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Mr. Matthew Banks: Will my hon. Friend consider that argument carefully? It seems to me that the amount of money that he mentioned would go a considerable way to assist owners of mobile homes for whom those are their permanent residence. I accept that the Bill will raise expectations that we may not be able to meet--it is a great trait of the Liberal Democrats--but the amount of money
Column 1173that he mentioned would, if it were available, go quite a long way towards protecting someone in a small mobile home against the elements to which I referred in my remarks.
Mr. Coombs: My hon. Friend has obviously not seen the condition of many of the mobile homes in my constituency. I am sorry to have to say that not only will £305 not go far towards producing the sort of results that we would want for constituents in mobile homes but, more fundamentally, the categories under which the HEES operates are not appropriate to mobile homes--for instance, loft insulation and draught proofing.
Mr. Hendry: The gist of my hon. Friend's argument appears to be that because people will not be able to do everything that they might wish with the grants, it is better that they should do nothing. That does not seem terribly helpful to the people whom we are seeking to assist.
Mr. Coombs: If we approve the amendment and thereby apply energy surveys to mobile homes and caravans, it is only fair on those of my constituents who live in them that we consider the grant regime to ensure that it is relevant to their conditions. If we do not do so, we shall arouse their expectations, and inevitably fail them. The Minister is slotting the amendment into the Bill very late in the day. Is he prepared to review the way in which the HEES works in so far as it applies to mobile homes, to ensure that it is appropriate and that the overall grant available is sufficient, given the significant energy needs of people living in mobile homes compared with those of people living in conventional houses?
Mr. Merchant: I shall be brief, because some rather heavy weather is being made of this amendment. I can see the reason for it--to enable the Bill to cover as many types of residential accommodation as possible and, if it is to have any meaning, it should be extended as widely as possible. From the point of view of principle, and the technical point of view, it is sensible to include the provision and the proper definition.
Having said that, I hardly think that the next time that the world's Heads of State meet to discuss global climate change they will be exercised by whether mobile homes in Britain are fully insulated. I doubt that it makes that much difference to total carbon dioxide emissions.
As for the cost of including mobile homes in the assessments that local authorities will have to carry out, I hardly think that that will make much difference, either. Most of the surveys carried out under the provisions of the Bill will be based on samples. I imagine that the marginal cost of including mobile homes in that sample is so minimal as not to show on any set of accounts.
I have two brief reasons for supporting the amendment. The first is one that some hon. Members have mentioned, but it deserves repetition. Mobile homes are some of the most energy wasteful types of residence around. Many are old and need to be examined for the sake of the occupants to ensure that the most modern systems are in place. It need not necessarily cost a lot of money to put into effect remedial work on mobile homes and to bring about a considerable saving in energy costs.
Column 1174That leads me naturally on to the second point, which is that some of the people who live in mobile homes are among the least well-off in our community. They are the fuel poor in many cases and the elderly, who need greater heat and are therefore paying proportionately far more than they need to, to heat themselves. For that reason, it is important to include mobile homes in the scope of the Bill. Clearly, those people, for their own good, need the best help, advice and remedial measures available to improve their standard of living.
Mobile homes are included in the energy efficiency scheme so it seems sensible that they should be included in the Bill. There needs to be a clear definition of mobile homes because we do not want to include people's holiday caravans; that would be going into the realms of the absurd. The definition sensibly draws a line between a mobile home that is a residence and one that is not. For those reasons, I support the amendment, and I hope that it is incorporated in the Bill.
Mr. Leigh: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), I think that the amendment, although sensible in itself, begins to shed some true light on the Bill. It is a perfectly unexceptionable Bill. It is a Bill about good intentions, but it will achieve virtually nothing. That can be seen in terms of mobile homes. My hon. Friend made an excellent speech, in which he explained some of the problems that will occur, especially with regard to mobile homes.
