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Mr. Taylor : I am cut off in my prime, but of course I respect what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will merely say that I have never shied from addressing my constituents with the implications of the measures that I am proposing. But that is the crux of it, because there are costs involved in the structure of new clauses 1 and 4, which we are discussing today.
I fear that the very party that is proposing the Bill under the cloak of energy conservation--the Liberal Democrats, and I know that the Bill has all-party support and that the right hon. Gentleman has taken the responsibility of leading--was the party that, initially, proposed carbon taxes and talked about zero rating of fuel being an
Column 1213anomaly. But now, through the back door, possibly, it is increasing council taxes, which I accept are also a way of passing on a form of taxation to the public.
An increase in council tax for my constituents would be very unattractive bearing in mind that the largest part of my constituency is covered by part of Elmbridge borough council, which has no overall control and is one of the highest spending councils in the country. We hope that, on 5 May, that anomaly will be corrected and that the Conservatives will be back in force in Elmbridge and the local residents protected from high charges on council tax. I certainly would not want to pass a Bill that could possibly increase the burdens on my council tax payers. That is the crux of my concern about the measure that we are discussing.
Mr. Wells : My hon. Friend will have seen that new clause 1 is entitled "Inspection of plans etc." Does it strike him that both the taxpayer and the tenant or owner of a house--having inspected the plans under new clause 1--have no right of appeal should they find those plans unacceptable in any way ? He may find the physical plans for his home, which he is being required to modify for energy conservation purposes, unacceptable or he simply may not be able to afford it.
Mr. Taylor : That is an interesting point. It hides within it two separate points which I wish to touch on. The first is the virtual intrusiveness, to which we have referred before, and the second is the cost. There is no doubt that there is a vagueness in what the plans imply. That should cause considerable concern. The Government's new clause 1 makes an effort to say what should be done with the plan and the Bill contains certain pointers, but there is a vagueness which could mean that in the wrong hands in a local authority, the plan could lead to abuses.
Our job as humble Back-Bench Members of Parliament is to hold up legislation to careful scrutiny. In those circumstances, I express my anxiety on behalf of the citizens that we are giving a right of inspection, audit or analysis to people in respect of not only the public but the private housing stock. There is a grave danger. A landlord could ask for an inspection of his own stock of housing if that was part of an agreement with the tenants in the first place, but I question whether such powers should be available for public housing stocks on a basis which is not necessarily voluntary.
Mr. Taylor : That is true. As a borrower, I read the document before I signed it. As I have read the document and signed it, I could not object. In terms of the reaction between the local authority and private housing stocks, what document would the householders have signed which enabled them to say that they agreed to inspection ? The passage of a Bill which instructs or obliges on a statutory basis a local authority to make that inspection is not a sufficient sign of consent by the individual who owns the private house. I have many legal friends around me from whom I would willingly take an intervention if they thought that I was on a faulty point in law.
Column 1214Mr. Butler rose
The second element is the cost. I shall willingly give way to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed or the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), who has considerable expertise on the matter, if I get it wrong. One of the things that we have attempted to do in Government-sponsored legislation and initiatives such as the home energy efficiency grants is to focus on detailed measures to improve houses and to provide a grant for them. The grants provided are up to a maximum of £305 for combined loft insulation and draught-proofing. They are currently available to homeowners and tenants in both the public and private sector. The grants are available to be requested rather than imposed on tenants and owners who receive one or more of the following benefits : income support, family credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit or disability working allowance.
I should like the Government to pay more attention to schemes which focus on the people most in need. It removes the stigma which Opposition Members have placed on VAT on fuel when one considers that not only are people who receive benefits protected by the compensation on VAT on fuel but that schemes such as the home energy efficiency scheme are targeted to improve their houses and, therefore, reduce the overall cost of their fuel bills.
Mr. Taylor : No doubt a plan would be useful, and careful thought needs to be given to it, but the problem is that someone drawing up a plan might reach a different conclusion. Views differ on how best to conserve energy, and as properties differ their energy losses vary. It is difficult for a house owner to know whether he should insulate his loft or
Mr. Taylor : I agree, but that is a hazard of giving way to colleagues. Nevertheless, it is jolly interesting and it is relevant that people know why some of us have reservations about the Bill. We oppose not energy saving or conservation but the way in which they are delivered to the public. I do not doubt that local authorities, in response to public pressure, will be asked to introduce plans, to issue guidance and to become much more involved in energy efficiency schemes rather than being obliged to do so by an Act. The Bill is an honourable one. The subject must be addressed, but not as the Bill proposes.
