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12 noon

Mr. Mullin: This group of amendments deals with issues of consultation in relation to the fuel poverty strategy and the definition of fuel poverty.

We want to ensure that all the appropriate people are consulted. That was achieved by the Bill as amended in Committee. We would in any case have consulted local authorities or associations of local authorities and those representing the interests of those in fuel poverty. Amendment No. 50 makes it a requirement to do so. The amendment is not really necessary, but the requirement will not hinder or hamper the consultation process in any way. It is very similar to amendment No. 42, but extends the requirement to include local authority associations, which the Government think sensible.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 25 and 42 list in detail groups that must be consulted. It is always a bit unwise to have such a list, as one frequently finds, when it is too late to make a change, that someone has been missed out. We do not believe that it will be absolutely necessary to consult all those listed in the amendments on every occasion--for example, domestic energy providers, those providing appliances, housing associations, insulation companies or persons in fuel poverty.

I do not want to get drawn into a debate on numbers, but--for example--the last group probably consists of more than 4 million households. Consulting all those

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would pose some technical difficulties, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), even in his new-found enthusiasm for consultation, would not necessarily want, especially as he is an opponent of unnecessary bureaucracy.

If particular circumstances require consultation with those groups or organisations, or their representatives, we will consult them, but we will do so under the requirement in clause 1(3)(b), as it emerged from Committee, to consult

Amendment No. 50 effectively renders amendments Nos. 22 to 25 and 42 unnecessary, and I believe that the right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) have indicated their intention not to press them to a vote.

Mr. Brake: Can the Minister confirm that one of the effects of amendment No. 50 will be to make it plain that it will be appropriate for the authorities to consult organisations such as Friends of the Earth on fuel poverty strategies?

Mr. Mullin: That is very possible, but I do not think that it was what the right hon. Gentlemen had in mind when they compiled their list.

Amendment No. 50 will require a consequential amendment later in the Bill. If we are to require consultation with local authorities, we must, for completeness, define what a local authority is for the purpose. The hon. Member for Southend, West recognises that, and deals with it in amendment No. 52. That is a fairly straightforward procedure and a standard definition is proposed.

The Government are happy to accept amendment No. 50. I should be grateful to the right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border and for Bromley and Chislehurst if they did not press the amendments that they tabled to a Division.

Mr. Amess: I am pleased that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) made the point about housing associations. I am delighted with the Minister's response. Although my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) gently chastised me for being too trusting of the Government in my injudicious remarks, I am happy to rest with the case that the Minister has made.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 51, in page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (7).--[Mr. Amess.]

Clause 3

Short title, commencement and extent.

Amendment made: No. 52, in page 2, line 31, at beginning insert--
'( ) In this Act "local authority" means--
(a) in relation to England, the council of a county, district or London borough, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly, and
(b) in relation to Wales, the council of a county or county borough.'.--[Mr. Amess.]
Order for Third Reading read.

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12.6 pm

Mr. Amess: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is an historic and wonderful moment for all those who will benefit from the Bill now and in future. We began our deliberations in the winter. We are now enjoying glorious sunshine, but it will soon be winter again, and that is when people will really benefit from the Bill.

I dedicate the Bill to the memory of Mr. Joe Kracy--a constituent who died in a cold home. I also dedicate it to the memory of my former colleague, Michael Colvin, and his wife Nichola. They died in dreadful circumstances. He was a sponsor of the Bill and felt very strongly about the plight of senior citizens.

My role has been very small. I explained ad nauseam on Second Reading how I came to adopt the Bill. I am only too delighted that I have been able to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of those who have worked on the matter for a very long time. I wish to thank a long list of people, but I shall be quick about it. I would be churlish not to thank the Minister. He has been delighted to respond to the various points that have been made during the past eight months. I particularly want to thank the Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who has been very supportive of the Bill, and I am grateful to him for that.