I represent a rural constituency in quite a nice part of the country where there are many mobile homes, so I am well aware of the problems. There are mobile homes especially in sites along the River Trent, around Torksey, which tend to be newer mobile homes. At Binbrook on the Wolds, near where I live, there is a large site for mobile homes; some are quite old. As my hon. Friend said, some of the insulation problems of the old mobile homes are great. People do not have to produce a great deal of heat to keep themselves cosy in their mobile home; they are not heating the atmosphere to any great extent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) said, the Heads of State at Rio will not be very concerned about the heat produced. However, an awful amount of heat is being wasted. I can imagine the officials in West Lindsey district council, to whom I have referred several times, racking their brains. How could they have the expertise or knowledge, without expending considerable resources, to determine how to solve the problems of mobile home dwellers in Binbrook, who have homes where draughts come in and out? Even if the officials did determine how to solve the problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest asked, what grants would be available? By definition, none of the mobile homes has a loft, a point that has been made once or twice in this short debate. Motions will be gone through at the guild hall in West Lindsey. Reports will be written and committees will sit. Many of my mobile home owners are on low incomes. If they were not on low incomes, they would presumably live in a proper home; I am not trying to denigrate mobile homes. However, many people who live in mobile homes would rather live in a proper home. Other mobile home dwellers, especially around Torksey, are retired people who live there for two or three months a years.
Column 1175Mobile homes are a cheap form of accommodation in the summer months. Retired people can then spend time in the south of Spain in the winter. It is very pleasant. Such people will not be very worried about what the worthy officials in West Lindsey are saying as they produce their earnest reports which, no doubt, will gather dust. Even if the reports suggest anything useful, grants will not be available to do anything very useful.
We go round in circles. We shall end up with a Bill which the House will pass, presumably, in a couple of hours after we have concluded lengthy discussions on it. Nothing very useful will be done for the poor people sitting in draughty mobile homes in Binbrook.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): My first point relates to guidance under clause 4. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware that the building regulations are about to be amended so that the builder or architect of all new houses will be required to furnish an efficiency rating--a standard assessment procedure or SAP rating--to which the other forms of energy efficiency scales can be converted.
There is, however, no such requirement for caravans. That is an omission. When one buys a new mobile home, one will not be able to get any idea of its energy efficiency. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider, when he issues guidance to local authorities, whether they could give an idea of the scale of energy efficiency that mobile homes should be expected to reach. Clearly, they will not be able to reach the same standard as domestic dwellings. It might, however, be useful for my hon. Friend to say what standard he expects.
Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend think that there is a corollary here? My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about the British Waterways Board possibly setting down standards and grading the energy efficiency of canal boats and houseboats. Could there not be a similar scheme, as my hon. Friend said, for mobile homes?
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful for that intervention because it brings me to my second point--the question of canal boats. I was a member of the Committee which sat for well over a year studying the British Waterways Bill. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear, the Committee spent days and weeks on the question of design standards. One of the things about canal boats about which the Committee was concerned--this applies to caravans as well--was fire safety. It would be remiss of us, when debating the amendment at such length, not to mention fire safety. The temptation in energy efficiency terms may be to seal or block windows so that they cannot be opened. That could create a considerable fire hazard--
Mr. Clifton-Brown: As my hon. Friend says, fumes are also a problem. If there is no adequate ventilation in a caravan or canal boat, there can be a build-up of carbon monoxide and people can be poisoned and killed while they sleep. There have been numerous instances. Fire safety is important. A balance must be struck between energy efficiency and fire safety in mobile homes.
My local authority has taken a rigorous attitude to fire safety in mobile homes, much to the distress of many of my constituents who have added porches and wooden
Column 1176garden sheds. My hon. Friend the Minister will need to give guidance to local authorities about the level of energy efficiency that they would expect for mobile homes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) commented on the level of grants available for energy efficiency schemes. Although £300 may not seem a lot of money in terms of energy efficiency measures, some measures that can be taken have a dramatic effect for a fairly cheap price. For example, an insulation jacket on a hot water cylinder can dramatically cut the energy costs of heating water.
I plead with my hon. Friend not to be too dismissive of the small levels of grant available, because for those living in the worst conditions in mobile homes, or in older housing stock, such grants can be a lifeline. I thoroughly endorse the home energy efficiency scheme and I also praise my right hon. Friend for extending that scheme. I hope that some mobile home owners will be able to take advantage of it.
Mr. Hendry: The outside world looking in on our debate today would be bemused and, indeed, impressed by the extent to which hon. Members can talk about mobile homes, narrow boats and other such places where people live. Perhaps the most useful fact gleaned this morning is that General Gordon started his life and Queen Pocahontas ended her days in mobile homes in Gravesend. Hon. Members may not previously have been aware of that.