Column 1215Many new clause are in the group. I am not sure whether I wish to speak to all of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), with his acute legal brain, dealt with many of the wider issues.
There is no question but that the Government are doing their best. They are committed to a reduction of 15 per cent. in their own energy consumption over the next five years. In those circumstances, I believe that they have nothing to be embarrassed about.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with our concerns, such as how the Bill's costs will be paid for ; whether the statutory framework is likely to increase the number of schemes or detract from manpower and cash resources ; whether he thinks that the intrusiveness implied in the Bill is acceptable ; whether he believes that such a Bill should apply to the private and public sector
Mr. Taylor : I am not, of course, questioning your judgment, Madam Deputy Speaker, but these matters have been discussed this morning. I was risking your patience only inasmuch as questions need to be answered and new clauses need to be clarified.
Mr. Heald : My hon. Friend will recall that I oppose subsections (5) and (6) as such consultation has little point. As it is proposed, however, does he think it odd that the bodies listed are community bodies that have no particular expertise or technical knowledge ? Surely expert bodies should be consulted. The Bill makes no reference to the Department of Energy being consulted yet the Government are supposed to implement the Bill under regulation. Is not that an anomaly ?
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend is extending my list of questions about the Bill and I am grateful to him for that. He has underlined my point about this group of new clauses and amendments. Even at this stage, there are still serious questions to which I for one have yet to hear clear answers. Some of the amendments are merely probing amendments and the intention has been to elicit the answers that we require because, ultimately, we have to justify the Bill to our constituents.
New clause 3 is not included in the group so I cannot mention it. Nevertheless, it refers to the Secretary of State's powers to give guidance on the conduct of investigations. That is a matter
Mr. Taylor : The complexity of the matter is trying my patience, too, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is certainly not your fault. It is important that the Government should be consulted as it is the House that might give permission for the Bill to be passed. 1.45 pm
Mr. Butler : Is my hon. Friend saying that we should either accept amendment No. 50, which would mean that no consultation was required, or that the list of consultees should be extended to include, for example, mortgagees who clearly have a direct interest in anything done to the fabric of their property ?
Mr. Taylor : One of the first points made was that there should be consultation with specialist bodies outside. The overriding need is to give permission. In the public sector, through the Housing Corporation, it is possible to give permission if a tenancy is signed. The situation is different in the private sector but the consultation needs to be broader.
Mr. O'Neill : I have not been here for all of the hon. Gentleman's speech although I have heard a fair bit of the debate. I do not think that I have missed much as his remarks appear to be going around in circles. He has spoken at some length about consultation and has made great play of tenants, residents and community associations to which most of us listen willingly on many other matters. One might have thought that they had something to say about their homes. Perhaps the hon, Gentleman will comment on the inclusion of the Gas Consumers Council and the Office of Electricity Regulation, to say nothing of bodies interested in the environment.
One would have thought that there would be no question but that these bodies were appropriate for consultation. Before the hon. Gentleman draws his remarks to a close, will he be a little more specific about which organisations he believes should be consulted ? Many of us will wish to introduce a Bill of a similar character and, if we can secure more support every time that we do so, we could ease its passage. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could be helpful and specify which of the organisations mentioned in clause 2 he considers appropriate.
Mr. Taylor : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that specific point. He referred to the Gas Consumers' Council and the Office of Electricity Regulation, which are mentioned in clause 2(5)((v). I have no objection to their being included in that clause. I was saying that many other specialist and professional bodies need to be involved. If a private resident has a mortgage, the mortgage company needs to be consulted because the occupant will have made an agreement with that company when he signed the mortgage documents. Other regulatory authorities also need to be included.
Now that we have had the opportunity to air these matters on the Floor of the House, we may find that other bodies with specialist knowledge will want to be part of the process and will take a close interest in new clause 1 which covers the inspection of plans. They would want to inspect the plans being proposed by the local authority.
Mr. Wells : Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the House whether he supports amendment No. 50, which would do away with the need for consultation altogether, or whether he is in favour of embellishing the list of consultees with additional bodies ? The longer the list, the greater the expense. What is the purpose of it anyway ?
