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Standing Committee C
Tuesday 5 February 2002
[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]
The Chairman: At the request of the Minister, and having consulted the Member in charge of the Bill and others, I have agreed to suspend the Committee at approximately 5.20 pm until 6.45 pm to enable the Minister to attend a Cabinet Committee. I hope that that meets with the agreement of the Committee.
Targets for energy efficiency improvements
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 29, in page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
'( ) In section 35(2) of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52.) (duty to provide information as to standards of performance in connection with housing)—
(a) after ''shall'' there is inserted ''(a)'',
(b) at end there is inserted—
''(b) so far as the information referred to in paragraph (a) relates to the level of performance achieved by him in connection with the energy efficiency of residential accommodation within the area of a local housing authority, provide the information also to that authority in such form as may be so specified.
In paragraph (b), ''energy efficiency'' and ''residential accommodation'' have the same meanings as in the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.''.'.—[Mr. Meacher.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made:
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:
No. 55, in page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
'(2) For the purpose of enabling an energy conservation authority to discharge its functions pursuant to subsection (1) (a) above the appropriate authority shall, after consultation with such energy conservation authorities, representatives of registered social landlords, utility companies and other persons as the authority considers appropriate make regulations requiring:
(a) utility companies to report annually to a person prescribed in the regulations;
(b) registered social landlords, manager of government funded energy efficiency schemes and the Energy Saving Trust to report annually to energy conservation authorities;
in a format prescribed in the regulations on improvements in energy efficiency that result from measures taken by them (and different formats may be prescribed for different cases) provided that in the case of utility companies the regulations:
(i) shall not require any company to report to any energy conservation authority; and
(ii) shall not involve any company in any significant expense over and above that agreed under the Energy Efficiency Commitment; and
(iii) shall require that any information so provided by any utility company need be provided only on the basis of totals per postcode and for the avoidance of doubt shall not identify any particular address; and
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(iv) shall be in a format to be agreed between the person prescribed and the utility company prescribed in the regulations, which agreement shall not be unreasonably withheld; and
(v) shall require the person prescribed in the regulations to report to energy conservation authorities; and
(vi) shall require that any information so provided to an energy conservation authority shall not identify any utility company'.
No. 8, in page 2, line 1, leave out 'stipulated' and insert 'prescribed'.
No. 9, in page 2, line 2, leave out 'them' and insert—
'the body making the report and in the case of the Energy Saving Trust also by the utility companies (and different formats may be prescribed for different cases).'.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I was in full flow when you struck me down just before lunch, Mr. Benton. I was completing my comments on amendment No. 55, which as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) said, was tabled before Government amendment No. 29. I was responding to the question about not only registered social landlords but utility companies providing information to local authorities on energy efficiency performance.
Ofgem and the Energy Saving Trust are already in discussion with the gas and electricity suppliers about how they can provide information on a voluntary basis, and I understand that those talks are going well. I appreciate the importance of good, reliable information from the utilities, and I was at the point of making a commitment that, should the current discussions not reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties, the Government will consider sympathetically the need to develop an amendment on Report that would require the utility companies to provide information to the trust. In doing that, we shall consult the Department of Trade and Industry about whether existing powers cover that and, if not, we shall work with it, Ofgem and the gas and electricity companies to find how legislation could best achieve the desired outcome.
I hope that my hon. Friend is fully assured that the Government are meeting the requirements of the amendments. Not only the registered social landlords but the utility companies—either voluntarily or as a result of legislation—will provide the necessary information so that local authorities will know what improvements in performance have been made in energy efficiency in their area. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): On behalf of the Official Opposition, I am happy to take the Minister's assurances at face value. He put his case in an extremely useful way. It is important that utilities are brought into the ambit of the Bill and are able to adhere to its letter and spirit. It is right for them to be given an opportunity of devising a way to do that that is satisfactory to both the promoter of the Bill and the Government. With those assurances and subject to what the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown has
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to say, I am happy to offer our support to the Government.
Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): I, too, am pleased by the Minister's assurances, and I am happy to withdraw the amendment. My only caveat is that I wonder whether it would be wise to cover ourselves by introducing some reserve provision on Report in the event of voluntary arrangements being unsuccessful. If voluntary arrangements are agreed before Report but subsequently break down, we may kick ourselves for not having a reserve power in the Bill to enable the appropriate authority to take action to plug that gap. I leave the Minister with that thought.
Mr. Meacher: I am glad to be left with that thought, but my offer was pretty comprehensive. We believe that these voluntary arrangements will work but, if not, we will introduce legislation. If we know that to be the position we can do so on Report. I realise that my hon. Friend is asking what will happen if a breakdown occurs after that. Rather than taking a reserve power for the Secretary of State, which I think is over-prescriptive and unnecessary, we intend that this information will be provided one way or another. If the discussions break down, which I do not anticipate, I hope that he will be satisfied that the Government are committed to ensuring that this flow of information occurs, whether through the Bill or any other legislation open to us. I prefer to leave it like that. I do not think that I could expect the Secretary of State to be encumbered with a duty that may be completely unnecessary and which we can cover by other means.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Meacher: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in page 2, line 3, leave out subsection (3).
The Chairman: With this it will be appropriate to take the following amendments: No. 10, in page 2, line 4, leave out '(1)(c)' and insert '(1)'.
No. 11, in page 2, line 11, leave out 'subsection (3)(a)' and insert—
No. 12, in page 2, leave out lines 13 and line 14 and insert—
(c) where a registered social landlord has taken over the ownership of housing stock from a local authority the authority may, after consultation with that landlord, set targets which are reasonable and compatible with any format the landlord is required to use in reporting to the authority in compliance with regulations made under subsection (2) for energy efficiency improvements to be achieved with respect to that housing stock (which may differ for different parts of the housing stock), and the landlord shall take reasonable steps to ensure that any such target is achieved so far as is reasonably practicable.
Each energy conservation authority may take such reasonable action as it thinks fit to ensure the targets are achieved so far as is reasonably practicable.'.
Mr. Meacher: The Government are on record as supporting the principle that a registered social landlord who takes ownership of local authority
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stock as part of housing transfer should work with the energy conservation authority to help to deliver that authority's ECA strategy. That will help to ensure that the benefits of the strategy are not lost when stock is transferred, and that action takes place. Obviously, it must be good practice that the new landlord should take the actions necessary to secure the improvement of the energy efficiency of the stock. We expect that of a local authority and I simply say that we expect that of traditional registered social landlords.
Annex H of the housing transfer guidance already states that both the local authority and registered social landlords should have in place arrangements for the registered social landlords to report to the authority on energy efficiency improvements made to dwellings in order to assist the authority in preparing the annual report that it is required to make under the 1995 Act. We believe that building on that through an agreement between the registered social landlord and the local authorities, which would then be reflected in the contracts signed between both parties at the time of the sale, would be a better route.
That would be a requirement of the housing transfer to which the Secretary of State gives consent and would be reflected in an enhanced version of the existing energy efficiency section in the housing transfer guidance. That guidance is reissued annually, allowing for further changes to be incorporated should Ministers wish, without a need to amend primary legislation. That route would also address the anomaly of how the Secretary of State would enforce the provisions in clause 1(3) on the registered social landlords, as this would become a matter for the courts if either side failed to honour its obligations. Any registered social landlord taking on housing from a local authority would need to work with that authority to develop a housing transfer proposal plus a new landlord's business plan to ensure that the planned improvements to the stock contributed to our wider energy conservation objectives. I believe that this provision ensures that the objectives of clause 1(3) are fully met. I commend this amendment to the Committee. I believe that it meets the objective of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown and his supporters.