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Reading earlier this year, the then Under- Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), expressed concern about some parts of the Bill, but said:

"The Bill of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has raised the very important issue of energy conservation. It also provides a useful opportunity for advancing energy efficiency in our housing."--[ Official Report , 4 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 1183.]

He did not suggest that it was deplorable.

The question should be not whether the Bill is necessary, because clearly the overwhelming majority of hon. Members believe that it is: it has all- party support. The real question is how on earth the Government can table an amendment that not only contradicts the position that Ministers took earlier this year but flies in the face of the view that was advanced so strongly by the Minister who will reply to the debate. At no stage during my speech has the Minister sought to intervene to correct me, so I assume that he agrees that everything that I have said is correct. Perhaps more relevantly, he does not want to put his current position on the record and allow other hon. Members who speak in the debate to comment on it. That is a shame, and I look forward to his explanation--if he has one--for backing such an extraordinary amendment.

4.8 pm

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins): I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of theQuestion and to add instead thereof:

"commends the Government's commitment to the efficient use of energy and congratulates the Government on the action taken to encourage energy efficiency; welcomes the work being undertaken by the Department of the Environment and in particular the imaginative way in which it uses available resources in close partnership with local authorities, businesses and other organisations and individuals; deplores the proposals in the Energy Conservation Bill which would impose unnecessary burdens on public expenditure as well as on central and local government; and further considers these proposals typical of the muddled thinking of the Liberal Democrats, who supported VAT on fuel in 1990, but then changed their minds as soon as the Government introduced it."

I am delighted that the subject of energy conservation has been raised. It provides an opportunity for a useful discussion on an important subject. Liberal Democrat Members obviously do not agree, because most of them are now leaving the Chamber. As this is the Liberal Democrat Supply day, one would have hoped that they would turn out in all the massive force that they can offer.

The debate gives me a chance to explain to the House the importance that the Government attach to energy efficiency, and the steps that we are taking to encourage it. We attach enormous importance to the efficient use of energy to run our homes and businesses. We aim to spread the message that energy efficiency makes sense when it saves money which can be used to develop businesses, improve homes and living standards and boost the economy.

There has already been significant progress. The United Kingdom economy has grown by about 25 per cent. since 1979, but it still uses roughly the same amount of energy. There is, however, always scope for cost-effective improvements, saving as much as 20 per cent. of current energy demand.

Cost-effectiveness is not the only reason why we continue to beat the energy efficiency drum. Energy efficiency helps to protect the environment by reducing

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the threat of climate change, and the framework convention on climate change, which was negotiated at the Earth summit in Rio, commits us to return our emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The convention was ratified in December 1993 and came into force in March.

We are determined to meet our commitments. Energy efficiency can help us to move towards sustainable development. It is our first priority for limiting carbon dioxide emissions, as it can also bring economic and social benefits.

Nearly half the savings we are seeking in the climate change programme are expected to come from reducing energy consumption in the home. Recent research shows that the average household may be wasting more than £100 a year on fuel bills--money which could be saved by implementing few cost-effective measures. The business and transport sectors are both expected to contribute a quarter of savings, and a tenth are expected to come from the public sector. We have substantially increased our expenditure on energy efficiency. In 1994-95, that expenditure will increase to more than £100 million--17 times the level of expenditure in 1979-80. We are also providing a framework to encourage energy efficiency. The Energy Efficiency Office in my Department carries energy efficiency policy forward by promoting cost-effective energy efficiency in the workplace and the home, and strengthening environmental protection by reducing energy use.

There are four main planks to our efforts. We use publicity to ensure that everyone is aware of the importance of energy efficiency; we provide encouragement and technical advice to enable people to take informed decisions about whether and how to invest in energy efficiency programmes; where necessary, we provide financial incentives to encourage the installation of energy efficiency measures, and, where appropriate, we promote regulation.

We have a wide range of programmes to encourage improved energy efficiency, each one aimed at a specific audience. For example, we provide publicity through our new campaign, "Wasting energy costs the earth", which encourages energy efficiency in the home. Television adverts--with the dinosaurs Ron, Brenda and Billy--feature the Energy Saving Trust's energy- saving light bulb initiative. Funded by the regional electricity companies of England and Wales and lighting manufacturers, the initiative is expected to win sales of 1 million. A nationwide tour by the Dino Dome road show, which is being sponsored by a number of leading manufacturers, will give further publicity to energy efficiency measures. It was launched in Oxford last week, and opens in Birmingham on Thursday 3 November. Manufacturers and retailers are synchronising their activities with our campaign, and I can announce today that we shall be holding another energy advice week next year as part of that campaign.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact that the Energy Saving Trust, whose initiatives he has just commended and for

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which he has expressed support, has declared itself firmly in support of the Bill, and that its chairman has made a particular point of doing so.

