Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered .
. An energy conservation authority shall, at all reasonable times and free of charge, make available at its principal offices for inspection by members of the public a copy of
(a) any plan prepared under this Act by the authority, and (b) any modification of any such plan.'.-- [Mr. Baldry.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
. An energy conservation authority may make such charge as it considers appropriate for
(a) supplying a copy of, or of any extract of, any plan which the authority has prepared under this Act,
(b) supplying a copy of any modification of any such plan, or (c) making available for inspection, or supplying copies of, any other documents relating to, or to the preparation of, any such plan or modification.'.
New clause 5-- -- Power to fix charges under section [Charges for copy plans etc. (No. 2)] --
-(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe the maximum amounts which may be charged under section [ Charges for copy plans etc. (No. 2) ] above.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) above may make different provision for different cases or classes of case.
(3) The power conferred by subsection (1) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
New clause 6-- -- Charges for copy plans etc. --
.--(1) An energy conservation authority may, subject to subsection (2) below, make such charge as it considers appropriate for (a) supplying a copy of, or of any extract of, any plan which the authority has prepared under this Act,
(b) supplying a copy of any modification of any such plan, or (c) making available for inspection, or supplying copies of, any other documents relating to, or to the preparation of, any such plan or modification.
(2) A charge under this section shall not exceed the cost to the authority of providing the service concerned.'.
Amendment No. 50, in clause 2, page 2, leave out from beginning of line 45 to end of line 26 on page 3.
Column 1156Amendment No. 209, in page 2, line 45, leave out from authority' to end of line 26 on page 3 and insert
to consult such persons as it considers appropriate.'. Amendment No. 216, in page 3, line 9, clause 2, at end insert ( ) representatives of organisations concerned with the provision of affordable energy for the elderly and those on a low incomes ;'. Amendment No. 210, in page 3, line 10, clause 2, after Council', insert
, the Office of Gas Supply, the Electricity Consumers' Committees'.
Amendment No. 188, in page 3, line 16, leave out
, subject to subsection (6) below,'.
Amendment No. 211, in page 3, line 18, after the', insert proposed'.
Amendment No. 214, in page 3, line 22, leave out (iii)' and insert
(c) before finally determining the content of any plan or modification'.
Amendment No. 215, in page 3, line 22, leave out by the public' and insert
(including any representations made otherwise than under sub-paragraph (ii) above)'.
Amendment No. 212, in page 3, line 23, after first the', insert proposed'.
Amendment No. 189, in page 3, leave out lines 25 and 26.
Mr. Baldry : It may be helpful if I deal generally with the amendments, which concern public access to plans and consultation on those plans. Public access is covered by the new clauses and amendments Nos. 54, 57, 87 and 89 ; consultation is covered by amendments Nos. 109, 209, 68, 70, 71, 153, 152, 150, 75 and 76. I shall consider each of those main subjects separately.
The Bill places great emphasis on
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I have no complaint about the Minister's deliberate attempt to wreck the Bill, but I had hoped that he would at least take the opportunity to say whether the Government have an energy conservation policy, as they seem to put their emphasis through the Energy Saving Trust and we now know that the regulators have said that there will be no money for that. If the Government wish to wreck the Bill, should they not come clean at some point today and say how they will carry out their real commitments ?
Mr. Baldry : It is a bit rich to be accused of seeking to wreck the Bill when I have uttered only three words. I intend during the course of this debate not only to respond to the specific points raised by the hon. Gentleman but to refer to an enormous amount of what the Government are doing for energy efficiency. The idea that somehow the Bill is a touchstone of the Government's energy efficiency policies is clearly and patently ridiculous.
