation in half. Instead of talking about a saving of 5 million tonnes of carbon by 2010, they started to talk about a 4 million to 6 million tonnes saving by 2020. From the industry point of view, that is simply unacceptable. Perhaps not surprisingly, there has been no development and no expansion, and no effort yet to move in the direction set out in the Sustainable Energy Act.

After downgrading the expectation by 50 per cent., the Government sent a memo to the Environmental Audit Committee last May in which the then Energy Minister, Mr. Wilson, confirmed the smaller figure. It was repeated on 16 September 2003 by Lord Evans, the Government spokesman in the House of Lords.

The level of confusion at that time was such that director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, Andrew Warren, took up the matter with the permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, Sir Robin Young. He pointed out the problems caused by not having a published aim and the expectation being halved. In a letter dated 22 August, Sir Robin replied:

"I can certainly confirm that the Government remains committed to the White Paper figures

"of around 5 MtC by 2010.

In addition, it was agreed by the Department that Lord Evans's words in the House of Lords were an error, and in another letter to Mr. Warren, dated 19 September, Sir Robin wrote:

"I am happy to confirm that the 4 to 6 MtC saving quoted by Lord Evans was intended as a reference to additional annual savings by 2020, over and above the 5 MtC by 2010.

Quite remarkably he continued:

"the Hansard Editor of Debates has offered to include a clarification in the Bound Volume and we will be writing to her to confirm this.

The bound volume for that period has not yet been published, so I cannot confirm that that has happened.

By this time, there was much concern and confusion. Baroness Maddock asked a parliamentary question last October and received a further assurance that we were talking about 5 million tonnes by 2010 and a further 4 million to 6 million tonnes by 2010. Lord Whitty, speaking to the all-party group for intelligent energy on 10 December said:

"We must reach the ambitious targets for energy efficiency in the Energy White Paper. Without this all the other objectives will not be achieved.

That is perhaps the first time the Government have used the word "targets. The figures in the White Paper are now officially referred to as "targets, despite all the Government's efforts to replace that word with "aims in the Sustainable Energy Bill.

In his consultation document, "Economic instruments to improve household energy efficiency, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government are still working towards their aim of saving 5 million tonnes of carbon from domestic energy efficiency by 2010. That suggests that, despite a minor wobble, things are back on course. We must consider the process by which the Government will publish that aim. That takes us back to what the Minister offered in the debate last June when he said:

"In order to deliver our commitments, we will work with the energy efficiency industry, and others who have an interest. —[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 24 June 2003; c. 56.]

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

The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case, but would he, like me, accept that one of the underlying problems has been the fact that the Government have some form in cutting the warm front programme, which is crucial to eradicating fuel poverty? The only way in which that can be done in a sustainable way is by introducing energy efficiency, and the Government must get that programme back on track. Does he agree?

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)

Yes, I very much agree. If we have more time, I should like to explore that issue more fully. Unfortunately, there is not just uncertainty about how the Sustainable Energy Act will be implemented, and when the aims will be published, but all the energy efficiency industry's experience of Government action is negative. Warm words were said in 1999 about cavity wall insulation and now about the warm front programme. The situation has built up and just when things might be starting to happen, a great deal has been knocked down. It makes it all the more difficult for somebody running a company, thinking that they might take advantage of new market opportunities, to visit the bank manager and say, "I have this real opportunity, without being laughed at. The climate for business investment that the Government set is very important. I understood that one of the badges of new Labour was to be finely tuned to the needs of business, compared with their previous incarnations. On this issue, they seem to have gone completely off track.

In June last year, the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services offered to

"work with the energy efficiency industry, and others who have an interest. —[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 24 June 2003; c. 56.]

The Secretary of State is well briefed on what the industry and those other interests want: they all want to see the 5 million tonnes of carbon that will be saved by energy efficiency set out as a clear aim in legislation, which will then underpin their own programmes for investment and targeting the problem.

Every energy efficiency company and trade association signed a joint letter sent to the Minister and to every hon. Member, saying that it was imperative to set those targets. It said:

"If we are to secure the necessary funding, then absolute and unambiguous quantified carbon saving commitments will be needed from the Government.

The Government face a completely unanimous view from every outside body and interest, as well as from the 332 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion, yet they still have not set those targets. The reason for applying for this debate has been enhanced by the letter now being circulated by the Economic Secretary, which was sent to a number of hon. Members. I quote from the version sent to Mrs. Williams, which is dated 12 March 2004. It says that:

"rather than setting specific targets it is more important to put in place the right incentives for individuals to take up energy efficiency.

In other words, we will not have targets or aims, but simply incentives. We know that incentives do not work. They have not worked for 25 years and there is not the slightest evidence that they will work in the next 25 years, so the letter completely tears up the script that Ministers laid out when they were amending the Sustainable Energy Bill in June 2003. It tears up the script, carefully repairing the damage done by mis-speaking in the House of Lords to say, "No, the target of 5 million tonnes of carbon is a target based on the White Paper, so everybody except the Government is out of step. Actually, everybody, including half the Government, is in step, but half the Government are not.

Last week, 15 of the United Kingdom's leading companies involved in the manufacture, distribution and supply of energy wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that they were

"extremely concerned to have had sight of letters currently being sent to MPs by the Economic Secretary . . . about Energy Efficiency.

