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Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : Would it not be more to the point if greater use were made of the home energy efficiency scheme and the Government's green-house programme, which are doing things, rather than felling vast numbers of trees writing about them ?
Mr. Battle : The hon. Gentleman may recall that the Government's green house programme has been called off, good though it was. I wish that it had been continued. Perhaps he should take up that matter with the responsible Minister in the Department of the Environment. The energy efficiency budget of £103 million a year is only 3 per cent. of the revenue raised by the imposition of VAT on fuel. That means that the imposition of VAT will cut carbon dioxide emissions by only 1 per cent. It is not an energy efficiency measure. We need a full strategy for energy efficiency, and VAT is not an appropriate approach. If work is to be targeted at properties most in need, the lack of information on energy efficiency of all the housing stock should be dealt with now for the benefit of all householders. Conservative Members seem to think that this issue simply concerns local authority housing, but the
Column 1187Government's housing strategy has been centred on emphasising that the local authority housing role has been enabling and strategic. Some local authorities, however, have no housing stock of their own yet they are housing authorities and the Government have been pushing their strategic role and telling them to divest themselves of their stock and take on an enabling role. Why do not the Government take an overview and pull strategies together for energy efficiency ? The Bill firms up such a role. It places a duty on local authorities to draw up local energy conservation plans in consultation with all relevant interests. I submit to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North that the clause which amendment No. 50 would delete is drawn widely enough to include practically everybody. It is not an exclusive clause.
The Bill is in tune with local authorities' role of presenting plans on the condition of all their housing stock. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North views it as an intrusion. I should like to remind him that, although he was not a Member of the House then, the Conservative Government passed the Housing Act 1985. Under section 605 of the 1985 Act local authorities should consider, at least once a year, the housing conditions in their district. That refers not only to council housing but to all housing.
How can the Government foster a renovation grant regime for the private rented sector and the private owner-occupied sector if they do not know about the condition of the stock ? Ministers accept that, and I hope that we can urge Back-Bench Conservative Members to recognise that the Government see the need for the English house conditions survey to cover all stock.
Given that 23 per cent. of housing is local authority housing, the remainder of stock--the other 77 per cent. that is held by housing associations and the private rented sector and is in
owner-occupation--is in a state of disrepair and needs to be dealt with. I hope that Conservative Members will accept that we are not simply talking about local authority housing.
The Bill insists that the duty to look at the housing stock should include an energy efficiency element. It demands a timetable for action and the consideration of funding to implement it. The Bill does not place an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on local authorities, as the Minister blusteringly said this morning. Most of the information is already known and can be easily obtained. As the Minister accepts, the local authorities already have the discretionary power to collect the information and some-- Newark, Sherwood, Leicester, Cambridge and others--use the information well and to good effect. All we want now is for all local authorities to be use best practice because we cannot waste any more time. That is why the Labour party, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who deals with environmental protection for the Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who has responsibility for energy and me--in my role as spokesman for housing-- support the Bill 110 per cent. We are even prepared to accept the new clauses and amendments, although they contain minor contradictions, so as to make progress on the Bill this morning.
I hope that the Government will not try to talk the Bill out and render our procedures and the Committee stage of the Bill a fruitless waste of everyone's time. I hope that they will not make today another Friday example of backhanded, shabby parliamentary game-playing that
Column 1188brings procedures in the House into national disrepute. The Bill is a touchstone of the Government's commitment to energy efficiency.
Mr. Heald : The hon. Gentleman referred to the 1985 Act, which requires local authorities to consider each year the housing conditions in their districts. I have no argument with that. Under that provision, a local authority could consider energy efficiency measures. However, is not there all the difference in the world between a broad, general consideration each year of the issues, which could be done by random sampling, and what the Bill suggests ? Is he seriously saying that the Labour party--one of the major parties of state--is prepared to put on the statute book bad legislation, warts and all, which is what he seems to be saying ? Does he not accept that it is the duty of Members of Parliament to ensure that proper legislation reaches the statute book ?
Mr. Battle : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was not here when we voted on the poll tax. I had never seen legislation being forced through the House in such a fashion and then taken away. I am glad that he was not a Member of the House when the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was enacted and then had to be repealed. The hon. Gentleman may be thinking of section 106 of the 1985 Act, but if he were to compare that with the results of the English house conditions survey he would see that energy efficiency does not loom large enough.
The importance of the Bill is that it underlines energy efficiency. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Labour party supports it. Yes, we do because it affirms the duty of the local authority, and does not leave it to the discretion of the local authority, to ensure that the action is taken throughout the land. The Bill will prove to be a touchstone of the Government's commitment to energy efficiency. So far, the Government have called off the successful greenhouse programme and have failed to identify a source of funding for the Energy Saving Trust. I hope that they will not fail to support the modern, sensible Bill. Their action will demonstrate whether the Government are in the practice of positively undermining the concept of energy efficiency while claiming to promote it.
Today is test time for the Government on energy efficiency because the Bill will reduce the number of households that are unable to afford to heat their homes adequately. It will achieve reductions in national energy demand and it is crucial to introduce the measure now because of the imposition of VAT on domestic heating and lighting. I hope that the amendments and new clauses will be withdrawn. If they are not, I hope that they will be accepted so that the Bill reaches the statute book as quickly as possible.
Mr. Beith rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put , That the Question be now put :
The House divided : Ayes 67, Noes 3.
Division No. 218] [11.45
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Bennett, Andrew F.
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Column 1189Bray, Dr Jeremy
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Foster, Don (Bath)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Lynne, Ms Liz
Maddock, Mrs Diana
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Neubert, Sir Michael
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Cynog Dafis and
Mr. Nigel Jones.
Shaw, David (Dover)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Jacques Arnold and
Mr. Oliver Heald.
Whereupon mr. deputy speaker-- declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 36 (Majority for Closure) .
Mr. Wells : I must immediately declare that I am unalterably opposed both to new clause 1 and to the Bill. [Interruption.] I recognise that this is a Government new clause, as hon. Members are pointing out from a sedentary position, but some Back Benchers have a certain independence of mind and they use their minds independently of the Government whom they support.
I do not favour the idea of making available plans from the energy conservation authority to anyone, on application, free of charge. If we have a separate vote on it, I shall vote for new clause 6, which causes a charge to be made if anyone wishes to have copies of those plans, to know what is in store for him.
The Bill and the new clause impose an immense bureaucratic charge on local authorities. The sort of energy conservation measures at stake are those that are in the interests of people who need them in their homes, so those people should be grateful if local authorities draw up the plans on their behalf, since they would otherwise have had to pay for them. They should therefore have to pay for them when they receive them, which is why I oppose the Government's proposal that the plans be given out free of charge.
It seems absurd that we should try to force people to carry out home improvements that they ought to carry out in any case. Government taxation laws may act as inducements, but it is wrong to prepare plans in this long- winded way, especially since those drawing up the plans may know little about the houses that they are inspecting--the more so if they do not even enter them. Many supporters of the Bill have suggested that they would