Previous Section Home Page

Column 1190

not need to go inside. I cannot see how an energy plan for a house can be prepared unless a detailed survey of that house has been made.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Is my hon. Friend aware that that the Royal Institute of British Architects thinks that the Bill is a first step to serious energy efficiency measures throughout our housing stock ? My father was an architect for many years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the view of the RIBA should be taken seriously and considered in the debate ?

12 noon

Mr. Wells : Of course I agree that the view of the Royal Institute of British Architects should be taken into account in considering these matters. RIBA is obviously experienced in providing proper energy-conscious homes and other buildings. However, many of its members have failed lamentably in the course of my lifetime to design such buildings. For example, throughout Hertfordshire, schools built by eminent architects are hopelessly energy-inefficient. They are full of windows and have flat roofs and lose energy almost like the old-fashioned radiators that heated bricks during the night and gave out the heat during the day.

Some British architects tend to be authoritarian when dealing with people who are not experts in housing and other buildings and tell them what to do. That is a natural thing for them to do in their professional capacity. That is the trouble with the Bill, and it is natural for the Labour party to support it.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) spoke about how much he supports the Bill. That is because he has been a little dictator. He was in Leeds city council and was used to commanding a huge Labour majority. That is how the Labour party likes it because it can tell everybody else what it proposes to do and how it will do it, and if people do not like that they can lump it.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : Does my hon. Friend accept that there are already far too many powers on the statute book enabling local authorities and officials to poke their noses into our houses ? Does he agree that the British people still believe that an Englishman's home is his castle ?

Mr. Wells : I profoundly agree with that concept. We should respect the natural instincts of the British people. People should be allowed to enjoy privacy in their own homes and not be subject to the prying, interfering busybodies who would be imposed upon us by all the opposition parties.

Mr. O'Neill : My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), who is not in his place, would resent, with some justification, being called a petty dictator. The thrust of our remarks has been to suggest that in some respects the measure builds on Conservative-inspired legislation and especially on section 105 of the Housing Act 1985. That already requires local authorities to carry out a housing survey. The Bill would have added to that survey an energy efficiency dimension. At the end of the day, it will be up to individuals to decide whether to take advantage of that. There is cross-party agreement that the Government's energy efficiency proposals have to be voluntary in the context of private householders. There is a clear obligation

Column 1191

on local authorities to have as good a fabric as possible for their tenants so that buildings are kept as well insulated and as effectively maintained as possible. In no way does that suggest dictatorship : it suggests good husbandry of the resources that local authorities have a responsibility to maintain.

Mr. Wells : If the Bill simply advised householders on how they could improve the energy efficiency of their homes, it would not attract my hostility and that of the Government. I understand from my reading of it that when the surveys have been carried out and the results submitted to the Government, the Government would have to enforce by a specified date the implementation of the recommendations by the district authorities. That is why I suggest that the Bill is authoritarian and bureaucratic and why I said that it would appeal to the Labour party.

The socialist principles of the Labour party would impose upon others authorities and instructions about the way in which they should live. I understand that philosophy but I am totally against it because such matters should be left to individuals. It is for householders to decide how to make their homes more energy-efficient, thus voluntarily contributing to the reduction of carbon dioxide and enhancing the preservation of the world's climate. I am in favour of that.

Mr. Bennett : The hon. Gentleman complains about how the Opposition want to see things done. How does he square that with the real commitment to which the Government have signed up ? If the Government are to implement that commitment, something will have to be done. The hon. Gentleman should address the question of how we can reduce emissions and energy waste without guidance such as that in the Bill.

Mr. Wells : Mr. Deputy Speaker has already brought it to my attention that he is sensitive to any questions that waste time. I fully support that attempt to keep the debate in order. If I accepted the invitation of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) to explain how I would set about reducing Co emissions and the greenhouse effect, I am sure that I would be rightly ruled out of order. I would love to accept the hon. Gentleman's invitation because I am deeply concerned about that matter and wish to see many effective actions taken. However, the Bill does not go about tackling the problem in the right way : it goes about it in entirely the wrong way and would result in resentment and anger about authorities attempting to impose things on people. People should be invited to act voluntarily.

