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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): As hon. Members noted earlier, progress on the Bill has been somewhat convoluted. However, if I judge correctly the sentiments expressed by Members on both sides of the House, we seem to have reached a consensus. I hope that no one regards that as provocation.

The new clauses and amendments deal with definitions of fuel poverty and related regulations. New clause 12 gives a broad definition of fuel poverty and would provide the necessary power to make regulations for a closer definition of the term for the purposes of the Bill. In that respect, it differs from new clause 9, which would require regulations to implement the strategy. That is not necessary because such powers already exist; for example, the home energy efficiency scheme under social security legislation.

Several people suggested that fuel poverty should be defined in the Bill. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) obviously listened to them. The Government have pointed out constantly that we cannot tie the inter-ministerial group on fuel poverty to a once-and-for-all definition. That is why we accepted the wording proposed by the hon. Gentleman in Committee and now included in the Bill--it provided the necessary flexibility for a strategy to define and target the fuel poor.

We have considered the new clause carefully and have taken into account the views expressed by hon. Members in Committee and in correspondence. The provision offers a new general definition of fuel poverty that parallels the text that emerged in Committee and allows for a more detailed definition in regulations, following consultation. That is an adequate compromise.

For the reasons we gave in Committee, we cannot and should not provide an absolute and final definition of fuel poverty in the Bill. To do so would require consultation that would fatally delay the Bill. The new clause takes a more circuitous route than we anticipated a few months ago, but it addresses our concerns by allowing further definition in regulations. In a spirit of co-operation, I shall accept the new clause.

Amendments Nos. 46 and 48 are consequential on the new clause and reflect the position that would apply if it were accepted.

Mr. Brake: Can the Minister suggest how many people he thinks might be caught under the definition of fuel poverty?

10.45 am

Mr. Mullin: I was about to touch on that point. There are many definitions and I am aware that in the fuel poverty industry--if that is the correct phrase--the matter is hotly contested and there is no agreement. Several million people will probably be affected. As I noted in Committee, the definition will extend beyond those who are on benefit. I do not want to comment further on that matter at present.

Amendment No. 51 would remove subsection (7) of clause 1. That subsection would have made it possible for any strategy that complied with the Act, and was

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published by the Secretary of State within the six months before the Act was passed, to be counted as a strategy prepared under the Act. That was a sensible solution for England, where the proceedings of the inter-ministerial group on fuel poverty might have enabled it to publish a strategy before the measure came into force.

However, following consultations, the final strategy will not be produced until after the measure becomes law, thus rendering the subsection unnecessary. As there is little point in retaining a provision that serves no useful purpose, the hon. Member for Southend, West has tidied up the Bill.

The remaining nine amendments in the group were tabled by the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). I hope that they agree that the provisions tabled by the hon. Member for Southend, West deal with the issues that they raised. I thus ask them not to press the amendments. I see that the right hon. Gentlemen are nodding graciously.

I propose that new clause 12 and amendments Nos. 46, 48 and 51 be accepted.

Mr. Amess: I have listened carefully to the points that have been made. If humble pie should be eaten, I am delighted to eat it in abundance. As I listened to the debate, I was not sure whether I was the criminal or the victim. I do not know whether I was naive because I allowed myself to be completely rolled over in Committee.

I paid close attention to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on public expenditure and other matters. As he is aware, I genuinely wanted him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) to join us in the Committee. Former Ministers, such as my right hon. Friends, have great experience in dealing with such matters. I am sure that the Committee would have benefited from their input. I am sorry if my obvious incompetence has protracted our proceedings.

I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) for his valuable contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border made a telling point on food poverty; without food, obviously one dies. Perhaps, on another occasion, the House might turn its attention to that matter, although I shall certainly not volunteer to pilot a private Member's Bill on it. Indeed, I wonder whether I should ever again promote a private Member's Bill on any issue.

The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) referred to the events of a few weeks ago. I had not intended to mention that point. I shall allow no person or organisation to be blamed for what happened; I take full responsibility. The House is a dynamic place--although it does not always seem to be--and it is difficult to judge its mood. I fully understand that hon. Members give up their time and cancel constituency arrangements to attend the House on Fridays, and we do not get any thanks from our constituents unless we make speeches on the Floor of the House and vote for measures. On that Friday, it was my judgment that the Bill was unlikely to make any further progress and, with hindsight, that judgment was right. Indeed, we would not be debating it this morning if I had been wrong.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) for his support. Irrespective of whether the Minister thinks that I have made a Pauline conversion, I am only too delighted that he thinks that new clause 12 moves in the right direction.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 1

Strategy relating to fuel poverty

Amendment made: No. 46, in page 1, line 9, leave out from "practicable" to end of line 10 and insert--
'persons do not live in fuel poverty'.--[Mr. Amess.]