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has, typically, picked up a flaw in the Bill and, to an extent, in my argument, which has been following the Bill. My worry is that if the Bill goes through in its current form, there will be extra costs if we ask for further consultation to be carried out. That is accepted ; it is inherent in the Bill. If I thought that the Bill would complete its passage through the House this afternoon, I should be anxious to ensure that more bodies were consulted because I am not entirely satisfied about the
Column 1217way in which it is proposed to carry out the consultation. I am not sure that the list is as broad as it should be, especially given that the matter involves the private sector.
My instincts are that the Bill would impose a bureaucratic structure with inherent costs, which would detract from the money and energy spent on efficiency programmes. If I had a free choice in the matter, I would choose the second option, which is not to have the Bill and to spend much more time and energy encouraging people to save through conservation schemes and to encourage local authorities to come up with their own ideas, which could be discussed with their local electorates and put before them. That is much better local democracy. I know that some of the better local authorities are doing that.
New clause 4 refers to charges for copy plans, new clause 5 refers to the power to fix charges and new clause 6 refers to charges for copy plans. Those new clauses alone show the incredible complexity of the Bill and the prospect that, under each, there will be extra costs and burdens on local authorities. In those circumstances, we have a duty, which is totally disconnected from the fact that local elections are coming up, to try, in the interests of our constituents, to protect them from the extra costs that would be imposed on local authorities.
We have not been assured by my hon. Friend the Minister, who has perhaps been derelict in his duty on the matter, that if the Bill is passed, there will be extra Government funding for local authorities and we have not been told by him whether there would be an adjustment to standard spending assessments to accommodate the Bill.
Mr. Dafis : The hon. Gentleman has spoken about his duty to his constituents. It would be helpful to his constituents and to the public at large if he explained just what is going on. Some people may be under the illusion that we are carrying out a careful scrutiny of the implications of the Bill to improve the legislative process. It is important that the public at large, including some who are listening carefully here, should understand that this is a deliberate, time-wasting process, designed to talk out a useful piece of legislation. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared openly to say that that is what he is about so that no one is under any illusion about the nature of the activity this morning ?
Mr. Taylor : What I am about is attempting to discuss a considerable number of amendments. We are still on the first group. The reason for that is that hon. Members on both sides have decided to take the Bill extremely seriously and to discuss the amendments at great length. In no way can I or my colleagues be thought to be hostile to energy conservation, but there is a good way and a bad way in which to go about it.
The good way is to encourage the existing schemes, such as the home energy efficiency schemes, the local authority schemes and various schemes put forward by the Select Committee on the Environment in a valuable background document to the debate. The bad way is the structured approach in the Bill, with statutory plans. Once one gets into the area of statutory plans, it is inevitable, in dealing with new clauses 1,4,5 and 6, that one has at some length to go into the problems that they cause for our constituents and the potential costs that they have for our constituents.
Column 1218I do not wish to detain the House much longer, because other hon. Members will undoubtedly want to speak and there are one or two amendments left to cover. Whether they are covered in due course is not a matter for me. What is a matter for me is to address completely the point that hon. Members have a genuine desire to see energy efficiency. I shall not fall into the trap of talking about alternative ways that that may be done through the VAT system, but I shall say specifically that my conclusion is that the clauses under discussion would set up a bureaucracy which is not merited ; they would bear costs and, therefore, I still feel that I have further questions to ask about the Bill. I am sure that, in the passage of time that is left, those further questions will be both posed and--hopefully--answered.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Mr. O'Neill : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. For the benefit of the House and certainly for myself, would you confirm that we have spent about four hours discussing a group of amendments, one of which has been accepted in the shape of new clause 1, and that all of the others fall because the proponents of the amendments have chosen after a lengthy debate not to include them in the Bill or consider them, or are they coming up later ?
Mr. Baldry : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I make it perfectly clear that I moved new clause 1 and it has been accepted. Certainly, at the appropriate time, it is my intention to move amendment No. 50, which is the only other amendment that stands in the Government's name in the group. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am entirely in your hands over when I am able to move amendment No. 50 and what is the appropriate time to move it. When you tell me that I can move amendment No. 50, I shall move amendment No. 50.
Mr. Wells : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In view of the acceptance of new clause 1, will you make it clear to me and the House whether we shall be permitted to vote on new clause 6, after, of course, we have discussed the next group of amendments, which begins with new clause 2 ?