The Bill places great emphasis on consultation when plans are being prepared. It lists in detail all those who should be consulted and says that members of the public should have opportunities to make representations and that local authorities should consider those representations. I am surprised to see, however, that it makes no provision whatever for public access to completed plans. That is a serious omission because, in the interests of open government, plans should be available for inspection. I am surprised that that did not occur to the Bill's proposer. It may help hon. Members if I remind them of our commitment to open government.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : If the Minister is surprised, I am surprised that it did not occur to the Government in Committee that such an amendment would be desirable. Only five amendments were tabled in Committee, whereas more than 200 amendments, all originating from the Government, have been tabled for today. I can assist the Minister by saying that I am happy to accept the new clause and that we can now proceed to the next.
I am happy to explain why the new clause is worth while. The code of practice on open government, foreshadowed in the July 1993 White Paper, came into force on 4 April for all Government Departments and bodies under the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
The Government are discussing with the local authority associations how to take forward a similar code for local authorities. The associations are keen to build on the considerable openness that already exists. Local debate has become much better informed since the public were given statutory rights of access to local authority meetings. I think that it was my right hon. Friend the Baroness Thatcher who, shortly after she was first elected to the House, proposed in a private Member's Bill opening committee meetings to the public. There was an increase in access to local authority meetings and papers associated with them in the mid 1980s, and local government is now much more open.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) : In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has said that he is prepared to accept the new clause, will the Minister explain why he is proceeding at such a pedestrian rate when it would be possible for him to tear up his notes and proceed to the next group of amendments and new clauses ? Is the Minister trying to be energy-efficient by going so slowly ?
Mr. Baldry : I frequently speak in the House, and clocked up my 60th Adjournment debate last week. Those who have heard me speak know that I do so at a pretty consistent speed, as I am doing today. I am seeking to cover various points in the debate, and I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be hawk-eyed and eared to ensure that we all remain in order. I am seeking to cover a large number of amendments, not all of which have been tabled by the Government. Some have been tabled by my hon. Friends, who no doubt will wish to speak to them. It would be courteous to the House if I set out the background of the amendments.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : My hon. Friend knows that I am a committed supporter of the Bill, which has great support in Norwich-- one of the districts where energy efficiency measures have been taken seriously. Will he bear in mind, in his conduct in the debate and his speeches on amendments, that there are many amendments ? It would probably be wise for him to consider the speedy acceptance of those for which there is total support across the House. Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind recent reports by the Environment Select Committee and the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), the Chairman of that Select Committee, who felt
Column 1158that, in spite of the good work that the Government are doing in that sphere, they must take the matter more seriously ? Will he ensure that he includes in his remarks reference to the fact that there should be greater enthusiasm for progress, even though he may criticise details of some of the amendments and may wish to move other amendments ?
Mr. Baldry : My hon. Friend was present when we debated the Bill on Second Reading. He will recall that I then set out in detail what the Government were doing to promote energy efficiency, and I am sure that we will discuss that again today. As I made clear during questions on Wednesday, it is ludicrous to believe that the Bill is a touchstone of the Government's commitment to energy efficiency. As we made clear on Second Reading, and as I made clear on Wednesday, our concerns about the Bill-- which I am sure will be highlighted again today--involve the extra burdens that it would place on local authorities and the extra, unnecessary and unreasonable costs that it would place on taxpayers. I am sure that we shall discuss those concerns in detail during today's debate.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : I am concerned that my hon. Friend is moving new clause 1, when its effect would be to impose costs on local authorities that would have to make available plans and details of modifications. What will that cost ? How does it square with the Government's policy which, as I understand it, is that local authorities should prepare plans only for their own housing stock, not for all residential accommodation in the district ?
If it is right that the local authority will simply produce a plan dealing with its own housing stock, how can it possibly be justified in those circumstances to introduce such an expensive commitment ? The proposal would mean that any member of the public could find out what his neighbour, who may live in a council house, planned to do with his house. That would be unnecessary and bureaucratic.
Mr. Baldry : My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The thrust of the new clause is as follows. If there is a duty on local authorities to provide information--the Bill seeks to place a duty on local authorities to provide and draw up plans--those plans should, as a matter of course, be accessible to the public. There will be some people who believe that local authorities should not draw up plans in that way--my hon. Friend's comments clearly show that he is among them. That is a matter that we shall need to consider.