Mr. Atkins: We also have a comprehensive package of measures to provide encouragement, information and advice to help people take informed decisions about whether and how to invest in energy efficiency.

We help building professionals and housing manufacturers in four main ways. Our best practice programme provides authoritative advice and information for professionals and managers on improving energy efficiency. It produces energy consumption guides to show energy users how their consumption compares with others, good practice guides and case studies describing good practice, and new practice case studies promoting novel measures.

Secondly, the "making a corporate commitment" campaign invites the chairmen and chief executives of companies and organisations to make a declaration of commitment to responsible energy management. It asks them to formulate, adopt and publish a corporate policy on energy efficiency, to increase awareness of energy efficiency among their staff and to set targets for improving their performance. More than 1,750 organisations have signed up. The campaign has increased the willingness of two thirds of them to invest in energy efficiency. As that helps the bottom line of most companies in real terms, it is something that they willingly recognise and adopt. Thirdly, the "green house" demonstration programme made £60 million available over three years to encourage local authorities to develop and apply energy efficiency strategies to their housing. To follow up on that, the Government have advised authorities to make energy efficiency a more explicit and integral part of their annual housing investment programme submissions.

Fourthly, a network of 11 regional energy efficiency officers promotes good environmental management and energy efficiency measures across the United Kingdom. They provide an independent source of advice that enables energy consumers to take action. They are able to signpost the Department's programmes and provide information on energy-efficient techniques and technologies.

Not content with all that, we are providing help for

individuals--for example, by promoting home energy rating--

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Does the Minister accept that any fair energy tax would have to include a full tax on nuclear power to take account of the cost of decommissioning and waste disposal? Does he agree that that cost should fall on the present generation, and that future generations should not have to pick up the tab for our wastefulness?

Mr. Atkins: The hon. Gentleman takes me down byways that are not appropriate in this debate. Perhaps he would like to table yet more questions on this matter, which I shall endeavour to answer. The home energy rating provides valuable information for owners and buyers on the energy efficiency of a property. We have established a uniform standard

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assessment procedure, and we are working with the mortgage lenders to incorporate home energy rating into their survey reports. We are encouraging mortgage lenders to offer green loans to help people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. We are encouraging voluntary appliance labels to give consumers a guide to the energy efficiency of the appliances they buy.

Where necessary, we provide financial incentives to encourage the installation of energy efficiency measures. The home energy efficiency scheme provides grants for basic insulation measures and advice for low- income households. Since the scheme began in 1991, more than 800,000 homes have been treated. From 1 April, provision for the home energy efficiency scheme was almost doubled, and the scheme extended to those over 60 and disabled people.

The additional £35 million per year for the United Kingdom will provide grants for more than 200,000 extra households per year, bringing the total number of households receiving grants to almost half a million a year. It will reduce the fuel bills of recipients, save energy and help to fight the threat of global warming. It will also create about 1,500 jobs, boost a specialist sector of the construction industry and materials producers, and improve the housing stock. That is not a bad summary of the assistance being given by the Government. Some £69 million of my Department's estate action funds were spent on energy-related works in 1992 -3. Even in a deregulatory age, we encourage regulation where it is appropriate. For example, the regulations governing energy efficiency standards in new buildings in the United Kingdom have been tightened several times over the past 20 years. Revised regulations will come into force in July 1995. The new regulations include the provision of double glazing, improved insulation, better heating controls for the first time and the need to have a home energy rating. They should lead to an improvement in energy efficiency of 25 to 35 per cent. compared with the previous regulations.

We also practise what we preach. The Government are committed to a 15 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency for the Government estate over the five years to March 1996. The new headquarters for my Department will be one of the most energy-efficient buildings in London. It has been designed to make the most efficient use of energy, and it will have an economical and environmentally friendly combined heat and power system.

But we know that the task of achieving energy efficiency savings is not one which the Government can or should be expected to achieve on their own. We can set the framework, but others have the crucial part to play of encouraging energy efficiency in the home.