Mr. Dafis rose

Mr. Wells : I give way to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis). I hope that I have pronounced that correctly.

Mr. Dafis : It is something like that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to say Ceredigion.

It is absolute nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Bill is authoritarian. It provides for implementation of the plans. That means that local authorities would be required to offer to householders the means by which energy efficiency in their homes could be improved. I am confident that a high percentage of those who received that offer would avail themselves of it because it would be so enormously beneficial. They would also understand that in

Column 1192

making such provision in their own interests they would be making an important contribution to the common weal in which we believe. We also believe in the need for a strategic approach to tackle the whole matter.

Mr. Wells : We shall come to the issue of implementation and to the authoritarian effect of the Bill later in the debate. From my reading of the Bill it seems to be capable of being made very authoritarian. The hon. Gentleman says that householders would be offered the means--presumably money or materials and workmen who would come into their houses to effect the improvements. That is a wrong use of taxpayers' money. If it is profoundly in the interests of the householder to make his house more energy efficient he should help himself to do it by saving his money and implementing energy conservation measures. That is the way to get consent, and in that event people would agree with the hon. Gentleman, but people do not like having things forced upon them.

Mr. Dafis : The hon. Gentleman seems to be going against Government policy. A large amount of taxpayers' money is already provided through the home energy efficiency scheme. Since the last Budget, the householder has not had to make any contribution. That principle is accepted. We want help to be put into a strategic framework and targeted at people in such a way that the environmental benefits will be maximised. That is the purpose of the audit and I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman is getting at.

Mr. Wells : I do not think that I can convince the hon. Gentleman in this exchange. The audit, the bureaucracy and the authoritarian action are not likely to have the beneficial results that he and I would probably agree are necessary. The Bill is the wrong way to go about it and new clause 1 is also wrong because it makes no charge for the acquisition or viewing of the beneficial plans that will be produced under the Bill. The person who benefits from the plans prepared by local authorities should pay and thus contribute to the high costs that the Bill will impose on householders, whether they are local authority tenants or home owners.

Energy efficiency should be by consent and persuasion and should not be achieved by statute in the way that the Bill proposes. I shall oppose new clause 1, if I get the opportunity. I hope to persuade some of my hon. Friends to come with me into the Lobby on this occasion. By opposing the clause I hope that we will later have the opportunity to discuss new clause 6. The Clerks told me that we have to discuss new clauses in the proper order and so we shall have to go through new clauses 2, 3, 4 and 5 before we get there, but I support new clause 6 because it is essential.

My hon. Friends agree that people should pay for energy conservation measures because they will help them immeasurably when paying their fuel bills.

Mr. Dafis : I wish to speak about amendment No. 50 and to express my opposition to the removal of the requirement for consultation. That part of the Bill is modelled on existing legislation and on the way in which the Environmental Protection Act 1990 deals with waste disposal and contains a requirement for local authorities to consult. There is therefore nothing unusual about the requirement. It is a normal process and it is certainly beneficial.

Column 1193

The amendment is a sign of the way in which the Government are intent on sabotaging the Bill--I mean the Government and not Conservative Members. That sabotage is infuriating since the Government claim to be committed to sustainable development. The Bill is one step on the road to painless sustainable development and would be generally accepted, but the Government are baulking at that first step.

The way in which amendments have been tabled on Report is a very serious misuse of the parliamentary process. It is also anti-democratic. Such details should have been dealt with in Committee. The Government's approach is also more fundamentally undemocratic. They are flying in the face of the will of the people and of the majority in the House.

It has been a great privilege to be associated with those campaigning in support of the Bill. The process has been educative and consultative and has involved many people. I pay tribute to those who helped, for example Ron Bailey of the Green party and Andrew Warren of the Association for the Conservation of Energy among others. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon -Tweed (Mr. Beith) also deserves praise.

Mr. Stephen : Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that it is the will of the British people that their council taxes should be increased because of the imposition of more bureaucratic regulations, which will involve employing more bureaucrats in more town halls ? As far as democracy is concerned, did he not just vote to curtail debate on this important matter ?

