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To translate that, he means that no one is required to do anything to any single dwelling. It would achieve no insulation--not a single door draught-proofed, not a single window double- glazed, not a single draught diverted or stopped. It follows that it would achieve no energy saving or increase in energy efficiency.

The Bill would merely enable one to look at a map and say that there was a house there that, if it did not already have insulation, would need insulation. I put it in those terms because--I think that I follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed correctly--there would not be, as he interprets his Bill, individual audits of houses. It would simply be said that a specific type of house should have a certain amount of insulation of a general description, but one would have no idea whether it already had it. I repeat, as the right hon. Gentleman conceded in Committee: not a single piece of insulation would take place, and no energy saving would be achieved by the Bill.

The second, and almost alternative, pleading is that the Bill is unnecessary. I know that the right hon. Member for Deptford disagrees with that, but to say that local authorities have already done what the Bill requires must undermine the argument that it is necessary to force them to do it. If they have the power to do it, and if, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and others have assured us, they all want to do it and there is a groundswell of enthusiasm for it, the Bill must be unnecessary.

The Bill would create bureaucracy. It contains a clause to allow the Secretary of State to make orders and regulations. There is a clause allowing money to be handed out for that purpose--not for the purpose of insulating or saving energy, but for the purpose of drawing up the audit. Drawing up the audit is relatively simple, to the extent that one can look at a house and say that it should have insulation. If we are going to go further than that, either it can already be done or it is unnecessary to do it. What is necessary is to put money into insulation in specific houses.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to two local authorities on a previous occasion; the right hon. Lady for Deptford--the hon. Lady: forgive me, I was premature--has now referred to many other local authorities. I would argue that, if two have done it, more, or all, could do it.

I believe that any local authority could undertake such an audit today. It could start first thing in the morning, at 9.30 or whatever time it starts work. The Bill is concerned with mandating and forcing that that should be done. That is the crux of the matter, and it was the matter, I believe, on which hon. Members supporting it and the Government opposing it fell out last time--that the Bill mandates rather than permits.

Surely the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and I have learnt, if nothing else, in the past couple of years, that, if one is going to mandate the ends, one must also mandate the means. That brings us back to the central issue of the proposed Bill, to which the motion refers--does it mandate the means? In other words, does the clause--clause 3(4), according to the version of the Bill that I have--which relates to the Secretary of State making regulations to secure the putting into effect of a plan, mean anything or not? If it means nothing, no funds will flow. Authorities

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will be in no better financial position than they are now, and could be left to get on with it voluntarily--as many, we are told, are now doing.

If the clause means something, we return to the problem that we would then spend money on the bureaucracy to which I referred. I accept that "bureaucracy" is a terribly generalised and devalued word, much like "community" or "endogenous zone" or any of those cliche s, but none the less I think that the House understands what I mean by it. The money will be spent on that rather than on insulation. Therefore, either we mandate the means--in which case my submission is that it is a waste of money to use it in that way--or we are simply mandating the end without mandating the means, which is a useless and spurious exercise. I therefore reject--

Mr. Heald: I understood that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) was arguing that we should impose a levy of approximately 2p in the £1 on energy bills, and that the effect would be that approximately £1 billion extra would be available for energy efficiency measures. In other words, she was making a spending pledge and she was providing the means, because she was saying that there would be a 2 per cent. levy on the total energy bill of £50 billion, and that that money would be available. What is my hon. Friend's opinion about that?

Mr. Butler: I think I am right in saying that it was not the hon. Member for Deptford who suggested that, but the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North.

Mr. Taylor: I am sure he said that.

Mr. Heald: She meant it.

Mr. Butler: I note the apology that is being offered across the Floor by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) to the hon. Member for Deptford, and I note that she accepts it. Perhaps, therefore, I may pass on.

I wish emphatically to reject what I believe is a simplistic, and indeed insulting, contention--that it is necessary not only to support the idea of energy conservation in principle, but to support the wording of the Bill, in order to prove that Members care about the environment and energy efficiency. I reject that. It is nonsense. I welcome enormously enthusiastically the title of the Bill. I congratulate the people who drafted the title of the Bill: Energy Conservation Bill, very effective. I regret that thereafter they handed over to others the responsibility for drafting the wording of the Bill, and it was not done nearly as effectively.