The key to the amendment is that there is a fundamental difference between those homes that are relatively immobile and those that are mobile. It is reasonable to extend the provisions of the Bill to cover those that are relatively immobile and are likely to be permanent homes, but it is not reasonable to extend it to cover those homes that are likely to move round all over the place. In that second category I include not just general caravans--there is no reason for the Bill to apply to them--but canal boats. In that sense, I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).
If the Bill relates to permanent housing stock, some people may live on a canal boat permanently. There is perhaps a difference perhaps between a houseboat and a canal boat. Those which are predominantly used for tourism and leisure and which go up and down canals during the day are not lived in; there is therefore no reason why they should be covered by the Bill.
Mr. Fabricant: I do not agree with the logic of my hon. Friend's argument that a mobile home may not be a permanent one. Some people live permanently on canal boats. What is more relevant to the amendment, Romanies, travellers or whatever they choose to call themselves, live permanently in caravans, but yet are mobile. Is my hon. Friend suggesting, that although those people live permanently in such homes, they should not be included within the scope of the Bill?
Mr. Hendry: A practical difficulty arises because we are considering the requirement of a duty on a local authority. A canal boat or a caravan, which are genuinely mobile, can be easily moved, so it is difficult to expect a local authority to give any guidance on the insulation of such dwellings. One day such a home could be in that
Column 1177authority's patch; the next day it could be 100 yards outside it and the following week it could be halfway around the country.
Mr. Leigh: One of the problems with the Bill is that resources are not available for its purpose. The House would not support a general audit of individual houses, mobile homes, canal boats or whatever, so only general samples will be taken. I do not believe that a local authority could possibly know where my hon. Friend's canal boat was at any time. The samples taken will be so general and the information gathered so generalised that I suspect that the information received by the local authority, and therefore the information dispersed by it, will be fairly valueless.
Mr. Hendry: My hon. Friend has made my point far more eloquently and less confusingly than I had tried to do. Houseboats and canal boats should be excluded from the scope of the Bill because they can move round all over the place. Mobile homes can be included within the Bill because, by their very nature, they will not change site on every other day of the week. A fundamental difference can be made between those types of dwelling.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is right to say that the key point is the mobility of caravans and canal boats, should it be deemed to include them within the Bill. The Private Bill Committee considering the British Waterways Bill spent weeks and weeks trying to tighten the licensing system to differentiate precisely between houseboats and pleasure boats. Does my hon. Friend agree that my hon. Friend the Minister could deal with that difference in guidance under clause 4 to include houseboats which are static? In certain parts of London and elsewhere, many people live in such boats permanently, some of them in pretty lowly conditions.
Mr. Hendry: I hope that they are not too lowly, which would presumably mean that they have sunk. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear my hon. Friend's point in mind when he responds to the debate.
Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. I agree with my hon. Friends that it would be difficult, indeed impossible, for a local authority to conduct an audit of mobile homes, whether they are located on canals, rivers or on land. Surely the main function of the energy conservation authority would be to act as a source of information to which a home owner could go? It is therefore not primarily a burden on the authority to seek out the home owner; it is the home owner who will seek out the authority. Therefore, the restriction to which my hon. Friend referred would not apply.
Mr. Hendry: Nevertheless, there is a difficulty. The owner of the said houseboat, having moved from one council to another council, goes into the council's office the following week, having been into one in a different authority the week before, and asks for some advice. One cannot give people the right to travel throughout the
Column 1178country, visiting every local authority, asking for advice about insulating their houseboat or caravan and asking for a grant to improve the insulation.
Mr. Hendry: Because the owner would obtain £305 from Mid- Staffordshire and then travel a bit further along the canal and obtain a £305 grant from another council, and would obtain £305 from every authority that has a canal in the country. That becomes unworkable. I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his traditional wisdom, will understand that as he reflects on the debate.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) has misunderstood the position. The licensing provisions of British Waterways are clear. A boat that is static and is used for full-time residential use is a houseboat; a canal boat that moves is a pleasure boat. There are two different licensing systems.
Mr. Hendry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.
There is a second key aspect to the amendment. The Bill, if it is to be relevant, must relate to what is appropriate housing and appropriate accommodation in different parts of the country. For reasons that I outlined earlier, it becomes evident that we shall not have many mobile homes in High Peak because the hypothermia will be too great, and that there are other parts of the country, such as Christchurch, where a mobile home is a much more favoured form of accommodation. If the Bill is to be applicable to different parts of the country, it is right that what is a typical form of accommodation in each place should be incorporated in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Minister, when replying to the debate about amendment No. 2, said that I was right to note that, in my constituency, there are many small, old houses which, by their nature, will be draughty. He said that that was one of the reasons why the Bill would be important to High Peak. If that is what makes it important to High Peak, the fact that there are many mobile homes in other constituencies in other parts of the country is a reason why they should be incorporated, to ensure that the Bill is relevant to them.