Mr. Dafis : I do not think that I need to consider the hon. Gentleman's last remark seriously. As to the additional bureaucracy, the survey work could probably be carried out using existing resources in housing and environmental health departments. The sums of money involved are small and it would mean only a tiny addition to local government spending. Council tax payers would not have any hesitation in supporting the Bill. I am sure that it would generally be supported.

It is worth noting that a magnificent coalition has been brought together to support the Bill, which unquestionably reflects the majority of opinion. Supporters included : a host of local authorities, the Association of County Councils, the Trades Union Congress, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Construction Industry Council, which knows about building, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Gas Consumers Council, and the National Association of Local Government Officers.

A raft of environmental organisations support it and include : Greenpeace, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is also supported by the right to fuel campaign, Age Concern, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Spastics Society and the Institute of Housing, whose members know about housing and are concerned about people's welfare.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to remind the House of the measure of all-party support for the principle of the Bill ? Perhaps he can give us figures.

Column 1194

12.15 pm

Mr. Dafis : In a moment I will provide details as that is very important.

People want action on the environment and action on behalf of the poor, to promote efficiency and a thrifty use of natural resources. They also want action to mitigate the effects of 17.5 per cent. value added tax on fuel on the poor and the elderly--the fuel poor. The Bill would provide the opportunity to do that.

A coalition of enlightened people are behind the Bill and it is supported by the following Conservative Members of Parliament : the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), for Chorley (Mr. Dover), for Corby (Mr. Powell), for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks), for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer), for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley), for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall), for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox), for Newark (Mr. Alexander), for Norfolk, North (Sir R. Howell), for Poole (Mr. Ward), for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt), for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan), for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner), for Rochford (Dr. Clark), for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), for Ryedale (Mr.Greenway), for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) for Selby (Mr. Alison), for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), for Stafford (Mr. Cash), for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), for Wansdyke (Mr. Aspinwall), for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry), for Westbury (Mr. Faber), for Worcester (Mr. Luff) and for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). It was also supported by some others who did not sign the early-day motion.

Mr. Baldry : I thought that the hon. Gentleman was starting a filibuster when he read out that list. If so many of my hon. Friends supported his measure one is curious to know why they were not here today to support the closure motion. Perhaps that is because, having heard what I and others had to say at Environment Question Time on Wednesday, they saw the light and realised that the Bill would impose unnecessary bureaucratic burdens on local authorities and costs on taxpayers and therefore changed their minds. That can be the only reasonable inference that one can draw from the fact that they are not here to support the measure.

Column 1195

Mr. Dafis : I see that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) wishes to intervene again.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : I know that the hon. Gentleman did not intend to give way again, and I am grateful to him for allowing me to intervene. Since I strongly supported the Bill on Second Reading I hope that he will put on record the fact that my constituency is Norwich, North.

Mr. Dafis : The hon. Gentleman's constituency comes in the rest of my list.

To respond to the Minister, I am inexperienced in parliamentary matters. It has become clear this week that the Government are intent on destroying the Bill. Supporters of the Bill had to decide whether they wanted to come here as a symbolic gesture, knowing that their votes would count for nothing. The Government will talk the Bill out. If we had a straight vote on the Bill there would be a majority in favour.

Let me continue the list of people who did not sign the early-day motion, but expressed support in some way or another. The first was the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss), which is rather odd because this morning he spoke against the Bill. The others were the hon. Members for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), for Harlow (Mr. Hayes), for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold), and the hon. Members for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) and for Norwich, North, whose support I much appreciate. I appreciate also the support of the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) who is on record in The Independent earlier this week as supporting the Bill.

Mr. Wells : Can the hon. Gentleman guarantee that those of my right hon. and hon. Friends whose names he read out studied, understood and discussed the Bill with the hon. Gentleman, and studied the amendments ? I believe that few of them actually understand the Bill's implications and the way that it would impact on the ordinary householder and taxpayer.

Mr. Dafis : I can confidently assert that hardly any legislation has been so carefully explained to so many right hon. and hon. Members, by so many people, and by so many publications. It is perfectly well understood that the Bill requires local authorities throughout the United Kingdom to undertake energy audits for all domestic property in their area. Right hon. and hon. Members understand perfectly well and approve that principle.