I think it is sufficient to mention one more defect in the Bill. If it means anything, it places a statutory duty on a local authority to do audits. It follows that, if I wish to find out how to save myself from heating the wind as it goes through my house and to stop those draughts, I would be entitled to go to the court and seek judicial review to force the local authority to do an individual audit on my house, at public expense, to discover how I might save on my fuel bills.

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I cannot believe, in spite of his known generosity with public money, that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed seriously intended that to be the case, for my house or for his.

Mr. Beith: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is hoping to obtain legal aid to obtain that injunction, because his lawyers will have great difficulty in basing such an injunction on the content of the Bill.

Mr. Butler: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It would not be an injunction--it would be certiorari mandamus, but that is perhaps a legalistic point. I can also assure him that, if he examines the Register of Members' Interests, he will see that I am probably eligible for legal aid in any event.

I return to the main defect of the Bill--it does not insulate a single house. I repeat my welcome for the idea behind the Bill. The title is good; the contents are not. After the debate, let us continue the discussion that I and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House have had in seeking a solution to one of the most serious problems that confront us--the apparently rampant and uncontrolled use of finite energy resources.

The problem must be tackled. My hope, which I believe will be shared by all Conservative Members--and, I suspect, Opposition Members--is that we may be able to find a common way forward on that, and before too long, because I think that we can also agree that we do not have very long.

5.48 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye at this time of the night, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This has been an energy-efficient debate, because we have had a little heat from the Opposition Benches but very little light on what the Opposition's policies are. We have learnt that the Liberal Democrats' policy is not now to impose VAT on fuel, although they were in favour of it until the Government introduced it.

Mr. Beith: No, we were not.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: In the paper that they produced in 1993--

Mr. Matthew Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I will certainly give way.

Mr. Taylor: I have not denied that we canvassed the idea in a policy document in the early 1990s. But we rejected it for good reasons, and our manifesto specifically opposed the idea. The Conservative manifesto was rather more energy-efficient than ours, because it did not mention the idea at al--but the Government then introduced the tax.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Liberal paper entitled "Taxing Pollution, Not People", which was produced in September 1993, showed that the party supported a tax on energy sources, and claimed that the measure would raise

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more than £5 billion by the year 2000. The hon. Gentleman still denies that there would be a tax on energy, even if it is not specifically VAT.

Mr. Taylor: I have no intention of misleading anyone on this issue. We have supported a carbon tax, but that is not the same as VAT on fuel, which falls directly on the consumer and does nothing to discourage inefficiency among generators. We argued for a carbon tax on that principle, and for those who were worried about its effect on the competitiveness of British industry, we said that the tax should be Europewide. That idea is still being canvassed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: We have not learnt from that exchange whether the Liberal Democrats are still in favour of a carbon tax. I gather from Liberal Democrat nods that the party is in favour of a carbon tax on top of the VAT on fuel that we have introduced.

Mr. Taylor: I am happy to make the matter clear. I think that I have made it clear that we are against VAT on fuel. We have argued for a common European carbon tax and have said that VAT should be cut to the European minimum. I appreciate that we cannot get rid of it altogether, but we should cut it to 5 per cent. We do not suggest a carbon tax on top of existing and planned VAT.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My understanding is that the 1976 sixth directive on VAT would not allow us to reduce VAT to the level that the hon. Gentleman suggests. We would have to maintain it at 8 per cent. I am still not clear whether the hon. Gentleman would seek dispensation from Brussels to that effect, or whether he would wish to introduce carbon tax on top of the proposed rise in VAT to 17.5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman nods, but I am still not sure of his position.

Mr. Taylor: I was not nodding, I was shaking my head. I think that it would be possible for Britain to reduce the rate to 5 per cent., and that is what we plan to do.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for that clarification. We got a little more light from the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis)--or as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) called him, the hon. Member for Wales--who said that he favoured a 2 per cent. levy on our total energy bill of £50 billion. That would realise £1 billion a year.