I regret having to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs). My hon. Friend is usually a beacon of common sense and good judgment. This morning he has strayed a little bit from that. His argument that one should not make advice available to people because the grant has been set at a level that will not enable them to do everything is fundamentally flawed.
The £305 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest referred is the maximum for any form of accommodation, and that £305 will do much more in helping in the insulation of a mobile home, to make a much more fundamental difference to the quality of life of the people living there than it could if it were spent on insulating a two or three-bedroomed house. It is fundamentally wrong to rule people out on the grounds that they would not be able to do all the work they wish, because it means that many people who can benefit from the grant system would not be able to do so.
Mr. Anthony Coombs: I should make it plain, in the nicest possible way, that what may be flawed is the analysis of my argument by my hon. Friend the Member
Column 1179for High Peak (Mr. Hendry). My argument was not that we should reject amendment No. 3, but that, if we make it, there is every reason to say that the HEES should be reconsidered, in terms of the maximum provision that it makes, given the greater needs that the hon. Gentleman has identified for people living in mobile homes and caravans so far as insulation is concerned, and in terms of the detail of its operation. For instance, we mentioned loft insulation and discussed whether that was appropriate for people who live in mobile homes, in which lofts are often significant by their absence.
Mr. Hendry: Self-evidently, if there is no loft, one should not be given loft insulation grants--although undoubtedly there will be Labour authorities around the country who will grant them, because they have provided money for repairing flats that had been knocked down years previously. However, that is in the ambit of local government.
But I think that my hon. Friend's argument remains incorrect. I would be surprised if he were calling for an increase in Government expenditure to extend the home energy efficiency scheme. He is always a beacon of common sense, he is also always a guardian of public expenditure. I do not believe that he would push for a massive increase to extend the scheme--
Mr. Coombs rose --
Mr. Hendry: My hon. Friend may be about to correct me.
Mr. Coombs: I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point, but if he looks at the categories available for grant under the scheme, he will see that the scheme applies less potently to people in mobile homes and caravans than to those with conventional houses. We have already agreed on loft insulation; it may well be that the lagging of hot water tanks would be relevant to both sorts of homes, but to a lesser extent to mobile homes. Draught stripping and corking, and improved heating controls, may apply to both sorts of homes. What is not included in the list, but would be needed in mobile homes, is cavity wall insulation. That is most important in a mobile home but is not, as I understand it, allowed for in the home energy efficiency scheme.
Mr. Hendry: I understand my hon. Friend's point. The key is that the grant can make life significantly more comfortable. It can be used to insulate doors and windows to prevent a significant amount of the heat loss that would otherwise occur. The £305 can make a significant contribution to, or cover the full cost of, such work. I accept my hon. Friend's point that the amount will not cover everything, but to suggest that we should not agree to the amendment because it would not allow for everything would be wrong. I understand my hon. Friend's point and I hope that we have, as ever, established some clarity and cohesion between the two of us. Mr. Fabricant rose --
Mr. Hendry: I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) wishes to make yet another minor intervention.
Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me again. I want to clarify two points that
Column 1180I raised in my earlier interventions. My hon. Friend has said that my argument that a mobile home--albeit a permanent dwelling--should not be included within the scope of the Bill is because a mobile home owner would be able to travel from area to area--my hon. Friend is shaking his head in disagreement, but I think that if he checks Hansard he will see that that is precisely what he said--to obtain grants from different authorities. But clause 6(1) of the Bill states:
"Nothing in this Act shall be taken as conferring--
(a) any power to make grants or loans;
(b) any power of entry"
Since my earlier interventions when I was stunned into silence by my hon. Friend's reply, which was as erudite as ever--
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I am stunning the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) into silence now, as his intervention is far too long. I should also prefer to see the hon. Gentleman's front rather than his back.
Mr. Hendry: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for bringing us back to order.
