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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Does my hon. Friend recognise that the frustration is made even greater by the fact that those people were law-abiding citizens, causing no threat, and that they therefore feel that, if there is to be compensation, it should be made efficiently and effectively?

Mr. Stunell: Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.

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I do not wish to detain the House with the complexities of different types of equipment and paraphernalia--shooters in my constituency have been quick to brief me on that. In short, those who administer the compensation scheme obviously have only the foggiest idea of the differences between, for example, various types of ammunition press. I agree with my hon. Friend that the scheme has not shown the Government in a good light.

I welcome the Committee's twelfth report, entitled "The Office of Electricity Regulation: Improving Energy Efficiency Financed by a Charge on Customers". I know that the Financial Secretary, who, in a previous existence, took a close interest in energy efficiency and fuel poverty issues, will take an interest in that report. It is a good report, which identifies some relevant issues, but I felt that it was tentative in suggesting appropriate solutions. Therefore I shall highlight those issues and say what I believe the way ahead might be. I should be interested to hear the Minister's response.

The twelfth report says that there is some contradiction in what the regulator is required to do. On one hand, he is required to promote the efficient use of electricity; on the other, there is an obligation to deal with fuel poverty. About 8 million households in this country are the victims of fuel poverty and spend an excessive amount of their disposable income simply on the job of keeping warm. The Government have established and adopted the Kyoto target to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent. of the 1990 level by 2010. I am sure that the Minister will want to confirm that the Government have adopted a higher voluntary target of 20 per cent. for the same period.

Reducing fuel poverty and reducing carbon dioxide emissions are twin objectives, but the Committee's 12th report suggests that there is some conflict and tension in achieving those objectives within the framework that the regulator faces. However, there is a solution to the problem. It is well established that 40 per cent. of the energy used in this country's homes is wasted. Poor households are just as much victims of that energy wastage as rich and high-consumption households. The size of the household and the income of the family make no significant difference to the amount of energy wasted in a home. Therefore, it is feasible that a more efficient use of energy--electricity, in particular--will lead to something like a 40 per cent. reduction in consumption and, hence, a 40 per cent. reduction in bills, even if there is no change in pricing levels.

That can be achieved with an increase in the quality of life. It does not require hairshirts and pullovers; one can improve the quality of one's life by insulating one's home more effectively and running it more efficiently. That would result in less fuel poverty and an achievement of the targets for the greenhouse gas reductions that are mentioned in the twelfth report.

The report also refers to the Office of Electricity Regulation, Offer, which has now become the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, Ofgem. I want to point out to the Minister and to Ofgem that it is possible to have one's policy cake and eat it. Some of the fears expressed in the report are unfounded.

Work can be done on insulation standards, heating controls and on changing electrical systems. If there were a commitment to replace all electrical heating in homes

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by 2010, that would reduce carbon emissions by about 6 million tonnes a year. Straightforward and practical measures can be carried out through the regulatory and grants system, and they are within the Minister's hands. They would have a significant impact on both carbon emissions and fuel poverty. I have not even mentioned what can be achieved for domestic equipment efficiency. Older domestic equipment is less efficient, and the poorest households often have the oldest and least efficient domestic equipment.

I welcome the report's note of caution on how implementation is proceeding. No one could possibly object to its proposal that the energy distribution companies and others should exercise more control over energy efficiency. It is unnecessary and wrong for grossly different prices to be charged in different places--and sometimes even in the same area--to implement the Government's plans to make efficiency improvements to homes.

However, that note of caution should not be taken as a signal--this was hinted at in the report--that, to reduce fuel poverty and to increase social inclusion, there should be a relaxation in the way that the grants scheme applies the policy on reducing carbon emissions.

Will the Minister confirm that there is an intention to have joined-up action on reducing fuel poverty and emissions? We have had an excessive number of consultation documents on all matters relating to energy, energy efficiency and renewables. I have filing cabinets full of such documents. We need not more consultation documents or even, perhaps, more reports from the Public Accounts Committee, but more co-operative action from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Minister's Department, the Treasury.

A clear remit must be passed on to Ofgem--which, when the report was written, was Offer--setting out a regulatory environment that will achieve what is necessary, which is the translation of our energy supply companies into energy service companies. We need a much more vigorous and rapid move towards energy service companies and parallel, similar mechanisms. We need action, not just plans and consultation.

We probably need finance. When Liberal Democrats mention money, people say, "Well, of course they always want to spend more." However, I must point out that in this case, the distribution price review will be included in the utilities Bill that was announced in the Queen's Speech. The Minister will want to confirm that every household in the country will make significant savings on its electricity bill. Government figures suggest that consumer electricity bills could be reduced by £60 per household by 2005, representing an overall saving to consumers of £1.25 billion in the next five years. That contrasts with the current levy of £1 per year imposed on every consumer to fund those programmes--a total levy of £25 million.