Mr. Butler: Perhaps I can assist my hon. Friend on Liberal Democrat policy.

Mr. Matthew Taylor: I doubt it.

Mr. Butler: I accept that no one could do that satisfactorily, but I shall try.

It is a red herring to speak about 5, 8 or 15 per cent. VAT plus a carbon tax. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said at the Liberal Democrat conference, we must not deviate from paying the real cost for our energy, although at times it might be comfortable to do so. The hon. Gentleman said more than that: I am not seeking to give selective quotes.

It matters not to the consumer whether he pays VAT or a carbon tax. What is important to him is the cost. The Liberal Democrats were in favour of upping the cost, but

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we have done that, so they are no longer in favour of it. I hope that, in those few seconds, I have elucidated the Liberal Democrats' "jelly-may-stick-to-the wall" policy.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: There we have it. The Liberal Democrats should retain my hon. Friend and use his legal skills to write their next election manifesto. Perhaps they would then have a clearer policy, which we would be able to understand.

Mr. Heald: If my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North-East (Mr. Butler) wrote the Liberal party manifesto, people would know what it stood for, and Liberal Democrat Members would not be able to jink and jive from one election to the next. Far from the Liberals being committed to a carbon tax, if they can persuade their European partners to have it, they have made it clear that, if Europe will not do it, they will

"nevertheless press forward, for example, by ending the anomalous zero rate of VAT on fuel."

That shows that, if they cannot do what they want with the consent of Europe, they will do what we did.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for that clarification. A little light was thrown on Labour's policy, because we heard that the Opposition will impose a consumer tax on electricity and gas bills. However, it was not clear from what the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) said whether they were in favour of VAT on fuel and a carbon tax as well.

Ms Ruddock: That can only be because the hon. Gentleman was not listening to the debate. Our total condemnation of VAT on fuel has been made clear time and again in the House. There can be no doubt about that and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that clarification. We await an explanation from the Opposition's Treasury spokesman about where they will find the £3 billion shortfall when they abolish VAT on fuel--if the European Union allows them to do it. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench. He is the former Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. I look forward to his contribution, because he is extremely knowledgeable on these matters and made an important contribution to the Select Committee of which I had the privilege to be a member. I am privileged to speak following the thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), whom I congratulate on becoming Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. As I have said, we spend £50 billion a year on energy, a figure that was quoted in evidence to the Select Committee during its inquiry into energy efficiency in buildings by officials from the Department of the Environment. They estimated that we could save 20 per cent. of that amount, which is about £10 billion. That is a massive sum, and, in economic, environmental and social terms, we should make every effort to achieve maximum energy efficiency. The Government have an excellent record on encouraging industry, governmental and non-governmental agencies and individuals to achieve efficiency targets.

As the Minister has made clear, in December 1993 the Government ratified the climate change convention that emerged from the Rio conference. That convention

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committed this country to stabilising CO output to 1990 levels by the year 2000, thus helping to reduce global warming and the greenhouse effect.

There are also the social consequences of energy efficiency. Most of our housing stock is occupied by the poorest in society. During the Select Committee visit to Glasgow housing department, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, we saw examples of houses that had been excellently refurbished at £4,000 each. The energy bills of those tenants were cut dramatically. During that same visit, we saw tower blocks of flats where, during the worst winter days, the temperature inside was lower than that outside, even though the tenants spent £20 a week on energy. That is why I welcome the Chancellor's announcement in his November Budget that the Government would double the resources available to the home energy efficiency scheme, from £35 million to £70 million, thus enabling help to be provided to about 500,000 homes this year. A further 4 million homes are eligible for the scheme. That is a worthwhile scheme to help the poorest in society.

The Government have a positive programme to encourage energy efficiency, especially via the Energy Efficiency Office. As we have heard, much of its work has been delegated to the energy savings trust. In answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister said that the

"Energy Efficiency Office budget has been increased to more than £100 million for 1994-95".--[ Official Report , 9 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 302 .]