They went on to say:

"We know all too well from bitter past experience that 'incentives' without targets simply will not ensure the creation of sufficient business confidence to enable us to invest in plant, personnel and delivery structures. We should therefore be most grateful for your assurance that the Treasury does not intend to resile from the commitments given by Lord Whitty.

I hope that I have outlined some of the flip-flops that the Government have made on the issue. I ask the Minister whether he is willing to rescue the Act and his Government's reputation by flipping, or perhaps flopping, once more. Will he tell hon. Members whether the words of the Energy Minister in Committee in June 2003 still stand, or should we believe what their Lordships were told on 12 September 2003, that instead of reducing by 5 million tonnes by 2010, the aim is 5 million tonnes by 2020—an effective halving of the aim? Or is it what Lord Whitty said to the all-party group on 10 December 2003, reinstating the target of 5 million tonnes by 2010, plus another target of 4 million to 6 million tonnes by 2020? Or is it what the Economic Secretary wrote in his letter of 12 March 2004, that we will not have any aims or targets at all and that everything will be done by incentives? Which of those multiple versions of the truth is the one that the Minister wants to give hon. Members today? Will he please make it the most positive and robust that he can? Otherwise his sustainability policy will not go anywhere.

There has been a lot of confusion, not among those who supported the legislation or the 332 hon. Members who want to see the list of aims and targets produced, but in Government. I do not know whether that is the result of careful and deliberate debate or whether it is because, as is often the case on energy policy, every Department is at sixes and sevens with every other Department. Whatever the process has been, the consequences are the same. The confusion and uncertainty mean that there has been no investment or planning and that we are nowhere near fulfilling the needs of the Government and the policy that the Minister professes to support.

I ask the Minister, who has the uncomfortable job of speaking for the Government and for DEFRA this morning, to give the reassurance sought by the manufacturing companies in the letter sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 26 March that the Government will set a specific target. Specifically, will he put it on the record that they support the higher target of 5 million tonnes by 2010 and the extended 4 million to 6 million extra by 2020? We need a clear sense of purpose and direction. Will he publish at least one aim as soon as possible, so that the industry can get to work on the job? Will he give an assurance that he will relay to other Departments the strong and firm view that an excellent way to start on the objective of developing sustainable housing would be to set a target of 2,000 zero-energy homes at Thames gateway?

At one level, this is a technical and impenetrable debate about the implementation of one aspect of a private Member's Bill, which 99 per cent. of the public have probably not heard of. At another level, the debate can be used as a bit of partisan fun and knockabout because the Government have, yet again, not got their act together. However, I hope that we will view the debate in a third way: if we want the UK to be a world leader in providing for a sustainable planet, we must get right these decisions, which the Government perhaps consider as being at the micro-level—trivial or below the radar. Such decisions can mount up, as one brick after another in the wall, to provide a proper sustainability policy. I hope that I have illustrated the problem, and I look forward to the Government telling me what the answer is.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East 9:57 am, 30th March 2004

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I congratulate Mr. Stunell on winning the ballot, thus allowing us to air our views this morning. Energy efficiency is extremely important for saving people from fuel poverty. I shall tackle the debate from that angle and stress fuel poverty more than energy efficiency.

We have had a mild winter, so we have not seen the alarming headlines of previous winters. Whether climate change will continue to save us from those headlines, none of us can say, but we were lucky this winter and fewer people than usual died from hypothermia. We have been lucky this year, but we need to make more progress in energy efficiency.

According to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group's second annual report of 2003–04, between 1.4 million and 2 million people were in fuel poverty in 2001. Those figures represent a substantial reduction—a halving—of the 1996 figure. Therein lies one of the problems: the definition of fuel poverty. The usual definition revolves around the 10 per cent. or more of income that people have to spend on fuel to maintain the heating of their home as well as the cooking and lighting. According to the charity National Energy Action, the figures change depending on the definition of income. The Government take into account full income, including receipt of benefits, and on that basis, 1.8 million people were in fuel poverty in 2001. However, on the basis of basic income, the figure would increase to 2.4 million. The ideal would be to consider disposable income after housing costs have been paid, whether that is a mortgage or rent to a social or private landlord, in which case the figures increase substantially. When we look at figures that show people left in housing poverty, we must take those facts into consideration.

Rising incomes and benefit levels and falling fuel prices contributed significantly to the reduction that I have just mentioned. The incoming Labour Government reduced VAT on fuel to 5 per cent. in 1997, which helped tremendously, and later introduced the winter fuel allowance, which also helped considerably and which was increased recently for some pensioners. An added benefit is that the Government have targeted benefits at the poorest pensioners to keep people out of fuel poverty. Other vulnerable groups have been similarly targeted with benefits. The average SAP—standard assessment procedure—rating for homes rose from 41.5 to 50.5 between 1991 and 2001, and from 39 to 49.4 in the same period for the 30 per cent. of households with the lowest incomes, so energy efficiency measures have obviously also contributed.

However, I have a worry about fuel prices, which have started to rise again. The biggest rises have been in Northern Ireland, where it has just been announced that, on top of an 11 per cent. increase in gas prices announced in October 2003, there is to be a further 20 per cent. increase. That is a staggering increase in one fuel price, never mind the knock-on effect on the price of electricity. It will be difficult to combat fuel poverty in the future if those trends continue. Increases in fuel prices are already beginning to dominate the headlines in the rest of the United Kingdom.