Mr. Butler : I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider, in a spirit of co -operation, that speaking to some of the amendments does not mean that my hon. Friends--my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) in particular--oppose the Bill, let alone that we oppose its intention. That is not the case.

Mr. Dafis : I am delighted to hear that. As was made clear by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, we would have been perfectly happy to accept some of the amendments. If they had been presented at an earlier stage, they could have been integrated and everything would have

Column 1196

proceeded better. I gather from the hon. Gentleman's statement that there is life in this issue for the future. I will return to that point later.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no use making a commitment to energy conservation if Conservative Members are only prepared to pay lip service to it ? Given the increase in domestic fuel prices, it is crucial to take on board some of the Bill's measures. Many of my constituents are unable to meet all the costs of energy conservation and cannot keep themselves warm in winter. Even if the Bill is talked out, it is time that the Government gave a commitment to making energy conservation an absolute priority.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to enter the Chamber during consideration of the Bill when she has not been present before and impugn the motives of right hon. and hon. Members who have sat through the entire debate and have long taken an interest in environmental matters ?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : That is not a point of order for the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make such a remark, he should seek to intervene.

Ms Walley : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. It was not a point of order.

Mr. Dafis : I was referring to the enormously impressive coalition of supporters for the Bill. Arrayed against that enlightened coalition is a total of seven wrecking amenders, including the Secretary of State. I cannot name them because that would be against parliamentary procedure, and I do not know the names of their constituencies. I will therefore refer to them as the unmentionable seven. They are riding into battle with amendments and new clauses blazing not, as in the film, in defence of people's welfare but in a direct attack on it.

Their constituents will know who they are, but the effect on those Conservative wrecking amenders will be slightly reduced by the fact that they all have large majorities. I wonder whether that is coincidental. However, they should not be complacent. These days, no Conservative majority is safe, and their majorities will be far less safe once their constituents know of their attempts to block the Bill. Make no mistake-- they will be informed of that, and of the Government's failure to mitigate the effects of VAT.

The irony is that many Conservative supporters of the Bill will suffer because they will be identified with the Government that has chosen to wreck it. The Bill is enlightened, progressive, important, down-to-earth and useful. It would help to improve the quality of people's lives and to protect the environment upon which we all depend. It would help also to highlight and make us more conscious of the environment. The Government and the Conservative party will pay the electoral price of blocking the Bill.

Mr. Wells : The hon. Gentleman appeals to the self-preservation instincts of Conservative Members. I understand and appreciate his concern for us in the elections that face us--but does it not strike the hon. Gentleman that a number of us are so convinced that the

Column 1197

Bill is the wrong way to go about energy conservation that we are prepared to take that risk and to do what is right by our electors, rather than do what might be popular ? Did the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed get together with Ministers, to try to model the Bill in a way that would make it acceptable to the Government, or did they just propose the Bill to embarrass Conservative Members ?

Mr. Dafis : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asserting that the amenders are people of integrity and that they are prepared to stand up for their principles and accept the electoral consequences. That is a fine interpretation of their position and it is not for me to question it--but I have my own thoughts on the matter.

As to the willingness of the Bill's promoter, supporters and others who worked hard on it to enter into a dialogue with the Department, I am sure that the Minister will confirm that there was a willingness on their part to go a long way to accepting Government proposals for changes to the Bill. The one thing that we were adamant about was the need to retain the statutory requirement for local authorities to undertake an audit, so that there would be a strategic framework for the development of energy efficiency policies.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Can the hon. Gentleman give any examples of changes to the Bill made as a result of discussions with the Department ?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Before the hon. Gentleman answers, I may say that I have been listening carefully to the debate, and would prefer it if right hon. and hon. Members will now address themselves to the new clauses and amendments under consideration. I give fair warning.

Mr. Dafis : The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed indicated this morning our willingness to accept, for example, new clause 1. We would have been prepared to accept several amendments, but we wanted to retain the crucial principle of auditing.

I am sensitive to your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it is relevant to remark that I strongly oppose amendment No. 50, which seeks to remove the democratic and participatory provision for consultation. I want to make it clear that the issue of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency will not go away. The Bill will not go away either.