The point that I was making and which my hon. Friend appears to have misunderstood is that there is a fundamental difference between those homes that are relatively immobile and those which, by definition, are wholly mobile. It is right to differentiate between the two. I believe that those homes which the amendment classifies as mobile homes are pretty static and unlikely to be moved without significant effort--unlike canal boats, which can be moved around the country at will.
We have had a full debate on the subject, which I have pushed significantly further than I intended due to the interventions to which I have sought to respond. I shall leave my contribution there.
Ms Ruddock: I was inclined at the start of the debate not to speak in it, but simply to support the amendment. Clearly, on grounds of social equity, people living in what we all consider to be permanent mobile homes should be entitled to the same services, attention and consideration as those living in more traditional structures. Having heard the debate and the many exchanges between Conservative Members, I feel inclined to say a few words.
I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the sort of information and advice that he believes it will be possible to give to mobile home owners under the Bill's provisions. If people who live in mobile homes are encouraged to think about home insulation and energy efficiency, they may do work themselves which will affect their safety. For example, they may create a fire risk. Local authorities must provide expert advice and gather information about mobile homes because generally they will have little knowledge of the condition of mobile homes in their areas.
My constituency is in the heart of the inner city, where there are only a small number of mobile homes. However, when I lived in the Newbury constituency a significant number of people lived in that kind of accommodation.
Mr. Hendry: On Greenham common?
Ms Ruddock: I assure the Minister that I am not referring to those who were camped on Greenham
Column 1181common in tents or in other accommodation. I visited many of the people who lived in mobile homes in designated areas and I became aware of the poor levels of insulation in those dwellings. Many such people had low disposable incomes and were deeply concerned about the high fuel charges that they were forced to pay.
Proper attention must be given to those who live in mobile homes. Local authorities must understand their peculiar situation and they must provide expert advice to allow those people to join in the existing energy efficiency schemes or those which may be introduced in the future. I suspect that it may be more difficult to provide the appropriate assistance to those people. However, as a number of Conservative Members have said, we should not draw back from providing even a little advice and assistance under the Bill.
Mr. Robert B. Jones: With the leave of the House, I shall speak again.
In a sense, this debate is a re-run of parts of the previous debate. There was no shortage of advice offered to me, to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) or to those who will be affected by the amendment. As the hon. Lady was in and out of the Chamber during the debate, I must inform her that, in addition to her constituency being described as the "Riviera of England", it was called the "caravan belt of England". In the next debate it will no doubt be described as the "Athens of the Dorset coast", or something equally excessive.
The hon. Lady knows that energy conservation is an important issue for those who live in mobile homes. I have enjoyed a long association with the Beech Park site at Wigginton and I am the honorary president of its residents association. I enjoy nothing more than attending the local dance at the Tring football club when I am able to do so. Quite a number of elderly people and those on low incomes settle in mobile home parks, perhaps as a result of divorce or bereavement, and we are anxious to see practical advice and assistance provided to them. The hon. Member for Deptford asked me what sort of advice would be provided. Of course, there will be a range of advice--some of which can be provided at no cost.
For example, advice about closing curtains at night applies to those who live in mobile homes and permanent dwellings. I keep ramming home that point, but I still see large numbers of uncurtained windows at night. Advice can be provided about energy efficient equipment that people can buy. The home energy efficiency scheme applies equally to mobile home owners and to those who live in permanent structures.
Mobile home owners can take advantage of that scheme in the form of draught proofing and tank lagging. I accept that, as they do not have lofts, they cannot take advantage of loft insulation schemes. However, I am happy to review the HEES scheme to see whether other appropriate measures might applied to mobile homes, whose needs are different from those of other dwellings.
I have had discussions with a number of local authorities which are concerned about the concentration of mobile home sites in their areas. In the context of our overall review of home renovation policy, I shall also
Column 1182re-examine the minor works assistance grants to see whether they are relevant to the problems raised by many hon. Members. We should not labour under the misapprehension that all mobile homes are in seaside towns. The hon. Member for Deptford said that there were one or two in her constituency. They are, indeed, widely scattered around the country but nothing in the Bill affects the planning regime. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) that it is in no sense a separate recognition of the status of such homes. However, I think that hon. Members generally believe that those who have mobile homes as their permanent residence should be able to get advice and assistance.
I now deal with boats, in which of course I have an interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) hit the nail on the head when he referred to fire safety standards and the licensing regime applied by British Waterways to boats on its waters. That system is, of course, replicated on other waterways.