There are still about 4,000 communities throughout the United Kingdom with a cluster of more than 50 households that are as little as 2 km from a gas main. The Department of Trade and Industry has estimated that 120,000 households in such communities could be removed from fuel poverty merely by connecting them to the main. The Government are vigorously pursuing the pathfinder policy to connect 65,000 of those vulnerable households, along with 60,000 others.

Shortly, however, the United Kingdom will be importing up to 70 per cent. of its gas from the continent. That is one of my concerns. We will have virtually no control over the prices that the countries that supply the gas will charge the United Kingdom, not only for supplying the gas but for transporting it across the continent and under the channel. With the cost comes the added fear of a lack of security. I am pleased that energy is being discussed in the House of Lords in relation to the Energy Bill. I hope that the Bill will come before the House of Commons shortly. It has attracted much criticism, and I am sure that we can have that debate when it comes through. I want to see diversification in relation to the supply of energy, and not total reliance on importing 70 per cent. of gas from the continent, which could have a severe effect on fuel poverty in the future if we are not careful.

A 10 per cent. increase in electricity and gas prices increases the numbers in fuel poverty by half a million in the UK. As we have seen, there has been an increase of much more than 10 per cent. already in Northern Ireland. Consequently, at least half a million people pro rata have been rammed back into fuel poverty in that part of the United Kingdom alone.

The warm front, which is an excellent scheme and is much better today than it was in previous years, the energy efficiency commitment—the EEC—and schemes such as the network gas extension, to which I have just referred, are estimated to need £2.5 billion in resources over the period from 2005 to 2010. That is if we are to meet the Government's commitment to remove people from fuel poverty. If expenditure on the EEC is doubled, other programmes need to be increased by at least 50 per cent. to meet the Government's commitment. That is quite a staggering increase. We should bear it in mind that in the current year the resources committed to the warm front have decreased. I plead with the Minister to look at the excellent warm front scheme very carefully and allocate many more resources to it over the next five or 10 years.

If a broader definition of fuel poverty were taken, to which I referred obliquely at the beginning of my speech, the Government would have to commit not £2.5 billion but £3 billion extra in resources to meet their commitments. They have set a target to eliminate fuel poverty entirely by 2016, and by 2010 for the most vulnerable groups. From what I have already said, that cannot be achieved through business as usual. We have to accelerate our efforts to get people out of fuel poverty and to increase energy efficiency.

While I am on the subject of the warm front scheme, I want to flag up some people in my constituency who are in extreme fuel poverty but unable to do anything about it. Mrs. N receives disability living allowance for her son, who is aged four. Because the benefit is not paid directly to the householder—Mrs. N—or her spouse, the family are not eligible for a warm homes grant. That means that her son does not have the opportunity to grow up in a warm, safe environment. The benefit has to be paid to the householder in order to trigger the grant, which I do not think is right.

Another case in my constituency flags up a slightly different problem. Mrs. R was awarded a top-up grant of only £170 for her loft insulation. She did not really call for the insulation. People knocked on her door, persuaded her that it was a good thing, and because it did not cost her any money she let them go ahead and do it. Now, however, her central heating system is on the verge of breakdown and she is extremely anxious. She is only 53 years old, but she is disabled and in receipt of disability living allowance, income support and incapacity benefit. However, she cannot get the grant because of a small amount of money that was spent on a small amount of loft insulation in the past. She now has to consider remortgaging her property, but feels that the building society will not let her do so.

I notice that the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group's annual report for 2003–04 recommends to the Government that

"Work should be carried out to understand the circumstances of those not in receipt of a 'gateway' benefit but clearly in fuel poverty.

It also recommends that

"The Warm Front Scheme Managers should have a small discretionary 'pot' of funds for those in urgent need of help, but not for a variety of reasons eligible for the schemes.

I completely endorse those recommendations, and hope that the Minister will take them seriously. The warm front scheme is an excellent one, but it needs to be examined again so that some extreme cases of fuel poverty, which are currently excluded for "rules are rules reasons, are brought within its scope.

The warm front scheme deals with many people who are not in extreme fuel poverty, and people have flagged that up as a worry, but we should deal with whole areas where we know there is poverty. We know which are the most deprived wards in the country. Regrettably, several are in my constituency. I could take the Minister to some areas of my constituency and we could set a boundary in that deprived ward and work through it dealing with every household, instead of trying to pick out the ones that just qualify under the rules. Some people would have had energy efficiency measures carried out in their properties, but I bet most of the people in those deprived areas would have qualified anyhow if they had been called on, or if they had called on the managers of the scheme. Energy action areas are an excellent idea, and rather than mess about with a scattergun approach, it might be better to identify the most deprived areas of Britain and treat them wholesale.

In the Housing Bill debate, I said that the new build standards of energy efficiency are very high, in both the private and the social housing sectors. I said, too, that although the decent homes standard is good, and I applaud the Government for their target of bringing all social sector housing to a decent standard by 2010, it is sad that according to the Government's figures people are still being left behind in fuel poverty. That cannot be right; it must mean that the decent homes standard is not addressing the energy efficiency measures under which homes in the private and social housing sectors should be brought up to the standard for new build in the building regulations.

