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Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I had not intended to speak, but I am slightly concerned by the remarks of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). His interpretation of amendments Nos. 21 and 10 does not correspond with mine.

Why does the hon. Gentleman believe that the inclusion of the words "cavity wall insulation" in amendment No. 21 would counter his requirements for the Bill? It is my understanding that the provisions in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of the amendment for "cavity wall insulation", "loft insulation", "under-floor insulation" and "draught-proofing" are simply examples of what might be part of a comprehensive package of home insulation measures for the purposes of the proposed section 1(2)(b). Of course, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, some homes do not have cavity wall insulation, but the amendment is not prescriptive. It merely provides examples of what a comprehensive package might include. Amendment No. 47 would add the words "a comprehensive package" to the Bill and the hon. Gentleman said that he had tabled it to garner the widest possible support. Amendment No. 21 would also achieve that aim.

For the sake of clarity, may I also ask the hon. Gentleman about his objection to amendment No. 10? He appears to be relying on the argument that only insulation and not other measures, such as timing devices, might be used. However, I support the amendment because other equipment has a role to play in ensuring that homes have the most efficient insulation and are kept warm. I am slightly concerned by the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the amendments.

Mr. Brake: Although I do not exactly support amendment No. 47, because it would not greatly amend the definition in the Bill, I shall acquiesce to it.

I oppose amendment No. 10. Hon. Members may be aware of a UK company that produces a special electronic black box that can be attached to boilers. The company tells me that the box can reduce significantly boilers' cycling, which is extremely energy inefficient. It would be a great pity it the option to fit that sort of equipment to existing boilers was not available as part of a fuel poverty reduction strategy.

11 am

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) was uncharacteristically unkind in suggesting that it does not materially assist the Bill, as I think that it does.

I shall give two examples to support the amendment, which will allow enlightened Ministers, such as those on the Front Bench today, and others in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Trade and Industry, to find further ways to support renewable energy options. I am thinking especially about the case for installing solar panels on

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roofs. Greenpeace, an environmental organisation that does not always get support and recognition from the Opposition, did sterling work in May 1997 with low-income homes in Silvertown in London, installing solar panels on their roofs. Each home was projected to save a third of its electricity bill, or £60 a year, which, at a stroke, helped to tackle the problem of fuel poverty.

We need to widen the definition and encourage Ministers and officials to examine the widest possible range of measures to tackle fuel poverty. In an Adjournment debate on 25 May 1999, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) highlighted the enormous potential of solar panels, especially in urban areas, where, as we all know, the largest proportion of low-income households are located. Clearly, they are not located there exclusively, and I recognise the problem of rural fuel poverty. However, the vast majority of low-income households are in urban areas, and clearly, other forms of renewable energy are not appropriate for those areas.

Mr. Brake: I wonder whether, like me, the hon. Gentleman regrets the departure from the DTI of a key civil servant who dealt with renewable energy?

Mr. Thomas: I think that I am aware of the case, and I think that that civil servant has been replaced by someone who is equally enthusiastic about renewables, so I do not think that there has been an adverse effect.

I shall develop the point about the opportunities that the amendment offers for solar panels. We must recognise that traditional forms of renewable energy, such as hydro power or wind power, are clearly inappropriate for urban areas. However, some 80 per cent. of us who live in towns and cities have roofs on which solar panels could be situated.

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that wind power may be inappropriate for urban areas. Does he accept that it is also inappropriate in many of our finest mountain areas, such as the Lake district?

Mr. Thomas: I think that I would--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not the only Member to have strayed this morning. We are talking not about renewable energy, but about the amendment on fuel poverty. The hon. Gentleman must speak to the amendment before the House.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and certainly do not intend to go down the route suggested by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), because I know that if I did, I would be severely outwith the reach of the amendment.

Solar panels offer the Government an opportunity to address the problem of fuel poverty. I should perhaps restate a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, who said that the average south-facing roof can sustain photovoltaic tiles

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The amendment offers a cloak to enlightened officials and Ministers who support the concept of net metering, which has met with opposition. Imagine the delight of a low-income household when, in periods of great sunshine, its solar panels export to the grid electricity surplus to its individual requirements. Not only does that household get a low-cost option with solar panels, but has some of the bills that it may have to pay in winter covered by the money that it gets back by exporting electricity to the grid. The concept of net metering is very much welcomed and supported in America, where 22 states, including Wisconsin, Idaho, California and Washington, have adopted various net metering regimes. The amendment, which suggests that a comprehensive package of measures is needed, holds out the prospect that the inter-ministerial group, which would presumably draw up the strategy outlined in the Bill, could consider net metering.

I hope that in the cause of renewable energy, as well as the wider and more important cause of tackling fuel poverty, hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the amendment.

Mr. Maclean: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). I shall not go down the windmill route again now, but if a suitable opportunity arises, I shall again drop into the debate my concern about the proliferation of such elements of renewable energy in the wrong places.

The amendment is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) was too harsh on himself and too self-deprecating when he wound up the previous debate. If an ordinary private Member on a Committee with a huge Government majority is faced with the prospect of a Minister and a majority of Committee members either removing parts of the Bill or, with the wonderful back-up of our excellent civil service, suggesting that something is not necessary, and that something else should be redrafted, he cannot be expected to stand up to that. My hon. Friend understood perfectly well that he had to take the best possible deal on the Bill that he felt he could get.

As a result of our parliamentary procedures, we have found an opportunity to put back into the Bill those things that, in Committee, my hon. Friend was forced to accept had to be deleted. We can now corner the Government a little, and hold them to account. The inclusion of the term "a comprehensive package", as proposed in the amendment, is important. Some say that it makes little difference, and ask what is the difference between a package and a comprehensive package.

The term "comprehensive package" relates to the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson). One of my key concerns, which is as relevant to this debate as it was to the previous one, is the need to ensure that all the people out there, whether councils, lobby groups, pensioner groups or others, are not deceived into thinking that the measure that we would have passed today, had the amendments not been tabled,

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was the same as the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South or even the one preceding it, which was proposed by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). The same terminology was used in their proposed legislation, and I think that it appeared in this Bill when it was given a Second Reading. Some of the letters that I have received--I received one from a pensioner group in Nottingham--say that this Bill must be passed because people are looking forward to a "comprehensive package" of measures for home insulation. If the term "comprehensive package" is deleted from the Bill, we will have misled those people.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) was slightly concerned about the amendment. He favoured some of those tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and myself. I rather liked them at the time; they sought to define the term "comprehensive package". Amendment No. 44 is specific in setting out what I consider to be a very comprehensive package--I lifted it from the Government's home energy efficiency regulations--but I now accept that if it were accepted, whenever someone invented a new gadget that was good for home energy efficiency, or a new item of insulation, the Bill would need to be amended.

I am happy not to move my amendment, provided that the Minister assures me in his reply that the term "comprehensive package" will be reinserted in the Bill, so that all the items that we have discussed, such as cavity walls, loft insulation and appropriate equipment, will be included. I shall accept the Minister's assurance that the term covers everything listed in amendment No. 44, which would naturally wrap up everything in amendment No. 21.

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