That is a large figure; it is 17 times the level of expenditure when the Opposition were last in power in 1979, so no one should lecture us that the Government are anything but highly committed to energy efficiency measures.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): Is not the argument that much stronger, therefore: that, if such a huge amount of money is to be spent, we should know where it should best be spent? That is exactly the point of the original Energy Conservation Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Although I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, I do not agree with the way in which his party would achieve it; I shall come to that later. I totally agree that we need to know how that huge sum of money should be spent, and that it should be spent effectively.

The Select Committee inquiry into energy efficiency in buildings received evidence from the Energy Saving Trust, for which the Government have set a target of 2.5 million tonnes of carbon saving by the year 2000. It stated that, to achieve that target, which is a vital part of the climate change convention to which Government committed us, it required a budget of some £1.5 billion over the next six years or so.

The evidence continued:

"if this investment is spread across all consumers, the maximum average impact on bills is at most only 1.5 per cent. decreasing rapidly thereafter as the savings take effect."

It also stated that other benefits include

"the creation of about 40,000 more jobs in the energy efficiency field and an improvement in the balance of trade of about £300 million a year by the year 2000. ".

It is of great importance that we get the funding correct for the Energy Saving Trust. As has been mentioned this evening, funding is to come largely from the electricity and gas industries. Funding will be raised from the

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electricity industry via the K factor recently revised by the director general of Offer and from the gas industry via the E factor.

We took evidence from Clare Spottiswoode, the director general of Ofgas, who took a fairly narrow legal interpretation of the Gas Act 1986 and reached different conclusion from her predecessor, Sir James McKinnon, that she was not allowed to spend via the E factor anything more than a minimum amount on energy efficiency measures. So the Government have a problem as to how the shortfall to the Energy Saving Trust is to be achieved.

I am sure that the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) will have something to say about that, and I look forward to his speech. However, if the director general of Ofgas is not prepared to alter her stance--it seems that there is an overwhelming case for her doing so, because it is in the interest of all gas consumers and everyone else that she should--my hon. Friend should have discussions with the gas industry to encourage it to raise a sum similar to the one being raised by the electricity industry, so that there is complete fairness in competition between the two energy industries.

The Government have a positive energy efficiency programme in their own estate. As we have heard this evening, they have set themselves a target of a 15 per cent. reduction in energy use over the next five years, so that consumption should be 80 per cent. of the 1990 levels by the year 2000.

Some Government Departments have made great strides in that direction. I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement that the new Department of the Environment office has been designed primarily with energy efficiency in mind, but other Departments, such as the Ministry of Defence, have not made such progress. I hope that my hon. Friend will have something to say about that this evening, and will use his influence to ensure that the Government set the highest possible example to industry and private consumers.

In the corporate sector, great efforts are being made to encourage reductions in energy consumption. The Government's corporate commitment campaign involved 1,500 major firms making a corporate commitment to improve energy efficiency. When it gets going, that campaign will have a massive effect.

The energy management assistance scheme gives small firms free advice on how to promote energy efficiency schemes and grants towards implementing them are available. In the corporate sector--one of the largest sectors of energy consumption--real progress is about to be made, and we look forward to seeing demonstrable results. On the domestic side, the Government are putting even more effort into energy efficiency. I have already mentioned the home energy efficiency scheme--a worthwhile scheme for the worst- insulated houses in Britain.

I was invited by the Neighbourhood Energy Action Trust to witness the implementation of such a scheme by a unemployed person in my constituency. The difference produced for a very small expenditure was phenomenal. Just a little draught-proofing around the windows and doors, proper insulation in the roof and a proper timer

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switch and thermostat on the hot water cylinder, reduced fuel bills by about a quarter. That is very worth while for anyone on a low income, and I thoroughly recommend the scheme.

The Energy Saving Trust is tasked with producing other energy-saving measures promoted by the utilities, which have suggested some excellent schemes already, although their progress is being hampered by lack of funding. One issue that they are pushing is contract energy saving management--a worthwhile and cost-efficient way for the utilities to promote energy efficiency, as they can employ specialists to carry out their entire energy efficiency promotional programme.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight said, great progress is being made in the United States. By offering the carrot of reduced electricity bills, electricity utilities were able to send out detailed questionnaires to each consumer in their area. They had a response of well over 70 per cent. They were then able to feed those responses into a computer, which produced a programme of the best energy efficiency measures that each consumer could take. That is just one shining example of the progress that we learned in the United States of the steps being taken to promote energy efficiency. The United States is a long way ahead of Britain in energy efficiency.