The Government have some excellent schemes: for example, the decent homes standard, and the housing health and safety rating system, which is introduced in the Housing Bill and is a great improvement on the present system for the refurbishment of homes. The Housing Bill takes into account houses in multiple occupation, although there are difficulties with the definition of those, which we shall no doubt debate again on Report. The different programmes are operating in silos; the Government schemes appear to have no consistent approach to energy efficiency and reducing fuel poverty.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove hit on one of the difficulties when he said that there are too many Departments dealing with too many schemes, which leads to complications. That is not the Government's view. It may not be Labour party policy, but it is the Iddon policy that there should be an Energy Department and an Energy Minister, perhaps in the Cabinet, to bring schemes together, whether they come from the Department of Health, DEFRA, the DTI or the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The schemes should be given to one Minister with the political drive to get on with it, co-ordinate them and remove Britain from the embarrassing position of being low in the league when it comes to preventing hypothermia and deaths from fuel poverty. I am ashamed that in a bad winter in this new century so many people are still dying from hypothermia.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 10:13 am, 30th March 2004

I support Mr. Stunell and congratulate him on his good fortune in the ballot and on his eloquence.

I wholeheartedly support everything that Dr. Iddon said; to summarise his closing remarks, he wanted joined-up government. As the promoter of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, I am delighted that the Sustainable Energy Bill was enacted, but I am not entirely at ease with what has happened since.

I am delighted that Brian White is here today. I was a sponsor of his private Member's Bill and I can empathise with him, and with other hon. Members who have promoted private Member's Bills, about the trials, tribulations and challenges of trying to put a Bill on to the statute book. I therefore congratulate the hon. Gentleman on promoting the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 and, following the wonderful briefing from the Association for the Conservation of Energy, everyone should support the hon. Member for Hazel Grove.

The Secretary of State is charged with setting an energy efficiency aim and taking reasonable steps to achieve it. I understand that Lord Whitty, with whom I dealt during the passage of my Bill, has given an assurance that the aim will be set after the Easter recess. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East and I know that we cannot rest on our laurels once we have been given ministerial reassurances, because Ministers come and go. However, it is the role of the civil service to advise Ministers, and hon. Members should be concerned about the Treasury's role in the matter.

I am delighted that the energy efficiency industry has sent an open letter to the relevant Secretaries of State. I hope that the Government will be impressed by, and will take notice of, the wonderful array of important people who have far more expertise than I pretend to have and who support the measure. I was intrigued to learn that the chief executive of Scottish Power, Ian Russell, was concerned about the Chancellor's failure to introduce in his recent Budget sufficient new measures to encourage consumers to be more energy efficient. He said that politicians need to work harder to drum the green agenda into consumers' hearts and minds. I do not believe that anything is more important than the environment and saving the planet, but the issue is not considered sexy at present. Perhaps we need people such as Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Jordan or my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh, who speaks for the official Opposition today, to be associated with it. It is a great shame that young people do not consider this fundamental matter sexy. Members of Parliament know that the issue is not a huge vote winner at present. As soon as we start talking about the environment and energy-saving matters, everyone shrugs their shoulders and thinks, "Another boring technical speech, which is a shame. I hope that in his reply the Minister will say something to inspire our young people and the general population so that they regard the issue as sexy.

The then Environment Minister described increasing carbon emissions between 2002 and 2003 as "a blip. I very much agree with the plea of the chief executive of Scottish Power to Government Ministers. He believes that the Chancellor should have included major incentives for energy efficiency in his Budget and that the Government should be much more proactive in convincing consumers that energy efficiency is a good thing. He rightly said that people must be shown how to conserve energy and be given some fiscal incentive. He suggested, for example, that the Chancellor could introduce a lower rate of stamp duty for energy-efficient homes—I certainly support that—and that a penalty for persistent misusers of energy could be added later.

More than half the emission reductions needed to achieve the UK's carbon emission targets are expected to come from energy efficiency. I am a member of the Health Committee, and have absolutely no doubt that many health problems are associated with environmental pollution. The incidence of brain tumours and asthma, for example, is increasing. There are many such illnesses, and I hope that the general public will become aware of their causes.

I am delighted that the Energy Saving Trust has revealed the huge potential for UK homes to become energy independent and self-sufficient by investing in renewable energy alternatives.

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

Does not the investment climate dictate whether companies invest, and is that climate not affected by uncertainty about Government expectations and requirements? Industry has heard it all before, and is concerned that there has not been effective action. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the key to the matter is ensuring that the investment climate results in the introduction of measures that he identifies as necessary?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that the Minister will find time to respond to that point.

I note that Powergen intends to target 500,000 homes in an energy efficiency drive. It will spend a great deal of money on that work and will contribute to the Government's energy efficiency commitment. In response to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East about fuel poverty, there has been a great debate about how it should be defined, but we all know that it exists. Although Warm Front has been more successful than the home energy efficiency scheme that it replaced, the fact that more grants are being provided does not mean that fuel poverty is being eliminated. Many people remain unaware of the Warm Front scheme. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is no link between eligibility and energy efficiency in people's homes. I am disappointed by the take-up of the scheme; we need to be more proactive in promoting it to the general public.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East did us a huge service in introducing the Sustainable Energy Bill in Parliament. However, hon. Members cannot sit back and expect this Government, or any Government, to meet the aims of that measure. I hope that the Minister will give us a clear statement on the matter, in advance of what Lord Whitty might say after Easter.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown 10:22 am, 30th March 2004

Let us put the debate in context: the central driver in all energy policy should be the 60 per cent. saving of CO2 by 2050. So far, progress towards achieving that aim has not been impressive. We are in danger of fiddling while the planet burns.