Madam Deputy Speaker : That will depend on other decisions that have not yet been made. I am sorry to sound delphic but the occupant of the Chair must make it clear that one can deal only with the present situation because other events may occur in the meantime. So I do not offer hostages to fortune.
Mr. Wells : I am sorry to persist on this matter, but I need to understand. I have consulted the Clerk on exactly how the votes will be taken. I am very much in favour of new clauses 6 and 4, both of which are in my name, and I cannot find out exactly when or if we shall be permitted to vote on either clause. If you cannot help us now, Madam Deputy Speaker, when will you be able to help us ?
Mr. Beith : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Should you decide to permit a Division on one of the new clauses or amendments in the group that has just been passed, I wonder whether the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) will have recovered his voice sufficiently to hear his intentions.
This Act, except sections 4 and 5, shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint ; and different days may be appointed for different provisions, different purposes of the same provision and different areas.'.-- [Mr. Baldry.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
.--(1) The Secretary of State may, from time to time, give such guidance as he considers appropriate to energy conservation authorities on how to carry out functions under section 2(1)(a) or (d) above.
(2) An energy conservation authority carrying out functions under section 2(1)(a) or (d) above shall have regard to any guidance for the time being given under subsection (1) above in relation to those functions.'.
Amendment No. 92, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out and'. Amendment No. 93, in page 2, line 4, after practicable', insert and cost effective'.
Amendment No. 181, in page 2, line 20, leave out from cent.' to end of line 22 and insert
or such other percentage as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument substitute ; and any such instrument shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament ;'.
Amendment No. 94, in page 3, line 24, at end insert
Column 1220(5A) In determining for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) above what measures are in its opinion cost effective, the authority shall have regard to any guidance on the question for the time being issued by the Secretary of State.'.
Amendment No. 43, in page 3, line 26, at end insert
(6A) Nothing in this section shall be taken as conferring any power of entry on any energy conservation authority.'.
Amendment No. 51, in page 3, leave out lines 27 and 28. Amendment No. 153, in page 3, line 27, after plan', insert and any modification'.
Amendment No. 182, in page 3, line 28, at end insert
(8) Orders under subsection (2)(a) above may make different provision with respect to different cases or classes of case.'. Amendment No. 52, in clause 3, page 3, leave out lines 29 to 45. Amendment No. 203, in page 3, line 29, leave out shall' and insert may'.
Amendment No. 196, in page 3, line 29, leave out a date' and insert
such date or dates as he considers appropriate'.
Amendment No. 199, in page 3, line 29, leave out all'. Amendment No. 151, in page 3, line 29, after plans', insert and modifications'.
Amendment No. 197, in page 3, line 29, after plans', insert , or parts of plans, as he may specify'.
Amendment No. 206, in page 3, leave out lines 31 to 41. Amendment No. 147, in page 3, line 31, leave out all such plans' and insert any plan or modification'.
Amendment No. 201, in page 3, line 31, leave out all such plans' and insert
a plan or part of a plan specified under subsection (1) above'. Amendment No. 193, in page 3, leave out line 32.
Amendment No. 204, in page 3, line 32, leave out shall' and insert may'.
Amendment No. 146, in page 3, line 32, leave out such plans' and insert the plan or modification'.
Amendment No. 198, in page 3, line 32, leave out such plans' and insert the plan or the part'.
Amendment No. 171, in page 3, leave out lines 33 and 34. Amendment No. 170, in page 3, line 33, after may', insert , with the consent of the Treasury,'.
Amendment No. 169, in page 3, line 33, leave out a Scheme for making'.
Amendment No. 148, in page 3, line 34, leave out of such plans'. Amendment No. 195, in page 3, line 35, leave out lines 35 to 41. Amendment No. 205, in page 3, line 37, leave out shall' and insert may'.
Amendment No. 200, in page 3, line 38, leave out from
above ;' to end of line 41.
Amendment No. 32, in page 3, line 40, leave out from with' to first different' in line 41.
Amendment No. 167, in page 3, line 42, after (4)', insert Subject to subsection (5) below,'.
Amendment No. 149, in page 3, line 43, after plan', insert or modification'.
Amendment No. 166, in page 3, line 45, at end insert
(5) Regulations under subsection (4) above may make different provision for different cases, or classes of case, including different provision for different areas.'.
Amendment No. 53, Title, line 4, leave out from Kingdom ;' to second and' in line 5.