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Mr. Sayeed: I begin with a little consensus. Her Majesty's loyal Opposition are happy to accept Government amendments Nos. 12 and 8. Here endeth the consensus.

The Minister's reaction to any form of justified criticism is outraged bombast. I must warn him that my remarks will raise his blood pressure, so I hope that he has his tablets with him. First, I offer particular congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker), who has done this House a considerable service by speaking extremely cogently to amendment (a) to amendment No. 11, and by persuading Members on both sides of the House of the merits of his case.

One person whom my hon. Friend did not have to persuade, however, was the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). He has been an extraordinarily doughty fighter in the warm homes group, which owes him a considerable debt of gratitude. He has generously praised my party for doing its level best to support the Bill in every way through all its stages, and in doing so to improve it, and I thank him for that.

The Bill was first published on 18 July 2001. It received its Second Reading on 30 November 2001. Despite the fact that it was published some eight months ago, it was only some 26 hours ago, on Thursday morning—at the last moment possible—that substantial amendments to the Bill, tabled by the Government, were published. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South touched on the question of why it has taken so long for the Department to produce substantial amendments.

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I know that discussion has to take place between interested parties, but it is a disgrace that the amendments have been tabled in a way that makes it almost impossible to ensure proper understanding of them or to table subsequent amendments. It is a shabby abuse and misuse of parliamentary procedure. It is designed to stifle dissent, inhibit comment and curtail debate. The Minister should have dealt robustly with those civil servants and other Ministers who have brought him to this pass.

The Government have acted in that way because they do not dare to be seen to kill a Bill that seeks to promote energy conservation, to eradicate fuel poverty and to drive out bad landlords. The Minister has permitted the Bill to be gutted of much of its meaning. I am deeply disappointed by the Minister. He knows that in Committee—on which the Labour party had a substantial majority—the Government's proposals were defeated by 12 votes to two. So on Report the Government have tabled amendments that strip out much of the meaning of the Bill.

The evidence is clear. We rightly wanted the Bill to contain statutory, enforceable targets with stipulated time scales. Indeed, we were led to believe that that is what the Minister wanted. After all, it was the Minister who tabled a new clause that said:

In speaking to that amendment in Committee, the Minister said:

I agree. Some have announced that they have achieved a 15 per cent. reduction, but others have improved energy conservation by only 0.003 per cent. Others have not even bothered to report at all, so the Minister was right.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that the amendment

Those were the Minister's words. He inserted that provision because he thought that without it, the Bill was clearly nonsense. The fact is that he is now stripping out that provision by this amendment.

12.30 pm

I could go on: I could give many other examples of occasions when the Minister demanded that targets be used. He talks about targets being the "linchpin of the Bill". He said:

There were many other occasions on which the Minister assured us that targets were fundamental and deeply important. Yet, under the Bill, they will be meaningless unless amendment (a) is accepted.

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Why has the Minister changed his mind? I am not sure that he has. I think that his environmental heart is in the right place. I think that he has, however, been overruled by his civil servants and by the Minister for Local Government. So the Minister may huff and puff about the environment, but, as the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said, other Departments always seem to blow him down. The Minister has become an environmental fig leaf for the Government because, by their actions, they have shown that they do not give a fig for the environment.

Finally, I should like to read out a letter sent to the Minister on 4 February 2002 by HECA Partnership for 30 Per Cent. It says:

That letter was signed by Andrew Warren, the director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, William Gillis, the director of National Energy Action, Charles Secrett, the director of Friends of the Earth, Michael King, the chairman of the National Right to Fuel Campaign, Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs for Help the Aged, Andrew Cooper, the UK HECA forum representative, Baroness Maddock, the promoter of HECA 1995, Dick Barry of Unison, Stephen Hale of the Socialist Environmental Resources Association, Penny Kemp, the chair of the executive of the Green party, Duncan Borrowman of the Green Liberal Democrats and Nick Wood-Dow, chairman of the Tory Green Initiative.

If these able and knowledgeable people were deeply saddened by what the Minister proposed then, they would be furious at what the Government are doing now. They would be right to be furious, because the Government are gutting the Bill.

Mr. Meacher: I have not heard so much arrant nonsense for a long time—even from the hon. Gentleman. To suggest that the Government are gutting the Bill is not only parliamentary exaggeration; it is utterly ridiculous. The Government have got behind the Bill; we are putting in a statutory requirement for local authorities to meet a significant improvement in the HECA record on energy efficiency, and supplying the money—when it is available—to do so. That is the only responsible action for any Government and we are taking it.

Under the Conservative Government, there was a complete dereliction of such action during 18 years. They did nothing of the kind, and fuel poverty increased. There is no point in Conservative Members shaking their heads—we all know their record.

We heard some colourful language from the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker), who described the Bill as wishy-washy, toothless and a waste of time. That is utter rubbish. For the purposes of his

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speech, the hon. Gentleman used language for which there is not the slightest justification. Anyone who has considered the Bill or who listened to my lengthy speech introducing amendment No. 11 will know that.

The hon. Gentleman's point is that if amendment (a) is accepted, we would not be gutting the Bill; it would no longer be wishy-washy, toothless and a waste of time. What utter balderdash! There is no logic in that at all. The amendment would provide no statutory requirement whatever. In my opening remarks, I pointed out that the amendment was purely presentational—and it is.

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that the Government are gutting the Bill and that the insertion of amendment (a) would change that. It would do nothing of the kind. We are not gutting the Bill. As a result of the Government's support, the Bill is substantive. There is no profound objection to the amendment but, for the reasons that I gave earlier, it is not appropriate. It certainly would not provide a statutory requirement; it would not add force to the Bill.

I have listened to the comments of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. No one—with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce)—has addressed the question of finance. There is no difference between us as to what we should like to do—we all want a substantial improvement on the gradual improvements that have been made under the HECA. However, the only certain way to secure that improvement is through statutory means, and that has to be funded. That is the central question. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle did not mention that.

In opposition, it is easy to make great claims, to set fantasy objectives and to throw confetti goals around the Chamber and tell the Government that they are not going for them. Everyone knows that it is different in government. In government, the buck stops here. If we make a commitment, it has to be responsible and we must be able to justify it with the income stream necessary to deliver it. That is the difference. It is utterly irresponsible to come to the House and make grandiose and grandiloquent gestures without backing them up with the one thing that matters—the money to achieve them.

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