There is a developing school of thought in the scientific community that the 60 per cent. target is insufficient, and that we should be looking at savings of at least 80 per cent. It behoves us, for the sake of future generations, to take effective action now, in addition to some of the more detailed considerations that we have discussed this morning. Otherwise our grandchildren or great grandchildren, if they are still alive, will not have a good word to say for us, and they will be quite right because we will have abdicated our responsibility to future generations.

The Government have an important role to play. Britain is in a position—perhaps a unique one—to set an example to the world in energy policy. However, although I hate to have to say it about my own Government, we are not doing that effectively at present. The Minister may be able to offer suggestions as to why those difficulties are occurring, even under a Labour Government. I believe that part of the problem stems from the fact that four major Departments of State are involved in energy policy, and they do not co-operate as well as they should. There is a departmental silo over there and one down the road, and some of the people in those Departments, not necessarily the Ministers, look enviously at each other and guard their turf rather than putting their heads together and making coherent policy.

We are discussing provisions that are a continuation of some of those in my Home Energy Conservation Bill, which Members may remember ran into trials and tribulations similar to those referred to by Mr. Stunell. I do not care whether we call something a target, an aim or an aspiration; that is dancing on a head of a pin. What matters is that we act, and we need to see the setting out of clear aims, targets or aspirations, whatever we call them, and clear mechanisms for achieving them. It is that combination that will appease the energy conservation industry, which has stimulated this debate, and ultimately produce results.

We are still not doing anything that does not cost anything, which is strange. For instance, the Housing Bill will license houses in multiple occupation, which provide some of the worst housing and domestic energy conditions in the country. My constituency is full of old terrace houses with a SAP rating in single figures, let alone one of 40 or 50. Impoverished tenants are still sitting over single-bar electric fires, keeping an anxious eye on the meter and hoping that their money does not run out. We have the magnificent target of not only getting a quick fix on energy conservation, but helping immediately those in the worst fuel poverty. My Bill would have required minimum energy performance as a condition of registering HMOs. The Housing Bill does not include that provision, although I shall table an amendment on Report, and I hope that the Government will accept it. It was one of the most important motivations in wanting to license HMOs in the first place.

There are many other things that we are not doing. For example, 50 per cent. of our housing stock has solid walls, and we have no economic way of providing wall insulation. Do we invest any money in research and development into appropriate, affordable energy conservation measures for those walls? Not to the best of my knowledge—that was certainly true a year ago, when a director of the Building Research Establishment informed us that there was no investment in such research, even although it could yield an enormous dividend.

In the broader context of energy policy, the 20 per cent. saving of domestic energy by 2010, or of 5 million tonnes of carbon, is of the same order that we aspire to achieve by deploying renewable energy to 10 per cent. of our output by 2010. If we consider the situation in terms of bangs per buck, we will find that we would get a far quicker return from effective domestic energy provision than from deploying renewable energy. However, in reality, we need to do both and we need to do them effectively.

That is why I am saddened that the provision in my Bill enabling the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to require local authorities to deliver domestic energy conservation targets, which was carried into the Sustainable Energy Bill, has not been implemented. It may seem trivial, but some of the people most effective in promoting energy conservation—in advertising the Warm Front scheme and ensuring that it works—are our local authority home energy conservation officers, or however they are described locally. We happen to have an excellent officer in Brighton. I know the work that those people do, and with minimal investment they can produce good results. We are not using that power, which was inserted as an adjunct and as an extra delivery mechanism to ensure that things happen.

Our problem is partly cultural. It is endemic in government, irrespective of party. We have a "can't do administration culture, for reasons that always seem important to the person saying that they cannot do something but, if considered in the broader context, are trivial and easily overcome. If we can convert our current culture of "can't do or "It will wait; it doesn't really matter that much into one of "can do and "It can't afford to wait, we can make an impact. We can then get on with the business of saving the planet, preventing fuel poverty and leaving an inheritance to our grandchildren.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 10:31 am, 30th March 2004

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Stunell on his sharply observed comments and his forensic analysis of the situation. I concur with everything he said.

There are clear reasons why we should do more in Parliament and as a country to promote energy efficiency. Most of those reasons have been touched on. Dr. Iddon quite properly referred to fuel poverty and Dr. Turner referred to constituents huddled round one-bar fires. I have also seen such constituents, who have wind blowing in through inefficiently insulated windows, huddling round a fire unable to keep warm—and they have some of the higher fuel bills in my constituency. We must end that situation, which is unsatisfactory and unacceptable in the 21st century.

As my party's environment spokesman, I am predominantly concerned with climate change. As my hon. Friend mentioned, carbon dioxide emissions have increased in three years out of four. I am worried by what seems to be an underlying trend. With the switch from coal-fired to gas-fired generation, there was a one-off gain in the 1990s that led to significant reductions in carbon emissions. That has been banked and we are not seeing the further action necessary to reduce carbon emissions.

The Government have plans for renewable energy and they pay lip service to energy efficiency, but measures are not in place to meet the Government's reduction target of 20 per cent. by 2010, let alone the 60 per cent. target, which, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown said, may be insufficient in itself.