Although I referred to the discussions with Lord Whitty, I thank him, too. I thank all the officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. They have worked very hard in drafting Bills and in helping me with this measure.

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), who has been championed today by my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but he is no less a man for that. I thank him and congratulate him on the fact that his original Bill has come to fruition in this measure. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) has been very supportive throughout.

I wish to thank many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friends the Members for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I am sure that I have missed out some hon. Friends, but I do not wish to cause offence. I thank also my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who has been supportive from the outset.

I wish to thank Mr. Martin Williams and the campaign for the warm homes Bill, who have been magnificent throughout the Bill's passage. I wish to thank Jenny Saunders for her wonderful support and briefing. I wish to thank Help the Aged, Age Concern and the National Pensioners Convention; I had the privilege of meeting the 50 senior citizens recently. I wish to thank also the Association for the Conservation of Energy.

I wish to thank a number of companies, such as N-Power--a subsidiary of National Power--which recently set up a private sector initiative to address fuel poverty. I thank Transco--and I suppose that if I waited a little longer, there would be another company; but under no circumstances do I wish to delay the Bill.

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I wish to thank all hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who has not been well recently but has been a great supporter of the Bill. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) in the Chamber also, as he has been a great supporter. It would be churlish not mention the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) and his Liberal Democrat colleagues, who have been supportive as well.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): In his long list of thank-yous--which sounds more and more like an Oscar speech--will the hon. Gentleman, given the comments of his right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), include Friends of the Earth?

Mr. Amess: I think that the hon. Gentleman has done that for me.

As with all Members of Parliament, I came into politics to make a difference. We have made a difference with this Bill today. I do not always think that the House does the right thing, but it has today and I am delighted.

12.12 pm

Mr. Barron: I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on, I hope, getting the Bill on to the statute book. I have had an interest in energy for a long time, even before I came to this House. I think that the United Kingdom is so energy-rich that it feels it can waste energy at an enormous rate. We are often described as an island built on coal and we are surrounded by oil and gas, but we use energy so wastefully.

One area of concern is the interpretation of fuel poverty. Who are the fuel poor? Poverty in this country will never go away because it is a relative measure between rich and poor. To anyone who says that they will eradicate poverty, I say "Good luck--you will probably be chasing your tail."

I was pleased that the Minister approved earlier when someone said that this was not simply an issue of those who were on certain state benefits. For decades now, we have tried to deal with the fuel poor by schemes such as the home energy efficiency scheme. However, its application on the ground has been directed mainly to people on state benefits or other means-tested benefits and not at the overall problems of fuel poverty. Home insulation is a very effective way of saving on domestic fuel bills, but past schemes have been targeted at households according to income. I hope that we will have a more efficient interpretation of who the fuel poor are; as a consequence, we can be more effective in intervention.

It is time we considered energy conservation more seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who is no longer in his place, referred earlier to solar heating. Insulation is probably the most cost-effective way of saving on fuel bills, but solar energy could be used to alleviate fuel poverty in years to come. As for photovoltaic cells on domestic homes, I have not yet progressed that far. The problem of storing the energy gained from the sun and using it when we want it in domestic households has not quite been solved yet.

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I have had solar panels on my home for nearly a decade. In July and August in particular, we rarely--if ever--use any energy source from fossil fuel for our domestic water needs. In July and August--although this July has been an exception--all our water is normally heated by the sun. There is quite a large capital outlay at the beginning, but afterwards, other than the small cost of an electricity motor, quite large savings can be made on energy costs. In addition, as most of it is renewable energy, there is a big saving in terms of conservation.

We may be energy-rich for the present, but gas and oil will not always be around. The Bill is a way forward. It will bring energy conservation into the debate in a way that has been lacking for a long time in this energy-rich country.

I congratulate everyone who has been involved in the Bill. I hope that when the Minister--it may be a different one, but I hope that it will still be a Labour Minister--considers the potential of this measure, the timetable will be much shorter than 15 years.

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