I do not think that most canal boats are energy inefficient because of their wooden structure and the fact that their windows are small in comparison with the general surface area. I suspect that they might turn out to be more energy efficient than many permanent and non-moored homes. In any case, it is simply not possible to apply the Bill's provisions to them. How is a local authority to draw up a strategy for boats which might well move from place to place during the year? When they retire, many pensioners choose to spend a few years sailing around the country, spending a few weeks here and there. There are practical difficulties in including boats in the Bill's provisions.
In general, the House has welcomed the inclusion of mobile homes. I hope that what I have said about the grant regime will have assisted hon. Members to develop an enthusiasm that some did not have before and a belief that the Bill is about achievement, not fine words. That has always been my approach to the Bill. I told the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) some time ago that I hoped to do better than his Bill, and that is what we are trying to do. Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at end insert `, or (b) a mobile home, that is--
(i) in England and Wales or Scotland, a caravan within the meaning of Part I of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (disregarding the amendment made by section 13(2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968) which is a dwelling for the purposes of Part I or II of the Local Government Finance Act 1992,
(ii) in Northern Ireland, a caravan within the meaning of the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 which is a dwelling-house for the purposes of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977.'.-- [Mr. Robert B. Jones.]
Mr. Robert B. Jones: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 13, leave out `the authority's policy' and insert
Column 1183`any policy of the authority'.
Madam Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 6, in page 2, line 14, leave out from `power' to `in' in line 15.
No. 7, in page 2, line 16, leave out `that' and insert `any'.
Mr. Jones: These are minor amendments in fulfilment of an undertaking given in Committee. They would make it clear that an energy conservation authority was required to include in its report a statement of any policy it had for taking into account the personal circumstances of any person in deciding whether to exercise any power in connection with the energy conservation measures set out in its report rather than merely a statement of its policy for taking account of personal circumstances in exercising any power to make grants or loans. Clause 2 as it stands requires such a statement only in relation to powers to make grants or loans.
Amendment No. 5 would broaden the language of clause 2(3)(c) to ensure that a report included a statement of any policy that an authority had for taking into account an individual's personal circumstances in deciding whether to exercise any power in connection with energy conservation measures. That is a consequence of broadening the provision to go beyond powers to make grants and loans.
Amendment No. 6 would remove the specific statement of powers to make grants and loans, thus ensuring that the amendment was more wide ranging, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) wished. Amendment No. 7 would further widen the provision to cover the personal circumstances of any person, not just a person to whom a grant or loan was made. Of course, it may be the personal circumstances of someone other than the householder to which an authority would wish to give particular consideration--for example, where a household includes someone with disabilities, or a frail, elderly person.
Energy conservation measures can be particularly important to those with above average heating needs because of age, disability or illness, and I know that many organisations representing such people support the Bill. The HEES programme has always been directed at those with special needs because of low income. I am pleased that it is now available to all aged over 60.
Like other hon. Members, I have received a large volume of correspondence in relation to the Bill--one letter this morning was addressed to me as the Chancellor of the Exchequer--citing the benefits that it will bring, particularly to the elderly. Elderly people can be particularly daunted by the prospect of identifying and arranging for energy-saving measures in their homes, but, as we all know, there may be comparatively simple measures that could be taken that could contribute significantly to their health and comfort. On a number of occasions during the passage of the Bill, hon. Members referred to their concerns about the effect of cold homes on elderly people. I hope that authorities will look particularly carefully at what they can do to target advice and information to those who most need it, as well as including in their reports appropriate policies for taking personal circumstances into account when exercising their powers in connection with energy efficiency measures.
Column 1184By requiring a statement of any policy for giving priority to take account of personal circumstances, the amendments will ensure that local authorities address the question of whether to give priority, where their powers permit, even if they have not had such a policy in the past. What the nature of any policy should be will, of course, be a judgment for each authority to make, but requiring a statement of relevant policies in energy conservation reports will ensure that the judgment is out in the open.
I hope that the amendments will ensure that the case for giving priority to those with particular needs, who may in the past have been defined as "fuel poor", is addressed specifically by each energy conservation authority. Resources are, of course, finite and judgments will have to be made as to where they can do most good, but the amendments should ensure that proper consideration is given to the needs of the poor, the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities.
I believe that the amendments will be welcomed by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) and, indeed, the whole House, and that they meet the concerns that she expressed in Committee. I commend them to the House.