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Mr. Gibb: Essentially, the amendment would simply change the law back to what it was before the Bill was introduced so that suppliers would have no right to enter people's premises to install a pre-payment meter. Despite that, disconnections have fallen over the past few years.
Dr. Howells: They have fallen over the past year by about 25 per cent., and I hope that they will continue to fall. However, it is important to remember that a supplier has to get a warrant before he can force entry to install a meter or to disconnect the supply. The existence of a power of entry to install a pre-payment meter does not necessarily mean that companies will use it. Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the innovative approach of some companies and the way in which they have sought to get around the problem.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Before an application for entry is made--as my hon. Friend has explained, a warrant will be required--surely all the circumstances will be taken into account. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be unfortunate if, as a result of disconnection, a household was left with no supply whatever? Children may be involved and the supply may be disconnected as a result of the parents' irresponsibility. There is therefore a case for ensuring that the household has some fuel connection--to either electricity or gas.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will be interested to learn that one major gas supply company has told Ofgem that it estimates that some 80 per cent. of gas supply disconnections occur because the company cannot illicit a response from defaulting customers, despite oft repeated attempts to do so. How are such people to be persuaded to avoid disconnection by being made to write to their suppliers agreeing to the installation of a pre-payment meter, when they do not communicate in the first place?
Dr. Howells: I have tried to explain to the hon. Gentleman that the Bill contains a great many safeguards. We have confidence in the system. We certainly believe that it is a far better way to proceed than making children, innocent of the shortcomings of their parents, endure the cold, and then subjecting their parents to a hefty reconnection charge. We shall therefore resist the amendment.
Lords amendment: No. 72, in page 54, line 42, leave out subsection (6) and insert--
("(6) Subsection (3) shall cease to have effect.").
Dr. Howells: The amendments deal with the standards of performance and aspects of consultation on renewables and energy efficiency targets, including some of the implications of the trading of obligations between gas and electricity obligation holders, rather than simply gas obligation holders on the one hand and electricity obligation holders on the other.
Mr. Stunell: On the whole, I welcome the amendments. I wish to deal briefly with amendment No. 79, which requires any action by the Secretary of State in making an order to be preceded by consultation with renewable energy generators. I certainly welcome that, and regret that provisions on renewables are still missing from the Bill. We need more action to promote and support renewable generation, as well as simply consulting renewable energy generators before orders come into force.
Can the Minister update the House on the DTI's views about the banding of the renewables obligation and the approach that the Government are likely to take in regulating in support of the Bill? I understand that a meeting was held at the DTI yesterday to discuss the banding of technologies. It would be helpful for the House to know the outcome.
Is the Minister still as satisfied as Ministers have been in their public declarations in the past that the targets of achieving 5 per cent. of renewable electricity generation by 2003 and 10 per cent. by 2010 are still realistic and feasible? If the Minister is able to reassure us on those points, how would he refute the arguments put forward by those in the industry who believe that the targets are increasingly unrealisable and unrealistic?
In supporting amendment No. 79 and agreeing on the need to include the renewable generators, will the Minister explain how he can reassure them that future investment will be worth while, that their product will be taken up in the market and that the Government's targets will be achieved? That is a vital part of the Government's longer-term policy to comply with the Kyoto agreement. There is definitely a gap in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will at least give a signal that further work will be done and further proposals will be put before the House.
Mr. Forth: We are now wading knee-deep in gobbledegook, especially with amendment No. 81. I shall give the Minister the opportunity to tell us, succinctly and with his usual clarity, exactly what he thinks amendment No. 81 means. It looks like complete nonsense to me. I suspect that it is to do with environmental strutting and posturing. What it is supposed to achieve is beyond me, but it seems to sanction sleight of hand. If I were to believe in any of the Kyoto nonsense, I should be very suspicious because a provision such as amendment No. 81--if I even begin to understand it--seems to represent almost an invitation to fiddle the books and to pretend that we are doing all sorts of Kyoto things when we are doing nothing of the kind.
Amendment No. 81 is akin to the Government policy that, on the one hand, put additional taxes on vehicle fuel--which they claimed was an environmental measure--but, on the other, lowered taxes on domestic fuel consumption. They have never been able to explain the justification for that. I suspect that, if it means anything, amendment No. 81 comes into the same category.
I am worried that amendment No. 86 will undermine any viability that may have existed in the adjustments for inflation. As we know from recent examples such as pensions and so on, those adjustments can be of the greatest importance to people of all ages and categories. However, amendment No. 86 seems to provide almost unlimited scope to fiddle the books on inflation. It states:
We are getting into some odd and difficult territory, but as usual in such circumstances, I rely on the Minister to step up to the Dispatch Box and, with great clarity and as succinctly as ever, to set right my anxieties about those matters and tell us exactly what he thinks amendment No. 81 means. When he says what he thinks, it becomes official and fixes matters. I have no doubt that he will tell
Dr. Howells: I do not intend to make the right hon. Gentleman wait. May I deal first, however, with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell)? Taken together, the amendments that he has mentioned try, I suppose, to set out some of the thoughts of another place on where we have got to. For example, the comprehensive spending review was excellent for encouraging renewables. I was glad to see that. A consultation will be conducted by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe on the banding of technologies. It is far too early to predict the outcome of that consultation, but it is important.
Mr. Stunell: I am encouraged by the fact that there is to be a consultation and that prediction is too early, but, before the door is shut firmly, is the Minister indicating that the door is now at least a little open?