That is why we have worked with the gas and electricity industries to set up the Energy Saving Trust to develop and manage new programmes to promote the efficient use of energy in the domestic and small business sectors. The trust has a major role in carrying forward the Government's climate change programme. Hon. Members

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will know from discussions within the House and elsewhere that arrangements for funding the trust are being reconsidered.

Mr. Llew Smith: Does the Minister understand that a full tax on nuclear power, in order to take into consideration decommissioning and waste disposal, would be a remarkable act of energy conservation, because we know that nuclear energy is the most ineffective and inefficient energy form known to man today?

Mr. Atkins: I know that the hon. Gentleman represents a party which is obsessed with putting yet more tax on everyone, but it is interesting that he is advocating such a tax at the same time as being opposed to VAT on fuel. He must make up his mind which side of the argument he is on.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's plan to educate people to insulate their own homes, if necessary by a contribution from their gas and electricity bills, is a much better way of approaching the subject than asking local authorities, which are not experts in energy efficiency, with all the bureaucracy and costs that that would involve, under the proposed Energy Conservation Bill?

Mr. Atkins: My hon. Friend speaks with great authority as a member of the Select Committee. He has taken a great deal of interest in these matters, and, as usual, as is often the case with Conservative Members, he has put his finger on the exact problems to which I shall refer later. He is of course quite right.

The Energy Saving Trust has made an excellent start and recruited a core of high-quality staff. Its successes so far include a scheme to encourage the sale of low-energy light bulbs to domestic customers, run in conjunction with industry, which has resulted in the sale of three quarters of a million low-energy light bulbs in eight weeks--about the same number as sold in the whole of 1992.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): The Minister referred a moment ago to the funding arrangements for the Energy Saving Trust having been worked out successfully. Will he elaborate on that, because the director of Ofgas has refused to levy the E factor on the bills, effectively undermining the trust's funding basis? Will that problem be solved?

Mr. Atkins: I did not say that we had resolved those difficulties; I said that they were being reconsidered. It is in the knowledge of the House and probably the hon. Gentleman that the electricity industry has already continued the funding to which it is committed. The matters relating to Ofgas in those discussions are still under consideration. The ball is firmly in Ms Spottiswoode's court at the moment. My hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State, when he replies, will doubtless tell the House more about that, and in future, when the matters are resolved.

Another example of what the trust has achieved is an incentive scheme for gas condensing boilers, which has resulted in 3,000 rebates of £200 being claimed by owner-occupiers by the end of 1993. As a result--this is good for industry--new manufacturers and products have entered the marketplace.

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In addition, a residential combined heat and power scheme has been heavily over-subscribed in the first tranche, and a pilot of local energy advice centres for the domestic and small business sectors, partly funded by the Government, is proving successful.

The Government are also working closely with the European Union to improve domestic energy efficiency. A directive setting energy efficiency standards for central heating boilers came into effect on 1 January 1994. A directive on appliance labelling will introduce labelling for refrigerators, freezers and fridge-freezers by the end of 1994. We are pressing the Commission for action setting minimum energy efficiency standards for other appliances.

Local authorities also have a vital role to play. The energy bill for local authority housing comes to nearly £3 billion a year, so their efforts are crucial if we are to complete our energy efficiency programme.

Central and local government are already working very closely together through the Central and Local Government Forum to carry forward the energy efficiency campaign in local government. The local authority associations have endorsed and encouraged their members to adopt a target of reducing energy consumption in their non-housing buildings by 15 per cent. over a five-year period.

However, as well as energy efficiency on their own estates, local authorities can fulfil a valuable role in pulling together energy thinking in their areas. Industry, schools, further education institutions, commerce and, of course, householders, can all make contributions to energy efficiency, and can produce genuine savings towards our carbon targets.

Local authorities are in a good position to pull together and co-ordinate thinking in their areas, possibly through establishing targets whose achievements can be monitored. We do not believe that that needs to be a resource-intensive exercise; rather, it is one aspect of the functions that authorities should already be carrying out when ensuring that people are thinking ahead and looking for a sustainable future.

We are not complacent in any way about the programme of work, and we are continuing to adapt it to meet changing circumstances. In the future, we hope to use our efforts to emphasise the importance and the value of energy efficiency to all those with an interest. We will continue to work with the Energy Saving Trust to develop our dialogue with industry, and to work with the European Union.