Mr. Heald : I certainly accept that a local authority should have an energy efficiency plan for its own housing stock, and I have no difficulty about the timetabling for that. I object to the idea that such plans should be drawn up for the homes of individual occupiers--owner-occupiers of their own homes. If it is a purely internal document dealing with the local authority's own housing stock, I do not see why it should be made available to the public as the councillors who represent them will already have the plan. 10.45 am
Column 1159carry out a considerable amount of work when considering the condition of their own housing stock. Only recently we made it a precondition of local authorities submitting their housing investment programmes that they should have regard to energy efficiency. Even with regard to those proposals, we expect local authorities to be as open as possible. Each year we expect, as a matter of course, local authorities to consult with tenants' and residents' groups about their housing investment programme. Local authorities' proposals for their own housing stock should be open, and discussed with tenants and residents groups.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : I am considering the full import of what my hon. Friend said. There is no doubt that we have to be careful. Many of my constituents are concerned about the level of expenditure of Elmbridge council. It is a disaster for any council not to be under Conservative control. We have no overall control at Elmbridge, which could have burdens placed on it by the Bill. Sadly, I was not selected to serve on the Committee considering the Bill ; otherwise I might have been able to table amendments. Now that I have had a further chance to consider the Bill, I have been able to table amendments. Our constituents need to understand the full implications of the costs to councils.
My hon. Friend the Minister should discuss the new clause in full, regardless of the way in which the Liberals want to slip it under the table. They will not want to face up to the extra cost burden that Liberal local councillors will gleefully impose but will announce only after the local election campaign.
Mr. Baldry : My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Because the Bill is called the Energy Conservation Bill, the impression has been given that it is all that stands between us and ensuring the best energy conservation practice. One must remember exactly what the Bill proposes. It proposes placing a statutory duty on every local authority to carry out an energy audit of every house. That is far away from some of the suggestions made in the national press today. The Daily Mirror today reported the Bill as a bid to help the families and old folk who were hardest hit by VAT on fuel, which is absolute bunkum. Nothing in the Bill would give one penny in help to those groups. All the Bill would do is to make it clear
This Bill would not contribute one penny to old folk or families. It certainly would not necessarily bring about any greater efficiency in respect of heating bills. All it does is to place an extra statutory duty on every local authority, and it involves them in extra costs which they, because it is a statutory duty, will look to central Government and the taxpayer to fund.
Mr. Dafis : Does the Minister accept that the Bill aims to provide a cost-efficient means of developing energy conservation ? In that connection, does he agree that energy efficiency is an essential component in sustainable development ? The Government have a sustainable development advisory group, chaired by Sir Crispin
Column 1160Tickell. Have they received any advice or representations from that group, or from Sir Crispin himself, about the Bill ?
Mr. Baldry : The Government are entirely committed to promoting energy efficiency. Ours was the first country to publish its plans and proposals for meeting the international obligations to combat carbon dioxide emissions and to ensure that they are restored to 1990 levels by the year 2000. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister only recently published our national programme on sustainable development.
There is no difference between us on the importance of energy efficiency : we are determined to promote it. That is why the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office has been doubled this year ; it is why the amount of money we are spending on the home energy efficiency scheme has been nearly doubled this year ; it is why about 250,000 homes will benefit from that scheme this year. What we are worried about is the fact that the Bill places an unnecessary burden on local authorities and unnecessary costs on taxpayers.
I am not aware of any specific advice that Sir Crispin Tickell may have given on this Bill, but I should be surprised if Sir Crispin and his committee thought that this was a particularly good way of promoting energy efficiency--putting extra burdens on local authorities and more costs on taxpayers.
