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Sue Doughty (Guildford): I have many concerns about what has happened this morning. We have a Minister who says that he has led from the front on green government. All parties welcomed the new phrase of green government that arrived in 1997, recognising that we have a part to play both internationally and locally to have a sustainable environment. Much of what has happened in the past four or five years has been welcome, but there has been disappointment as well. We are worried because, although we do not dispute much of what the Minister said this morning, we get the feeling of motherhood and apple pie and that we have been talking about the subject for several years. It is not rocket science, but to a certain extent, it seems as if we are heading for the lowest common denominator. The Government seem to want legislation that looks okay, so that we all go away, pat ourselves on the back and feel that we were doing a good job. I have reservations about whether we can do that without clear information in the Bill on not only what we want to do, but how we want to do it.

We support the Bill and want to see the energy efficiency that it could, and should, deliver. We want to see the reduction and eventual elimination of fuel poverty and how to achieve that. Since I was elected, I have often been concerned about how many green initiatives and opportunities—whether that is on renewable energy or sustainable waste management—we seem to choke on. We never quite get the resources in place, energise the market, bring the prices down or train the staff to do the job. I appreciated the Victoria Wood impersonation of ''Let's do it'' but ''I don't want to do it''. The Government's approach comes across like that. However, to give local authorities the energy and authorisation and business the confidence that the programme is in place, it means something and must mean something to them, we must set targets—I welcome the phrase ''selection targets''—and judge our performance against them.

I am worried about the fact that we are avoiding costs to local authorities but do not know what the costs will be. Previous speakers have touched on that in great depth, and we have heard a lot of wisdom on how to manage that risk of costs running away. I am sure that the Minister and his advisers are concerned about runaway costs, and we would not want anyone to walk into them.

The Liberal Democrats tend to believe in self-determination at low levels. We want a strong Bill to provide a structure within which people can operate. Guidance comes from Europe and internationally, and

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we have had several little failures. One example is the recent problem with fridges. We thought that we had understood the European directive, but somehow the communications had not worked. Many local authorities are faced with large costs, and the Government have had to bail them out on that. We all want sustainable waste management, but not enough is being done to prime the markets, and that is another example of where we must get a firm structure in place in which the markets can operate. I regret criticising the Minister, but when he talks about the Bill paving the way for something, I hear procrastination and the Government being unsure how to deliver.

The effect of the Bill is disproportionately important. It is a green and environmentally sustainable Bill that gives us the opportunity to deliver and show how we are delivering. Putting information in the Bill would help enormously, and that is where we have fallen down on green issues in the past. We must meet climate change targets and look towards having energy efficiency targets that we are obliged to meet. We have that responsibility on behalf of those who will benefit most. I have great misgivings about why we are not getting that, and I should declare at this stage a non-pecuniary interest in that my husband was an employee of MAFF until April last year.

11.45 am

I am not trying to point the finger of blame, but I am concerned about the planning ability of the new Department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—which is under enormous pressure. It has inherited the desperately difficult problems of BSE and foot and mouth. It has lost staff, and the changeover has led to substantial internal problems. It has a large number of vacancies. DEFRA does some things very well, but history already shows that planning is not one of them. I fear that DEFRA is not terribly comfortable with the implications of target-setting, reporting against targets and the statutory programme that some of us would like to see there.

The amendments would not reduce the Bill to gesture politics, but they move it a little in that direction—as if we have the feel-good factor, but not necessarily the tools to deliver. What the Bill needs to do, and hon. Members with whom I agree have already said this eloquently, is to set the targets in place. We must allocate resources, which is common sense if there are targets that we have to report against. If we are investing in making improvements, we have to see how resources are being spent and how we are delivering against them, and identify areas for review and for putting in place any remedies to help local authorities deliver. Again, I do not have any difficulty with the point made by other hon. Members that money should not come across the table without a clear idea of how it will be spent. That is common sense, and if the money is not being spent, we should not throw good money after bad.

The Bill does not give a blank cheque to local authorities, but it helps the industry get measures in place. In my area, for example, we have the warm

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front scheme, which is very welcome in helping to meet targets. The biggest challenge with such schemes and targets is how to get more plumbers to train unless colleges and other organisations say, ''Plumbing is a good job, there is plenty of work for plumbers and this is how to go about it.'' With such programmes as the renewable energy programme, which is not guaranteed beyond 2005, often targets are not reached, or people do not go into those businesses. There is a problem there, because in certain areas we could let the targets go by. The targets get tougher because the longer we delay, the harder the hill is to climb and we must get on with it.