I said that there were possible savings of up to £10 billion on energy -saving measures. We saw measures in the United States that have already saved millions of dollars, so there are lessons to be learned from the United States. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to point to further positive steps that we are about to take.

We believe that energy efficiency is best carried out by individual education promoted by self-interest--the very point that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East was making. We believe that it should be achieved through voluntary effort rather than by costly and bureaucratic methods prescribed to local authorities. That is not the way forward; it would be very costly and intrusive into people's private affairs. I much prefer the idea that people should produce energy efficiency measures for themselves. As I have already demonstrated with evidence from the Energy Saving Trust, the payback can be extremely short--sometimes as little as a year. Most energy-saving methods have a payback of only three years, so it is in everybody's self-interest that they should devote resources to producing energy-saving measures.

For that reason, I oppose the Energy Conservation Bill promoted by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I am sorry that I have to do so, because I approve of the aims of energy conservation. I have shown that I applaud any aim to improve energy conservation, but not by prescription.

This is an important subject. We still have a long way to go, and I am sure that, under the Government's stewardship, we will be able to meet our Rio target. I look forward to positive steps being taken in that direction.

6.10 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends for setting aside one of the relatively few half-days at our disposal to discuss this subject, which has clearly aroused interest among a number of knowledgeable hon. Members who have taken

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part in the debate. I am glad to have the opportunity to return to a subject to which we have devoted a number of Fridays, but without the success in getting it on the statute book that the Bill deserved. Give or take a phrase here and there, we have had a good and constructive debate, in which a great deal of knowledge about, and interest in, energy conservation matters has been shown.

The Minister has been involved in the Bill's progress--he has not assisted it very much but I could not say that he has blocked it very much either. He described the Government's policies at some length but failed to explain how they could deliver the reduction in carbon emissions to which we are committed. He made a fair statement of what the Government have done so far and quoted a number of commendable efforts, but the gap remains.

I thank the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) for his strong support for my Bill. Indeed, it is based on one that he introduced in a previous Session, although it is not the same in all respects.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) decided to attack the intellectual high ground. That amused us at first, but then he did himself more than justice because he made a good speech and gave a useful review of the Environment Select Committee. Indeed, he underlined a point that I have just made, because the Committee was not satisfied with the Government's proposals for achieving the target. The whole burden of the report shows that there is not enough in place to achieve it.

Energy use has continued to rise--by 6.2 per cent. in the first half of 1993--and the energy ratio is rising. The cause is not just the recovery from recession, but the underlying problem. Even the worthy measures in the Government's programme are not sufficient to deal with that.

I welcome the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) to her post on the Labour Front Bench. As I am sure she does, I wish it were a shadow Cabinet post--both for her own sake and for the sake of the importance that should be attached to energy conservation. She followed the example set by her predecessor, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who was also a committed supporter of my Bill. He encouraged Labour Members to turn up and support it on the days that it was before the House.

I would have welcomed a Labour Back-Bench endorsement as well. However, I do not think that the Labour party is yet facing up to the energy pricing carbon tax issue, which eventually it will have to do. I hope that, during the hon. Lady's tenure of office, she will bring her party face-to-face with some of the difficult issues. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North -East (Mr. Butler) reminded us that he had come out--he told us that he was a member of Friends of the Earth. He made a constructive speech about energy conservation matters, although I disagreed with his conclusion about my Bill. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) was confused initially about VAT and carbon energy tax. However, through a series of interventions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) was able to help him. Indeed, it became a seminar on policy. There is nothing to be said for inaccurately representing the policies of other parties. I have to deal with enough things that are wrong with Government policy without inventing things that they

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have not yet got wrong. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could find measures that we are in favour of with which to disagree rather than those that we do not favour.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Despite the previous exchanges, I am still not entirely clear what the Liberal Democrat policy is. Does the right hon. Gentleman want to stick to the present level of 8 per cent. VAT plus a carbon energy tax or does he want a dispensation from Europe to get rid of VAT on fuel?