It is appropriate that a Treasury Minister should be present today, because I want to suggest that the right way to approach the situation is to take just a small fraction of that saving to consumers under the new distribution price review to improve the amount of support that is given to programmes such as those described in the twelfth report.

I welcome the twelfth report, but it runs some risk of deflecting Ofgem from its key task. The report does not emphasise enough the fact that reductions in carbon

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dioxide emissions and fuel poverty can be achieved by the same policies as the Government have already implemented. Of necessity, the report does not consider the overall cost-effectiveness of all the interlocking powers and duties imposed on the regulators, on budgets and on Departments to achieve the Kyoto target, which the Government have accepted, and their own social inclusion aims.

The PAC has done a very good job with its wide range of reports. I welcome them all, including the twelfth report. Although I am a little worried about the impact that it might have on the Government, I hope that the Minister, in replying to the debate, will assure me that the Government will take the good points from the twelfth report and not be diverted from their intentions on greenhouse gases.

5.29 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I am concerned simply with the fifteenth report, "HM Customs and Excise: The Prevention of Drug Smuggling".

It was 37 years ago to the week when I was asked by the then Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Harold Wilson, to join the Committee. My membership was one of the great educations that any Member of Parliament can have. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) can easily imagine, Harold Wilson was a glittering Chairman. He got through the business, asked the most searching questions very quickly and did not tolerate long-windedness by any of the members of the Committee.

I also served Douglas Houghton of "Can I Help You?" fame, later Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who was another marvellous Chairman, as was the Conservative John Boyd-Carpenter--so much so that I campaigned for him to be Speaker of the House of Commons rather than Selwyn Lloyd, but a fat lot of use that did. I had regard for all of them.

I have not been a member of the Committee for a long time now. The rest of the House should appreciate the hours of serious and desperately important work that our colleagues on the Committee do. Without question, the Public Accounts Committee is the most effective and important Committee of the House of Commons.

I should like to refer--briefly and succinctly, I hope--to paragraph 3 of the fifteenth report. It says:

It is about drugs. I gave my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary some warning--perhaps not enough--of what I wanted to talk about.

I was chosen by the Speaker to lead the parliamentary delegation to Peru in September. We went to the upper Amazon, where the mayor of Iquitos said passionately, "Yes, it is true that we produce more coca leaves than anybody else in the world, but you can see on the Amazon ships in grey with guns. Yes, they are warships, but they are not going to war with Brazil. We are trying todo something about drug smugglers." He continued vehemently, as did the governor of the province, "You saw all the dogs at the airport sniffing every piece of luggage"--and so we did. That again was all about drugs.

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When we went back to Lima for our serious discussions, we went to the United Nations drugs agency, where the very serious Frenchman Vandenberghe, together with his German colleagues and others, endorsed what we had been told in Iquitos. They said, "We will do everything that we can to stop this terrible trade in drugs, but as long as you people in the United States and western Europe are prepared to tolerate anonymous numbered bank accounts in your system, we are fighting with our hands behind our back." That was the considered view of the expert agency.

During our 50-minute meeting with President Fujimori of Peru, who is a tough man, he went even further, saying, "I totally agree with the governor of the province and the mayor of Iquitos. I totally agree with what has been said to you by the drugs agency here in Lima, but action can only be taken on an internationally agreed basis." We naturally asked where he had in mind. He named Cayman and the Bahamas and then mentioned Switzerland too, and said that perhaps the City of London was by no means as perfect as we British would like to believe. I am not saying that great care is not taken in the City and in Switzerland.

I have asked the Swiss, and they say that they look at every incoming sum above £1,000. Well, £1,000 is peanuts, so that stretches the imagination. I am willing to believe that the overwhelming majority of banking firms do their best to find out where money has come from if there is any suspicion that it involves drug-related money laundering, but perhaps some do not. That is why the Committee's suggestions are so important.

I speak to back up what the Committee says at paragraph 5:

Paragraph 6 states:

    "Over the last decade, the Department have seized increasing amounts of illegal drugs. In 1997-98 they seized drugs valued at £678 million, and estimate that they disrupted some 130 illegal organisations. The average length of sentence passed by the courts on convicted drug smugglers has increased".

The report adds that the Department

    "should improve their management information in this respect."

Point (x) on page vii of the report states:

    "There is also a lack of evidence to determine whether the Department's activities provide sufficient deterrence, particularly with respect to major drug smuggling organisations. We endorse the Department's intention to develop their understanding of the deterrent effect that they have and to work closely with other agencies on this issue".

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