I cannot support the Minister's amendment, but I hope that we can make progress on the Bill to achieve what all of us here really want to see: energy conservation and much more efficiency in the heating of people's homes.

Mr. Sayeed: Energy efficiency comes in many forms. One is the efficient conversion of energy, the movement from, say, a fossil fuel to electricity. It is important that we have combined heat and power because that can increase the efficiency of energy conversion from about 30 to about 70 per cent. It is also important to reduce losses caused by energy transmission, which can run from 15 to 30 per cent., so it is useful to put energy production close to the point of use. However, one of the most effective ways of ensuring more efficient use of energy is not to waste it.

The Minister has often talked about a waste hierarchy in relation to domestic waste. As he says, at the top of the waste hierarchy is not producing the waste in the first place. The parallel in energy efficiency is not misusing the energy that is produced. Home energy efficiency is profoundly important. Clause 1, which goes to the heart of the Bill, requires that the HECA targets are met by local authorities

    so far as is reasonably practicable.

Those words matter. Home energy efficiency means not only not using precious and scarce resources, but helping those who are likely to be in the greatest need—the poorest—who are too often unable adequately to heat their homes.

We know that the Minister is seized of these ideas. In news release 696, dated 14 November 2000, he said:

    The Government aims to be at the forefront of good practice to improve energy efficiency and progress is reviewed regularly by green Ministers under my chairmanship.

In news release 689, dated 8 November 2000, he said:

    We must achieve real emission reductions to meet the Kyoto targets.

So at least he believes in targets. On 15 November 2001, during DEFRA questions, he said:

    Those three together—

that is, the three parts of the Bill—

    will mean that domestic households make a full contribution to meeting the climate change targets.—[Official Report, 15 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 978.]

The Minister has clearly demonstrated his belief that targets are important. However, his amendment has caused great disappointment to many people. I shall quote from a letter that was sent to him on

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4 February 2002 by HECA Partnership for 30 Per Cent., which says:

    Dear Michael . . . We are writing to you as the organisations that form this Partnership to promote the achievement of HECA targets. This is an aim that we all believe you subscribe to—indeed we were heartened to note your comments to Nigel Griffiths MP last September that although local authorities performance under HECA was 'wholly inadequate' you were interested not simply in condemnation but also in seeing that targets were made 'more robust' and also, importantly, in giving local authorities the tools with which to deliver them.

    This is a view we share—and it is for this reason that we support the Home Energy Conservation Bill, which makes the targets a duty rather than a discretion . . . Your amendments remove all of these provisions. We are deeply saddened by them—all the more so because we know you to be a friend and an ally.

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. As far as I know, they are not naive people who do not understand what they are talking about.

There is a benefit in speaking late in a debate: one can reduce the number of things that one has to say because they have been ably said by other hon. Members. I draw the Committee's particular attention to the wise words that we heard from the hon. Member for Nottingham, South; I would disagree with little that he said.

The question that I must ask, as should the Committee, is what degree of confidence can we have in the Minister's assurances? I say that not to be insulting, because I have no doubt that the Minister is wedded to the concept of targets. However, I believe that his wishes are being undermined, or subverted. He said that the introduction of further amendments on Report to re-introduce targets if his amendments were accepted was dependent on full consideration of the costs. I have been a Member of this place for long enough to recognise a weasel action on its way.

Given that the Bill was published on 18 July 2001—more than six months ago—and that 350 of the 360 HECA reports have targets, I find it difficult to believe that it has been impossible in that time to have determined the cost of having targets in the Bill, particularly because there are no numbers associated with or defined for targets. Targets are essential. We know from the money resolution that the cost is not large. The savings that could be achieved by energy efficiency in homes are considerable. One set of figures suggests that energy efficiency in homes could provide savings on energy usage by more than 5 per cent. in 10 years, and more than 11 per cent. in 20 years.

The attempt to delay including targets in the Bill on the grounds of cost alone strikes me as somewhat

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specious. I would not say that costs do not matter—of course they do—but the very fact that targets are not defined means that the costs are unlikely to be dramatic. Certainly, we know that the benefits can be considerable.

One reason why I am happy to support the amendment that stands in the names of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and others is that, were the Bill wrong, the Government still have the opportunity on Report to table another amendment to change it. I think it important that the clear message comes from the Committee that we are determined to improve home energy efficiency not just because it saves money and helps people but because it has a considerable impact on our climate. Therefore, targets that all here believe are important should be in the Bill. That is how I intend to try to persuade my hon. Friends to vote.

12 noon

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Prepared 5 February 2002