On fuel security, the Government quite rightly say that we must be certain of our fuel sources in years to come. We are at the end of gas pipelines that supply us from a very long way away. Many people want their bite out of the gas supply before it reaches us, and that will increasingly be the case in the future. The best way to enhance our fuel security in a very uncertain future is to minimise our demand for fuel in the first place by encouraging energy conservation and efficiency. That would be a very efficient way of ensuring security and it would of course benefit the energy efficiency industry, as my hon. Friend said.

Why is it such an uphill struggle to push energy efficiency? There seems to be cross-party, local council and public support for it, yet we must continually push and push to get measures implemented. There are two main reasons for that. First, there is a psychological reason: people, whether they are Ministers, MPs, officials, council leaders or whoever, like to build things. That is how they measure their achievement. They want to see a power station or a wind farm for which they have been responsible, so that they can point to it and say, "I did that. It is much less satisfying, psychologically, to say, "I cut energy use. One cannot really point to that. It is the same in the case of road transport: people like to build things. They are not so keen on road traffic reduction, which is far more important in some ways. We have to get over that mindset.

The second reason was referred to by several speakers this morning: the chronic failure of Government to deal with energy in a cohesive and comprehensive way in one Department. That issue is not confined to energy. It was also the case with animal welfare during the last Parliament. I drew attention to that regularly, and the Government, to be fair, have now largely sorted out that problem. All animal welfare issues are now dealt with by DEFRA, and policy is much more coherent as a consequence. We want the same sort of response on energy.

My party has proposed a change to the departmental structure that would bring together energy, transport and environment matters in a comprehensive way. That would lead to the sorts of changes and benefits that all of us in this Chamber want. At the moment, there is a split between DEFRA, the DTI, the Treasury, the ODPM and No. 10, which no doubt has a finger in there somewhere. As a consequence, we do not have joined-up government, and we get the sort of contradictory statements that my hon. Friend read out earlier.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons we were able to pass the Act was that we could play Departments off against each other? If the matter was dealt with by one Department, it would probably not be on the statue book.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

That is an interesting historical perspective, but I hope that it is not being advocated as a way to deal with energy policy. I would rather have one Department to nail down than a number of different Departments—with which such games can indeed be played.

As someone who shadows DEFRA, I say with absolutely no disrespect to the Minister or his DEFRA colleagues that it is deeply frustrating to be continually in debates where we have a real problem in Government with someone from DEFRA who is not actually responsible for creating the problem in the first place, and is unable to give a solution. The responsibility lies elsewhere, in the DTI, the Treasury or somewhere else in Government. It is a bit like complaining to the booking clerk at my local station that the train has been cancelled. He or she cannot do anything about it, and one should not complain to the clerk, but they are the only person one can complain to. The Minister is the only person we can complain to today.

One of the things that we have to do is give DEFRA a bit more clout. Poor old DEFRA: the DTI has the energy White Paper and the macho bit, with all the wind farms, and comments on nuclear power. Energy efficiency does not matter much, so it is given to DEFRA, which is one of the fundamental problems. With no disrespect to DEFRA and its Ministers, for whom I have a great deal of time, it would have been better to have a DTI or Treasury Minister here this morning. We could really get our teeth into them. I hope that the Minister will do his best to respond, and more importantly, take back the comments that have come from all three parties today to the DTI and the Treasury to ensure that they get the message. We want more Government action on this front.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown in the sense that whether we talk about a target or an aim is not terribly important in itself, but the Government tend to differentiate the meaning of such words, so it becomes important because of the way in which they respond to those words. When battles are lost, targets become aims, and when they are lost comprehensively, they become aspirations. We have found that in many aspects of Government activity.

There is a target to cut carbon emissions by 5 million tonnes by 2010. Will the Minister put it on the record, once and for all, with no equivocation, that that is the Government's target? Secondly, will he confirm that they have mechanisms to achieve that target, and spell out what those mechanisms are, so we can be confident that it will be achieved? That is what we want to hear from him today, and I hope that he will give those assurances.

Hon. Members have quite rightly referred to comments from industry. I want to refer to the comments from a number of pressure groups which, as the Minister will know, have written to the Government on the matter. The Campaign to Protect Rural England, Forum for the Future, Friends of the Earth, the Green Alliance, Greenpeace, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the WWF have sent a common statement to the Government. I would like to read out one paragraph:

"We express our view that it is of the utmost importance that the aim is, or includes, the achievement of 5MtC savings p.a. by 2010 from domestic energy efficiency. We say this because: unless this is set as a firm target the necessary measures to achieve it will not follow; this level of carbon savings is vital in order to ensure the achievement of the government's overall CO2 reduction targets; if the aim does not include 5MtC savings p.a. by 2010 from domestic energy efficiency, the whole credibility of the recent Energy White Paper will be thrown into doubt.

There is a united front from pressure groups, from hon. Members of all parties in this Chamber, and from the public. We want to know what the problem is and when and how the Government will commit themselves unequivocally to achieving the target.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:40 am, 30th March 2004

I congratulate Mr. Stunell on securing this timely and important debate. I also recognise the contributions made by hon. Members from all parts of the Chamber. May I make a number of declarations? Clearly, I am not Britney Spears. In the short time available, my party was unable to secure her services, so the Chamber will have to make do with me this morning. I have modest interests in BP and Shell, and lived in a house with solar panels. Although time prevents me from commenting on the full scale of that disaster, I can say that I am not in a position to recommend their use without reservation. Perhaps we could explore that in a future debate.