Mr. Amess: I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 1, line 13, after "specify" insert "a comprehensive package of".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 10, in page 1, line 14, leave out "appropriate equipment or" and insert--

'a comprehensive package of home'.

No. 16, in page 1, line 19, at end insert--

', and
( ) provide a procedure for differentiating the characteristics and requirements of different regions.'.

No. 21, in page 1, line 19, at end insert--

'(2A) For the purposes of section 1(2)(b) above "comprehensive package of home insulation" shall include the installation of--
(a) cavity wall insulation;
(b) loft insulation;
(c) under-floor insulation;
(d) draught-proofing.'.

No. 44, in clause 2, page 2, line 16, at end insert--

'"appropriate equipment or insulation" means works which qualify for grant under regulation 5 of the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme Regulations 2000, namely--
(a) insulation in any accessible roof space in the dwelling, including the insulation of any cold water tank and any water supply, overflow and expansion pipes in such a space;
(b) insulation between the internal and external leaves of cavity walls of the dwelling;
(c) draught proofing to or in the dwelling together with additional means of ventilation for any rooms which would otherwise be inadequately ventilated after such provision;
(d) insulation to any water heating system or to provide any part of such a system with insulation incorporated in it;
(e) gas room convector heaters with thermostat control;
(f) electric storage heaters;
(g) electric dual immersion heaters with foam insulated tank;
(h) timer controls for electric space and water heaters;
(i) improvements to the energy efficiency of, or replacement of any part of, or repair to any space or water heating system installed in the dwelling;
(j) installation of a mains gas central heating system with no more than six radiators;

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(k) conversion of open solid fuel room fires to closed solid fuel room fires;
(l) provision of a central heating system connected to the local community heating grid with no more than six radiators.'.

Mr. Amess: Amendment No. 47 changes the description of the measures required to be specified in the strategy. It would ensure that "a comprehensive package" of measures would lead to the efficient use of energy. However, amendment No. 21 would require a strategy to specify measures such as a

rather than the measures in clause 1(2)(b), which refers to

Amendment No. 21 would specify what the comprehensive package of home installation should include.

As with the first group of new clauses and amendments that I moved, I propose the changes in amendment No. 47 to ensure the widest possible support for the Bill. Again, it deals with concerns raised by my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). My aim has been to ensure that people can keep their homes warm at reasonable cost. I have therefore ensured that the measures taken must result in people being able to keep them warm at reasonable cost. Whatever we call the measures used, that is what the Bill would require.

Others have felt that the Bill would be improved by amending the description of the measures so that it refers to "a comprehensive package". My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has already told the House that he intends to take full advantage of such a measure--he referred to loft insulation. Therefore, I have proposed the change in amendment No. 47 to ensure the widest possible support for the Bill.

I am afraid that I cannot support amendments No. 10 and 21, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will not press them. As I understand it, they would exclude the installation of efficient heating equipment or heating controls. That may force a strategy to require the installation of insulation in situations in which other equipment would be cheaper and more effective in eliminating fuel poverty.

Amendment No. 44 specifies a list of measures that could not be updated without returning to amend primary legislation. If a new, cheap and effective insulation product were developed, the amendment could prevent its use.

Another problem is that amendment No. 21 states that the package provided "shall include" certain measures whether they are required or not. That could be particularly problematical with the fitting of cavity wall insulation, because many properties do not have cavity walls. The amendment is, therefore, unworkable.

I hope that my right hon. Friends will not press amendment No. 16. They have made the point that people in colder areas lose out under the usual definition of fuel poverty, but I do not think that that is so. Even if two identical homes in the cold north and the warmer south were occupied by families with identical incomes, the heating would need to be turned up higher in the north to reach the same temperature in the house. Therefore, the

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bills would be higher in the north and make up a higher proportion of the family's income. As the House has already agreed, the family in the cold north are therefore more likely to be in fuel poverty. The example illustrates that no regional variation to the definition is required. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

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