Despite that substantial record and our enthusiasm for energy conservation, we have been concerned about proposals for legislation, which have been in the House this Session, and about a proposed Energy Conservation Bill, which has been widely circulated. We do not believe, for reasons which I think the House has dealt with over a long period, that legislation is the best way forward. We do not think that it will give us the best possible value for money. First, we know that we must keep public expenditure under control if we are to sustain our hard-won economic recovery. The tight financial settlement for this and future years leaves no spare resources to fund new initiatives; nor is there scope to "absorb" new initiatives by doing

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other things at less cost. Any additional cost arising from new functions for local government would have to be found by offsetting savings elsewhere.

In addition, as hon. Members know, we will not add to the burdens of local authorities unless it is unavoidable. We are concerned that the proposed new legislation on energy conservation will impose a further burden, which we believe to be unnecessary. Many local authorities are already doing a great deal to improve energy efficiency.

Mr. Matthew Taylor: Any party will understand the concern about expenditure, but given the Government's commitments to cut energy use and emissions in this country, and given the failure at present of policies to deliver that--energy use and energy inefficiency are rising rapidly at the present time--what new initiatives does the Minister believe will deliver this ground? If not the Bill, what about the very substantial list of proposals and recommendations that were made by the Select Committee?

Mr. Atkins: I have to say that I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise. I happen to think that we are beginning to achieve success with energy efficiency, as I demonstrated with the figures with which I opened my speech, and the continuing programme, which, in many areas, has been doubled or even multiplied by a greater factor.

It is certainly the case with industry that, if we can make it understand-- it is not proving to be as difficult as the hon. Gentleman would have us believe--that it is in its own financial and commercial interest, let alone the environmental interest of its own operation, to adapt and to adopt energy efficiency programmes, I am sure that we will continue to achieve success in that area, as we have in the past.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that, although most local authorities are making a very strong effort on environmental measures, one of the authorities that is not is Tower Hamlets, which was recently criticised in The Guardian for failing to use recycled paper?

Mr. Atkins: Tower Hamlets, of course, is an authority which I seem to remember was controlled by the Liberals at one stage. They certainly had an active role in it. I should be interested to have more information about what Tower Hamlets has failed to achieve. Mr. Heald rose --

Mr. Atkins: Perhaps my hon. Friend can help me.

Mr. Heald: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, because The Guardian was not just criticising Tower Hamlets for not using recycled paper. Indeed, it said:

"it even ignores obvious cost-free gestures such as the use of lead-free petrol, CFC-free aerosols and recycled paper . . . it does not offer pooper -scoopers in parks."

Mr. Atkins: That strikes me as a record about which we ought to know more. Perhaps my hon. Friend could do some research and let us know the results; I am sure that we should be fascinated. Some 250 local authorities have agreed to sign up to my Department's "making a corporate commitment" campaign. Many authorities--with the exception of Tower Hamlets--are also taking steps to improve

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domestic energy efficiency, and my Department encourages it. Local authorities already spend around a quarter of their council house repair and improvement budgets on energy-related work such as new heating systems. Better output can be obtained through the application of the lessons of my Department's green house programme. The green house programme was launched in 1990 to establish a network of energy efficiency demonstration projects to show local authorities in England how the energy efficiency of council housing could be improved. Over three years, some 180 schemes in 130 local authorities have been undertaken; the results are very encouraging, with schemes achieving fuel cost reductions of up to 40 per cent. and carbon dioxide reductions of up to 50 per cent.

Last year, drawing on experiences gained from the green house programme, we asked local authorities to include energy efficiency as an integral part of their housing strategies and investment programmes. In June, we issued a guide called "Energy Efficiency in Council Housing" to help local authorities to obtain the best value from their resources: it provides useful guidance on how best to develop sound and fully integrated energy policies and programmes. Similarly, we are keen to avoid unnecessary burdens on central Government, and, above all, unnecessary regulation. As we all know, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is having a bonfire of unnecessary controls; we are determined not to introduce new controls as fast as the old ones are turned to ashes. The Government are keen to encourage energy efficiency, and to do so efficiently. We must make the best possible use of limited resources, and we must not impose unnecessary regulation or burdens on others. In our view, the best way forward is for the Government to work in close partnership with local authorities, businesses, other organisations and individuals. That does not require new legislation, which would be time- consuming and costly to prepare and implement. We prefer to devote our efforts to getting on with the job.

Mr. Beith: The Minister said that it would be costly to prepare new legislation. Has he estimated the cost of preparing more than 200 amendments--a task carried out, quite unnecessarily, by parliamentary counsel in respect of the existing Bill?