As we shall no doubt hear in the course of this morning's debate--hon. Members often pray this in aid--many local authorities are already doing much of what is involved in the Bill. So there is no need to impose this extra statutory burden on them, or to incur more costs for taxpayers.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : Is the Minister aware that Scottish Homes, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Government which is responsible for a sizeable proportion of the Scottish housing stock, between 1991 and 1992 carried out an extensive survey, on behalf of the Government and at the Government's expense, with the express purpose of establishing a benchmark of housing conditions against which local authorities can measure the findings of their own local house condition surveys--and it is to be repeated every four years ? Therefore, the Government have already undertaken this sort of work on behalf of all householders in Scotland. Why do they not facilitate it for the rest of the United Kingdom ? It seems to be bureaucratic and over-expensive in England and Wales, but not in Scotland.
Mr. Baldry : The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood the point. He was not present on Second Reading ; his interest in the Bill is somewhat belated. As I said then, and as we have often made clear, we would expect local authorities, as a natural part of their work looking after their own housing stock, to carry out stock condition surveys, and as part of that work we would certainly expect them to have regard to energy efficiency. Indeed, many local authorities have spent considerable sums every year on repairing and refurbishing their stock. Whenever they undertake such work, we would expect them to consider how they can improve energy efficiency in their housing stock.
Likewise we would expect housing associations to carry out surveys of the condition of their stock and to have regard to how it can be made more energy efficient. As part
Column 1161of the Energy Efficiency Office's best- practice programme we have published comprehensive guidance for local authorities and housing associations on how they can improve the energy efficiency of their stock--that already goes on. It already happens ; it does not require legislation to enable it to happen.
It was made clear on Second Reading, and it has been made clear to the Bill's promoter ever since, that we consider that the statutory obligation to be placed on local authorities to carry out an energy audit of every house in the country places an unnecessary burden on them and incurs unnecessary costs for taxpayers. When Parliament imposes a statutory obligation on a local authority, the authority turns round and says, "Parliament has placed a statutory burden on us. We therefore are entitled to be recompensed for that burden by central, taxpayers' funds." Thus, local authorities' incentive to carry out such work as cost effectively as possible disappears, and we end up with extra burdens, more costs and not an iota of progress towards promoting energy efficiency in the housing stock.
Mr. Beith : If the Minister cannot remember the advice of Sir Crispin Tickell, or if it was not passed on to him, perhaps he can remember the advice of Lord Moore, our former colleague John Moore, chairman of the Energy Saving Trust, who said :
"The Trust strongly supports the primary aim of the Bill, which is to place an obligation on all district and borough councils to create an energy use profile of the dwellings within their area". That advice comes from one of the bodies to which the Government look for advice on energy saving. Why is the Minister ignoring it ?
Mr. Baldry : We do not believe that the Bill, with the burdens that it places on local authorities and its costs for taxpayers, is necessary, or that it merits those costs. In an article last week the right hon. Gentleman said that, at a conservative estimate, the outline costs of the Bill's energy audits would be between £11 million and £20 million --money which will not further our knowledge of energy efficiency in the housing stock. It could certainly be better used in other ways.
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : Is the Minister aware that Sir Crispin Tickell and I worked on many projects together when he was permanent secretary at the Overseas Development Administration and when he was this country's United Nations ambassador based in New York ? Since then he has become the principal of Green college in Oxford. It therefore surprises me greatly to learn that, if he is a great supporter of the Bill, he has not been in touch with his friends in this place to tell us of his support. I believe that if he really did support the Bill he would have come here to talk to the many people with whom he has worked over the years.
Mr. Baldry : As my hon. Friend says, Sir Crispin has made an impressive contribution to environmental causes in this country. The Audit Commission's responsibilities for scrutinising the accounts of local authorities have been extended
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : I accept my hon. Friend's point that the Bill places an obligation on local authorities which could be unduly bureaucratic, but many Conservative Members feel that it is time we took some
Column 1162firm action, because it has been 20 or 30 years since we started discussing all this. It has been 20 years since the Government's "Save It" campaign, for instance. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to consider how much has been saved since that campaign was begun. The Rio commitments fall due in the year 2000, and we are getting pretty close to that date.