I confess that I have sympathy with the Iddon policy of joined-up government, which I hope the Minister will also consider. Dr. Iddon mentioned a number of the Departments involved: housing is in the remit of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; the Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for energy and played a major role in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003; and today, the DEFRA Minister, who is responsible for fisheries, is responding—more of that anon. It would be welcome if, as proposed by the Iddon policy, one lead Department in both Houses was responsible for energy policy.

It is fair to say that we would all subscribe to and be in favour of energy conservation measures, particularly in the home, just as we would favour motherhood and apple pie. The Government must address the question of how to achieve those aims: who will pay the price and what will the cost be? The average cost of a home in the Vale of York is £200,000. It is incumbent on the Government to set realistic targets, and it is clear from the debate that Government targets are elusive if not unrealistic.

In the early-day motion on greenhouse gas emissions, which several hon. Members present have signed, we recognised

"that the industry and the environment and fuel poverty sectors have all stressed the importance of the aim being the achievement of five megatonnes of carbon savings per annum by 2010 from household energy efficiency as specified in the Energy White Paper.

I know that the Minister has a bad back, but he should not be allowed to wriggle out of answering the question: do the Government still subscribe to that aim or have they dropped it?

On behalf of the official Opposition, I record our bitter disappointment that the Government's environmental record is failing and that greenhouse gas emissions have consistently increased. The Government have done precious little: they set targets but either fail to meet them or remove them entirely. The Government's obsession with wind farms has entirely clouded their vision and precluded any other form of renewable energy. The Government have failed to support combined heat and power—only one serious operator remains, and they have not stated whether they will support that operator's plans to generate further combined heat and power. They are no nearer to reaching their target of more than doubling the amount of combined heat and power generation by 2010. That was set out as recently as 18 December 2003 in a written statement by the Minister for the Environment, and I record my disappointment at the situation.

Moreover, the Government have failed to eradicate fuel poverty, and energy suppliers have pushed up their prices. The Public Accounts Committee stated that the £500 million in grant spent on warm front—the Government's main initiative to eliminate fuel poverty among the most vulnerable—had failed to help those most in need. It said that only a third of grants had helped the fuel poor with low energy efficiency in their homes. We have heard a great deal about such situations in hon. Members' constituencies. A third of grants goes to households not living in fuel poverty, and a third of poorer households, which should benefit, have not been eligible for warm front grants.

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

Is the hon. Lady seriously advocating that the grants should be removed from disabled people?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Unfortunately, time does not allow me to elaborate on these points as I would like, but I shall pursue the point that the Government must accept that the grants have failed to reach the most vulnerable.

The Sustainable Energy Bill set the initial target of a 20 per cent. reduction in energy inefficiency by 2010. Can the Minister confirm that he will progress towards the main provisions of the Sustainable Energy Act 2003? If so, why have the Government delayed announcing their report under the Act and the White Paper until after Easter?

I shall dwell for a moment on a little book that was launched last week, which I am told will shortly reach the No. 1 spot on the bestsellers list—or at least it would if it were available for sale. It is the Liberal Democrats' little yellow book. In it, the Liberal Democrats come out as being even-handed: on the one hand they say one thing, and on the other they say another, both things being perfectly contradictory. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove used to be in favour of an energy tax, and page 21 of the little yellow book says that, in the alternative Budget of 8 March 2002, the Liberal Democrats called for the climate change levy to be replaced with

"a carbon tax, which falls on energy use according to its carbon content.

In effect, that would be a tax on all energy users, and everyone's gas, coal and electricity bills would increase, which would hit the most vulnerable and those on fixed incomes particularly hard. The tax would be European Union-wide and might even be set by the European Commission.

The Liberal Democrats also advocate VAT on new house building. VAT would be levied at between 5 and 7 per cent. on new homes. I shudder to think of the impact on average house prices in my constituency. In the vale of York, the average home costs £200,000 and rising. I recommend the little yellow book, to which we shall return. I note that there has been no mention today of a carbon tax, so we shall wait to hear in future debates whether the Liberal Democrats have ditched that policy or will return to it.

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 am anxious to give the Minister time to respond to the debate and I do not want to enter a side argument, but I would be happy to give the hon. Lady a copy of the Liberal Democrats' energy policy paper passed at our conference last year. She will find it a complete answer to the questions that she has raised.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Regrettably, time did not permit me to quote from the Liberal Democrat policies adopted last year, but we shall return to that.

We have had a very good, positive debate, and we now need commitments from the Government. What is their commitment to energy efficiency? Why has the announcement of the report under the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 and the White Paper been postponed until after Easter? Does the Minister still subscribe to producing 5 million tonnes of carbon savings per annum by 2010 by way of household efficiency savings, as set out in the energy White Paper? Has his or any other Department performed an audit to show how much carbon would be saved by the policy that we have discussed this morning?

I conclude with one positive point and a plea to the Minister. I hope that he will have more success with conserving energy than he has so far had with conserving fish.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare) 10:50 am, 30th March 2004

I congratulate Mr. Stunell on securing the debate and welcome the contributions made by him and other hon. Members. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who leads on energy in the House of Commons—as Lord Whitty does in the other place—as he is attending the United Nations global ministerial environment forum in South Korea.