Mr. Atkins: I beg to differ. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was associated with the Bill during its Committee stage; I made it clear then that I did not approve of the essence of what the Bill was trying to do in terms of costs and burdens, and that I would have to seek further advice on whether I should consider tabling amendments--which is, indeed, what happened. I make no apology for that. During the assessment of Government

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business, one uses officials to produce amendments so that they can be tabled; that is a perfectly legitimate stance, and one from which I do not in any sense resile.

Mr. Butler: My hon. Friend may recall that, in Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said:

"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.]

Does my hon. Friend recollect that, when the matter came before the House, the only accusation made was that we had tabled amendments in an attempt to wreck the legislation? There was no acceptance that those amendments were necessary.

Mr. Atkins: My hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point. Hon. Members will not want to confuse the issue with the facts, but that is exactly what happened at the time, and exactly what resulted.

Mr. Matthew Taylor: The Minister said that he believed that the cost of the numerous amendments was appropriate. Can he explain--in the context of private Members' Bills, which are given limited time on the Floor of the House but can deal with detailed amendments in Committee--why he did not seek the amendments from his officials so that they could be tabled in Committee, but tabled them on the Floor of the House, where they would inevitably wreck the Bill? Will he also explain why hon. Members were seen to vote against their own amendments?

Mr. Atkins: I cannot speak for other hon. Members; I am speaking for the Government. It was clear at the time that we wanted to examine the Bill properly. We allowed it to go into Committee--that was a perfectly legitimate stance--and discussed the matter during what I recall was a particularly amenable Committee morning. I promised the Bill's promoter, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), that I would consider the effects of what he was saying, and said that I would have to table amendments and clauses accordingly; and that is precisely what I did.

Mr. Dafis: I find it extraordinary that the Minister should say that the Government had not had sufficient time to consider their attitude to the Bill months before it went into Committee. He knows very well that the Bill was the subject of discussion around the House; he also knows that I had a meeting with his predecessor to discuss it well before its Committee stage. The Government had plenty of time, but they failed--perhaps deliberately--to table amendments in time for the debate.

Of course it is clear that, during the Friday Report stage, there was a deliberate wrecking process. Everybody must understand that there were far more amendments than could possibly be debated. I remind the Minister that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed offered to accept some of the amendments, but the Government would not divide on them.

Mr. Atkins: I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I reiterate that the position is clear. The Bill was considered in Committee; I said that there were concerns, and that I would table amendments. That is what I did. It is a perfectly legitimate stance. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has experience in these matters,

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and he knows that, if there are concerns about a Bill, there is a process for ensuring that it does not come to fruition. That is a legitimate stance that the Government have adopted and will doubtless adopt again, whichever party is in power.

It perturbs me and many of my colleagues that the Liberal Democrats appear to be all things to all people on all issues at all times. [Interruption.] My comment comes not from a central office brief but from experience as a Minister and as a constituency Member of Parliament. Whichever doorstep they are on, they say what people want to hear. They say one thing in their documents, another in their election addresses, another thing here and another in the country. It is time that the canard was nailed.

I am led to believe that the Liberal Democrats have always been in favour of carbon taxes and taxes on energy. I believe that, in a document published some years ago, the Liberal Democrats said that, if it proved

"impossible to persuade our international partners to adopt energy taxes . . . we will nevertheless press forward . . . by ending the anomalous zero rate on VAT on fuel."

I thought that I heard the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) say that they were opposed to VAT on fuel. They cannot make up their minds whether or not they are in favour of carbon taxes and energy taxes.

It is time that we nailed this once and for all. We can no longer allow the Liberal Democrats to go around the country pretending to be against things because they discover that one or two people are against them, when they have said originally that they are in favour of them. This is a classic example, and I know that it will be referred to during the debate by my hon. Friends and by my hon. Friend the Minister when he is winding up.

Our position is clear. The Government have a superb record on energy efficiency. We are continuing to devote resources and support to it, and we shall continue to take our case around the country to ensure that industry, local government and ordinary domestic users recognise the importance of this great issue. I urge the House to support our amendment.

4.37 pm

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on taking the opportunity for a further debate on this important Bill, about which, I am sure the House will understand, I feel a little proprietorial.

This debate needs to be seen in conjunction with last night's debate on transport. The issues spring from the imperative for radical action to protect the natural environment and, at the same time, to shift the emphasis of economic policy.

This is a radical issue because we are talking about shifting the emphasis of economic policy so as to give priority to social welfare, employment creation and the quality of life and not to the spurious and dated addiction to undifferentiated growth, measured by gross domestic product, which it has been assumed for many years is the way to consider things.