Mr. Baldry : One of the frequent failings in debates on conservation is always to assume that nothing has happened to date. A great deal has happened, and the Government's initiatives have already led to considerable energy savings. Britain now produces 25 per cent. more national wealth than it did in 1979 but it is not consuming any more energy. In the intervening years there have been great strides in the promotion of energy efficiency, and we are determined to carry on with that. As I have said, we were one of the first countries to make clear its commitment to how it would meet the international commitment to reduce CO emissions and stabilise them at 1990 levels by the year 2000. We are determined to do that. 10 am
The Bill is being presented as if it is the only measure that will stand between us and meeting those targets, and that is ludicrous. The Bill will place extra bureaucratic responsibilities and burdens on local authorities and extra costs on taxpayers. But it will not necessarily advance by one iota the cause of energy efficiency or contribute anything more to our knowledge about the energy efficiency or otherwise of our housing stock.
Mr. Dafis : It is tiresome of the Minister to talk all the time about bureaucratic burdens. How will an audit constitute a bureaucratic burden ? He speaks about what he calls the great burden of surveying all properties, but he knows that that can be done by sampling. There is every reason for including private property in such a survey, bearing in mind that at least 70 per cent. of property is owner-occupied and that much of it is owned by fairly poor people, is in bad condition and in need of energy efficiency work. Why on earth should local authorities not include in a cost-efficient survey the whole of the housing stock to facilitate the process afterwards of conducting a comprehensive and thorough energy efficiency programme ? That has everything to be said for it, and that is why a whole range of bodies, including local authorities and the Association of County Councils, support the Bill and the process.
Mr. Baldry : The hon. Gentleman has been involved with the Bill for some time and what he says is interesting. He says that the audit need not be of the entire housing stock or any proportion of it, but a sample. Perhaps in this debate we need to consider what constitutes a representative sample. The hon. Gentleman says that the proposal need not be a regulatory burden, but what constitutes a representative sample of the private housing stock--that which is not in the ownership and control of local authorities ?
The work cannot be undertaken without going into people's homes. One would need to look at the way in which the homes are insulated, whether the lofts are insulated and whether the pipes and hot water tanks, in the homes that have them, are lagged. One needs to consider also whether the homes have wall insulation and the type and efficiency of boilers.
Column 1163It is being slightly disingenuous to suggest that that can be done without putting an obligation and an extra burden on local authorities. The House would need to consider whether that can be done by random sampling. Random sampling of local authority and private sector stock is rather less than what happens at the moment because, as I have said, we expect that local authorities as a matter of course are already carrying out surveys as part of their natural housing investment programme.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) spoke about private housing. The one measure which should ensure that every householder will look to the energy efficiency of his home is our imposition of VAT on domestic fuel. The Conservative party is the only party which has had the courage to do that, and we did it despite the fact that at different times both opposition parties opposed it. The party of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the Bill's proposer, referred to the anomaly of zero-rated domestic fuel. We had the courage to impose that tax in support of promoting energy efficiency. The other parties reneged on it and ran away from their responsibility.
Mr. Ian Taylor : My hon. Friend raises an important point that is a constant source of irritation to my constituents when they realise the truth. No new tax is greeted with popularity, and VAT on fuel was a classic case. We have had the debates and got the compensation package. Yet people get really irritated when they understand the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrat party in having first suggested the tax and proposing it for energy efficiency schemes, and then running away from it when the tax was applied. It then tried to hide energy efficiency levies under the cloak of the Bill.
The Bill has a good title but through the back door will impose extra council tax burdens on constituents such as mine. That is not the proper way to go. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that he shares that view ?
Mr. Baldry : It will be interesting to hear how the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed puts into context the history of the Liberal party's approach to VAT on fuel. In terms, the Liberal Democrats said that it was anomalous for domestic fuel to be zero-rated and it was time that the anomaly was dealt with. As I have said, we have dealt with that anomaly : ours is the only party which has had the courage to do it. Imposing VAT on domestic fuel will be a considerable spur to every householder to look to the energy efficiency of his home, because the more efficient it is the less the householder will pay in fuel bills. It is a win-win situation because when people make their homes more efficient they make a greater contribution to the environment and also save money.