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman goes straight to the special needs class. I will have to repeat the lesson given by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall. The system in Europe to which the nation is committed does not allow us to reduce the VAT on fuel below 5 per cent., but we are committed to reducing it to that figure. The carbon energy tax would be on top of that. However, if the Government agree to a European carbon energy tax, it would be on top of 17.5 per cent. VAT. That would be unacceptable, but we think that they will be landed with something like that.

Mr. Butler: I want to clarify this issue. The Liberal Democrats would maintain--because they would have to, not because they wished to--5 per cent. VAT with carbon energy tax on top of that. How much would that additional tax be?

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman is a member of the party that has the power to negotiate that. There is no known rate for carbon energy tax. That has still to be negotiated between the member countries of the European Union, but it would have to be at a rate that would achieve the effect that we have been discussing. A 17.5 per cent. VAT rate with the carbon energy tax on top of that would be unacceptable. We have made it clear that that would not be a sensible way to approach the matter.

Even the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, despite his partisan opening remarks, made a number of constructive points and described practical measures that would help people on low incomes. The assessment of appropriate energy saving measures called for in the Bill would identify where they would be most effective. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in many types of housing much could be achieved through measures that are less expensive than, for example, elaborate double glazing--such as simple draught-proofing, alterations in the pattern of energy use that would not leave people cold but would be a more efficient use of energy, and simple-- not hi-tech--changes in the equipment used.

The Bill's purpose was to put an end to the amazing lack of information on energy efficiency in the housing stock by requiring local authorities to evaluate the energy efficiency of housing in their areas, both in the public and the private sectors. That information would enable the drawing up of local energy conservation plans in consultation with local interests. It is a feature of Government policy that all sorts of local groups-- environmental, consumer, trade organisations and residents--should be involved in developing energy conservation. On the basis of the information provided, they could make real progress in developing energy conservation plans.

Mr. Barry Field: How will the right hon. Gentleman achieve that? Will there be a phalanx of thermal thought

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police from the local authority knocking on doors? Most of my constituents already think that the local authority is a bit of a busybody--a big brother--without having a great army of thermal thought police banging on their doors.

Mr. Beith: Only the hon. Gentleman could even envisage, let alone appoint, thermal thought police. There will be no such thing. Local authorities already have to carry out housing condition surveys, and therefore have the mechanisms to do that. We want to incorporate into that process a specific commitment to evaluating the energy efficiency improvements that could be achieved. That requires nothing like the draconian measure envisaged by the hon. Gentleman. Such an evaluation would fit well with the existing duties of local authorities, which the Department of the Environment requires them to fulfil. In the private sector, section 605 of the Housing Act 1985 specifies that at least once in each year local authorities should consider the housing conditions in their districts. Those surveys are usually carried out by environmental health officers and they could easily embrace the energy efficient element. That view is shared by the Institute of Environmental Health Officers, which has campaigned in support of my Bill. It would not require a physical survey of each home because much of the information is already known and the gaps could be filled using, in some cases, a sample of the properties. No household would be forced to take part against its wishes. That was such a reasonable set of proposals that it achieved all-party backing. Only five amendments were tabled in Committee. At the end of the day, we had the same tactics as were employed in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, except that the Secretary of State did at least in this case table 50 of the amendments in his own name. Only the remaining 150 had to be farmed out to hon. Members who began the day a little unsure of the purpose and significance of the amendments. Every single amendment drafted to the Bill was tabled by parliamentary draftsmen instructed by the Government--every single one.

How strangely the Government's attitude to the Bill has changed during its passage through the House. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who has gone off to foreign pastures, said:

"It is a constructive Bill, on which there is clearly considerable consensus, demonstrated by the fact that the supporters are drawn from both sides of the House. That consensus has been echoed in the excellent speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason)."--[ Official Report , 4 February 1994; Vol. 236, c. 1183.]

He went on to explain the Government's specific concerns about the Bill, but the burden of what he said was that those concerns could and should be met in Committee.

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