It is worth bearing in mind that Sir John Houghton, chairman of the royal commission whose report on road traffic appeared last week--he is a Welshman from Meirionnyddshire--is also chairman of one of the most important committees of the intergovernmental panel on

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climate change. In the next few months, the IPCC will announce that the problem of global warming is every bit as serious--and probably more so--than earlier studies led us to believe. I am told that, when the report appears in about three months, it will confirm that stabilisation of carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by 2000 is an inadequate target. Whatever the Minister says, the United Kingdom is unlikely to meet even that hopelessly inadequate target. Without a significant change in policy, we shall fail, primarily because of an increase in road traffic and the inadequacy and disarray of the Government's programme on energy efficiency in homes.

The Energy Saving Trust has been mentioned. It is astonishing that a tussle is continuing between the Government and the director of Ofgas over the trust's funding. I have some sympathy with the principle that the director of Ofgas is advancing--that the E factor, just like the K factor in relation to water, is a regressive tax and that the trust should be funded more progressively. It is astonishing that the trust cannot carry forward its programmes because of the deficient way in which the privatisation of gas was conducted and because the director of Ofgas is particularly unco- operative.

Mr. Matthew Taylor: Would not one source of funding at least help-- the windfall returns that companies receive from advance payment on bills, by which their customers avoided paying VAT? Companies attempted to argue that they had not made a profit out of that, but two companies have now broken ranks and acknowledged that they did make a profit and put money towards the trust. Is it not it time that the rest were a little more honest with the public and a little less worried about a windfall profit for their shareholders?

Mr. Dafis: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The way in which companies have been able to make use of advance warning of the imposition of VAT to make considerable savings from advance payments is almost an embarrassment. Of course, they should be ploughing a lot of those resources back into energy efficiency programmes to benefit people who need them in their homes.

We cannot begin to tackle the environmental crisis without the development of a radical policy for transport and domestic energy conservation. I have heard nothing in the debate tonight, and I heard little in the debate last night, as much as I heard of it, to suggest that the Government are considering radical development in those two policy areas.

For the reasons that I have already mentioned, this is a serious matter. It is serious, too, because thousands of people are suffering from fuel poverty, which will be intensified by the imposition of VAT. The compensation programme is welcome, but all hon. Members know that compensation is, inevitably, a blunt instrument.

We may assume that in many cases compensation will cancel out the effect of the increase to 17.5 per cent., but before it was introduced many people suffered from fuel poverty--a serious deprivation. Widespread sickness results from fuel poverty. It is caused by cold and damp in homes and by emissions of pollutants from the energy-generating process.

This is a serious matter because hundreds of thousands of unemployed people should, could and would love to be engaged in the sort of labour-intensive employment that is a part of energy efficiency schemes. We are talking of

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no less than a redirection of the productive resources of society to satisfy a crying social need. That should be fundamental to economic policy as well as to environmental and social policy. It is clear, therefore, that we need a major programme. Perhaps in the course of debates on this subject we have emphasised the not too radical nature of the Bill to gain the Government's acceptance of it. It is now time for us to talk seriously about the matter. We need a major, United Kingdom-wide programme and a co-ordinated and concerted effort. It is not good enough to have a lot of disjointed and separate schemes.

The Bill's provisions are essential to make progress because, first, we must have meaningful targets. The target set for carbon dioxide emissions by 2000 is inadequate and does not deal with what will happen after 2000. We need targets for the reduction of energy use in homes.

Secondly, the Bill is essential because such an ambitious programme cannot be implemented without the active involvement of local authorities, whose housing and environmental health departments are uniquely placed to carry out the work. Conservative Members have suggested that local authorities do not need to be involved but there is no other organisation through which this matter can be properly and expeditiously dealt with.

Local authority housing and environmental health departments have the expertise, the knowledge, the staff and the ability to organise and to commission work. They provide the essential mechanisms without which the work will not be done. Unless they are statutorily required to carry out the programmes, many of them--more than likely, the majority of them--will not do it. The statutory requirement is essential.

There is no conflict between that proposal and the suggestion by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that the energy efficiency programme can be paid for by placing a levy of 2 or 3 per cent. on electricity and gas bills after a programme has been put in place. That is an acceptable method of funding. No contradiction exists between that proposal and those in the Bill, which provides the framework within which such a measure would operate.

Thirdly, the provisions of the Bill are essential because the gathering of information and the drawing up of plans are needed to ensure cost- efficiency.

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