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Mr. Amess: I shall certainly give careful consideration to what my right hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South have said.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): The hon. Gentleman referred to regional disparity. Although I have great sympathy with people who live in remote parts of the south-west, the figures for excess winter deaths by region tell a different story. In the past four years, excess winter deaths increased by only 5 per cent. in the south-west--I say only, but it is with some regret--while the north-west had a 35 per cent. increase from 5,000 in 1995 to 7,000 in 1998-99. One would assume that that was related to the fact that we live in the coldest and wettest part of the United Kingdom. However, the figures showed a dramatic fall in all regions in 1997-98. In 1996-97, there were 5,900 excess winter deaths in the north-west, but the figure for 1997-98 was 2,500. One can only assume that that was a consequence of the euphoria following Labour's election victory on 1 May 1997.

Mr. Amess: I certainly do not agree with that, but I shall resist the temptation to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt that he made his point well and it certainly seems much colder up north.

The Bill requires the Government to set a target of their choice and allows that target to be modified in response to unexpected events. The Bill would set the Government's policy in law. When I first adopted the Bill, it had absolutely no guarantee of Government support and I had no discussions with the Government about it. It was certainly not a Government Bill. I am not prepared to take on Government Bills. Indeed, one or two journalists said, "David, you are mad to go ahead with this Bill." However, there have now been a number of meetings. I pay tribute to the Energy Efficiency Minister in another place, as, thanks to his assistance and that of his officials, there has been a meeting of minds in respect of the detail of the Bill.

Let me deal with the Bill clause by clause and attempt to answer some of the points raised by my hon. Friends. Clause 1 defines the terms used in the Bill. The definition of fuel poverty is a general one, but it may be changed from time to time in order better to target people who need help. Clause 2 places a duty on the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to draft a strategy to end fuel poverty. That strategy must include a final target date by which the problem will have been eliminated as far as is possible.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Will he clarify something that may well permeate the debate that follows? Is it his intention that the Bill will apply taxpayers' money--presumably large sums of it, although I hope that he will clarify that too--to privately owned dwellings as well as those in the public sector?

Mr. Amess: Of course. The answer is yes. There are all sorts of proposals whereby we shall be able to work in

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partnership with others. For example, there was a wonderful announcement by Transco yesterday. I know that that was not the precise point that my right hon. Friend was making, but that point is dealt with in the Bill.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The hon. Gentleman referred to Wales. Is it his expectation that extra money will be provided for the Welsh block grant to implement the plans that he foresees being made by the Assembly?

Mr. Amess: I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes that point, but I do not anticipate it happening at the moment. I am sorry, but I had better not get involved in the merits or otherwise of the Welsh Assembly as I would not want to cause offence in various parts of the House.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise for missing the first few minutes of his speech, although clearly I did not miss the meat of the Bill, which he is coming to only now. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) asked whether the Bill applied to privately owned homes, but the relative role of the tenant--of council property, local housing associations or private landlords--compared with that of the owner of the property is not clear from the Bill or from the briefing that was kindly prepared for me. Can the tenant carry out improvements against the wishes of the landlord or force the landlord to carry them out? Can my hon. Friend explain, as I am not clear how their positions balance out?

Mr. Amess: I am not surprised that my hon. Friend is not clear about that, as it is not mentioned in the Bill. However, I do not believe that those circumstances will arise. The Bill deals with the strategy. Detailed points such as that may be raised in Committee. However, I do not anticipate that a tenant would be carrying out such improvements against the wishes of the landlord, particularly as they would result in savings of at least £400.

Although I am happy to continue to take interventions--

Mr. Forth: Good.

Mr. Amess: I thought that my right hon. Friend would be pleased about that. However, there appears to be a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wishing to speak, and I would not want to be accused of making the longest speech on a Friday and heavily criticised later. I know that people are giving up a huge amount of their time at the moment.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Is not one of the extra benefits of the Bill, should it become law as I hope that it does, that it will stimulate employment? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of research carried out by the Association for the Conservation of Energy which suggests that a 15-year programme of energy efficiency measures could create some 30,000 new jobs?

Mr. Amess: I am certainly aware of that and I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting it on record.

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I would dearly love to eliminate fuel poverty altogether but, although I hope that the Bill will address some of the problems, some households--perhaps many--will refuse to co-operate with the scheme. Some houses simply cannot be insulated to the necessary standards and some households will be genuinely remiss, but I am advised that the Bill's intention to eliminate fuel poverty as far as is practicable is a sensible test. Following the preparation of the strategy, it must then be implemented. Assessments of progress are required from time to time and the strategy and targets can be eliminated in the light of those assessments.

Clause 3 provides the power to make regulations if required in order to set up the schemes under the strategy.

Mr. Burns: Will my hon. Friend address my concern about clause 3(2), which is the engine that will drive the legislation? A Government of either political party could produce regulations that fell short of what was necessary, for reasons of their own. Making the Bill subject to negative procedure does not give the House sufficient power to push the Government and make them think again. Will my hon. Friend consider whether it would be realistic to change it to an affirmative resolution so that the House can have greater control and more of a say in what the Government of the day may or may not want to do in those regulations?

Mr. Amess: That intervention proves the worth of the debate. My hon. Friend has made a splendid suggestion. I know that he is busy, but I hope that he will serve on the Committee if we secure a Second Reading for the Bill, so that he can take that issue forward. I thank him for making it, because the purpose of parliamentary scrutiny is to ensure that the legislation will hold the Government of the day to account.

Clause 4 makes it clear that the Bill will not compel people to participate in schemes, which must rely on persuasion if they are to be popular and successful.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): In response to an intervention from the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), the hon. Gentleman talked about people who would not participate. I hope that that does not include private sector landlords, many of whom, in some of the poorer parts of the north-west, still expect their tenants to live in poorly insulated properties.

Mr. Amess: I very much understand the hon. Gentleman's point of view. There are some landlords like that in my constituency. I hope that we shall be able to address that point.

Clause 5 is the money clause and clause 6 gives the citation and extent. It is worth noting that, although--

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): The hon. Gentleman skated over that point quickly. Has he made an estimate of the cost implications of the Bill? I guess that the cost will be in the region of £100 million. If so, would it not be a good use for part of the money from the climate change levy?

Mr. Amess: Those who oppose the Bill can put forward any arguments to say that it will cost a huge

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amount. I have the full briefing. However, those who wish the Bill well can add up the savings in health, insulation and general well-being. Taking those factors into account, not only will the Bill be cost-neutral, there will be money in the coffers for the Treasury. That is why I have been persuaded to support the Bill, as a Conservative. That is how strongly I feel about it.

I was going to go into further detail on clause 5, but I shall rush on now. Half an hour ago, I could not remember the constituency of one of my hon. Friends, but now I can. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham and for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and the hon. Members for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), for Nottingham, South and for Plymouth, Sutton, who worked on the Select Committee. They have come up with ideas on public-private partnerships, bond issues, utility regulation and other matters.

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