The energy White Paper last year was a turning point for UK energy policy. For the first time, sustainability was put at the heart of this country's energy strategy. By announcing the goal of a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by about 2050, with real progress by 2020, the Government showed that they were serious about making a long-term transition to a low-carbon economy. Those goals built on what was already an ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010.

Hon. Members have expressed disappointment about the figures released last week showing a rise in emissions last year. That was caused by a higher than expected coal burn by the power generators. The Government take that very seriously and will use the review of the climate change programme later this year to look at how their climate change policies are delivering across all sectors and where they need to be strengthened. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that this country, in contrast to most other countries that signed up to Kyoto, is on course to achieving its Kyoto commitments and is moving towards its national goals.

It is well known that there is the potential to improve energy efficiency by at least 30 per cent. across the economy. In the energy White Paper, the Government therefore identified energy efficiency as the major way in which we will meet our climate change goals in the short to medium term. Energy efficiency is expected to contribute more than half the total carbon savings to 2010 and in the following decade. We are talking about some 10 million tonnes of carbon savings by 2010 and a further 10 million by 2020. We expect about half of that to come from households.

The figure in the White Paper of 5 million tonnes, which has been cited today, was the Government's best estimate at that time of the savings that might be delivered by the policies and programmes set out in the climate change programme and further elaborated on in the energy White Paper. The figure was not presented as a target. The White Paper made it clear that the actual mix of measures needed in the future will be shaped by economic and technological developments.

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

When we discussed the 2003 Act, one of the reasons why we talked about that figure was that it was equivalent to 20 per cent. That was specifically checked with officials at the time. That is why that figure was cited.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I accept that, but the Government did not make a firm commitment to achieve specific levels of savings in any one sector. Hon. Members should also note that the figure of 5 million tonnes applies to the UK as a whole, whereas the aim required under the 2003 Act applies to England only. The equivalent figure for England would of course be lower.

Household energy efficiency has been improving steadily in recent years through the installation of central heating and improved insulation. Heat loss in the average dwelling was reduced by 31 per cent. between 1970 and 2001. During the 1990s, the average rate of efficiency improvement was around 1.4 per cent. a year, and that has increased further since then. However, I accept that we need to do better and we have a wide range of policies designed to achieve further substantial improvements.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove suggested that the energy efficiency industry in this country was stalled. I simply do not accept that. The building regulations, for example, are steadily driving up the standards of new and refurbished homes. A house built to 2002 standards uses about half the energy consumed in the average existing house.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

No, I will not. The hon. Lady has made many diversions in this debate and has left me very little time to reply.

In the last amendment to the regulations, the provisions covering existing buildings were extended to include the replacement of windows and boilers in dwellings. I welcome the efforts of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove to widen the scope of the regulations further still through his Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill, which the Government support.

In the White Paper, the Government said that they aim to bring the next major revision of the building regulations into effect in 2005—some three years earlier than previously signalled—and that will improve standards yet more. Of particular importance will be the provisions requiring the use of only the most efficient A and B-rated boilers, which will come into effect in April 2005. We have also started a major new training programme designed to equip 70,000 installers with the skills needed to install those boilers and to advise consumers on high-efficiency heating systems.

In response to the points made by Mr. Amess, the sustainable buildings task group set up after the better buildings summit last year will make recommendations after Easter.

Through the energy efficiency commitment, energy suppliers are carrying out improvements to their customers' homes worth around £150 million a year. We will shortly be consulting on our proposal for the next phase of the energy efficiency commitment after 2005, and we expect those levels of activity roughly to double. Once high-efficiency boilers become mandatory under the building regulations next year, the main role of the commitment will be to promote the installation of insulation and high-efficiency appliances, and the EEC target will therefore provide a very firm signal to the industries concerned.

Our fuel poverty programmes, including the warm front grant scheme, will continue to support the installation of heating systems and insulation in the homes of the fuel poor. I hear the comments made by my hon. Friend Dr. Iddon and I will reflect on his detailed and positive suggestions about how we might improve the warm front scheme. I will ask my noble Friend Lord Whitty to respond to him on the details.

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members also expressed concern about so-called silos in Government. Hon. Members constantly raise an issue about which they care deeply and wish that a single Minister was responsible. If we took on every single request, there would be hundreds of Ministers and hon. Members would not receive a better service. They fail to recognise that the Government are working through the new sustainable energy policy network, delivering joined-up government, and that all key Departments at ministerial and official level are involved.

The network is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Secretaries of State for all other Departments concerned are involved. As my hon. Friend Brian White said, there can be some advantages—I will not repeat the exact language that he used—in having different Departments with different priorities. One actually obtains a better deal than under the one that the Liberal Democrats are apparently advocating, in which we would have a single Minister responsible. That person would not be able to deliver what they were supposed to.

Several other programmes are furthering our energy efficiency aims: the decent homes programme, run by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; the Energy Saving Trust, which is funded by my Department; we have recently announced a major new energy services pilot; and several fiscal instruments were added to in the recent Budget.

As hon. Members have acknowledged, the Government will shortly be publishing their energy efficiency implementation plan, which will set out comprehensive measures to deliver the energy efficiency strategy contained in the White Paper. My Department has been developing it through the sustainable energy policy network. We will be setting such an aim to fulfil the requirements of the Sustainable Energy Act and the White Paper. It is our current intention to include an aim for the household sector within the energy efficiency implementation plan, and for that aim to be consistent with the measures that the plan contains.