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Dr. Iddon: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Meacher: I shall finish this rather technical little section, and then I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Clause 1(6) requires authorities to keep a copy of any report available for inspection by the public. Clause 1(4) deals with the duty on registered social landlords to provide information to local authorities to help with their HECA reporting. It was agreed in Committee that it would be good practice for authorities to keep a copy of any HECA report available for inspection by the public free of charge. Under the 1995 Act, authorities are already obliged to publish their reports, but that is not to say that they are always readily accessible to interested members of the public. That point was made in Committee, and I agree with it. It would be in the interests of local accountability and access to information for those documents to be open to public inspection.

On further reflection, we agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown that it would be good practice for authorities to allow members of the public to make copies of reports. They can be quite lengthy and detailed, and it is not always possible for the public to find all they want from the reports at one sitting. They may also want to compare different authorities' reports, and that can be done only if they can take away copies of the reports. Rather than allowing them to be taken away, which runs the risk of their not being returned, it seems sensible for the authority to provide copies if required.

It is important to balance these interests against the potential additional burden on authorities of meeting this new requirement. No one would want authorities to be faced with demands for high numbers of copies at their

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own expense. It is only right for authorities to be able to make a reasonable charge to cover the cost of providing copying facilities. I stress the word "reasonable", because this should not turn into an important source of income. It is meant merely to cover their costs, and no more. It would be for authorities to determine their own arrangements.

I am sorry that it has taken so long to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon).

11.15 am

Dr. Iddon: I am concerned about paragraph (5) of the amendment. Listening to my right hon. Friend, I get the impression that each local authority will be allowed to negotiate its own target. Is that the case, or will the Local Government Association, in liaison with its local authority members, set a national target that all local authorities will be expected to meet? If they do not meet the target, what sanctions can the Government apply?

Mr. Meacher: I know that there has been concern that, by inserting a requirement that there should be consultation with the LGA in England and Wales, individual local authorities or the LGA might have a veto. I do not for one second believe that that would be the case. Under the amendment, the proposal is to provide an income stream so that local authorities are able to achieve this improvement in energy efficiency, which will reduce the cost of keeping their housing stock warm. I do not think that there is any question of a veto.

The target will be set not by the LGA, but by the Secretary of State in consultation with the LGA. The key point is that the measure will be funded, so it will be a statutory requirement. Like every statutory requirement, local authorities will be obliged to achieve it. So long as funding is available, I see no reason why they should not achieve it.

Mr. Challen: Is it conceivable that a local authority or the LGA could set a target higher than 30 per cent. by 2010 and expect the funding for it?

Mr. Meacher: The target will be set by the Secretary of State, whose primary concern will be to achieve an improvement in the energy efficiency of local authorities that up till now have had a poor record—anything from 0 to 5 per cent. is a poor record, given that the Act came into force six years ago.

I think I can say without fear of refutation that the Secretary of State will not, at this stage, set targets beyond 30 per cent. However, as we begin to move in that direction across the country, targets can be varied. If it is the intention after 2010 to go significantly further—I can well believe that it will be—a target may well be set beyond 30 per cent., but we are a long way from achieving that. Achievement towards the 30 per cent. target after six years is about 6 per cent. on average, with some local authorities achieving 20 per cent. If they get up to 30 per cent., there is no reason why they should not, for their own good reasons, go beyond that, but that is different from the Government setting that as a target.

The amendment would enable the appropriate Minister to require registered social landlords—which is the phrase used to describe housing associations—to copy to the

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local authority information relating to the energy efficiency of their housing stock in the area. The proposed amendment achieves the objectives of clause 1(4) as agreed in Committee, but more simply and straightforwardly.

As currently drafted, clause 1(4) links the duty of registered social landlords to provide information to local authorities with section 35 of the Housing Act 1996 and the information provided to the Housing Corporation under that section on a number of aspects of performance, including energy efficiency. More specifically, as currently drafted, clause 1(4) links the duty of registered social landlords to provide information to local authorities with the power in section 35(2) for the corporation to issue a direction to registered social landlords to provide information. Local authorities need this to assist with their duty under the HECA to draw up progress reports in relation to the residential accommodation in their areas. By providing for local authorities to receive copies of information already provided by registered social landlords to the Housing Corporation, we believe the burden on registered social landlords will be lessened.

Some registered social landlords work across a number of local authority boundaries and will be required to disaggregate the information about their stock at local authority level. However, we aim to mitigate the burden of this as far as possible by providing for the appropriate Minister to prescribe in secondary legislation the information to be provided by registered social landlords, in what form, the timing and so on. We will be consulting representatives of local authorities and registered social landlords on all of these details.

After that lengthy comment on amendment No. 11, I shall now respond to amendment (a) to amendment No. 11. This amendment would have the effect of including a statement in the Bill that it is a "principal aim" of Government to achieve an improvement in domestic energy efficiency of at least 30 per cent. by the end of 2010. The persistent interventions by the hon. Member for Woolwich—

Peter Bottomley: Worthing.

Mr. Meacher: I am going back several elections. His interventions may be the answer. I cannot accept the amendment. My first reason is that it would lead to odd legislation. It is not appropriate to make general statements about aims or principles in legislation. I recognise that that is not without precedent, but a principal aim is not binding on the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. The whole point of the Bill is to have binding commitments. The measure would be simply presentational; there is nothing wrong with that, but that is all it would be. Nor do the Secretary of State or the National Assembly need powers to make statements of general principle. I wonder what useful purpose that would serve, other than a presentational one.

There are also difficulties in terms of policy. It would be premature for the Government to make a statement of principle about the target we hope to achieve in relation to improving domestic energy efficiency at this stage. My Department is currently preparing our domestic energy efficiency strategy. This is in response to the performance and innovation unit's energy review, which recommended that the Government should develop a long-term framework. I am sure that that is right.

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The PIU has suggested that the framework include an aspirational target, not a binding target. It is also a report to, and not by, Government. The aspirational target is for a 20 per cent. improvement by 2010 and a further 20 per cent. improvement by 2020. That is desirable, if we can achieve it. However, before the Government respond, we have to decide how that will be funded. For those reasons, I do not support the amendment.

Another reason is the impact the amendment would have on the consultative process. As I have said, the Government will have to consult the LGA on the targets, which will also have to be commensurate with the funding available. It would be odd to dictate, as the amendment suggests, by an overarching statement in this way, prior to the funding being available. That might undermine the consultative approach to target setting.

I wish to speak finally to Government amendment No. 12, which deals with a relatively technical matter. The purpose of this amendment is to delete lines 19 to 22 of clause 1. These define various terms used in the Bill, as agreed in Committee. The definitions are not necessary, since the Bill would amend the original HECA legislation and these terms are already defined there.

Government amendment No. 8 is a technical amendment to the long title of the Bill. It is more appropriate to use the broader term "residential accommodation", as defined in the HECA. This reflects the fact that the Bill also covers houses in multiple occupation, caravans and houseboats.

That is not exactly a ringing declaration on which to end a speech on what I genuinely think is an important part of the Bill, which I hope has widespread support. It will provide for the first time the basis for the setting of statutory targets that local authorities will be obliged to achieve in terms of improving energy efficiency within a given guideline. As soon as the Government have the finance to do that—I am very keen that we have that finance—we will implement this important part of the Bill.

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