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Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): My hon. Friend referred to the multiple options presented by new clauses 1 and 14. However, new clause 1 deals with social security. Did my hon. Friend intend to refer to new clause 13? Will he later explain the consistency between new clauses 13 and 14?
Mr. Loughton: I am not sure whether I misspoke, or whether my hon. Friend misheard me. However, I am dealing with new clauses 13 and 14. New clause 1 does not feature in this group of amendments. I will explain why we are proposing two slightly similar new clauses contingent on new schedule 1.
The pedigree of energy efficiency goes back to a private Member's Bill first introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo). The subject was then taken up in this Parliament by the hon. Members for Eltham (Mr. Efford) and for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett). The subject has a cross-party pedigree, although there are one or two exceptions among hon. Members.
New schedule 1 is supported by many people--by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Association for the Conservation of Energy and other groups concerned with energy efficiency, and by the many hon. Members who have signed early-day motions on the subject. In his written answer to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) on 21 December, the Minister made it clear that he supported the proposal.
The proposal in new schedule 1 is also a hot favourite in Denmark, a country to which the Minister alluded several times on Second Reading. Denmark was held up time and again as the place where the seller's pack is an enormous success. I have been there with the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, and have seen that some success has been achieved with the energy rating of buildings. It has led to a reduction in carbon emissions as part of Denmark's Kyoto targets.
Mr. Raynsford: Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I gave a clear and categoric assurance, in the House and in Committee, that an energy efficiency report along the lines that he has set out--including indications of how energy efficiency could be improved and the pay-back period--would be part of the home condition report? That has always been the Government's intention. It was part of the trial in Bristol, and there has been no change. We are absolutely committed to the proposal, and the amendments simply give effect to a policy intention that has been clearly stated.
Mr. Loughton: There was no promise to include the proposal in the Bill. In Standing Committee, the Minister was asked to do so, and he replied that the matter was extremely complex, involving strong differences of opinion among technical experts, including those involved in house construction and renovation. He said that there was a potential conflict with other building regulations, not least those on noise transmission between properties. He added that those facts were matters of concern, and that it would be inappropriate to proceed over-hastily with measures that might have both desirable and undesirable consequences. The definition of "over-hastily" in the Minister's lexicon would appear to be "less than three weeks".
Mr. Raynsford: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the comments that he has read out referred to a quite different debate. We were discussing the reasons for the delay in issuing part L of the building regulations, which are to do with energy efficiency, and I was
Mr. Loughton: My recollection of the debate is that the Minister was using that as an example of how he could not be rushed into producing energy efficiency measures. That said, we now have them--just under three weeks after the hon. Gentleman led us to believe that we would not have them--and we welcome that. We welcome the fact that the Bill refers to energy efficiency and that it will be a desirable part of a seller's pack, if we are to have such packs.
Because of the Government's amendments, we did not wish to appear churlish by tabling again amendments that we originally tabled in Committee. They added greater detail to what was required of the energy efficiency part of the seller's pack. We hope that the Minister can assure us that these matters will be covered. For example, will the energy efficiency rating for buildings--be it a standard assessment procedure rating--have more detail about comparisons with other buildings? What will the energy saving advice entail? Will it simply be slight and generic advice? Those are key questions, bearing in mind the fact that most authorities have estimated that proper energy saving advice can save an average of £250 per annum for the sort of buildings at which it would be directed. What about advice on the costs and pay-back periods for the improvements? The Minister said that energy efficiency reports were included in the Bristol pilot, although we have received no details. We would like to know how meaningful the information gleaned was.
We realise the problem with many old buildings in particular, but if the Government are determined to proceed with the seller's pack involving surveys, the best place and time to do it is at the point of sale where the cost would, we hope, be relatively minimal. After all, this is not rocket science. Energy ratings for white electrical appliances, which we discussed in Committee, have been used increasingly for some years. To achieve our Kyoto targets is a key commitment of the Government, and we support it. However, we take issue with the means by which they are seeking to do it and with measures such as the energy tax, which they seem to be using to achieve those targets. We are talking about cavity wall insulation, condensing boilers, loft insulation, the efficiency--or otherwise--of lights and heating, double glazing, damp, and so on.