Mr. Beith : Will the Minister stop being economical with the truth and admit that my party has never argued for the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel ? We have consistently been in favour of a carbon energy tax. The argument in the document that was put to us by a working group was that, if that was not done, VAT on domestic fuel should be considered. We rejected that argument, continuing with the policy of a carbon energy tax. Will the Minister kindly get the facts right ?
Column 1164acknowledged that the Liberal Democrats wanted and were prepared to tax energy. As I have said several times, ours is the only party which had the courage to bring forward VAT on energy. The opportunist Opposition parties claim to be in favour of greater energy efficiency, but when measures are taken to promote it they vote against them.
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West) : If courage is to be equated with hurting the poor and the elderly, the Government have indeed been courageous. Will the Minister treat the House with some seriousness ? I am a new Member, and I served on the Committee. I have learnt that amendments are moved mainly in Committee. Why is the Minister moving so many amendments today so late in the Bill's proceedings ? Will he come clean and tell us whether it is the Government's intention to kill the Bill ?
Mr. Baldry : The hon. Gentleman has clearly not paid any attention to the proposals of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to assist vulnerable people with their heating bills : he has extended help to everyone on income support and to every pensioner. Moreover, this year we have almost doubled the amount of money being spent on the home energy efficiency scheme. This year some 250,000 households will be assisted with loft insulation, draught proofing and energy advice. That is in addition to the 500, 000 homes that have already been covered in that way.
We made clear on Second Reading our concerns about the Bill and made no bones about it. I earnestly hoped that the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed would deal with them after Second Reading. He has not done so, and it is right and proper for the House to consider them in some detail. I hope that we will deal with them today ; if we can, the Bill will doubtless make progress.
Mr. Dafis : The Minister presents value added tax on domestic fuel as an environmental tax, but the Paymaster General stated in European Standing Committee B that the tax was a revenue-raising measure, and that is on the record. If it is an environmental tax, the proceeds should be recycled into measures that enhance and strengthen the purpose of the tax-- energy efficiency measures. The proceeds will amount to more than £2 billion. How does that compare with the increase in Government funding for the home energy efficiency scheme ?
Mr. Baldry : I never cease to be amazed by the cant of members of some Opposition parties. For a long time Opposition Members wrote learned journals, publications and pamphlets on energy efficiency. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed gave us the history and analysis of the Liberal Democrat approach to a carbon tax. There have been weasel words about what the Opposition parties--including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh nationalists--did or did not say about VAT on domestic fuel. At different times the parties all drew attention to the fact that it seemed somewhat curious for any Government who wished to promote energy efficiency to continue to zero-rate domestic fuel.
However, by their own admission, we have gathered today that, whatever the Opposition parties said about VAT on fuel, they are in favour of a carbon tax because they must square their views with how they present
Column 1165themselves to their electors. Mysteriously they have all been transformed overnight. They were concerned about VAT on fuel and now they want a carbon tax.
What does the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North think that a carbon tax is if it is not a revenue-raising fiscal measure ? Taxes raise money ; that is their nature. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would argue that, even within his terms of reference, such a tax is a way for the Government to increase the cost of fuel and thus to prompt businesses and people to be more energy efficient and to consider their energy bills.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. I have been tolerant during this debate, but hon. Members are going rather wide of the subject. If they stick to the new clause, we may make some progress.
Mr. Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since the Minister, who moved the new clause, and the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who is in charge of the Bill, agree that the new clause should be accepted, instead of this general debate, which, as you pointed out, is getting close to being out of order, would it not be better to accept the new clause and move on to the second group of amendments selected ? It might be easier for us to have a wide-ranging debate on the commencement order. If the Government want to make progress, the Minister should sit down so that we can vote on the new clause.