Let me give fair warning to the Government that the Bill will be back in November. It will gather even more support then and its implications will be more properly understood. I trust that even more Conservative Members will be aware of its implications and realise that the objections that they have raised this morning are largely baseless. We will see in November, will we not, whether the Government--assuming that they are still in power- -dare sabotage the Bill a second time.

Mr. Butler : I agree with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) that this matter will not go away, but I would say that no one wants it to. We are all anxious to come to a proper resolution of the serious issues that the Bill raises. It is time perhaps to come out, if I may do so publicly, as having been for some time a member of Friends of the Earth, whose publications

Column 1198

are extremely useful and generally of a high standard, except when they stray into party political issues, when one tends to disagree. 12.30 pm

In Milton Keynes, we have a proud boast on our recycling record. In the next couple of weeks, I shall attend the opening of a new recycling facility. Its construction has cost some £5 million. We are extremely proud of what we do there. I, personally, am extremely proud that a response to a question from me led the Department of the Environment and the DTI jointly to issue their challenge to the packaging industry last July to secure the retrieval and recycling of a high proportion of its products.

I mention that only to establish the point that there is consensus across the parties and, more importantly, across the country on the need for energy efficiency, by which we do not mean being able to turn up the thermostat and heat the house at a higher level for the same cost ; we mean using less energy. When we get on to those groups of amendments--if we do-- there will be further comments to make on the definition of energy efficiency in the Bill. There is no point to all of this if energy is still consumed at the same rate, because that, by any definition, is a waste.

Mr. Heald : My hon. Friend has just mentioned the local authority effort on energy efficiency. At the moment, local authorities are spending some £200 million annually on energy efficiency measures. Within the amendments, does he agree that the permissive principle--allowing local authorities to spend on energy efficiency, to conduct audits and so on--is one thing, but that to force them to do so is another ? What would his approach be ? Does he feel that the permissive approach would be adequate, or does he agree that it probably would be right to force local authorities to implement such measures and conduct energy audits in that way ?

Mr. Butler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his--as usual--most helpful intervention. I believe that any local authority could undertake such an audit now if it wished to do so. It does not require further legislation to do so. The Bill is concerned only with mandating and forcing that to be done. Surely the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and I have learnt something in the past two years here : if one is to mandate the ends, must also mandate the means.

That brings me to the central issue of the Bill : does it mandate the means ? In other words, does the clause that relates to the Secretary of State making regulations to secure the putting into effect of the plan mean anything or not ? If it does not, we have failed to mandate the means and there is no point, apart from publicity, in mandating the end. We shall come back to that in further amendments.

I shall conclude my introductory comments by referring to the National Energy Foundation, based in Milton Keynes--naturally, where else ?--which has done excellent work. I invite the hon. Gentleman to visit it. I should be happy to show him some of the work done there and, indeed, some of the energy efficient houses built specifically to demonstrate the effectiveness of energy efficiency within the new city of Milton Keynes.

I reject the simplistic, and I believe insulting, contention that it is necessary to support not just the idea and principle but the wording of the Bill to prove that we have a concern for the environment. I am sure that hon. Members will not

Column 1199

accept that argument. I personally would reject it. I welcome enormously enthusiastically the title of the Bill and the idea behind it. My regret is that it is not effective.

Reference has been made to a large number of amendments. I tabled a substantial number, but, because of the arcane procedures, if one wishes, for example--as I do--to change the word "investigation" to "energy audit", one must table a separate amendment for each occasion that it occurs in the Bill. That would involve nine or 10 amendments.

If one examines the amendments that have been tabled, certainly those which I have tabled, one will find that they involve about six or seven substantive changes. The other 30 or 40 amendments that I have tabled are merely consequential. It is not right to suggest that a wrecking number of changes have been proposed. The procedures simply require many amendments to be tabled.

I have tried to decide whether the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has changed his mind since he spoke in Committee on 16 February, when he said in an exchange :

"The Minister mentioned several matters that might need to be tackled on Report or in another place. I am willing for that to happen".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C , 16 February 1994 ; c. 10.]