Previous Government schemes such as the energy efficiency standards of performance, run by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, have put the structures in place, obliging public suppliers to achieve energy savings. There is a wealth of expertise and advice on the subject. Therefore it is easy to put these measures into effect, and to do so relatively soon. It is also essential to the economic sustainability of people buying homes that they can afford to finance those homes, and one of the key components of expenditure each year is on energy.
All that will take time. We are promised that it will take until 2003, at the very soonest, for the seller's packs to come in. There is no reason for not doing something in the interim--hence, new schedule 1 and the two new clauses that we have tabled. The mortgage companies can institute the proposals, which have the support of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, in fairly sharp order.
I want to touch on some of the Government's previous arguments. They said that the scheme would not cover all house sales, only those with a mortgage where the lender required a survey. That is a ridiculous argument. It is a matter of fact, not argument, that before the seller's pack comes into force, hundreds of thousands of people will buy homes and pay for a mortgage survey or will be required to have a mortgage valuation on the property, yet they will receive no advice on how to save money on fuel bills.
We have discussed how about 1.5 million properties a year are sold--more than 1 million with a mortgage to back them up. By 2003, more than 3 million properties will have changed hands. The savings on energy that could be encouraged in those properties from day one rather than day 700 is considerable.
The Government also argue that it would be costly to implement the measures for a short period before the introduction of the seller's pack and that there would be training problems for the surveyors. We have taken issue with training with regard to the survey reports required in the seller's pack, although we agree that the energy efficiency requirements are relatively straightforward and that people can put them into effect sooner rather than later.
The Government's arguments are mistaken. In Committee, the Minister described two separate training and accreditation schemes running in parallel as "a nightmare". However, it would be an unnecessary nightmare, as the energy efficiency advice given as part of the buyer's survey could be identical to that which would eventually be required in the seller's pack. The same surveyors would do both jobs and would not need training twice.
The Government also argued that there would be implementation problems for mortgage companies, which would need to set up systems to check that their duties were being fulfilled. That is hardly onerous. Mortgage companies already have very sophisticated systems and there are many providers, thanks to the deregulation of the market for which the previous Government were responsible. Mortgage companies check the survey valuations or valuation on the mortgage and would merely have to ascertain that energy efficiency advice was included, as well as checking the value that the surveyor had placed on the property. So the Government's reasons for not accepting schedule 1 do not hold water and, as I have said, 1.5 million properties a year are involved.
It is with great optimism and hope that we table new schedule 1 again. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), we are giving the Government two options to make it easier for them, and are prepared to take whatever action the Government choose to facilitate the inclusion of new schedule 1 in the Bill.
I know that the Minister agrees with that. I know that, in principle, he has done things that would make it difficult for him not to accept new clause 13. However, just in case he is getting cold feet--in case the pressures from civil servants, other colleagues or Back Benchers are getting the better of him--we have provided a multiple choice, in the form of new clause 14, which makes it a little bit easier. It says:
We are offering the Government an easy ride and a simple choice. Like the vast majority of Members on both sides of the House, we are keen to see energy efficiency moved up a speed. This is the obvious time to do it. We are keen that the Government should come fully on board. They have done so with two small amendments. I am glad that they have tabled them now. They could have done so earlier, but we realise that the Minister had one hand tied behind his back. Will he put his money where his mouth has been for many years by saying yes to new schedule 1 and adopting whichever new clause he feels more comfortable, or perhaps less uncomfortable, with in order to facilitate it? The vast majority of hon. Members, especially on the Labour Benches, will certainly congratulate him and praise him to the rafters for having had the courage to do so.