Home Energy Conservation Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Simpson: I am pleased to hear the Minister say that he will table an amendment on Report to address targets in the Bill. I am also pleased to return the compliments that he has paid me. I should declare that he is my friend as well as my colleague. I am his admirer and sometimes a parliamentary and political pest helping to keep him on track. That is what the amendment is about.

The Minister made a point, as did other Members, about the direction in which his amendment seeks to take the Bill. It hinges on the phrase, ''all such steps''. At the previous sitting, Mr. Benton, you will recall that I tried to apply that phrase to my stepdaughter's approach to going to bed. She also takes ''all such steps'' in the direction of going to bed. It is just that at times she does not manage to get there. My amendment specifies

    a requirement to implement those measures by that date or within the time-scale.'.

The analogy is that it is not enough to have an intention to get to bed at some stage; one needs an obligation to get there by a given time. That is why the

Column Number: 49

amendment is so important. It is not enough to talk about steps. That is not sufficient to meet the responses that we currently face from local authorities. They understand that, in the light of everything the Government have been saying, the reality of the debate moves from the why of energy efficiency programmes to the how. They want to make that shift and they are looking to us to provide guidance.

I understand the Minister's concern about costs. In defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, it seems legitimate for a Back-Bench Member who is presenting a private Member's Bill against the backcloth of the Government's existing climate change commitments and the targets set in the guidelines in HECA 1995, to expect that somewhere along the line, someone would have done some costings on achieving those ends and for the Bill to be a means of assisting the Government in achieving them. The notion that the responsibility for those costings can be placed on the shoulders of a Back Bencher is not entirely legitimate. The Bill does not seek to change Government policy or commitments, only to deliver them.

It is reasonable to expect that among the various ranks of advisers in different Departments someone will have carried out costings at some stage if we are to deliver our climate change commitments. If we are to have guidance to set targets for HECA, how much will it cost? I merely say that it is important that those targets are met within a timetable. I do not want to go over the arguments, which have been well rehearsed by Members of all parties.

I was pleased that the Minister picked me up on Victoria Wood, because that allows me to say that it is not my intention or desire to invite the Minister to lose control. Nor is it the Committee's desire to bend him over backwards on his hostess trolley—as the song goes—to get him to do this. I know that the Minister wants to do it. I know that he is really in the mood. I know that the amendment would assist him in doing so. I hope that the Committee will support it.

Dr. Desmond Turner: I am happy to offer to withdraw my amendment, but I will support amendment (a), which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. His amendment does not commit the Government to uncontrollable expenditure, because the Government has control over the targets. It fulfils the essential function at this stage of keeping the principle of statutory targets in the Bill. That is vital, because the clause is the axle of the Bill. If we take away that axle, the whole thing falls down. I look forward to a comprehensive Government amendment on Report that will clarify the clause to the satisfaction of all hon. Members.

Mr. Sayeed: Will the hon. Gentleman explain the implications of the withdrawal of his amendment?

Dr. Turner: There should be little implication. The amendment leaves intact the principle of setting targets. Not much matters beyond that at this point.

Column Number: 50

The Chairman: Order. If amendment No. 28 is made, the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown will fall.

Mr. Meacher: I spoke at great length and I shall not reiterate any of my remarks, as I hope that I have been clear. My amendment states:

    take all such steps as are reasonably practicable

—that comes from the HECA—

    to implement the measures set out in any energy conservation report prepared by the authority.

That is not the same as my hon. Friend telling his daughter to take all reasonable steps to go to bed, but her never quite making it there. The force already lies behind the requirement to meet the targets if, when or however they are determined. The essence of what my hon. Friend is saying is contained in that.

I want to make a second point explicitly, although I have hinted at it previously. We are debating a private Member's Bill, which the Government have decided to back after considerable discussion. For reasons that hon. Members have kindly recognised, I am strongly behind it. However, I must also persuade my hon. Friends to continue to support it. I do not say that menacingly or threateningly. It is just a fact of life. If I am to tell my hon. Friends that I tabled an amendment to

    take all such steps as are reasonably practicable to implement the measures

and that the Committee passed an alternative amendment—proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South—it is only fair and right of me to make it clear to the Committee that I cannot guarantee the results.

I ask all hon. Members to consider whether the gain is worth taking that risk, if there is any gain in preferring the wording of amendment (a) to that of amendment No. 28. I am not trying to bulldoze or stampede the Committee. I am simply stating the facts as I know them. I ask all hon. Members to take into account the import of what I am saying when they take a view on amendment No. 28 and amendment (a).

Mr. Simpson: My right hon. Friend intends to table a further amendment on Report to clarify the issue of targets. Will he not in any case be obliged to table an amendment to amendment No. 28, because that is the context in which a delivery date will have to be set?

12.45 pm

Mr. Meacher: The further amendment that I have offered to table on Report will build on amendment No. 28. It contains something that is not in the legislation in that it requires authorities to take all reasonable steps to implement the measures. The real issue is what authorities are implementing and what the targets are. That is the critical question. For all the reasons that I have given, I cannot responsibly give a commitment that we will implement targets irrespective of what they are, or that we have the finance to do so. I ask all Committee members to recognise my bona fides in saying that I will table the best amendment that I can on Report. However, I will not be helped if I am overturned on amendment (a)

Column Number: 51

before I have had the necessary discussions with colleagues. I ask the Committee to bear that in mind.

Mr. Sayeed: Just as Parliament is sovereign, so is a Committee of the House. I understand what the Minister has said and his reading of the Bill's horoscope, but if a Committee is minded that something should be put in a Bill, that is what should happen.

My question is directed at the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown. I understand that he is not pressing amendments Nos. 1 to 6, which is why I asked him about the implications of that. I should have thought that amendment No. 4, which would

    leave out 'Secretary of State' and insert 'appropriate authority',

and amendment No. 6 were rather important amendments in the group. If the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Benton, I should be interested to know whether he is satisfied that without those amendments, the Bill will have the force that he intends it to have.

Dr. Desmond Turner: Amendments Nos. 1 to 5 automatically fall if amendment No. 28, amended or otherwise, is passed, because the lines to which they refer will no longer be in the Bill. The only amendment that would still have any meaning is amendment No. 6. In the current circumstances, although it has value, it is much less important than the principle at the core of the Bill.

The Chairman: Order. I may not have made myself clear. If amendment No. 28 is carried, amended or otherwise, the hon. Gentleman is right, but the group includes amendment No. 6 and they will all fall. I hope that that is clear to the Committee.

Mr. Meacher: For clarification, amendment No. 4 covers the point that in Wales the National Assembly rather than the Secretary of State is the appropriate authority. Obviously, that is right; however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown said, the Government amendments cover that. Therefore, there is no need for amendment No. 4, provided amendment No. 28 is carried.

On amendment No. 6, we would be happy to consult on appropriate standards and performance indicators for monitoring energy conservation, but it would be inappropriate to require—that is the operative word—the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to do so, or to require that such standards and performance indicators be included in regulations. I am not against the principle or the purpose behind the amendment, but the regulations would have to be changed every time there was a fully justified change of target. That is not an appropriate use of secondary legislation.

In addition, the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 already contains a power that could be used to give guidance on standards and performance indicators. As I said at the outset, it is not right for legislation to repeat what is already in the statutes.

Mr. Simpson: I understand the Minister's reservations; he was right to issue a warning to the Committee. However, in the light of our debate this

Column Number: 52

morning, in which every speaker stressed the importance of setting dates for meeting targets, as well as the steps to do so, it would be remiss of me not to press amendment (a). It accurately reflects the views and strongly held desires of the Committee.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 February 2002