From the comments that the right hon. Gentleman has made this morning, I am not sure that he is any longer willing for that to happen on Report. I conclude that he is willing for it to happen only in another place. I do not find that helpful.

Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman will find that I also said that we needed to have a manageable Report stage. I submit that as the Government have tabled more than 200 amendments they clearly do not intend to have a manageable Report stage.

Mr. Butler : With respect, it is an entirely manageable Report stage. Although I have tabled 40 or 50 amendments, as I said, they represent only about seven substantive points. I tabled them several days ago. The right hon. Gentleman could have contacted me to say which amendments he was prepared to accept and which he was not. I have had no such contact. That would have made the Report stage even more manageable.

Some of the amendments deal with the consultation clauses. As you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, amendment No. 50 deletes the requirement to consult. Other amendments, in particular amendments Nos. 209 and 216, relate to who should be consulted. Consulting is all very well, but surely the Bill ought to be about achieving energy savings. I question whether, as it is currently worded, the object of the Bill is to achieve the drawing up of a plan or to achieve energy savings.

It is self-evident that the plan would be useless if it did not lead to energy savings. It would be merely a bureaucratic exercise and yet another charge on the taxpayer. That charge would be fully justified, and the plan would be fully justified, if we could secure implementation of the plan and ensure that it was drawn up properly. We shall return to the question of implementation.

In Committee the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was asked whether people should be forced to install double glazing and so on. He replied :

"The Bill does not contain a requirement but it calls on local authorities to set out what could be achieved by certain levels of energy conservation. No one is required to achieve those levels."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C , 16 February 1994 ; c. 25.]

Column 1200

That is the kernel of the problem. Does the Bill intend to do anything or not ? If it intends not to achieve anything, the right hon. Gentleman can do that by all means. But surely he should not do so at enforced cost to residents. If it intends to achieve something, how is it to be done ?

Draconian regulations would be necessary if authorities were required to conduct an audit. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) drew attention earlier this morning to clause 3(4), which says :

"The Secretary of State may make regulations by statutory instrument in order to secure the implementation of any plan".

Mr. Dafis : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on the question of achieving energy efficiency measures, as distinct from drawing up plans. It is interesting to note that organisations that have been most progressive in implementation are strong supporters of the Bill because they believe that we need the framework of information that the audit would provide. I mention in particular Neighbourhood Energy Action, which more than anyone else is responsible for the introduction of the home energy efficiency scheme.

Also, two local authorities have already carried out significant programmes. Derby city council and Newark and Sherwood district council have provided information about how the audit should be conducted. They are convinced that the audit is necessary before we can carry out the necessary works in the most efficient way.

Mr. Butler : Neighbourhood Energy Action is an excellent initiative. I am aware that a substantial number of local authorities have expressed little or no real interest in it. They have merely welcomed it. They have done nothing about it. It has been difficult even to get them interested. That may be an argument for some form of mandatory involvement. On the other hand, as the hon. Gentleman has just said, two authorities in particular have already produced precisely the type of audit that he urges on the rest of the country under existing legislation. That shows that it is not necessary to mandate such audits. It is a two-sided argument which we shall not resolve today.

Mr. Ian Taylor : My hon. Friend clarifies an important point. Hon. Members who favour energy efficiency look at the £350 million that local government already spends on improving energy efficiency and wonder whether the Bill, because of the bureaucratic framework that it proposes, will detract from that amount. The fact that there will be a cost appears from clause 3(2)(b), which says that the Secretary of State

"may make a Scheme for making contributions to the cost of implementation of such plans"

in other words, the cost of the implementation of a bureaucratic procedure rather than of energy efficiency.

Mr. Butler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose intervention reminded me of recent speeches that Opposition Members have made on the NHS. Their claim is that money is spent on bureaucracy rather than on the delivery of service--a claim that we refute because we cannot manage without managers. That, however, is precisely what the Bill proposes, but whether that would require additional funding, which would require increased taxation, or existing funding, which would lead to less insulation work being carried out, is a matter for clarification.

Mr. Beith rose

Column 1201

Mr. Butler : I see that the right hon. Gentleman is eager to give it.

Next Section

  Home Page